"Upload your photos and share them with friends and family!" That's how photo-sharing websites such as Flickr are often promoted. But in education, there is a more serious side: photo-sharing sites make available a huge repository of pictures.
Pupils like to illustrate their work, but unfortunately all too frequently neither they nor their teachers seem to fully appreciate the concept of copyright.
Here's the deal: whoever owns a photo owns the copyright in it. Just because they allow anyone to see it, does not mean they allow anyone to use it. Just because it's available through Google, doesn't mean you're free to use it. Bottom line: if in any doubt whatsoever, assume that you can't use it, and you should be legally safe. Do not be tempted to use something you have no legal right to. Not only might you get caught, it also sets a bad example to your students.
So at the very least you must look at the licence terms next to the photo you want to use. If it says 'All rights reserved', it means you can't use it unless you write the owner a very nice email and they take pity on you. Even better, find a photo that is free to use, usually for non-commercial purposes, and as long as you give credit to the owner.
When you find a picture you like, if it has the legend "Some rights reserved", click on the text and see what you're allowed -- and not allowed -- to do. You will see something like the Creative Commons licence agreement shown in the illustration.
Regardless of whether you make use of other people's pictures, I would always encourage schools to create their own repositories. After all, it's highly unlikely that other people will have taken photos of your street, your school or your neighbourhood. And even if they have, they may not be exactly right for your purposes. Flickr is free, or a modest amount for an unlimited amount of space, or you could use a dedicated hard disk or server in-house. Think about it: if each class spent one lesson a term taking photos for the school repository, by the end of the year you'd have hundreds, possibly thousands, of pictures that anyone in the school could use to illustrate their work.
You can even build in curriculum work. Depending on your subject and students' age group, have a session taking photos on the theme of shapes, or the colour green, or weather, or ... well, you get the picture.
If you do use Flickr, there are 3rd party applications which allow you to do more with your photos than simply share them with others. For example, you can create mosaics, or posters, or magazine covers. One of my favourites is Flickr Toys.
If you like the idea of making more use of photos, you know what to do: start snapping!
My photos on Flickr may be found here.