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Behind the Lens: WordPress Photos Directory Surpasses 10,000 Images, Moderators Explore Future Enhancements

The WordPress Photos Directory crossed a major milestone this week, surpassing 10,000 photos. It’s a growing resource that exists to provide free, publicly-contributed, CC0-licensed photographs. Every photo submitted is moderated by a volunteer.

I’m super excited about this milestone,” Photos team moderator Michelle Frechette said. “Most (if not all) of the moderators are also photographers, and we appreciate the photography skills and the time it takes for people to take, edit, and submit a photo. It’s really fulfilling to see the numbers grow and include so many people and their art.”

All the images included in the directory are also available through Openverse, which aggregates various media sources. One distinction about the directory is that it accepts user submissions from anyone – they don’t have to be professional-level photos.

“The fact that there are now over 10,000 photos in the directory that folks can use – completely attribution-free – is incredible,” Photos team moderator Marcus Burnette said. “What I love even more, though, is that there are 1400+ contributors that make up that number! While submitting a photo is simple, often times composing, taking, and editing a photo is not. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to make the directory as high-quality as it is.”

Selections from the WordPress Photos Directory were featured as hanging prints in the Open Source | Open Canvas art gallery at WordCamp US 2023. The QR codes below each photo linked to their respective pages on

Moderators report that roughly 85.5% of the photos submitted so far have been approved. Photos getting rejected are usually not following the guidelines (ex: human face in the photo, private info like a license plate in image), or are not high enough quality (ex: low resolution, crooked horizon.)

Moderating photos only takes a minute or two on average and the queue has been fairly manageable. The moderators use various checks to ensure photos are high quality and original, include accurate alt text, cross-check subject tags, and add the main colors of the image. In some cases, when a submission is rejected, moderators will email asking them to correct the issues and re-submit. Most photos are moderated within two to three business days.

Becoming a photo moderator after starting as someone who submits photos, is one of the natural paths many contributors have taken to joining the team. It’s one of the many opportunities to contribute back to the open source project without writing code.

“Some of my photos were the first to seed the directory for the announcement and launch, which was a huge honor,” Frechette said. “Becoming a moderator and helping others submit their photos is really fulfilling.

“Although it doesn’t always make you happy to decline a photo, it’s helping the project be competitive and high quality, and oftentimes a photographer can make a small tweak (like blurring a license plate or leveling a horizon) and then re-submit it.

“I’ve learned a ton about the world and the WordPress community – and about what they love – by moderating photos.”

Making WordPress’ Photos Directory a More Competitive Resource for CC0 Images

The photo moderators have many ideas for making the directory a more competitive resource for CC0 photos but currently do not have quantifiable ways to measure the growth in traffic and usage.

“As far as I know, we (the moderators) don’t have access to any traffic data,” Burnette said.

“I’d love to see the directory more prominently featured as a source of media inside WordPress core. In addition, having some access to stats (search queries, traffic patterns, photo downloads) would give us a better view of where we are and how to focus our future growth.”

Most of the promotion for the directory has happened during photo walks at WordCamps and contributor tables where photographers are trained to understand what makes a good photo, how the process works, and moderate as many as they can that day.

“There has been some promotion on Twitter through official WordPress channels, but I’d love to see some of these images used in the yearly themes and in the block pattern directory,” moderator Chuck Grimmett said.

“Another thing we are missing is easy selection in the block editor.”

Users have a few different sources to select from, depending on whether they have plugins like Jetpack installed that add more. All of the WordPress Photo Directory images are included in Openverse, but searching for CC0 images from the WordPress directory itself is not an option. Grimmett opened a ticket on GitHub to put the idea on contributors’ radar.

One of the biggest hurdles to expanding the volume of the directory is that images that include human faces are prohibited from getting listed in the collection. This is a a legal requirement that the team would have to work out with legal council to change.

“We’ve attempted to get this cleared on several occasions over the last year or two,” Burnette said. “The legal hurdle seems to be quite large to allow for this, so the status of that is in a holding pattern.”

As a result, nature is the most popular category with more than 6,000 images. Athletics is the least popular, as it’s not easy to get great photos without the faces.

“We do not have access to the searches that folks are making, so it’s hard to know what people are looking for specifically,” Burnette said.

“Something that no doubt is searched for frequently is corporate type images (offices, desk setups, meetings, etc) and we don’t have a ton of those – likely also due in part to the requirement about not including human faces.”

“Another big thing is search,” Photo moderator Topher DeRosia said. “Early on in the project, and sometimes even now, the alt text is not great, and tags aren’t well thought out, so a keyword search may not find what we’re really looking for.  I’d love for a set of skilled moderators to review all 10,000 photos and make the alt text amazing. I think a really good AI search tool that can look at the images and try to get it right might be a great inclusion.”

The Photos Directory project is a unique contribution opportunity that gives moderators a glimpse into the beauty of things and places around the world that photographers were inspired to capture and submit. The fact that the images are available inside the WordPress editor makes it more than just another collection of photos on the web. It’s an important, growing resource that showcases the creative lives of contributors.

“I added the incoming stream to my RSS reader, so I’ve literally laid eyes on every single image in there, whether I moderated it or not,” DeRosia said. “Because of this I’ve seen photos from everyplace in the world that WordPressers have submitted them, and that’s a lot.

“I’ve learned that we have some amazingly talented photographers in the community.  I’ve learned about geography and history.  I’ve also met some new and wonderful people. As always, contribution pays great dividends.”