Although it has become much easier for researchers to photograph their work (and see our earlier blog about how to take better digital photos), quite often we need the photograph that the researcher didn’t take. If you are going to print a large image, for example for a cover, a snap from an ordinary digital camera is rarely good enough. Or perhaps you’ve got lots of photos of rural agriculture, but you don’t have an urban market shot to provide the rest of the story. Or perhaps you have none at all…
As ever, you’ll get the best results if you plan ahead and budget.
With so many photo stock agencies online it’s tempting to just do it yourself; log in, use a few search words, and start browsing. Do set yourself a time limit, however, as this shortcut can often cost you many hours. The most popular online stock photo sites these days are iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, 123rf, and BigStockPhoto. Be aware, however, that stock photographs are usually very generic, and often better suited to tourism and commercial advertising than to the subjects that development research usually covers. They can be very useful when you want an attractive photo with the country’s flag flying, and sometimes you can even find this type of photo in the agencies ‘free stock’ section. iStock, owned by Getty Images, has recently done a deal with Flickr that has given them some more unusual stock from around the world. But to get a good photograph of a rural health centre in Malawi treating children… you will need to go to the specialists.
Photo agencies have experienced researchers who will search through their thousands of photos to give you a shortlist of photos to choose from, and this service is often free. To get an accurate quote and enable the researcher to provide you with the most appropriate selection give them as much information as you can: the country and general topic of your publication; how many copies you will be printing; whether they will be free, for sale, or online only; and whether your design requires more portrait (upright) or landscape (horizontal) photos. If you can provide an abstract or executive summary of your publication plus all the relevant keywords then the researcher can filter their stock to really suit your needs. And these days you don’t need to be in a Western capital city to get this great service, because the agency can email you a selection of low-resolution images to choose from. Once you’ve chosen and paid, the agency sends you the high-resolution images. If you prefer to browse yourself, all the agencies’ sites have that option (although on some you need to register first). Don’t assume you can’t afford the big agencies either. Make sure they’ve got all the details about your subject and your circulation and dissemination plans; small-scale charitable projects can often get a good deal. It’s particularly worth paying more than usual for a professional cover photo.
The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies provides this list of agencies who specialise in photos of the developing world.
The Open Directory website has a long list of agencies, of archive and stock libraries, and of photographers. Many are general or specialise in other areas such as sport of celebrities, but the lists include documentary and developing world specialists too.