Picture perfect

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Finding the right digital imagery for a class project can be a tricky issue. Nishani Kampfner demystifies the art of picture searching

The increasing use of digital images in schools is creating new challenges for teachers. Images help tackle tricky subjects, stimulate debate or bring to life a presentation or an individual's coursework. Obviously, the best way is to create your own pictures or get students to create pictures as part of the lesson plan. However, sometimes creating your own picture resources is not possible. Time can be a major issue as can the kit being unavailable when you need it. But there is an alternative, and that's to use existing pictures.

Over the past few years, museums, libraries, art collections and news agencies have all invested heavily in digitising their picture archives.

The wall-to-wall filing cabinets full of negatives, prints and transparencies are disappearing and there are billions of pictures available online, creating limitless advantages for educational establishments.

When you're searching for your picture you will need to bear four factors in mind: relevance; cost; file size; and composition. Having an understanding of what pictures are available, where to find them, how to tell if they're the right size, what a picture licence is and a basic understanding of copyright law can make a big difference.

Let's start with the picture licence. A picture licence is the permission to re-produce an image. Commercial licences cost money. The exact amount is determined by how, where and what the picture will be used for and the type of media involved.

The fee covers the agency's commission and the photographer's royalty. You may also come across royalty-free images. These images differ from licensed images because you can buy unlimited use of that picture for a one-off fee.

Licensed images, on the other hand, are sold on a one-fee-one-use basis.

Image collections, agencies and individual photographers will often make exceptions for educational use, research or non-commercial activity. It's always worth asking for the right to reproduce the picture for a lesson plan. Most will agree to supply free of charge, others may supply the picture in return for a credit (depending on your project).

It's good practice to ensure that teachers and students are aware of this and of basic copyright law concerning images (see right paragraph below).

It is possible to find free images online, but take care (see right) to avoid confusion and disappointment. Visually arresting images of superior quality will generate a much better response from your students and it is worth looking at other options.


UK copyright law states that original work is copyright protected as soon as it has been recorded in any way - on paper, in an audio recording, on film or electronically. This applies to photos you and your students take, as well as any you source externally. Fair dealing permits the use of material for research, private study, reporting current events, and for criticism or review, without permission of the copyright holder. Fair dealing does not extend to making multiple copies of resources, so the copyright holder's permission should be sought.

Where to go

* General search engines: most teachers and students are familiar with the popular engines, which all have a "search images" option.




http:images.search.yahoo.com images

* Specialist search engines link to some of the best image collections. The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies is the trade body for the UK picture library industry and its website (www.bapla.org.uk) gives a list of members' sites.






Free pictures Googling "copyright free and photographs" will highlight thousands of links to sites offering copyright-free pictures. These pictures are directly downloadable - usually for free and unlimited use. Trawling through the links is time-consuming, but finding a few favourites is well worth your time.

* www.freesticky.comstickywebsection.asp?sectionname=photo

A list of links to websites offering free, unlimited use or affordable access.

* www.fdrlibrary.marist.eduwwphotos.html

Thousands of copyright-free photos of Roosevelt, The Great Depression and World War II.

* www.nasa.govmultimediahighlightsindex.html

NASA Multimedia Gallery - a fantastic gallery with free pictures from the NASA space programme.

* www.imageafter.com Well-designed site with a free online collection.

Secure searching

Secure searching is an issue, and the Department for Education and Skills says it is "probably wise not to use them 'live' in a classroom setting".

Other resources

Budget commercial sites:

* www.istockphoto.com

Education specific sites: (subscriptions may apply)

* ttp:edina.ac.ukeig EDINA Education Image Gallery.

* http:library.open.ac.uk resourcesimages.html

* www.ntseducation.org.uk National Trust for Scotland

* www.nationalgeographic.comeducation Lesson plans, photos, maps.

* www.takeonepicture.orgaboutindex.html

* http:vads.ahds.ac.uk AHDS

Aids research, learning and teaching with visual arts digital resources.

* www.britishpathe.com Preview items from the 3,500-hour British Pathe Film Archive.

* www.bookchilde.orgA site dedicated to early children's book collections.

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