Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wanderer: Stumbling Upon a Goldmine of Shareable Images

by Brenda Zollitsch


Have you ever been frustrated trying to find that perfect picture for a wetland or streams report, newsletter, presentation or outreach document?  One that isn’t copyrighted or requires you track down the photographer and ask their permission?  Of course you CAN go out and try to get the photo yourself or contact someone who takes great pictures and might have the one you seek.  However, there are times when none of that comes through and that’s when you might want to take a moment and check out a site called Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia  Commons is a recent discovery for me and most certainly a welcome one.  I stumbled across it when trying to find photos for a PowerPoint presentation I was compiling.  My search turned up a glorious photo of water running over rocks.  Perfect!  And then I looked at the source: “Wikimedia”.  Initially, I thought it was a picture from Wikipedia (the online public compiled encyclopedia), but it wasn’t.   It turns out that Wikimedia Commons is a great source of free photographs contributed by photographers all over the world.  In much the way Wikipedia has been compiled by millions of contributors (both qualified and unqualified), Wikimedia Commons is a database of over 20 million freely usable media files and nearly 115,000 media collections to which anyone can contribute.  Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository that makes public domain and freely-licensed educational media content available to everyone.

Want a picture of ditch litter?  Maybe you need a picture of phragmites reedbeds? A salt marsh at sunrise?  The RAMSAR Convention?  It’s a bit hit or miss, but if you are somewhat flexible, it’s a gold mine of ready-at your-fingertips free, anytime images, videos and sound clips. Here (left) is a picture of Hell Roaring Creek in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Custer County, Idaho (left) taken by photographer “Fredlyfish4” in 2008.  For most images, the Wikimedia Commons site tells you where it was taken, when, by whom and photographic specifications.  Now add to this whole concept an additional “now that’s cool” factor – Wikimedia Commons is linked to Google Maps.  For many images, Wikimedia Commons provides a Google Maps link to either the exact location the photograph was taken or the vicinity.

Wikimedia Commons allows you to download various sizes of images, use the file on the web, wikis and other electronic locations, and email links to files.  You are free to copy, distribute and transmit Wikimedia Commons media or to adapt the media as long as you attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor and if you alter, transform, or build upon the work, you may only distribute the resulting work under the same or similar license to the one for the picture.  Most photographers want to know if their pictures are used, so they ask you to send an email to the photographer with a reference to the document or website or a description of other uses.

And Wikimedia Commons offers wetland managers and enthusiasts more than just photos.  The site includes art, schematics, diagrams and more.  For example, you can find this public access diagram of a fen on the site.  This image happens to have been created by Jim Adams from the EPA and posted in July 2010.  But, remember, just like with Wikipedia, it is your job to verify whether or not images are correct, whether their sources are credible, and that the media represent what their contributor claim they represent.  There is no one who holds contributors accountable for the accuracy of what they post to the Wikimedia Commons. On most pages, there is a link to a discussion page where you can comment on the image.  If you see an error, feel free to create a login and let your ideas be known about the image.

So take a moment and check it out.  Here is a link to the general search for images using the keyword “wetlands”: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Wetlands.  If you go to this link, you can see that you can search for “wetlands” media by geography, type, and other categorical breakdowns.  You can also use their general search tool to narrow things down.  You may want to narrow your search by continent, country, and/or state when trying to find pictures that represent your wetland projects. There are a large number of photos on the site from Europe and other parts of the world.  Because the Wikimedia Commons is compiled by individuals posting what they want to share, the  site does not offer systematic representation of all topics that may be of interest to you.   There are major gaps in the image library, so sometimes it is better to see what is available, rather than trying to pigeonhole your search with too many specifics.

Those of you who love to take photos and share your love of wetlands and all things nature may want to consider creating an account and posting some of your photos online to share with the world as well.  Surely, there is a need by all of us for access to a wider range of different media images and clips that help support our work.  If you are interested in adding your work to the Commons, take a moment to learn about becoming a contributor to the site.

There is one more thing that I personally think makes Wikimedia Commons truly fascinating — Each image was captured by an individual who thought that that piece of media was worth taking or making.  Consequently, entering the Commons is somewhat like entering an art gallery.  Every piece contained within has been created by someone who cared enough not only to create it, but wanted to share it with the world.  And that’s pretty darn awesome.

So, go forth and enjoy!  I hope you find something that is useful to you, fills a gap in your image library, or just plain inspires you.

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