Online photo galleries
Online photo galleries can help you plan your trip by showing you pictures of all the places to which you're thinking of traveling
If a picture speaks a thousand words, then these sites are veritable encyclopedias of the wide world. The reason those lovely Eyewitness guides sell so well is that they're jam-packed with images that help you see at a glance "Oh, gosh, I just have to see that place!" or "Ugh; that town really is as ugly as they say."
They're great for planning trips, but you can find plenty of pics for free on the Internet as well. Tourism boards are one good place to see images, but often there are just a few seller shots of generic bits of the destination.
Googling the name of your destination within Google Images (just go to Google's main page and you'll see "Images" as a choice) might pop up pictures from a few personal travel diaries with scanned snapshots. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is becoming more and more useful on this front, too. But the best short-cut to dozens of high-quality photographs are stock houses.
A photography stock house is a sort of middlemen between photographers and the magazines, ad men, newspapers, graphic designers, commercial producers, and other folks who need to buy images. The fact that their real purpose is commerce doesn't mean we travelers can't sneak a peak to see what we're missing.
This is something I do frequently when I'm curious how a place looks and whether or not I might want to visit. I head over to the Web sites of Lonely Planet Images and Corbis, type in the name of the town or region I'm interested in, and presto! Up pop a bunch of photographs of the place.
You usually have to register to use any of these sites, or at least to see images bigger than the thumbnails—basically so if you use any images without permission or payment they can track you down.
Which reminds me: Do not steal from any of these guys. I do not list these sites so you can crib some cool photos to put on your own Web site. Sure, feel free to print them out to decorate your cube at work, or cut-and-paste send them to your friends to make them jealous of the trip you're about to take, but do not otherwise republish them anywhere, even if you're not making money off of it. That's the same as shoplifting a postcard.
If you're an editor or Webmaster with good reason to need photo art for publication, of course you can buy these pics direct from these sites—or, of course, from me or from Frances Sayers (www.francessayers.com), a brilliant and talented photographer who just happens to be my partner.
Online Photo Galleries
Panoramio (www.panoramio.com) - User-uploaded images overlaying Google maps. Awesome (though sometimes the GPS coordinates that determine where a pic should be stuck can be wildly off).
Lonely Planet Images (www.lonelyplanetimages.com) - Yep, the same Lonely Planet as the guidebooks. LPI is stocked mainly by snaps (more than 125,000) by the intrepid writers and researchers of the parent company's guidebooks, which means it covers plenty of oddball nooks and crannies of our planet, and is particularly well-geared toward travelers and things of touristic interest (seeing as how that stuff was what most of the photogs were concentrating on when they were taking their pics). It also means that the quality, while usually quite high, can sometimes dip a bit into the mediocre—for most of these folks, photography is a sideline or secondary pursuit to travel writing—but since you're more interested in getting a sense of what a potential place to visit looks like, that doesn't matter much.
Google Images (www.google.com) - Yep, the same folks who made the Internet somewhat navigable (and brought you the endlessly fascinating pastime of googling your own name to see just how totally less-than-famous you are out in cyberspace) have created a pictures-only version of their search-and-share software. It's neat in that you get a mix of the top professional pics right alongside the vacation snaps of anyone savvy enough to have embedded keywords in their jpegs. Like Lonely Planet, it offers a good chance of finding images of offbeat sights and specifics, since, with the Internet, chances are someone, somewhere has taken a picture of whatever it is you're interested in and has posted it to their blog.
Corbis (www.corbis.com) - Remember back when Bill Gates bought the Bettmann Archives of instant icon photographs? (Well, maybe not, but my girlfriend is a photojournalist, and it was HUGE news.) Corbis is now Bill's little stock shop, a modest collection of 70,000,000 images, illustrations, film clips, and fine art reproductions. After LPI, I tend to have the most luck finding destinations pics here. There's also the Corbis Motion section with thousands of video snippets (often 4 to 14 seconds long) clearly geared toward giving producers of commercials or folks hunting for B-roll footage a cache of good clips. A search on "Italy" produced 108 results, many of them brief aerial panning/zooming shots of towns or countrysides.
Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com) - The largest stock agency in the world, with a corner on (according to its press materials) "roughly 25 percent of the visual content industry." (They say "visual content" because, like competitor Corbis, in addition to photographs they own the rights to lots of film, prints, and artworks.) Since it was founded in 1995, it's gobbled up some of the top names in the business—Stone, Image Bank , Photodisc, Time Life, and National Geographic.
Magnum (www.magnumphotos.com) - The big guns. Magnum is sort of a cross between a company and an elite clique of top photogs, an invitation-only club for the best shutterbugs in the world. It’s also one of the few photo agencies that's owner-operated—a co-op run by the photographers themselves. The online archives only have 200,000 images (sounds like a lot, but think about how much world there is out there—and that each Magnum agency has millions of physical pics on hand), and most are news-related not traveler-ready, but if you want a peek at the cream of the crop, check them out.