Images - Best practice

Photography is an important aspect of the University’s identity and reputation. Using photographs in promotional materials and other works requires the highest standards to ensure that the University’s reputation is protected.

Today, with the rise of digital and social media, the power of images is stronger than ever. Colour visuals are said to increase people’s willingness to read by up to 80%.

However, choosing which image to use, deciding how to source the best image and ensuring that the image you choose has the necessary data protection and copyright agreements in place can sometimes be both daunting and time consuming.

The best practice guide is intended to assist you to choose the best images for your particular needs and to ensure you have the necessary permissions.

Selecting images

Oxford University Images

The University’s online image library, Oxford University Images, contains more than 12,000 images as well as a small selection of video footage. From students to science, scenic to sport and much more, the images cover a range of different subjects relating to the collegiate University and the city.

A small charge is made for use of these images as royalties need to be paid to the photographers each time an image is used. The library also includes a selection of royalty-free images that are available for University users at no cost.

To access these you will need to log on to the website:

Oxford University Images includes photographs from the University’s museums and collections. In addition, many of the museums and collections have their own image service. You should refer to the individual museums to access these.

External image libraries

There are hundreds of commercial image libraries covering almost every subject you can think of. Most, if not all, can be
browsed online.

All will charge a licence fee for the use of their images, but if you have the budget for a special publication they can be a great source of good-quality images that you won’t necessarily find on free image sites.

Images from picture libraries are usually purchased by subscription. Normally you join the library and purchase credits in advance.

BAPLA (the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) is the trade association for UK picture libraries and is a good starting place, with members ranging from large image libraries to small specialist collections.

For more information visit

Rights managed

Some picture libraries specialise in Rights Managed images:

The advantage of using these libraries is the in-depth specialist collections they offer.

The disadvantage is that they can be expensive, and their licensing method is more restrictive.

Some useful sites, specialising in Rights Managed images include:
includes more than a million images relating to art collections and artists
a good general image library with a huge number of images to choose from
a large collection of historical images
a specialist science library ranging from astronomy and nature to medicine and technology


Others picture libraries specialise in royalty-free images:

The advantage of using these libraries is that the cost of licensing an image is relatively cheap, plus you can use the images as often as you like at no extra cost.

The disadvantage is that they tend to offer more generic images rather than specialist ones.

Sites specialising in royalty-free stock photos include:

Creative Commons

There are a number of sites that offer photographs, icons and graphics that are licensed under Creative Commons.

Useful sites include:

Commissioning photography

Commissioning your own photography is probably the best way of ensuring that you get the photography that you want, with the knowledge that you will not see the images in other publicity material. A clear brief for the photographer is essential for the success of the shoot. A photography brief form can be found on the last page of this guide.

When deciding if you want to commission photography rather than source stock images there are a number of points to consider.

  • Do you want a large number of images and is it therefore more economical to hire a photographer than pay numerous individual reproduction fees?
  • Do you want consistency of style in the images you use – for example, for a book?
  • Is there a specific event taking place – special lecture, honorary degree ceremony?
  • Do you have special access to a person, an interview or object/s, eg in a museum?
  • Do you want or need to have the copyright assigned to your department or college? This is especially useful if you wish to reuse the image or allow other people to use the image.

Points to note when selecting or commissioning images

  • Keep clothing simple – use strong block colours rather than busy patterns.
  • Think about different angles to create interest and variety: from below or above, framing in a doorway or bough of tree, etc.
  • Be aware that the image may be used as a cut-out and a simple background is most helpful in this scenario.
  • Think about space for text.
  • Ask your photographer to take both landscape (wider than it is tall) and portrait (taller than it is wide) shots so they can be used in a variety of formats.

Selecting or commissioning photographs of people

When selecting, look for:

  • strong and dynamic images
  • person or people looking engaged or enthusiastic
  • contextualisation with the person’s work or interest
  • diversity of gender, age, ethnicity
  • strong, meaningful graphics on the screens when there are computer screens or whiteboards.

If you are thinking about commissioning photographs, especially relating to students or research, the Public Affairs Directorate might be interested in a collaborative shoot. This would save you both time and resources.

For further information contact the Design and Publications Office at

Image resolution and file size

The size of images you need will depend on how you want to use them.

There are two measurements that tell you about an image’s size and resolution.

One is the pixel dimension (px), the other is defined as ‘dots per inch’ (dpi).

For print the image needs to be 300 dpi at the size you wish to reproduce it.

For web use image resolution should be 72 dpi.

If the image you want to use is small, that is fine if you use it at its current size, or even make it smaller. But if you want to display it at a larger size, don’t use it.

If you take an image that is too small and enlarge it, the image quality will be affected (more pixelation) and it will start to look fuzzy.

The more you enlarge the image the fuzzier (pixelated) it will get. In an ideal world, start off with as big an image as possible. This applies for use online as well as for print.

If you have a high-quality image you can always reduce the file size and dimensions – but you
can never enlarge an image without losing quality.

Dated photographs

Beware of dated photographs that can look awkward or out of place. Look out for the following:

  • Check the date when the image was taken if you can. Skylines and cityscapes may have changed over
    the years, with new buildings or constructions underway. University buildings may have been altered, and
    technology developed, so be sure that the image is appropriate.
  • Fashions change, making an image outdated.
  • Seasons may also be relevant to the use of the image. Check that the photograph looks spring-like if that
    is the season you need to show.

When commissioning work, think about other ways the images could be used that may depend on how people
are dressed. For example, sleeveless tops and shorts will rarely be worn except in high summer, but if sleeves and jeans are worn the images could have wider use.

Special effects

It is best to avoid using fish-eye lenses, tinted gels etc. They generally detract from the focus of the image, unless you need it for a particular artistic purpose.