Wikipedia:Adding images improves the encyclopedia

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No matter what we do in real life, on Wikipedia, every editor can be an illustrator!

Let's be frank. Many aspects of editing Wikipedia article text can be challenging: finding reliable sources, drafting new text in your own words (without plagiarizing the source), preparing the inline citation, adding the text to the article, and then engaging in discussion with fellow editors over whether your text should be included or not. In some cases, the end result of drafting and saving a new paragraph is that it is deleted with a curt edit summary.

Even though editing text is hard, Wikipedia needs editors to work on drafting new text, and improving existing text. Only a fraction of Wikipedia's 6 million articles are featured articles. If the encyclopedia is going to be improved, it is essential that editors spend a good deal of their time adding text or improving text in existing articles that are in earlier stages of development.

But if you need a Wikibreak from some of the stress that goes along with editing text, particularly when proposing major additions, there is another activity that you can do on Wikipedia that is helpful to the encyclopedia, rewarding, and low stress: adding images from Wikimedia Commons.

Longtime editors can testify that they have had countless disagreements, debates and discussions regarding adding or deleting text. But veteran editors who have been adding well-chosen images from Wikimedia Commons for years will rarely get a complaint on their Talk page–indeed, they may even get "thank you" messages for particularly well-chosen image additions.

Of course you can't just go adding images to Featured articles (on these articles, the images are chosen after careful discussion), but if you focus your image contributions on articles in earlier stages of development, particularly those with no images, and you pick images that properly illustrate the topic of the article, your contributions are likely to stay in the articles. When you are adding images, you must comply with the Wikipedia Image use policy. More information about using images is available at WP:IMAGES.

Adding an image to an article[edit]

Adding an image to an article is easy!

  • Find the picture you want by browsing through the images on Wikimedia Commons. There is a search box to help you find the image you are looking for. If the search term you use does not produce results you like, pick a variant term (e.g., if "protest" does not return many pictures, try "demonstration").
  • When you find the right image, click on the image and then copy the image filename, which is usually in the format File:Name of the photo.jpg, and then paste the image filename onto the Wikipedia page, following the instructions below. Note that the filename may be slightly different. It might say Image:Name of the photo.gif. Regardless of the wording of the filename, copy it. For image files, the capitalization on the file ending must be copied exactly: if the file is called "Name of the photo.JPG", this picture will only work with the ".JPG" suffix. If the filename you have copied does not have the "File:" prefix, add this prefix to the image filename. If you just paste in "Name of the photo.jpg", the image will not work. (Exception: some infoboxes require that the file's name be placed without the file/image namespace prefix. Thus, and for example, if File:Name.jpg does not work, try just Name.jpg.)
  • A simple formatting approach is to type [[File:Name of the photo.jpg|thumb|Write your caption in this last section]].
  • In this formatting approach, "File:Name of the photo.jpg" is the name of the image file you copied from Wikimedia Commons. Paste this filename into this section. There has to be a vertical line between each element of the image file coding, which looks like "|". If your computer does not have a key for these vertical lines, you can cut and paste them from the Wiki markup list of codes at the bottom of the editing screen. "Thumb" is an instruction on how to format the picture (there are other options, but "Thumb" will work fine at first). "right" is a command to put the image on the right. If you enter "left" the picture will be on the left. If you enter "center" here, the picture will be centered.
  • "Write your caption in this last section" is the part where you write the caption. All the normal Wikipedia rules apply to captions, just as with regular text (e.g., WP:RS, WP:NPOV, WP:NOR, etc.). For more information on captioning pictures, see below.
  • The image will only work if you have the double square brackets at the beginning and end of the image coding, as indicated here in bold: [[File:Name of the photo.jpg|thumb|right|200px|Write your caption in this last section]].
  • You can see an example of this simple formatting approach in the image of the photographer used in the lead of this essay. If you click "edit", you can see the coding that is required to make the picture of the photographer and the caption appear on the page. It looks like:[[File:Rob McArthur.jpg|thumb|upright=1.35|No matter what we do in real life, on Wikipedia, every editor can be an illustrator!]]

Choosing the right image[edit]

When you have found an article in an earlier stage of development that has few images, it is time to find some good images. You have a lot of choices. Let's say the article is about the "African Athletic Games". Wikimedia Commons may have a range of pictures available, including photos of athletes, officials, opening and closing ceremonies, medal awarding ceremonies and athletic facilities built for the event. One consideration in choosing pictures is to try and give a reasonably fair coverage of the different elements covered by the article. For example, if the games include three types of sports and you are choosing three photos of athletes, you may want to have one photo that illustrates each of the main sport categories.

As well, MOS:IMAGES, the Wikipedia guidelines in the Manual of Style regarding images says that editors should choose photos that depict individuals of different ages, genders and races.

Overall, try to get a balance of photos of different aspects of the event. If all of the photos are of athletic facilities built for the games, this will not convey enough of the human aspect of the event. On the other hand, if only close-up photos of athletes are used, the reader will not get a sense of the local setting and the special facilities built for the games.

Of all the photos that you choose, the photo for the lead (introduction) section is arguably the most important. Many readers will only read the lead of an article. If they do decide to read the article, it is because the lead managed to spark their interest. The text, of course, plays a crucial role in engaging the reader's interest in the lead, but the lead image also has an important role. Don't pick a photo of athletes waiting on the starting line; pick a dramatic action photo of a runner surging past the finish line that will captivate the reader's imagination!

Once you have chosen photos for the article, when another editor sees the photos, this may prompt them to think "that is a good photo, but I have seen an even better one that illustrates that aspect of the article." These types of changes are part of the normal Wikipedia process. If you think that the new picture is less suitable, you can discuss this on the article's Talk page. As long as your discussion is civil and respectful, you may be able to make a compromise (e.g., keeping the new photo and relocating the old photo to another location in the article).

Illustrating abstract concepts[edit]

For some topics, choosing the right image is easy. For milkshake, pick a photo of a frothy chocolate milkshake with whipped cream on top. For toaster, you can pick from a number of gleaming chrome appliances. But can you illustrate abstract concepts like emptiness or insignificance with a photo? Yes, it may be possible. Finding an image for an abstract concept may take a lot more searching through Wikimedia Commons. If you really want a photo of a person sad about losing a running race to illustrate a Wikipedia essay on dealing with defeat, you may not be able to find it by searching for keywords like "defeat" or "losing". You may have to go through hundreds of running race photos until you find the one you're looking for.

Types of images[edit]

If you browse through Wikimedia Commons, you will see that it is a mixture of photos of people, objects, and different landscapes. These range from antique sepia-toned black and white photos from the 19th century to current colour photos of modern items and cityscapes. Some of the objects that are photographed include works of art such as paintings and sculptures. When you are looking for an image to illustrate an abstract concept like rage or sadness, there may be paintings or sculptures of these concepts that will serve as good illustrations. The images also include tables, graphs, computer-generated images, music notation and some video screenshots. When using an image of a table or graph, the rules on reliable sourcing (WP:RS) apply to images in the same way that they apply to text. You will need to supply a citation for the table or graph.

Adding captions[edit]

A widely-held, yet incorrect, view is that captions are somehow a Wikipedia rule-free zone, where editors can express any views they want. Nope! All the standard Wikipedia rules like WP:NPOV and WP:OR apply to text in captions, just as with article text. A photo illustrating a historical person should not have a caption with POV comments that they are the most brilliant (or the cruellest) ruler in history. A photo of a historical wartime event should not have a caption with the editor's own original theories of why the "X" side lost that battle.

If you are illustrating a sensitive or controversial topic, it is best to keep the caption as simple and factual as possible. For a photo of a controversial political figure, you may wish to simply caption it "John Smith in 1925", without making reference to any of the controversies or disputes in their biography. For a photo of a disputed territory, you may wish to simply describe what is in the picture, without referring to any of the disputed names for that area, e.g., "A farming region, pictured in 2009."

Adding images to essays[edit]

To add a light touch to a long day of editing, an especially enjoyable task is to add images to Wikipedia essays (WP:Essays). The rules for adding images to essay pages in the Wikipedia namespace are somewhat more relaxed, and there are many essays that have funny, ironic or sarcastic images as illustrations. The essay Wikipedia:There is no deadline, for example, has a photo of a turtle ambling through the grass.