Learning patterns/Photographing your local buildings

A learning pattern forevent
Photographing your local buildings
problemCommons always needs high-quality photos of your local buildings, including those that may never be considered "notable" according to Wikipedia criteria. But how can you be sure your uploads will be useful, and how do you take high quality photos anyway?
solutionHere we give you a few simple tips to help you produce good and useful photos for Commons: how to get more out a building already photographed, how to provide information that will help others to use your uploads, some dos and don'ts at locations, and copyright basics.
created on4 July 2014

What problem does this solve?

The community runs a wide variety of photo events/competitions, the best known of which are Wiki Loves Monuments and the smaller Wiki Takes ... events and Wiki Scavenger Hunts. Most of these events involve the uploading of photos to Commons; but not all contributors know what makes a good photo, or what Commons is looking for to ensure that uploaded images are suitable for re-use by the Wikimedia community and elsewhere.

What is the solution?

You can significantly improve the quality and usefulness of your uploaded photos by keeping in mind just a few simple tips.

Tips for photographers

I'm not the world’s best photographer. Does Commons really want my images?

Yes we do, very much. The aim of most photo contests is not just to celebrate the work of our top photographers, important though that is. Even more important for the Wikimedia movement is to get more people involved in contributing and sharing freely usable images. We want people to realize that they can choose to let their photos lie on the shelf or on a computer, unused and unseen, or to have them published under a free licence for everyone, anywhere in the world.

Wikipedia already has photos of all the interesting buildings in my area. Why do you want more?

A single image of a building can give a general overview, but little else. Our aim on Commons is to collect as many educationally interesting images as we can – to provide variety of choice for anyone who needs a general photo of the building, and to capture different aspects of the building. So if you see that your favourite listed building already has a high-quality image on Wikipedia that you can’t improve on, don’t worry. Rather than uploading a less-good duplicate, concentrate on something slightly different. For example, all of the following are of real interest:

  • Photographs from different angles or with different perspective
  • The building in its wider environment
  • Rear and side views (preferably all of them)
  • Architectural details, from large-scale to small detailed features
  • Interior shots (where permission can be obtained)
  • The outbuildings, if any
  • Views under different lighting conditions or at different times of the year
  • The building in use, for example during a fete, or open to visitors
  • Older semi-historic images, provided that you personally took the photograph
  • Artistic images

What about "boring" and non-notable buildings?

Commons is a broad repository of educationally useful images and other media files. It doesn't apply any Wikipedia-style "notability" test to its images, though it does require that all photos be at least potentially useful for an educational purpose.

To ensure that your images are useful to other people, please always provide detailed information about what you've photographed. An unlabelled, apparently random photo of some concrete blockwork runs the risk of being deleted by Commons admins because it won't be regarded as useful for an educational purpose; but the same image may be of significant value to other people if you provided:

  • an explanatory title (e.g. "Detail of early 1960s block work, Derwent College, University of York"),
  • an informative subject line (e.g. "Detail of CLASP system blockwork, consisting of prefabricated concrete blocks and panels").
  • (preferably) a geolocation.

Avoiding problems at the location

  • Please be respectful and considerate to your fellow photographers, and to others at the location.
  • Be especially respectful if the building you want to photograph is a private residence. Don't continue to take photographs if asked to stop by the occupier.
  • If you are photographing building interiors, stop straight away if someone asks you to. Some places prohibit interior photography, but in others you may be allowed to continue if you gain permission.
  • Do not trespass on private property (but in many countries it's quite OKs to take photos of a privately owned building while standing in a public place such as the street). There are restrictions in some countries: see Commons:Freedom of panorama.
  • Try to avoid taking photographs in which individual people appear prominently. At busy locations it might be difficult to avoid people entirely – for example, at tourist attractions. Where there's no alternative, include crowds or groups of people provided they're not a main part of your image.
  • Where possible avoid photographing vehicles – particularly vehicle numberplates.
  • Please don't upload photos of posters, noticeboards, signs, modern murals, or anything else with text or two-dimensional images that might be copyright-protected. This applies even to text or images that are in a public place. The fact that everyone else is taking pictures of such text or images doesn't mean this will be accepted on Commons. (Ancient wall paintings in churches are fine, because they're out of copyright.)
  • Check the lists at Commons:Freedom of panorama to see whether there may be legal limitations in your country on photographing modern buildings and sculptures where copyright may still be in force.

When to use

  • Individually uploaded photos of local buildings
  • Wiki Loves Monuments, 'Wiki Takes ...' events and 'Wiki Scavenger Hunts'


See also