Finding Video, Audio and Images Online
There are countless websites offering images, video and audio files for use in education, but it's not always easy to know which sites are most useful or appropriate. This advice document discusses general tools and strategies for finding digital resources and looks at many of the sites you can use as reliable sources.
This is one of two advice documents about finding digital media resources online. This first document looks at tools and strategies for finding digital resources, and highlights some of the general sources you can use to find images, video and audio to use in teaching, learning and research. The other document provides advice and pointers on finding subject-specific types of still images, moving images and sound files.
You may also be interested in the online tutorials we developed with Intute Virtual Training Suite - Internet for Image Searching, Internet for Audio Resources and Internet for Video and Moving Images Resources.
Intute Virtual Training Suite - Internet for Image Searching
The Internet has grown to become an incredible resource and is the first port of call for many people's information searches. It's easy to think of the web as one giant catalogue - a resource that allows you to easily find exactly what you're looking for. However, anyone who has spent time frustratedly searching and not finding what they want will tell you differently - the Internet is neither as comprehensive nor as unified as many people think.
There are several things that make finding images, video or audio on the web more complicated than other information searches:
- The general push to digitise material means that huge numbers of digital media resources are now accessible via the web. However, these are often hidden away in the databases of individual websites and inaccessible to the general search engines.
- The commercialisation of the Internet places further access restrictions, as some owners seek to control and make money from their collections.
- The non-textual nature of digital media resources can also make them difficult to locate - and places great importance on the quality of their indexing and description.
Successful searching will often require a number of different approaches and employ a variety of tools. There are useful search strategies to try, but no hard and fast rules or easy solutions.
Before beginning your search, it's important to be very clear about what sort of image or clip you're after and what you want to use it for. Are you looking for a photograph or an artwork? A piece of background music or a sound effect? Are you after a generic subject (e.g. a video clip of a person walking; the sound of running water) or something very specific (e.g. a portrait of a famous individual; a well-known piece of music)? Do you need it for information, illustration or inspiration?
Decide what media type is most appropriate and why (i.e. whether to use a still image, video or audio file) - if you think you need a video clip, ask yourself whether it's because video can convey something that cannot be accomplished by a still image? Would audio be better suited to the message you are trying to put across than an image?
Make sure what you're looking for actually exists! This amusing short film describes some of the genuine requests made to the Hulton Archive picture library for images that never were...
The following table lists some of the questions you could ask and how the answers might influence your searching.
|Questions||How these might influence your search|
|What type of media am I looking for? (still images, moving images or audio)||First decide what media type is most appropriate and why (see above). Some websites offer all three, but many concentrate on one. Each media can be further subdivided by type (e.g. artwork, photograph, map, diagram, music, spoken word, sound effect, interview, monologue, documentary, movie, animation, and so on) and some sites specialise in one or more of these. You might also include these types as search terms when conducting searches.|
|What subject content am I looking for? (e.g. people, places, objects, themes)||Many websites specialise in a particular subject area, while others try to encompass a broad range. See our advice on Finding Subject-Specific Digital Media Resources.|
|Am I after something historic or contemporary?||If historic, you might try museum or archive websites; if contemporary, you'll be better off with stock photo libraries, artist or media sites.|
|Am I looking for a known image/clip (e.g. a specific artwork; a recording of a radio news broadcast) or a generic category (e.g. photo of a black dog, audio clip of a child sneezing)?||For a famous artwork, celebrity portrait or specific recording you ought to look at official sources (e.g. galleries, museums, sound archives). Unofficial sources (e.g. fan sites, photo or video sharing sites) may also be useful, but if you plan to use the material for anything other than private reference purposes you will need to be aware of copyright and licensing issues. For more generic subject matter, a search engine might be the best starting point.|
|Am I prepared to pay?||If you're prepared to pay, you'll have a head start - there are now plenty of commercial sources dedicated to supplying good quality images and audio/video recordings quickly and efficiently.|
Although it often seems quickest and simplest to type what you are looking for straight into a general search engine, some of the best resources are unavailable to search engines because they are tucked away in the databases of individual websites or online media collections - although search engine 'spiders' can index the websites that contain digital media, they cannot always index the individual files within those sites.
The first challenge is to find the relevant sites - here we list a number of general sites with a focus on free-to-use and low-cost media resources. If these aren't suitable, have a look at our guide to Finding Subject-Specific Digital Media Resources.
These collections have been made available specifically for education purposes
- BBC Motion Gallery JISC Service - vast collection of BBC footage for use in presentations, lectures, coursework and media (institutional subscription required)
- British Library Archival Sound Recordings - a wealth of recordings of music, spoken word, human and natural environments - available for UK further and higher education
- InView - 2,000 non-fiction film and television titles from the BFI (British Film Institute) (institutional subscription required)
- iTunes U - over 200,000 educational audio and video files from universities, colleges and other education providers around the world. Requires iTunes software - if you already have iTunes installed use this iTunes U link.
- Scran - 360,000 images, movies and sounds from museums, galleries, archives and the media (subscription required)
- University of Exeter Digital Collections - thousands of images from Exeter's most prestigious research collections- free to use in teaching and learning
- VADS - a selection of visual art collections comprising over 100,000 images freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK
- WorldImages - 75,000 images from the California State University IMAGE Project - may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes
Colour exercise by Alan S. Holt. Image from VADS - Basic Design Collection, National Arts Education Archive. © NAEA Non-commercial
Many sites provide material that has been made available under the terms of a Creative Commons licence - this means the author of the work is happy to make it available for others to use so long as certain criteria are met. The most flexible licence is the 'Attribution' licence which means you can use the work in any way you like as long as you credit the original creator. Details of the other licences are on the Creative Commons Licences page.
There is a Creative Commons search page which provides an easy way to search across various sites for Creative Commons-licensed images, video and audio.
- JISC MediaHub - is a multimedia platform offering a wealth of digital image, video and audio collections.
- JISC eCollections - is a community-owned content service providing UK higher and further education with access to world-class collections of historical books, journal archives and multimedia content.
- Everystockphoto - searches across several free-to-use image sites (incl Flickr's Creative Commons images - see below)
- Flickr - Creative Commons advanced search - use Flickr's advanced search page to include only photos (or short video clips) that have a Creative Commons licence. See also our advice document Finding Images on Flickr
- Flickr - The Commons - a number of publicly-held photographic collections from around the world use Flickr to share images that have 'no known copyright restrictions'
- FreeFoto.com - free for commercial or non-commercial on-line use; free for non-commercial off-line use
- FreeImages.co.uk - around 3,000 images in various galleries
- ImageAfter - various categories - any image can be downloaded for commercial or non-commercial use
- MorgueFile - over 200,000 images - can be used commercially without attribution
- OpenPhoto - Creative Commons-licensed images divided into various categories
- PicFindr - searches across various free-to-use image sites simultaneously
- Stock.xchng - now a subsidiary of Getty Images, around 400,000 free images submitted by a large community of users
Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900. Image from Brooklyn Museum on Flickr: The Commons. No known copyright restrictions
- ArtistServer.com - 9,000+ music files, all well categorised and easy to navigate. Many have Creative Commons licences. It also mixes in some social networking utilities for promoting your own music
- ccMixter - community music site of Creative Commons-licensed audio files
- FreeLoops.com - free sound effects and music loops. Start creating your own idents!
- The Freesound Project - there are no songs here, but 1000's of sounds effect and "audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps" - all licensed under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus License
- Jamendo - over 30,000 Creative Commons-licensed music albums available for free download
- Jamglue.com - the focus here is on remixing tracks by others and uploading your own music mixes, but many tracks can be used as sound effects - licence varies by track
- Musopen - online library of copyright-free/public domain classical music that can be browsed by composer, performer, instrument, period or form - also includes sheet music
- SoundCloud - the 'Flickr of audio' - a music sharing site where registered users can host, receive and distribute tracks. Non-registered users can stream, embed or download publicly available tracks
- Soungle - free to download sound effects and musical instrument samples
- Tribe of Noise - social networking site where independent artists upload their music under Creative Commons licences
- American Memory: Motion Pictures - moving images from the Library of Congress collections
- Blip.tv - independent web TV shows with an option to filter for Creative Commons-licensed material
- Internet Archive, Moving Image Archive - movies, videos and films many of which are Creative Commons-licensed
- Revver - video sharing network with thousands of Creative Commons-licensed videos
- SpinXpress Get Media - search across various sources for Creative Commons-licensed video, images and audio
- YouTube - the most popular and largest of video sharing sites, includes an Education category with hundreds of channels
- Vimeo - video sharing site with thousands of new videos uploaded daily. Hundreds of categories including education
- For more on YouTube, Vimeo and others see our advice on Finding Videos for Academic Purposes Using Web-based Video Hosting Sites
Web directories, sometimes also referred to as information gateways, are human-made lists of websites divided into categories. They can range in size from an individual's page of favourite web links to large database directories updated by teams of cataloguers.
Because directories are compiled by humans their results tend to be smaller, but more relevant, than those offered by automated search engines. They catalogue much broader units of information than search engines, providing links to resources as a whole rather than to the individual components within them: a directory might take you to a site that is a rich source of images, but it will rarely take you to an individual image.
Be aware that some directories are more up to date than others - it's not uncommon to come across broken links and unmaintained sites.
Directories such as Yahoo Directory or Google Directory (itself based on the Open Directory Project) are huge and attempt to provide as broad a selection of categories as possible. An example of Google's directory entries: Google Directory > Reference > Archives > Arts.
Other directories are smaller but more specific. Intute for example serves the UK's further and higher education communities and evaluates thousands of sites to provide a directory of subject-specific web resources for study and research.
The JISC Collections Catalogue of Online Resources is a useful starting point for browsing the national resources that have been made available for education and research. Here you will come across some of the education collections previously mentioned above along with many others - some are free, while others are available via institutional subscription.
Other directories worth checking are the Encyclopedia Smithsonian (an A-Z of categories at the Smithsonian Institution), UNESCO/IFLA Directory of Digitized Collections, the BUFVC Moving Image Gateway, Oral History Online and PINAKES which is a directory of directories - some general and some subject specific. There are many subject-specific directories - see our guide to Finding Subject-Specific Digital Media Resources.
A good place to look for further directory recommendations are pages maintained by academic subject librarians, since they're in the business of evaluating and signposting resources. Librarians are also often behind some of the better subject directories and general directories, like the US-based ipl2 which merges resources of the Internet Public Library (IPL) and the Librarians' Internet Index (LII) websites. See also Infomine and Internet Scout Project.
Other large aggregated or cross-searched databases include:
- AMICA - over 100,000 images, text and multimedia representations of works of art from around the world (subscription required)
- Library of Congress American Memory gateway - written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience
- OAIster/WorldCat - over 23 million records, many of them digital media resources
- Smithsonian Institution: Collections Search Center - over 250,000 images, video and sound files, electronic journals and other resources from the Smithsonian's museums, archives & libraries
How to dance the tango, hesitation waltz and other popular dances. Image from the Library of Congress American Memory - An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920
As well as the free-to-use collections, it's worth mentioning some of the commercial sites as many now offer low cost resources. Some of the companies that started as commercial picture libraries selling stock images, now also supply video footage and audio. There are various models - subscription-based services which allow you to download and re-use royalty-free resources during the life of your subscription; credit-based services where you buy credits in advance to use against fixed price royalty-free downloads; and the more expensive rights-managed, where the price depends on its intended use and exclusivity.
The subscription and credit-based services (also known as microstock sites) offer a low cost alternative if you can't find a free-to-use image or video/sound clip. Some of the more well-known microstock sites include: BigStock (photos); Clipart.com (clip art, illustrations, photos, audio, web graphics); Dreamstime (photos; illustrations); Fotolia (photos, vector graphics, videos); iStockPhoto (photos, illustrations, video, audio); Panthermedia (photos, graphics); Shutterstock (photos, illustrations, clip art); Thinkstock (photos, vector graphics, illustrations - from Getty Images, iStockphoto and Jupiterimages); Veer (photos, illustration, type); Yaymicro (photos, vector graphics).
The two main commercial names you will come across are Corbis (Corbis Images and Corbis Motion) and Getty Images, which despte the name also includes footage and music. Although these industry giants both have backgrounds in supplying rights-managed content, they also have royalty-free offerings. They also own many subsidiary companies and their names appear in the footer of many of the microstock sites.
Other commercial collections include: Alamy (rights-managed and royalty-free images); Artbeats (royalty-free stock footage) Inmagine (rights-managed and royalty-free images); Fotosearch (rights-managed and royalty-free images from dozens of stock agencies, stock footage and audio); Jupiter Images (rights-managed and royalty-free images - a subsidiary of Getty Images); Matton Images (royalty-free photos, footage and music); Photolibrary (rights-managed and royalty-free images, stock footage, pre-cleared/pre-priced music); RoyaltyFreeMusic.com (have a guess); Shockwave-Sound.com (royalty-free music and sound effects).
You can find many of the smaller specialised commercial picture libraries via BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) who have an Image Supplier A-Z and an Image Category A-Z; or via the Member Directory of PACA (Picture Archive Council of America).
Having found a site, the next challenge is to locate relevant resources within it. As with the wider web, there are two general approaches to accessing the material: browsing and searching. Some collections offer both ways in, others just one (usually a search). The quality of searching and browsing varies considerably from site to site.
- Try to find out how many items there are in the collection. If it is very small, it might actually be quicker and easier to browse through the collection.
- Read any help information provided. Note particularly how the search deals with multiple words. Do the results need to contain all the words, or just one? Can you put quotation marks around the words to denote phrases? Does it automatically search on plurals or variants? Does it support word truncation or wildcards?
- Try the advanced search if you're given the option. Even if you think your search is simple, the advanced search may offer ways of narrowing the results or customising their display. You may find options to filter for Creative Commons material in the advanced search.
- Try a quick test search first, using a term you know will produce results; or try a recommended search, if you're offered one. Look closely at the results: they should provide clues about how the items have been catalogued and enable you to choose appropriate terms for your actual search.
- Be very aware of your search terms. Pay attention to spelling (especially UK/US variations), capitalisation and word ambiguity.
- Look carefully at the results. Sometimes it is also possible to link directly from one item to 'related items' or others that share the same keywords or tags.
If you still haven't found what you're looking for, general search engines can sometimes be useful: searching for a broad subject term and combining it with words or phrases like "video archive", "image collection" or "audio files" may bring up some appropriate sites.
The three main search engines are Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing, but there are others. Smaller search engines come and go, are renamed, or bought out by others - the best places keep track of such changes are Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land.
Most of the main search providers have dedicated image search engines, some also provide video search engines and some (but not many) have audio search engines. There are also less well-known search engines which concentrate exclusively on images, audio or video, such as Picsearch, FindSounds or Blinkx. For more detailed advice, have a look at our accompanying search engine reviews:
Note: like general search engines, image/video/audio search engines rely on the text they index from web pages - so if a media file is not properly described or has little metadata accompanying it, it is unlikely to show up in search results.
Some other approaches you can use take advantage of the automation and communication potentials of the web.
Silvertone, SuperiorSonic, Gala, and Nobility Radios. Photo by alexkerhead on Flickr - used under a Creative Commons licence
Once you come across a useful source, you may be able to subscribe to RSS feeds which automatically provide updates on new content. An example is the RSS feed for the JISC Digital Media photostream on Flickr - each time we add a new image to Flickr, the RSS feed is automatically updated and anyone subscribing to the feed will be notified.
Search engines like Google allow you to sign up for regular email alerts on particular search terms.
If you use Twitter, applications such as TweetDeck let you save searches so that you are alerted every time a search term is mentioned via Twitter. This can be useful if you are interested in what Twitter users are talking about right now, but is only really useful if the search terms you use are very specific - if you use too general a term (e.g. 'photos') you will find your alerts are awash with inane remarks and references to random photos.
It will always be tricky avoiding inane remarks on Twitter, but if you construct your search terms carefully and use phrases in quotes you can narrow your search results considerably, e.g. "london aquarium" photo. Many people add the hash # symbol to important words in their updates (e.g. #bristol) - these are known as hashtags and using one in a search will sometimes provide more relevant results. Groups often use unique hashtags for specific events (e.g.#jisc10 for the 2010 JISC Conference). Hashtags are not limited to Twitter - people will use them on blog posts, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, etc - so searching the hashtag via a general search engine will return results related to the event from across the web.
Asking for advice
Bear in mind that the image or video/audio file you want may not actually be available online. Although there are billions now available on the web, they represent a just a small percentage of all the audio, still and moving images in the world. Most archives, museums, galleries, commercial photographers and artists now have some web presence, but not all make the majority of their materials available. It may be that the resource you want does not actually exist electronically but is held in a physical collection somewhere - or it might exist online, but is very difficult to locate. In these cases, often the best approach is to seek personal advice or recommendations.
One strategy to finding such resources is to contact a collection or service that has material similar to what you are looking for. They are likely to have other works that have not been digitised or have not been made publicly available. You might have to make a special request or even visit a gallery or archive in person to view or obtain a copy of the image or clip you want. Even if they don't hold such works in their collection, they will probably have a good idea of which other collections you should check.
Another option is to join an appropriate email discussion list and post a request for help. Find one dealing with the relevant subject area and send a message. JISCmail hosts thousands of lists for the UK further and higher education community and CataList is a directory of thousands of global discussion lists.
Here we complete the circle. Searching for digital media on the web begins by identifying your needs and developing a clear search strategy. Your search strategy might employ a number of different tools, such as search engines, directories, individual sites and web subscriptions/alerts. It may involve asking someone if they know of relevant resources. Once you have found the material, you must consider how well it meets your needs. Is it going to be useful and usable?
Here are some things to consider:
- Copyright and usage restrictions. First and foremost you need to establish whether you are allowed to use the material. The fact that it is made freely available on the web does not give anyone the right to copy it: most images, audio and video files on the web are subject to some restrictions. There is seldom a problem printing out a picture for reference purposes or privately streaming a video as a spark for some creative process, but any re-use or re-publication (including the web, intranet or Virtual Learning Environment) will usually require permission from its owner. Recommended practice: if in doubt, ask. Contacting the owner can also have additional benefits - you may be offered better quality files that they have not put online. See our Copyright: An Overview; Audiovisual Copyright: Frequently Asked Questions and Copyright and Still Images: Frequently Asked Questions.
- Image quality. If accuracy of colour is important (as it might be in a reproduction of an artwork or a botanical specimen) is there an indication that those creating the image have paid attention to colour? If the image is an engraving, has the scanning been done in such a way as to capture the finest detail? If it is scanned from a printed photograph, have patterns of interference been introduced into the image? Is some of the detail lost in the shadows or the highlights of the image? Has the compression used degraded the image? Is the image big enough for your purpose? It may look large on the screen, but are there enough pixels to print it at the size you want? This is less of a concern if you're going to use it in a screen-based resource (e.g. on the web, in a VLE or a presentation), but if you want to pick out a detail of the picture, you'll need to begin with a large image.
- Video content and quality. You should first be sure that you need video - does it do something that cannot be accomplished by a still image? If you decide that it does, look for a video clip that illustrates just the thing you are interested in showing and nothing more. The types of images in the video are important: your selection should take into account how the video is being shown. A video of a lot of people (or even a few people in long shot) will be all but unwatchable in a small window on a computer monitor: in such a case your video needs to have closeups and large details. Finally, look at the resolution and format of the video. Is the resolution sufficient for your purposes? Are the compression and format such that your audience can view the videos without any problem?
- Sound quality. How faithful to the original recording does the audio file need to be? Compression can have an undesired effect on sound quality. In addition to the copyright considerations outlined above, commercial works, such as songs often have additional rights where ownership can be very difficult to establish and permissions impossible to obtain. Care should be taken when selecting and including any third party material - see our Copyright and Other Rights for Creating Time-based Media Resources.
For further advice on finding specific types of still images, moving images and sound files, see our guide to Finding Subject-Specific Digital Media Resources.
Published in: Managing