Photos are essential for attracting readers, getting shares on your posts, and engaging viewers. But you can’t legally take any photo you want from a website! Most photos are copyrighted. Therefore, you need to know how to get and use photos legally.
You often see sites offering royalty-free photos, but you have to pay for them. That may be the way to go if you want the largest selection to choose from. At the end of this post, I’ll give you my recommendation for low-cost photos.
Find public domain photos on the Web
You can find lots of photos, especially beautiful nature photos, that are in the public domain. This means that you can use them for any purpose, private or commercial. You just can’t copyright them, since they in the public domain.
One site with a great collection — and an excellent explanation of what public domain means and what to watch out for — is PD Photo.org. Here’s a beach picture:
The U.S. government has three sites with extensive collections of great photos:
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a great library of water photos. Here’s an example:
You are supposed to give them credit as in, “Thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.”
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pictures/Graphics site has lots of great photos and drawings. Here’s an example:
They request a credit such Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- NASA has an extensive photo collection, but it’s not very easy to search and many of the photos are taken for their technical characteristics, rather than their beauty. Nevertheless, you can find some great shots. The main site is at http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/.
Try their Earth from Space page. Here’s the eye of Hurricane Ivan and a great photo of noctilucent clouds (they also explain what those are). They also want you to acknowledge NASA as the source.
Free photo sites
There are a number of other sites that offer free photos, with varying rules about how you can use them. Some are sites that let photographers contribute their own photos. Be sure to check the license–there’s usually a page that explains it. In some cases, each photo has a license description.
An excellent site is freeimages.com (formerly stock.xchng). This is a huge, well-trafficked site. You can upload your own photos, and find zillions that you can use. The site is easy to search, as well. You need to check the allowed usage for each image.
Another site is morgueFile. It offers free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits.
ImageAfter lets you search by category or color. These photos are free for most uses.
RGBStock is a website with a collection of free images. It’s searchable, too.
Picdrome contains a small collection of free photos. They aren’t searchable but are categorized.
CJO Photo is another website with free photos that aren’t searchable but are categorized.
Sites with Creative Commons photos
Creative Commons is a licensing for images that defines how you can use them. The purpose is to make images freely available while maintaining the authorship of the photographer.
For photos licensed under Creative Commons, you need to provide attribution. Include the photographer’s name (or “handle”) and the link provided next to the photo. This link usually goes to the photographer’s profile on the website.
You need to use a photo with the licensing that suits your needs. In most cases, that means you need creative commons licensing that allows for commercial use and modification (such as cropping).
Flickr, which you’ve probably heard of, is another site that lets people contribute their own images. Many are simply personal photos, but you can still find some good ones. Here’s how you can find photos you can use legally:
- Enter your search term in the Search box and press Enter.
- From the results page, click the Advanced Search link to the right of the Search button.
- Scroll down and check the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” check box.
- Check the other two check boxes if appropriate.
- Click the Search button.
Wikimedia Commons is the media side of Wikipedia. As of this writing, it has over 24 million images! Some are in the public domain and some are under Creative Commons license.
Take your own photos!
I encourage you to take your own photos. For example, recently I needed a photo that represented the concept of partnering. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I took a photo of my husband and me doing a high-five together.
This suited my needs perfectly and took only a few minutes (and my husband’s cooperation). If you take a photo with a recognizable face, be sure to get permission from your subject.
Sometimes you need to buy an image
Sometimes free won’t get you what you need. This is especially true if you want a photo of a recognizable person, which requires a model release. And photos of people have been shown to be especially engaging.
The photo site that I’ve found to be the best for low-cost images is 123rf. The site has over 16 million high-quality photos. (The link is an affiliate link.)
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Do you have a favorite site for legal free images? Leave a comment!