If you write or blog, you may come across many situations where you have to go searching for stock photos, and if you are the typical writer or blogger, you will be strapped for cash and looking for free images. The words to keep in mind are Public Domain and Creative Commons, which allow you to use images without having to pay for them. But you will soon discover that finding the right image is not as easy as it seems.
You write your words - why not take your own images? Building up a library of generic stock images you don't have to search for or pay for is surprisingly easy. All you need is a digital camera, and you probably already have one and a stack of images on your hard drive.
First decide what images you need. If you are a niche writer or blogger, this isn't too hard. You love writing about gardening, so head out into your garden, or the local park, or your mum's garden, with your camera. This time you are not framing pretty pictures of your dog or grandchildren; you are looking for stunning flower heads, deeply shaded groves and copses, little eye-catching vignettes and anything that will make a good illustration.
You don't have to travel far afield to get great stock shots; they can all be had around your local area (although it is smart to keep your eyes open for great stock shots when you are travelling, too). Just remember a few important little rules. If you take a picture of a car (because you need a picture of a car), make sure the licence plate is hard to see or use your photo software to blank it out. If you take a picture of a stranger, make sure you have permission to publish.
If you are snapping at a public place or event, you should be OK, because it is difficult to canvas hundreds of people for their written permissions. But it is wise not to identify anyone too closely, or single anyone out for a photo, especially if they are doing something embarrassing.
It is simply common sense to avoid photographing children in a way that makes them identifiable. Parents are naturally wary of anyone taking pictures of their children, and kids in government care are not permitted to be photographed, even by the press. Trouble is, you don't know which one has got an angry parent, or an angry government agency, behind them. So give cute kiddy shots a miss unless you have permission.
Property is another matter. Here the charge you want to avoid is trespass. You can photograph private dwellings as long as you do not trespass onto the property. Street shots are OK and can be used generically for illustration purposes. These are public areas, but if you want to take photos inside a shopping centre, big store or other privately owned public space, be sure to ask the management first. Some may take no notice, but others will demand to know what you are doing.
It is permitted to photograph a public event, such as a bike race, that takes place on a public road or playing field. But if you go into an arena or sports stadium, you will need to know the policy on using cameras. At concerts and stage shows it is generally not allowed, but at an open air concert in a public space you can snap away.
It is always safest to ask, or to look for a sign, when planning to take photos in a place you suspect might not be regarded as public. In these security conscious times, it can even be risky to run around taking photos willy nilly. The rest is simple courtesy and common sense.
It is always wise to carry spare batteries and a spare storage with you in whatever format you use - SD, CF or memory stick. There's nothing worse than missing a great shot because the battery is flat, or because the card is full.
Sometimes an image will suggest a story to go with it, so don't forget a notebook and pen, or keep a note on your phone. Images make great story prompts, so if you have an idea, grab a few images to go with it, and trigger your memory later.
To make your stock library, create a new folder on your hard drive, and add sub-folders for different subjects that you will be collecting. When you download your photos, separate the different images into the appropriate folders. Get to know your camera's imaging software, or use one of the free image manipulation programs on the Internet, to make your images perfect. Programs like GIMP, Picasa and paint.net are free and easy to use.
For use on the Internet, you can save your images at a low resolution such as 72-100 dpi (digital pixels per inch). This will ensure they upload and download quickly, so that neither you nor your site visitors will have to wait around. But if you plan to use images in print, you will need resolution of at least 300 dpi. That is why it is always best to take your images at the highest resolution possible on your camera, and downsize them on your computer for the Internet. That way you will get lovely sharp images on your blog, instead of the pixelated images you normally get at low resolution. Doing it the other way -- taking the image at a low resolution and trying to upsize it with your graphic software -- just won't work. The result will be horrible.
Once you get the hang of stock images, you can set up photo shoots of ordinary objects around the home, such as coffee cups, furnishings and your computer desk, and anything to do with your hobbies and interests. Before long, you will have a stock image library that rivals anything you will find on the Internet, and which will actually work much better for you.
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