Saturday, February 13, 2010

Photo Research on a Budget

I've been quiet, because I've been busy. TR's "first pages" and "second pages" have come and gone -- I'll post about them soon.

In the meantime, I spent some moments yesterday writing about how I do photo research on a budget for my books for Chicago Review Press. This seems like a good place to share what I've learned!

Here goes!

I'm now writing my third book for Chicago Review Press. All three have been historical (my Newton book was both historic and scientific). My images can be either b/w or color but must be at least 300 dp high res.

There are the traditional ways to find public domain images through the LOC, libraries, and historical societies. LOC images than can be downloaded directly from the LOC are free. I credit them in the book. But other images that the LOC has to develop and snail mail cost -- $56 for a photo of the bathroom at Theodore Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill for example.

For the Newton book and the forthcoming book on Elizabeth I, I am scrounging for images from old texts that are in the public domain -- prior 1923 and sometime a bit later. I go at this a couple of ways. I look at Amazon Marketplace, B&N, eBay and and search for things there. This brings up much in the way of ephemera -- old postcards, plates from books and magazines, and entire old books.

In my Newton book, I have images from old postcards, cigarette cards, old engravings, etc. I also scanned old books from my library and one worked so well the designer "colorized" it for the cover. That said, I also bit the bullet for three images I just had to have: Newton's death mask, an images of a feather and an apple falling in a vacuum (both for $175 inside use) and $100 for an image of Newton's monument at Westminster Abbey. I also used an online photo taken by a man in Canada -- his price was 3 copies of my book.

If I have a question about a book I see on eBay or Amazon, I can always ask the seller, but another help is simply to look at the book on Google book search, Project Gutenberg, and other Web sites that show images of each page. I now have two old books from the early 1900s with great images for the book on Elizabeth. For Elizabeth, I'm also using public domain postcards with public domain images on them.

Get creative! I will say, I spent A LOT on images for my Newton book and suspect that other authors have spent more than that. But now I have all of them in a scrapbook I pass around when I talk about Newton.

For TR, it's less because of all the good stuff through LOC and the National Park Service. I'm working to keep my costs down on the book I'm working on now but know I'll have to pay for some things I want in the book.

If anyone has specific questions, please email me and I'll answer.


  1. The images in your books are great, but it's too bad YOU have to pay for them!

  2. Yup...that seems to be the trend these least with this publisher!