Tag Archives: travel writing

How to source copyright-free photographs

Media degrees receive a lot of criticism in the press these days, and much of it is deserved. Yet it was a HND in Communications that first encouraged me to step outside the classroom and start taking photographs on a digital camera as a teenager, subsequently leading me to major in video production at university. I quickly became the unofficial custodianship of the company-owned digital camera in the two jobs I held between graduating and dedicating my career to G75 Media, which included a seven-year stint as a full-time property journalist.

Today, I have thirty years of photography experience, with an expert eye for framing and composition. This instinctive expertise was honed to perfection during the 11 years I ran G75 Images as a property photography sideline to G75 Media’s copywriting and content production business. I reluctantly closed G75 Images down following run-ins with clients who seemed to think paying for photography services was optional. And in one respect, they’re right – free images are widely available across the internet. You just need to know where to look.

Aren’t free images just a Google search away?

It’s a common misapprehension that pictures found through search engines are free to reuse. In fact, the penalties for infringing a copyrighted image (whether or not it shows up in normal results) may be punitive. If you want to source copyright-free photographs, there are specific avenues you’ll need to go down, some of which require delicate navigation. This is why I routinely offer to source and supply images to G75 Media’s copywriting and journalism clients, leveraging my expertise to simplify matters for them while ensuring the copy I write is accompanied by suitably dynamic visuals.

In many cases, the photographs I supply were taken by myself, sourced from my vast trove of digital photography. The photo accompanying this article was taken a few years ago during a travel journalism trip to the Netherlands. I could have subsequently provided a client with this quintessentially Dutch scene alongside an original piece of writing, though as yet I haven’t had the opportunity to write about Zaandam, clogs or bicycles. Alternatively, I could have simply searched for images in one of the curated collections of copyright-free photographs online.

Why would photography be free?

It’s a good question. Photography is an artform just like any other, and photographers have bills to pay just like the rest of us. These are some of the reasons why artists might share Creative Commons Zero (CC0) images online, effectively opting out of any right to royalties or accreditation:

  1. To build their reputation, in preparation for selling pictures later.
  2. They view taking photographs as a hobby rather than an income stream.
  3. They have a passion for a particular subject, which they’re keen to share with others.
  4. They don’t feel the images are sufficiently high-quality or high-resolution to be saleable.
  5. Their photographs complement another income stream (such as painting or graphic design).

How do I source copyright-free photographs?

Firstly, it’s advisable to look beyond search engines. There is a way to find CC0 licensed images on Bing or DuckDuckGo, but it’s not intuitive. Taking Google as an example, it involves going into the Images > Tools > Usage Rights submenu before choosing Creative Commons licenses. This tends to reveal visuals from a handful of sources such as Wikimedia, but it will also display photos with copyright details clearly displayed in the photo title and summary. In these instances, you can reproduce the photo without paying, but you’ll have to credit the photographer in whatever form they request every time you use the photo.

More unambiguous collections of CC0 images are hosted on websites which are specifically focused on helping people source copyright-free photographs. There are numerous examples of websites where the default setting involves images suitable for reproduction and republication with no attribution or acknowledgement, including FreeImages and Stockvault. Be aware that some sites (such as Unsplash) intersperse CC0 image results and their own paid shots, which require either a subscription or one-off fees. This replicates the model of paid photography websites including Getty Images and Shutterstock, which charge a fee for each reproduction or (in some cases) allow you to purchase exclusive copyright to individual shots.

If all this sounds too complicated (and it does take a while to master), you could always ask a freelance copywriter to source copyright-free photographs as part of their contract. It’s something G75 Media routinely does, and we’d be delighted to discuss this as part of any quote. Get in touch to discuss how we can meet your editorial and photography needs.

Why businesses need mystery shoppers

Although G75 Media routinely works with clients as diverse as optometrists and DIY platforms, we list four core specialisms on our What We Do page. While we remain embedded in the property, automotive and technology sectors, our travel writing has waned in parallel with declining demand for professional travel journalists. Nowadays, vloggers like Shawn Sanbrooke have moved the dial away from written content, while print publications are more likely to publish paid-for advertorials than (potentially critical) travel journalism.

Yet one aspect of travel writing remains impervious to TikTok, generative AI and PR-led promotional content. Companies still need mystery shoppers – arguably more so now than ever, in an age where one negative review from a well-connected individual can cause significant reputational damage. Everyone’s a critic these days, and the best way of negating their criticism is to periodically ensure your customer-facing offerings are optimal. Staff will inevitably bring innate bias to the process of judging their own employers, while the general public can’t always be trusted to be objective; automated AI tools can’t help companies to discern public perceptions, either.

The golden standard

Objective reviews of customer-facing hospitality and leisure venues are produced by a small but dedicated army of mystery shoppers, including G75 Media’s founder, Neil Cumins. He’s recently been awarded Gold certification by one of the UK’s leading mystery guest platforms after reviewing hotels, bars and restaurants across north-west England and Scotland. This reflects Neil’s background as a seasoned travel writer, having previously written for tourism websites including 5pm.co.uk and YPlan, alongside travel publications from Food & Drink Guides to Group Leisure.

However, being a mystery reviewer involves far more than knowing when to use the fish fork, or how a pint of lager should be poured and served (at 45 degrees into a cold branded glass, served with the logo facing you). These are some of the skills required to succeed in an industry where you’re only ever as good as your last completed questionnaire…

1. Photography

A picture tells a thousand words, and it also offers pointers about where a venue might be going wrong. Food photography provides real-time snapshots of a venue’s catering staff, giving proprietors invaluable insights into what’s being served up to their customers. Mystery guests should supply visual evidence of whether pastry is well cooked, or whether pillows are encased in clean protectors. Neil’s twenty years of photojournalism experience has been invaluable in this regard.

2. Service

Many mystery dining/hospitality platforms issue lengthy surveys, potentially asking over a hundred different questions about a visit. Many of these relate to the service provided by staff – cordiality, efficiency, helpfulness, and so forth. Reviewers may be tasked with probing staff knowledge, taking notes of missed upselling opportunities and monitoring how quickly ad-hoc requests are actioned. This requires meticulous record-taking in a manner discreet enough to avoid anyone noticing.

3. Ambience

A hotel’s primary role is to provide comfortable overnight accommodation, while a restaurant’s is to serve tasty meals. Yet there’s so much more to consider regarding the overall experience. From parking to noise levels, from wait times to cleanliness, a mystery guest has to record every aspect of each venue. This means critiquing on-site toilets, testing the WiFi speed, judging temperatures and other nuanced elements that a less observant individual might not even consciously identify.

Alongside detective-like observation skills and the ability to record detailed notes without attracting anyone’s attention, mystery reviews tend to involve a great deal of open-ended reportage. This is where skills like brevity and eloquence battle for supremacy – painting a vivid picture in a limited number of words. An experienced travel writer can bring a two-dimensional review to life, but some mystery guest platforms require more exposition than others.

The personal touch

Finally, remember that mystery shopping reports and surveys can directly affect the staff members encountered in that visit. Critiquing discoloured grout in a hotel bathroom is very different to critiquing the efficiency of a waitress working a split shift while covering for an absent colleague. Reviewers need to be empathetic towards the people they encounter, especially when they’re asked to name employees in their reports. Anyone can have bad luck, or a bad day at the office.

If you have a venue that would benefit from mystery shopping, contact G75 Media to see how we can add value to your brand or business. If you work for a mystery review platform, we’d be delighted to discuss working together on ad hoc or ongoing assignments. Finally, budding writers seeking to break into the tightly knit community of mystery diners and freelance hotel reviewers should start by conducting their own analysis and writing up reports. As with many aspects of the hospitality sector itself, practice makes perfect…

Easter break? Not for us!

While the rest of the UK enjoys a welcome (if rather chilly) Easter bank holiday weekend, work continues at the copywriting coalface for G75 Media. In our new role as copy editors of a national magazine, there are articles to be revised and proofread in preparation for next week. We have the usual turntable of weekly deadlines to be met – even if copy that our clients would normally upload on Monday won’t be seen til Tuesday! And there’s also the small matter of entering a national competition for freelancers, with our entry ready to be uploaded. If we’re nominated, you’ll hear about it here first…