Selection, obtaining and using images for your book

(first presented at the Writers Group, Genealogical Society of Victoria on 3 Sept 2014)

This article is based on the experience that I gained self-publishing my recent book ‘Two Squatters‘, but I believe will be of use to anyone publishing a social history or a family history.
For details of my book, go to my website:

Use of colour v use of black and white:
All forms of history are enhanced by use of visual images to complement your writing.
Whereas, in earlier times, images were placed in groups in books. Now of course they become part of the text page often. Even colour images do not have to be grouped. Individual leaves with colour images on both sides can be inserted anywhere in the text. This I understand is usually done manually, but even so the cost of colour plates does not ‘blow’ the printing cost of your book ‘out of the water’. Colour plates are supplied to the printer as separate files with clear instructions as to what page each plate follows. One has to be sure of which way round you want your image (eg., sideways facing outwards). When deciding to use an image check what it looks like in B&W versus in full colour before deciding.

Your Own
Family images, particularly if you have old portraits. Many of us in our research have photographs of buildings, landscapes where we have been during our research. These can be a good source as you definitely own the copyright. Some old family portraits may not be owned by you but rather by another family member. If in doubt, ask their permission and get them to sign that permission. Above all acknowledge that permission.

Pictures Collections
Australia is particularly fortunate in that picture collections are well organised , with the National Library of Australia’s TROVE system the heart of listing available images.
Depending on your subject, you will find images mainly at State Library of Victoria (SLV) and the National Library of Australia (NLA) (the Rex Nan Kivell collection there is really interesting). However, the Mitchell Library and the Tasmania library are also useful. The RHSV has quite a large and unique picture collection, but it is not available on line, and accessing it requires an appointment.
The SLV really has its act together for images. The vast majority I found were out of copyright and could be downloaded free for use in a publication, provided proper acknowledgment and details were given in a caption under the image. The Library has been progressively digitising at high resolution its images. When one searches on line, one gets a low res jpeg image first. Then in many cases one can freely download the high res tiff image. In many cases, the jpg can be about 6 to 10 MB and the tiff as high as 50 MB. One needs to be aware of that because such big images do take time to download. When an image is only available at low res, one can simply order a copy of the high res image. It takes about a week to arrive. Cost in 2013 was $22 each. If you are choosing images with Aboriginal content, this is clearly shown and one has to obtain permission for its use. The library staff will then contact you and advise that the Library’s Koorie Liaison Officer will contact you in relation to whose permission has to be obtained. Because of the number of persons and the fact that they are outside the Library, this process can take a few weeks. However, I found the Liaison Officer very good to work with, and I was in possession of the high res images within four weeks.

In terms of handling large tiff images, I converted them to JPEG files. This reduced their size considerably and gave me less hassle when inserting them amongst text using Microsoft Word on an Apple computer.

The NLA works somewhat differently. They charged in 2013, $45 each for all high res images. They do have a good collection for use by authors, but I found the price was getting prohibitive. They give a quick service and do not seem to require Aboriginal permissions on their images. Probably blanket permissions have been obtained. Both libraries were very helpful and responsive. I did obtain one image from the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW), which was given freely on the proviso that I send them a copy of the book. This also applied to use a Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) image. Captioning correctly PROV images can be difficult because of their unique cataloguing system. However, I emailed them and asked if I had the correct information and they responded within 24 hours.

One or two overseas locations wanted to charge over $100 for use of an image (some US University Libraries), but some were free (e.g., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Dept. Commerce). I did use two Wikimedia Commons images, but was very cautious that I had read carefully the conditions of use, and made sure I acknowledged the owner (a photographer).

UK Archives:
I spent some research time at the Gloucestershire Archives in England, and fortunately obtained permission to use my digital camera to re-photograph some of their historic photographs. I used three of these in my book after obtaining permission and details of each image from them. Their archivist was responsive and easy to work with. No charge was made. However, they requested a copy of the book for their collection. My advice here was to take a good a quality image as possible with your digital camera once you have their permission. If you use your own photograph, you may avoid the quite high charges made by some UK archives to send you a high quality image of the work that you want. I was pleasantly surprised that the Gloucestershire Archives allowed me to use my images instead of theirs. Of course that may just depend on which staff member handles your request.

Finally, in my Acknowledgments, I included this statement:
‘Great care has been taken to locate and contact copyright owners of images to credit them with the work and to obtain their permission to reproduce the images. If correct permission has been overlooked, I sincerely apologise and will rectify omissions in subsequent editions.’

Captions and Acknowledgments:
Most owners of images require that an author gives acknowledgement in a caption next to the image. Grouping of picture acknowledgments in a separate part of the book is preferred by some authors but can be frowned upon by owners. Personally, I do not think captions are intrusive. You should include artist’s name as well as collection identification.
Figure 50 – St Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne [Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria, H 88.21/63, watercolour by Charles Norton, 1850]

Outside Cover:
In a paperback, this is very important. I think more important than even the title, let alone any words on the back cover. It is the buyers’ first impression. So do spend time selecting that image.

Between Chapters:
Fortunately my wife is an artist. Unfortunately, I had no images of my two main characters in the book, but only some written descriptions of their characters. So we came to a view as to their possible visages. My wife then drew them in a number of situations – from wearing a top hat to riding a horse. I then used her images for inclusion on blank pages and at the end of chapters. I think it works but would be pleased to receive comment.

Illustrations, be they maps, street plans, property plans, drawings, sketches, family charts and paintings and portraits all add a great deal to your book, and can make up to some extent in your shortcomings in writing style. Don’t underestimate their value.


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