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Beware of Google Images: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Free Images Online
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free images for blogsImages are everywhere online. But, do you ever think about where they came from or whether you’re even allowed to use them on your blog?

Many people assume the images they find online are free to use on their blog, social media updates and even print materials. I made the same mistake when I started working with local businesses.

After all, using images for your blog posts is a great way to increase reader engagement. Tweet it! The right picture quickly orients your readers to your topic, jump starts social sharing and even helps break up long blocks of text.

But, finding the right image can be a challenge. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and even Google Image Search provide an endless stream of seemingly “free” images.

All Images Are Not Created Equally

The majority of the images you find online are protected by copyright laws and NOT free-to-use on your blog. Before you head out to find the perfect image for your next blog post, it’s important to understand the differences between copyrights and what you can and cannot do with the image you find.

This guide will show you some of the best ways to find images online as well as the common types of Creative Commons licenses. Before we dive in (disclaimer alert), it’s important to note that I’m not an attorney and you should seek the advice of an intellectual property expert to learn more. This information is based on experience and a lot of research.

Let’s dive in…

Using Your Own Pictures

The best way to get free images for blogs is to take them yourself. If you don’t have a high quality camera, you can always use your phone. Most modern phones have a decent camera to take good enough quality pictures for blogging and social media purposes.

By taking your own pictures, you can add some of your own personality to the images you use. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the copyright protections you face when using images found online.

There’s one caveat to using your own pictures. You do need to be mindful of other people’s privacy.

If you take pictures of random people or publicly recognizable buildings, then you’ll need to have a signed photo release before you can freely publish them on your blog.

Photo Secrets has a great resource to give you more information on photography privacy law.

Using Images with Creative Commons Licenses

If you’re Tweet it! looking for free images for blogs that are top-quality, then images licensed under the Creative Commons license are the way to go .

The Creative Commons license basically allows you to use other people’s pictures for free as long as you give them credit (or attribute ownership) for the picture. Some artists have specific instructions on how to give credit for the image.

If they don’t provide instructions, then you just need to include a link to the site where you found the original image. Here are a few ideas on how to attribute ownership:

1. Add a link with the photo credit at the bottom of your post.

2. Add the link near the image.

3. Type the link directly on the image (especially good when sharing images on Facebook or Pinterest).

free images for blogs

There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses and each one has different rules on how you can use the images. This is important because not all images can be edited or used commercially.

Tweet it! If you’re making any money from your site, then I recommend you only use images that are licensed for commercial use. This is a bit of a grey area because you could technically argue that you’re not directly making money from your blog.

The way I see it, your blog is very much a part of your overall marketing efforts. If your blog is linked to any other part of your site that makes money (such as a sales or services page), then you’re technically making money from your blog and should steer clear of images that are licensed for non-commercial use.

The six Creative Commons licenses are:

free images for blogs

Attribution License

This is the least restrictive license. It allows you to copy, edit and build upon the original image in any way you like. You can even use it commercially.

There are over 57 million images on Flickr that use these licenses so there’s a strong chance you’ll find something that meets your needs. Just remember to give credit to the creator.

free images for blogs

Attribution-ShareAlike

The ShareAlike license is the license used by Wikipedia and is similar to the Attribution License. You can use these images any way you like but there’s one critical difference.

If you use these pictures to create a new image then your new image will also fall under the same ShareAlike license. This means anyone can freely use your new image. A good example of this is adding a quote to an image and sharing it on Facebook. Anyone is free to take that image and either reuse or edit as they like.

If you’re planning on editing your image and don’t want anyone else to use it then this isn’t the best option for you.

free images for blogs

Attribution-NoDerivs

The Attribution-NoDrivs License is more restrictive than the previous two. It basically allows you to use the image “as-is.” Resizing is ok but you can’t edit, crop or change the original image in any way.

These images can be used commercially, which is nice. As always, remember to give credit to the artist.

free images for blogs

Attribution-NonCommercial

The Attribution-NonCommercial License is the same as the Attribution License except you cannot use it for commercial purposes. Basically, you can edit, crop and change the image as long as you give credit for the original image.

free images for blogs

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Similar to the Attribution-ShareAlike License, this license allows you to edit, crop or change the image but you can’t use it commercially. You not only have to credit the artist for the image but your new image also falls under the same license and others can use it.

free images for blogs

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

This is the most restrictive license. The Attribution – Non-Commercial – No Derivs License only allows you to use the image “as-is.’ You can resize the image but can’t edit or change it. Nor can you use it for commercial purposes.

Three Best Places to Find Free Images

There are three go-to resources that I always use when it comes to finding Creative Commons images online.

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons Search is my favorite of the three sites because it lets you search for more than images. You can search for music, videos and media from this page as well. The site lets you select whether you want images for commercial purposes as well as images you can edit or build upon.

free images for blogs

Photopin.com

Photopin.com isn’t associated with Flickr, but it does use the Flickr API to search for images, which means that almost all the images come from Flickr’s database. I think Photo Pin’s layout is easier to use than Flickr’s.

Since they’re Creative Commons images, the site requires you to give attribution credit to the photographer. But, they make it really easy by giving you the attribution credit HTML to copy and paste into your blog post.

free images for blogs

Unsplash.com

Unsplash.com is an awesome website that gives you 10 high-resolution photos every 10 days. They’re totally free and you can use them for anything because they’re not copyrighted. The images are beautiful, but they only display 10 at a time. You’ll definitely want to save these images for later use.

free images for blogs

Newcomer: Getty Images

Getty Images recently entered the fee images for blogs market by allowing bloggers to embed over 35 million images from Getty Images in their posts.

free images for blogs

All you have to do to grab one of these images is to head over to Getty Images and search for the type of picture you’re looking for. Then, hover over the image you like in the search results and click the “</>” embed icon.

free images for blogs

This will give you the <iframe> embed code for that image. Just copy and paste that code into your blog post and you’re set. No worrying about attribution credits because the image will come with a credit for Getty Images.

This is huge! But, there are a couple of things to consider before you get carried away with these pictures.

  • The image will automatically link to the Getty Images page where you can purchase the image.
  • The terms of service outline the possibility of adding ads to the embedded images in the future.
  • Unlike images from Flickr, you can’t download these images. So, you can’t control if they get changed or deleted in the future.
  • Lastly, the images can’t be used for commercial purposes. Again, use your best judgment to decide if your blog is used for “commercial purposes.”

This is a new resource and there are still a lot of questions floating around about it. But, it’s a great resource if you can live with the embed code and possibility of future ads.

Beware of Google Images

free images for blogs

Like most things on the Internet, a Google search is by far the easiest way to find free images online.

But, the pictures you find via Google Image Search are copyrighted and should only be used for viewing purposes. Think of this like an idea board to inspire your own photography.

DO NOT use these images on your blog.

I know it is super easy and really tempting because Google has one of the largest image databases on the planet. But, it isn’t worth the risk of landing in legal troubles or getting hit with a hefty fine because of copyright infringement.

That being said, it is possible to find Creative Commons on Google by running an advanced search. But, the problem with these images is there is no way to be completely sure that they’re truly licensed under Creative Commons.  Tweet it! If you find an image on Google that you like, the safest bet is to contact the owner and see if you can use it.

To do an advanced image search, head to Google Images and search for your image. Then, click the gear icon in the upper right corner and select Advanced Search. Choose one of the Creative Commons licenses from the “Usage Rights” menu toward the bottom of the page.

When you return to your search results, the page will be updated and only show images with the license that you chose.

free images for blogs

Over to You

This guide has just scratched the surface in terms of where to find free quality images online. There are a lot more resources than the ones I listed. Do you have any great resources that you use to find images for your blog? Let us know in the comments below.

Brian Sly-Haley is on a mission to help locally owned small businesses find more customers through social media and online marketing. He skips over the fluff and shares actionable strategies to help businesses actually use these resources to grow their businesses. Connect with him on Google+.

32 Comments

  1. Fantastic article! Lots of great information that is key to know as you search for photos and more to use on your Blog and posts. Thank you for pulling it all together and for making it clear and easy to understand.

  2. Katharine says:

    Brian,
    This was so helpful.
    I use Zemanta lots. Are you saying it’s not so good? Just curious.

    • I haven’t used Zemanta so I’m not sure. But, you should be fine if it gives credit (like the photo credit above) for the pictures.

      • Katharine says:

        Yes, full attribution, lots of choices, based on your content, which it reads, since it is a plug-in. It’s like having pizza delivered by someone who can read your mind.
        Free.
        You don’t go anywhere to get a photo, they are offered right on your work page, sometimes including charts, word art, and even a few videos.
        You just click and it inserts where your cursor is. Too easy, or else I could not manage it. You only need g+ or else firefox.

  3. Dave says:

    I bought a WordPress plug-in, called Imagepressr, which I have not installed yet. The claim is that it provides access to up to 18 million images that allow posting those images on blogs. After reading your article, I’ll need to go back and verify how this does indeed work.

    • Yeah, I’d be curious where those images are coming from. They’re probably Creative Commons images but I just checked their website and didn’t see anything about attribution credit/copyright.

  4. Karen says:

    Great resource and timely as well. I’ll be sure to share this info like my clients.

  5. Jevon says:

    It’s always good to know where to get free images. I also use http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

    • I haven’t heard of that one either but I just took a look. It looks like you can download smaller images for free with an attribution credit. And, the sizes you can get are great for a blog post. Thanks for sharing that one!

  6. Very informative – the whole image thing can be frustrating, so these tips were very helpful

  7. Pamela says:

    A useful post with great resources. I’ve wasted enough time in past trying to find “legal” images for my social media and blog posts so I enjoyed exploring your suggestions today. And the distinctions between different types of licenses were very helpful.

  8. Daryl says:

    Hey Brian – great article, and the Getty images suggestion is fabulous!

    However, I’m not sure that I agree with you on NOT using Google. Their Creative Commons search turns up work that is usually in other Creative Commons mediums – for example many of their pictures will be from Flikr’s Creative Commons site. I’m relatively sure that Google goes through great lengths to ensure that they don’t improperly give media the wrong attribution, so personally I’m relatively fine with using them, and can’t really see why anyone else wouldn’t be.

  9. Steve says:

    I have thousands of images >45 years old.
    1. I assume I do not need permission from people or known buildings therein.
    2. What if anything do I need to do to copyright them and/or prevent others from stealing ownership of them.

    • Nickyjameson says:

      You cannot assume you have permission to use what could be copyright images. Copyright belongs to the original creator +70 years, so you need to check. If they are in Public Domain they could have usage rights that allow you to use them, again you should verify. If you didn’t take the images yourself you cannot copyright them.
      Many people think images on the Web are simply free to use… They are not.

      • Steve says:

        Thanks for the info especially that no one else can just claim the pictures by being the first to attempt that.
        I should have given more detail. The pictures were taken by my father, an award winning amateur / semi pro. I (and siblings) inherited them. So we have the weaker, automatic copyright but not (yet) anything more than that.
        What exactly is the “original +70″? Per picture or creator lifetime?

        • Steve – I believe if you inherited them then you inherit the copyright, it’s like inheriting any property. That does make a difference. I know there is also something to do with transfer of title. I believe the +70 years can depend on whether the works have been published or not and I think it’s by picture but I could be wrong. In many cases each case is taken as a unique one. Best thing would be to consult a copyright lawyer, just to be sure. Copyright law can be notoriously complicated. There’s a good site called Photo Attorney that is very up to date on copyright law as pertains to photographers, she may have some insights. Or just Google inheriting copyright.

  10. MaryAnn says:

    RE: Those Getty images. Sorry, I don’t recommend them. You CANNOT use them for commercial purposes, and most of us are blogging for profit. Bad call there.

  11. charles says:

    As a newbie I am blown away by all this stuff but this article is a jewel for those like me.
    Still it got me little bit weary. I would like to read little bit about creating my own or I should say how to find the way to get my idea done by someone else. I can draw it but I cannot do anything with the computer. I know. So what am I doing in here at all? (-:
    A future article? Maybe. I will try to find an answer on internet. I have read on” Firepo”l that you can find anything on the internet. An Article like this for instance. Nevertheless, for those lazy of us summary of this type is invaluable.

  12. Dusty says:

    Thanks for this great article! Two of the links don’t work though – I was able to find Unsplash.com on my own, but I couldn’t figure out the correct URL for Creative Commons Search. What is that URL please?

    Thanks!

  13. Troy says:

    I used to use Google Images but have stopped. I can find everything I need at Compfight.
    I am not sure the previous writer is correct about not being able to use Getty for commercial purposes. My partner is a graphic designer and uses Getty all the time…although she probably has some very expensive license to do so I would imagine.

  14. Nickyjameson says:

    Good article. It is always important to check the usage rights on images in every case. Even if you don’t see any, assume that the image is copyright and seek permission from the owner. Also double check the various licenses because typically they state that you cannot use the images for commercial purposes – that would include blogging for profit. Sometimes even attribution is not sufficient. Before I started taking my own photos I purchased stock photos from istock photos. They are about a dollar each and if you are a business you can write off as a business expense. This is a better approach than trying to get images for free when you are intending to use them commercially. If in doubt, don’t use an image.
    Getty may have entered the fray but they are just as vigilant in “advising” people who step outside the rules if they catch them.

  15. Great article! My fave photo-finding site is Compfight. It searches Flickr for creative commons licensed photos. There’s a WordPress plugin, too!

  16. Sonia says:

    This is great information. I’ve been using freedigitalphotos.net so it is good to other places to choose from.

  17. Mai Bantog says:

    I just want to thank you for this really helpful post. I haven’t been really mindful of the photos I’ve been using for my various writing gigs, so knowing these stuff can at least give me a clue why I might get sued in the future, haha. But seriously, thanks a lot. :)

  18. I once used an image I found on Flickr for a niche site. This site probably received a grand total of 10 visitors per month. A year later I got an email from the person who took the photo. I felt so bad I sent him $20 via paypal just for his trouble. Since then I’ve learned to properly attribute images (or better yet, buy royalty free images at sites like istock).

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