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How Stock Photo Agencies Make Nature Writers Swear

by Amethyst Qu 7 months ago in photography
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Some photographers tag their photos any old thing under any old name

Bird photo by Wirestock under license from Deposit Photo

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but when I’m the king of the world, photographers who deliberately misidentify their photos are going to Gitmo. We all make mistakes in bird identification, but there are mistakes and there are “mistakes,” and then there’s this:

“I have no clue what bird this is, but the keyword search tool says, ‘sunbird’ and ‘hummingbird’ come up in search a lot, so I’ll get a lot of traffic if I say it’s that.”

I found the top image doing a search for Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird. C’mon, folks. That bird wasn’t even photographed in the same hemisphere as a sunbird.

The actual title on Deposit Photo is, “A closeup of a green Hummingbird with a red beak…” Oh, it isn’t a hummingbird either, but at least now we’ve stumbled into the New World. Since I know the Puerto Rican Tody, I can tell it must be a tody, but it isn’t Puerto Rican. They’re not shy birds, and I would’ve noticed that big puff of pink on the side.

Cuban Tody, then?

I look it up, and aha.

Cuban Tody by Charles J. Sharp, CC-By-SA-4.0 License

The hilarious part is I feel like I’ve now accomplished something useful with my day — when the truth is I still haven’t found the photo I was looking for in the first place.

Lady Gould's Sunbird / photo by Francesco Veronesi / CC-by-SA-2.0

This creative commons photo of a fine male Lady Gould's Sunbird by Francesco Veronesi may be as close to what I'm looking for as I will easily find. Hmm.

Veronesi's image was taken in Bhutan, a country I have never visited. But I don't think it's too terribly different from what I saw in Nepal. My birds, though, never perched. They were in ceaseless motion, reminding me of butterflies or hummingbirds.

In my mind's eye, I can see them even now-- the male and the female Lady Gould's together flittering from flower to flower in a beautiful pink tree in full bloom. My lightweight hobby equipment, in combination with my slow reflexes, meant I could never quite capture the beauty of the restless flying flowers I saw in front of me. It didn't help that they were so fun to watch that I preferred to study them in my foo-foo binoculars rather than a camera's viewfinder.

Assuming these were common enough birds performing a common enough activity, I also assumed I'd easily find a stock photo of that activity. Ha! These tiny, active birds probably demand dedicated photographers willing to carry the heavy, often costly, lenses you need to catch active birds in flight. Alas, the most knowledgeable of such photographers are not always eager to license those photos for sale on cheap stock photo sites.

So I shouldn't grumble so much about those photographers who do post stock. They're often still learning. Oh, they already know how to take a good picture, or they wouldn't be accepted by the site. But they are still learning the other tricks of the trade like how to identify a species, how to properly tag a photo so others can find it, and so on.

And thus we find a tody labeled as a hummingbird. You can have it cheap, or you can have it perfect, but you probably can't have both.

A little farther down this path, I found some great birds /photo by the author

The takeaway

Always double-check the identification of a bird image bought from a stock photo site. They’re wrong more often than they’re right.

It’s true for other animal groups as well. I have a horror story about a news item I once wrote about a margay. Turns out the stock photo I used was a mislabeled ocelot. Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m too traumatized to recall the exact details.

Either way, somebody who knew the difference was one of the first people to read the story and gripe out my editor. “But the stock photo site said…” was not an excuse that impressed anyone.

Photo Credits

Feature Photo: Cuban Tody by Wirestock under license from Deposit Photo.

Cuban Tody Photo #2: Charles J. Sharp, Sharp Photography, CC-By-SA-4.0 license

"Gould's Sunbird - Bhutan" by fveronesi1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Path lined with prayer flags, Nepal: Photo by the author

Author's Note

A shorter version of this story was previously published. If you enjoyed it, tap that <3 to let me know. You may also enjoy some of my stories about real hummingbirds:

photography

About the author

Amethyst Qu

Seeker, traveler, birder, crystal collector, occasional photographer. Author of "The Moldavite Message."

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