Where All the Purty Pictures Come From: Flickr + Creative Commons

We consistently get comments about the pictures associated with the posts on ProfHacker, and so I thought it might be worth a quick post explaining where they come from. ProfHacker images almost always come from Flickr, the amazing photo hosting and sharing service, and we use photos that have something called a Creative Commons license. In this post, I’ll say a bit about both of these, and then show how we find the photos we use. (Hopefully that won’t spoil the magic, or anything. But you could also use this method to find pictures for your syllabus, for instance.)


Flickr is like The Wire: If you don’t know it, remedying that is more important than anything else you could be doing right now.  (And I say that despite today’s l-o-n-g outage.)  Flickr not only hosts your pictures and videos: you can edit them (using Picnik), organize them into sets (your own photos) or groups (with others), tag them (including geotags), share them, and much else besides.  It has an API that’s fostered hundreds of mashups both useful and whimsical.  It also features The Commons, a massive collection of historical photographs with no known copyright restrictions, drawn from numerous public collections, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.  It has a concept called “interestingness,” which is an algorithm that promises its name: a nearly endless cascade of interesting photos.  And of course you can search.

Creative Commons

Also awesome in its way, Creative Commons is a simple way to promote sharing of content while still defending copyright.  What the Creative Commons service does is let you license certain uses of your work, but not others.  So, for example, the ProfHacker Creative Commons license is:

Creative Commons License by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

This license means our work can be shared (with proper attribution), but not for commercial purposes, and that it can be remixed for other uses, so long as the new work has a similar license. (Basically, you can distribute our work, or turn it into something new and awesome, but no one makes money from it without talking to us.) There is a lengthy FAQ at the Creative Commons website that explains all of this in greater detail.

Using Flickr and Creative Commons Together

There are two steps that link Flickr and Creative Commons:

1.  You can specify a Creative Commons license for your photos.  Go to Your Account –> Privacy & Permissions, and look for this item:

Bang.  All of your photos–whether they’re set to public or private–will automatically have the license that you choose.  The default is “All Rights Reserved.”

2.  You can also find pictures by their Creative Commons license.  Go to the Advanced Search page in Flickr.  At the very bottom of the page (you will probably have to scroll), you’ll see this:

For posts to this site, we tick both the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and the “Find content to use commercially” boxes.  (Not that we’re some big enterprise, or anything.)  The results are surprisingly good–there are a ton of great, shareable pictures out there, and once you’ve searched you can sort the results by relevance, date, or interestingness. Personally, I like to sort by interestingness.  Here’s an example (click through for the full-size):

Hey, I also write for GeekDad, whatd you expect?

Hey, I also write for GeekDad, what’d you expect?

As long as you both provide attribution for the photo, and, where possible, link back to it, you’re usually in the clear.

And that’s how we find the pictures for ProfHacker. You can use this process to find photos for your blog, for your syllabus, or for almost any other purpose under the sun.

[Image by flickr user poolie / CC licensed


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