Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Picture Perfect

By Stephanie Bearce

One of my favorite parts of nonfiction research is poring through collections of historical photographs. From metal plate daguerreotypes and Victorian studio pictures to 1950s brownie camera photos, I love them all. It is like holding a tiny time machine in my hand. For a fleeting moment, I can see into a world that is gone.

Historical photos can add depth and dimension to your nonfiction books. Editors love it when an author can provide photo documentation of the topic, and some book publishers require a certain number of photographs for each book project.

BUT and yes, it is a big but--photos can be expensive. Purchasing editorial rights for some famous images can cost over $150 per photograph. Some publishers provide a modest budget for photographs, but others expect the author to purchase pictures with their advance. Either way, it is important for authors to find cost-effective sources for photos.

There are numerous repositories for copyright-free well-known historical photographs. Some are familiar names like Getty Open ContentLibrary of Congress, and Flickr Commons. But other treasure troves of photos are can be found in local historical societies, libraries, and family collections.

The first stop for photos about your topic should be the area where the person lived or the place the event happened. Contact the local historical society. You may uncover pictures that have never been seen by the public. The cost of editorial rights is usually minimal, or they may be willing to share them simply for recognition in the book.

Don’t be afraid to ask local citizens for help in your photo search. Great-Grandma’s photo album may provide an image that has historical significance and could make your book totally unique. You can negotiate with individuals to purchase the photograph outright or pay them a usage fee. Often families are thrilled to have their pictures included in a book or magazine article.
When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:​When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Check out these sources for copyright-free photos. The following sites are great sources of copyright-free images:

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