Thing 13: Explore images


Using the camera on your smart device can be about far more than taking selfies, particularly for academics and researchers.

In this Thing we take a look at how best to capture images for the purposes of qualitative research – and how to manage them once you have them. And no, there won’t be a sunset, meal, or lolcat in sight!

Managing images

When it comes to using social media to help manage your images, tools generally have a range of features that fall broadly into one of two camps: finding and sharing and storing or archiving. Most tools feature a little bit of both.

For example, Instagram is almost exclusively about publishing your own images so that other people can find and share them, and you can do the same. Note-taking applications like Evernote are essentially a private archive of your own images, if you choose to use it that way. But hang on! We’re getting ahead of ourselves with Evernote, as this will feature in Thing 17.

For the purposes of this Thing, we’re going to take a closer look at Flickr, which we favour because it also has some useful pointers on making sure you’re using those images in a copyright-compliant manner. This is doubly important if you’re using images in a professional capacity as a researcher.

What is Flickr?

Flickr is an online photo hosting site, although a mobile app version is also available (on iOS & Android).  It has a social media aspect, enabling you to follow image feeds from people or organisations.

However, Flickr’s real strength is as a resource, an image-bank. An enormous number of images (organised into albums) can be uploaded and you can use licensing, such as Creative Commons licences, to protect your work. (We’ll look at Creative Commons in Thing 15).

Subject tags can also be applied, so your images can be indexed and searched, and you can also use geotagging, which takes advantage of Flickr’s map search function and allows you to explore images via region or specific location. Additional information and hyperlinks can also be applied to images and it is this aspect that makes Flickr a very content-rich resource.

Many Archives, Museums and Libraries are sharing their digitised collections online via Flickr Commons. This brings a wealth of searchable online material to your desktop. The British Library has uploaded over one million images to the Commons and released them to the public domain. However, many other institutions (outside the Commons) are also adding material. See these for inspiration:

Private or public groups can also be set up within Flickr offering collaboration within a community. A fantastic example is the Great War Archive, which incorporates thousands of family photos, documents, and correspondence.

Images from Flickr can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Flickr also hosts 90 second videos, giving researchers even more options for content sharing.

The University of Bath uses Flickr to promote images relating to research on campus, and students have blogged about the usefulness of Flickr as a research tool and for visual data research within a group. For more inspiration:

Exploring a Flickr image

Go to Flickr. Use the search box or the explore option to find an image that you’d like to blog about. Experiment with different search terms, and see how they change what results you get.


Note the features of a Flickr image. You’ll see the image right away. Below that on the right-hand side you’ll see the username of the photo’s owner. Sometimes the owner will have added additional information such as date or type of camera/lens.

If the photo is in any groups or sets, they’ll be displayed on bottom too. Below this, you’ll find the photo’s tags. Depending on the photo settings, these may have been added by the photo owner or by other Flickr.

Finally, you’ll see information about usage and licensing as well as privacy settings. You can download or share the image via the options at the bottom right of the image section (the share button looks like an arrow, and the download options are on the far right and look like three round dots).

try-this-iconTry this

We have combined the activities for Things 13 and 14 together. To complete them both, we’re asking you to find or upload a Creative Commons licensed image, and share it on your blog with correct attribution.

For more information about this week’s activities, see the “Try This” section of Thing 14.

explore-further-iconExplore further

Flickr isn’t the only image sharing or image search tool out there. If you want to look at some others, try these:

Flickr makes their data available so that others can build online applications using its images. Take a look at some of the tools in Flickr’s App Garden. Some to try:

  • Show where you have been on your travels by adding your holiday snaps to a map with Mappr
  • Be creative and gather photos into a mosaic using Montager

“Results indicate that the use of cameras, and hence photographs, are attractive features of the technique that render it suitable for engaging young people in academic research and exploring social experiences.”

Smith, E. F., Gidlow, B., & Steel, G. (2012). Engaging adolescent participants in academic research: The use of photo-elicitation interviews to evaluate school-based outdoor education programmes. Qualitative Research, 12(4), 367-387. doi:10.1177/1468794112443473

Okay, okay, we promised there wouldn’t be Lolcatz or food in this one, but seriously, what would the internet be without a meme or two? Make your own using a memegenerator.23meme


Parts of this Thing were adapted from 23 Things for Research Oxford / CC By-NC-SA 3.0 and 23 Research Things @ Melbourne / CC By-NC-SA 3.0.

Header image: Bart Everson / Flickr / CC By 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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