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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog


This photo is free on Pixabay.com

By Christine Kohler

UPDATE: Normally updates are at the end of articles, but I've decided to break with the norm and post it up-top so you don't have to scroll or skip altogether, wondering why I ran the same article twice.

First, Pixabay.com must have changed it's swap policy. An author recently drew to my attention that she could not find anywhere in the policy that Pixabay.com wanted people to upload 10 photos, approved by their committee, in exchange for using their photos free. I pulled up the policy and re-read, and she was right. I could no longer find that request.

Second, you may have noticed I removed my own thorny photo with this article and the cutline explaining that the close-up desert nature photo had been rejected by Pixabay. Just to show how subjective the arts are, I submitted this same photo as one of three in an application to iStock by Getty. Their committee accepted it. So the photo no longer belongs to me, and that's why I removed it so I don't get in any legal trouble later for using my own photo when others have to pay for it. (My photos on this site are not protected and anyone can copy them with a right click of the mouse.)
Which leads me to my third update...

I am now an iStock by Getty contributing artist! I was especially surprised I was selected first try because I don't doctor my photos with PhotoShop or other fancy software. Photos today on any of these professional sites are stunning, whereas I'm more of a point-and-shoot news photographer. I'm sure my photography professor at the University of Hawaii would be flabbergasted, too. I won't make much money, but it's better than giving away my photos free. If I do make even a little money, I'll roll it into buying a new 35mm camera with a longer lens. One thing I won't be buying is PhotoShop. They have also changed their policy and now it costs a monthly fee, which is against a personal principle of mine.

If you do photography in stills or videos, illustrate, or design graphics, consider applying to one of the paid professional services. You won't make a lot of money, probably not as much as freelancing, but it may provide "low hanging fruit" as another author-editor friend calls it.


Anyone who has ever maintained a website or blogged knows the challenge of finding free photos and illustrations, and obtaining permission to use them. Writers and artists, possibly more than anyone else, are sensitive to the copyright issues. We not only support, but defend, copyright laws. Just ask an author about piracy and you’ll see what a hot issue this is when a writer’s ability to make a living on his art is threatened by theft. Violation of copyright is stealing.

So, being an honest, non-hypocritical author, I request permission to use photos or illustrations for my blog Read Like a Writer and the glog Uncommon YA, owned by Beth Fehlbaum, that I contribute to monthly. I don’t make any money from my blog or website, nor does Uncommon YA. I give away valuable teaching articles, many about advanced craft, that I could instead use only in paid teaching workshops. So it’s understandable that I don’t wish to pay for a photo service on top of my website fees.

The easiest graphic is a book cover or my publicity photo. But, really, how many times do you want to see those because it smacks of “buy my book, buy my book, buymybook,” and does nothing to draw people into wanting to read the article. (I am very grateful to my core followers who subscribe to my blogletter Read Like a Writer for the articles, regardless of the accompanying illustrations/photos.)

I have subscribed to recommended illustration sites that were supposed to be free, but then encountered photos I wanted on those sites that were part of iStock or Getty Images, paid services publishers I’ve written NF books for use. I subscribed to one Webservice images and the first batch of graphics they sent me to download wouldn’t open. So it’s not that I haven’t tried.

I’ve taken some photos, even arranging tiles on a Scrabble board to spell Writers Groups.

A friend who makes memes for his website imbeds his web address into the bottom of the graphic so when it is copied he will still get credit and a link to his site. Yet, some people copy his memes and crop the link off, which I’m sure is frustrating. Cheaters and thieves.

I know everyone is in a rush these days. And one of the disadvantages of asking permission is that you have to plan in advance of publication to give time for the correspondence back and forth to obtain permission. Most of the time people are gracious and grant the permission. *Blowing kisses to those of you who were generous in granting permissions over the years.* And I also always promise to give photo/illustration credit in the tagline. However, what triggered me to seek another service is when one blogger insisted the credit line read in such a way that one could interpret that she had invented the Aristotle’s Incline, which I referenced in my article. In truth, I never read her article, I only wanted to borrow the graphic because I don’t have a program to make my own graphics. (Yeah, I really should buy Photoshop, which I used when teaching journalism.)

This week I signed up for Pixabay.com. It’s a shared photo site. According to the site info, “All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty-free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. Attribution is not required.”

If I upload 10 photos that are approved by their committee then I can use their photos ad-free. (I’m not sure how this works yet because I don’t know how they would put ads on my Authors’ Guild site that only supports one photo per article.) This is proving challenging, but not daunting. After all, I have been published as a photojournalist.

Although, I do not have the expensive photo equipment I used to own now that everything is digital.

Writers are used to rejection. And Pixabay is no exception to requiring top quality submissions. As an example, the thorn photo I posted with this article is one that was rejected by Pixabay with the following message: This photo does not fulfill our quality standards. Underneath it reads: Discarded by the community, seven rejected, two neutral, two accepted.

Of my first ten uploads, four were rejected, four accepted, and two are pending because I needed to add more metatags. (Update, one was accepted and one is pending. Maybe they are researching if the orange blossoms really are from an ocotillo desert plant.) Of those that were accepted, it shows how many views and downloads.

I’d be interested in hearing about what free services you’ve had good luck using, if you’ve used Pixabay, and any tips you have for bloggers constantly in search of illustrative photos or graphics.

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