Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Building the picture pipeline - free images for use in healthcare and medical research #scicomm #nhssm

Years ago I helped the then editor of our research magazine (Research Matters) find some illustrative images to go with short summaries of our various bits of research. I remember in particular looking for things that conveyed 'kidneys' to match the section on our kidney research.

There are some standard-issue visual tropes for kidneys, including pictures of actual kidneys (either photographs or drawings, including the urinary system), kidney-shaped metal dishes, kidney beans and even, if you're so minded, steak and kidney pies. 

12th March: Kidneys
It's worth clicking on this image and seeing the original image in Flickr as the photographer has added a really nice explanation of what it is that kidneys do and why they're rather important.
But the concept of kidneys can also be put across by images of clear water - after all the job of the kidneys is to filter and clean blood, and conserve things that the body wants to keep. Even the concept of a fuse might be used in relation to the role the kidneys play in blood pressure and how this can damage them. You might even get away with 'balance' in that our kidneys keep everything in order.

I found that being in the role of someone who picks the pics made me think much more laterally about images in general, which I'm sure is all to the good. Although we have a budget for the CHI+MED project that I'm currently working on, and I have bought one or two images from commercial image suppliers, I've derived a lot of enjoyment in looking through what Flickerians have made available through creative commons licensing. 

I've even created a Pinterest pin board of 'images that illustrate the CHI+MED project' - I wouldn't say it's gone viral but it has 21 followers compared to the average 8-12 that my other boards have acquired.

Exit  X-Ray Central

In the recent #nhssm (use of social media in the NHS) Twitter chat, which focused on the way that the NHS might use Pinterest, a number of people queried the copyright issue (I only use CC images, with appropriate accreditation that Pinterest automates). 

This reminded me of a question I've probably asked before which is - should we try and build up a 'database' (it could be a list of links and signposting, or a Flickr pool) of images that research scientists, people in medical research charities or the NHS (or any healthcare) can use freely in their documents, leaflets, websites, whatever - with appropriate attribution. It would be cool if people could also use it to request images too...

This probably already exists - where? I didn't find such a thing on Flickr (it might be somewhere else that I don't know about) so I have created.... drumroll...  Health, medicine and research images - it's a group on Flickr which currently has no images, but I shan't fill it with them yet in case someone comes along and points me to the already-invented wheel elsewhere on the web.

Going back to Research Matters I was delighted (and a bit amazed) to find a picture of piles of white paper which I could use to illustrate research grant applications, which at the time came in on paper (now all electronic). We actually took some photographs ourselves of the piles of paper created by making sure that each member of the research committee (who recommended projects for funding) had a copy of every single application under consideration, and used these in our own material. 

People working in a lab will be used to their boxes of pipette tips and the purple nitrile gloves, centrifuge machines, microscopes and blue-topped Schott glasses - they're part of the furniture. But images of them do a terrific job of saying "RESEARCH". Similarly if you work in a hospital you'll walk past the signage every day and one hospital bed probably looks like another, but I can't easily get hold of images that say "HOSPITAL" without either going to one myself or being lucky enough to find cool stuff that others have shared.

Pipettes on display  Storage bottles at Bioscience Center

So... please take pictures of things that you might think are fairly mundane, and share them on Flickr with a Creative Commons license so that others can use them. Make sure you give them relevant titles and tag them appropriately - the trick is to think of words that other people would use to search for them. I might search for 'kidney' but someone looking for pictures to illustrate their renal replacement service for a leaflet for patients might search for 'renal'.

Here's what I've found so far:

Free stuff
Flickr Creative Commons - Advanced search
This link will let you search all images licensed under CC and this one will let you search the smaller pool of images that are both CC licensed and may be used commercially. You will need to check with individual images what you can do with them (eg if you want to crop them to fit a smaller space etc, this isn't automatically permitted in every license so do check).

List of free resources
53+ Free image resources for your blog and social media posts Buffer (14 May 2014)

Public domain photos

Not necessarily free stuff
Flickr groups - note that these images might not be available under CC licensing but there's nothing to stop you asking an individual photographer if you can use them. 
Other stuff


  1. Sally posted this comment on another post but I'm pretty certain it was meant to be posted here, so I'm reposting it and will answer it here.

    Sally James Sun May 20, 09:35:00 PM 2012
    Love the way your mind is working to free up images for health care use. My suggestion - You say there is nothing to stop us asking a specific photographer for "permission" to use an image for health care communication. Do you have a standard template request you could share?

  2. Hi Sally

    I don't have a template as such but I would either add a comment to the Flickr picture's page or send them an email via the Flickr mail system.

    It doesn't really need to be very complicated, it just needs to say who you are, what your project is, how you would use the image and how you would give them proper attribution. They can only say no :)

    eg... probably something a bit less flowery than this ;)

    Dear ABC

    I'm working on the CDE project which raises awareness of EFG among patients with GHI. Your IJK image really captures what we want to say in our leaflet that will be distributed to umpteen hundred schools / community centres / GPs' surgeries / whatever and I wondered if you would consider making it available to us under a creative commons license. [You might then link to some information on what CC means - I think the default license for Flickr is All Rights Reserved so people might simply not know about it].

    I can be reached on email@eemmaaiill.ccoomm

    Your generic signoff,

  3. Don;'t forget Wikimedia Commons, which has millions of open-licensed images.

    For example:

    The Kidney


    Category:Gasses of water

    If people want to know more about openly releasing their own images, I have a blog post on the subject: "Open-licensing your images. What it means and how to do it". I usually point photographers to that, when asking them to open-license an image.

  4. Oooh that's super helpful Andy, thank you :D
    Can't believe I forgot Wikimedia Commons, which is an awesome resource. I wonder if it's possible to pick up the images from within Flickr so that they can be added to the group... possibly I've created the group in the wrong place hehe ;)

    Everyone else - do please read Andy's blog post. It's a very clear explanation and the pros and cons of making images available are well discussed in the comments that follow.

  5. Hi Jo
    If a group admin you can invite images to the group...this is a LOT more straightforward that flickr mail etc and people are pretty positive usually about responding.
    The other issue is tagging. Sometimes you can add tags to photos which aren't yours which is really handy.

    PS Thanks for adding me as admin!

    1. You're welcome - I'm delighted that this has suddenly started taking off a year after I posted it. It's had 1,800 views this month, which is quite a lot for most of my posts at any time let alone in such a short time-frame!


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).