Sunday, April 10, 2016

Create Your Own . . . Clip Art

Copyright issues sometimes plague genealogists and the family historian. This is especially true if we plan to publish our stories and research findings. Who owns the copyright for an image? When does an image belong in the public domain? Just because you own a photograph of your ancestor, does that mean you own the copyright to that image? The purpose of this post is not to address those issues. Instead, I refer you to Judy Russell's blog, The Legal Genealogist. She's the expert in topics relating to copyright and genealogy.

Instead, I want to provide some ideas for creating your own images for which you will own the copyright. Since most of us carry a smartphone all of the time, or have some kind of a point-and-shoot digital camera, creating your own images becomes pretty simple. You have to think Image. Think Graphic. Think Composition.

In college, I studied both photojournalism and art photography and have been an amateur photographer ever since. When I lived at home, my Dad even built me my own darkroom in our basement. I don't miss the smell of those chemicals contained in a small space and I'm so glad we have moved into a digital world. But ever since I was a youngster, I've seen my world inside of framed images. I'm always thinking, "how I can best compose a photograph of this subject?" Most of the time, I have a digital camera with me, but I ALWAYS have my iPhone to capture those spur of the moment shots.

I enjoy traveling, sightseeing, visiting museums and historical landmarks. Not only do I try to capture the typical "tourist" photos, I also have an eye toward what will make an interesting photograph to enhance a blog post, article or other published piece I might write about my ancestors. Over the years, I've created a fairly extensive library of photographs that I can enhance through photo editing software or apps. I can use them freely because I own the copyright since I took the photographs.

Everywhere you go, always think "Clip Art Library" and before long, you will have your own source of images for blog posts, articles, and family history books. Once you begin accumulating your images, you will need to organize them within folders on your computer and perhaps tag them with subject matter such as pioneers, flags, prairie, homestead, etc.

The following are a few of the images that I've captured in recent years. I hope they will inspire you to begin your own clip art library of images for which you own the rights and can use freely.

This one isn't all that exciting, but we are always writing
about libraries, archives and research.
So add a few shots that you've taken while visiting a library.
This is the cabin on the grounds of Homestead National Monument.
I've used variations of this which I've created in photo apps to make it look like a sketch,
a pencil drawing or a sepia print. I've used this one a lot!

Here's an example of a pretty boring photograph of one of the displays at the Leonardo DaVinci
exhibit that I shot at Union Station in Kansas City last month.
See the next photo for an example of how to make your photos go from ordinary to extraordinary.
This photo is composed with much more interest, focusing on the work table.
Same space, different perspective.

What might have been in the covered wagons our ancestors drove
as they moved westward in the 1860s? Here's an example I discovered at
the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

I haven't used this image yet, but can't we always use a reference to a compass?
Photo taken at the Lewis and Clark Center near Nebraska City, Nebraska.

I've used this image when writing about my Irish immigrant ancestors.
Photo taken at the Kansas City Irish Center when it was located at Union Station.

I took this photo yesterday at the Durham Museum in Omaha.
It was formerly the Omaha Union Station.
Sometime when I'm writing about my family members who served
in World War II, this is an image I can use.

Here's another example of a not very interesting straight-on shot.
See below for better composition.

This view is more interesting and I can use the
space on the right to add some typography, a quote or meme.

Example of a One Room School - establishing shot.
Durham Museum - Omaha

Then go for the special interest shot.
Durham Museum - Omaha

Wyuka Cemetery - Lincoln, Nebraska
This is one of my favorite views at Wyuka.
And here's how I turned that image into a sketch using an iPhone app.

My Mother's Hand
This is a recently discovered photo that I took of my Mom's hand with a family
Bible and some ancestor's glasses (no idea who!).
This was among a huge collection of negatives of photos I took while in college.
What a treasure for me to find this one!

With some simple apps, you can convert old images into interesting graphics.

Having fun with ancestor photos.
With photo apps, you can create collages and memes.

This is an old photo scanned from a negative.
It could still use some enhancing in Photoshop Elements.
Arthur Cemetery, Arthur, Nebraska.

Boot Hill Cemetery, Ogallala, Nebraska
I thought this view was much more interesting
than shooting from the other direction.
I've actually reversed it for a project so that it doesn't read backwards.
I'm a flag geek. I always take photos of flags flying at the sites I visit.
This is at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa.
These are just a few examples of keeping your eyes open for Photo Ops. With digital photography, we are no longer restricted to 36 images per roll of film. Shoot photos to your heart's content. Even now, with no restrictions, I still feel as though I never take enough photos! Although, my Facebook friends and followers on Instagram may argue with me on that!

Here's a few more tips:
  • Take an establishing shot. Get the big picture. This is especially true when photographing cemeteries. Don't just take the photo of your ancestor's headstone. Get a wider view of the entire plot and area.
  • Take a photo of identification information. If it's a museum or gallery, take a photo of the sign that shows the hours of operation. Always take pictures of the historical marker that describes the site you are visiting. You may not end up using these in your project, but it's a good point of reference.
  • Take shots from several angles. Get your establishing shot, then shoot from the right, shoot from the left, zoom in. Look for interesting patterns, shadows and light. With digital, you can afford to take as many photos as you want.
  • Experiment with portrait and landscape and square. Use what suits your purpose. Since becoming hooked on Instagram, I shoot a lot of square photos (even though Instagram now allows other formats). You're not going to be shooting the inside dome of a state capitol building using landscape! If you are photographing art or exhibits in a museum, get a photo of the sidebar description of the piece. Again, that is for your reference, not necessarily something you will publish. It's akin to "citing your sources."
  • Start thinking in pictures, images, graphics. Think how you might be able to use a photograph of what you are seeing.
  • Look up. Look down. Perspective gives you a variety of images. A few months ago, I posted a collection of photographs I had taken of my hometown in the 1970s (I'd been binge scanning old negatives). A friend who is an art major/photographer commented that he had never seen our city in quite the way I had captured it. It's because I was looking up and looking down.
  • It is not possible to take too many photos!
  • Make sure you organize your collection. As mentioned earlier, add metadata to your image file that has tags so you can easily find what you're looking for.
  • Flags are always good subjects. Or maybe it's just me. I always tend to take photos of flags flying over whatever site I'm visiting.
Some IOS (iPhone/iPad) apps I enjoy using to enhance my photos include:
There are thousands to choose from! Keeping playing and experimenting and you can convert your photos into a variety of creative graphics.


  1. Thanks Susan for all your great suggestions. I have a few that I could use already but I need to add the metadata so I can find them. You have inspired me to take my camera with me more often and start taking photos from different angles.

  2. A fascinating post that encourages me to try some of your ideas. Thank you.

  3. Love your ideas. I'm going to try to take a lot more shots. I'm old enough to remember when you had to "count" your shots in case you run out of film. I used to frame many poses but didn't take them and then wonder why they were missing from the shots.

  4. Great tips! I'm a horrible photographer, but I think I'm getting better. Canva is a great tool for formatting your photos to fit different sites, facebook header, instagram, etc.

  5. Very good ideas! I am going to start taking more photos when I travel - or just in the library! Thanks!

  6. Susan,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  7. Great article! I also photograph "textures" for backgrounds - bricks, ferns, ivy, leaves, etc. Also check out The Commons at Flickr - The Internet Archive and British Library have thousands of graphics from old books - all public domain. All kinds of historic photos too. Flickr lets you search for public domain licensing too.