Where to find free images for blog posts

Where to find free images for blog posts == LaurenWayne.com

You know that punching up your blog articles with pictures lends a thousand-plus words to your text — but you also want to make sure the photographs and drawings you find are legally yours to use under copyright law and ethical guidelines. You generally can't just grab a photo off Google Image Search or someone else's blog without permission.

There are many stock sites that will allow you to purchase photos, but bloggers rarely want to spend cash for their frequent and frequently ill-paid postings.

So: Here are my top 10 resources for royalty-free, payment-free, copyright-legal, fair-use images for your blog posts.

1. Flickr Advanced Search

By far my favorite source for a variety of candids (and some professional shots) is Flickr. I've bookmarked the advanced search link in my browser's toolbar so I can go straight to it.

Most photos on Flickr are copyright-protected and not available for your use without permission. However, many users have uploaded pictures under Creative Commons licenses, and advanced search is the way to find those.

You input your keywords at the top, but make sure you scroll all the way down to select your CC search options at the bottom.

  • Check the box "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" for a general CC search. Do at least this every time you're looking for an image you can download and use on your blog.
  • Check "Find content to use commercially" if you plan to make money off the image. This can be sort of a gray area with blogs, since we might blog semi-professionally. I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on my blog, but I check off this box if I'm creating an advertisement, or a print or electronic material that I will be selling (such as for inclusion in an ebook). I don't check it if I'm only using a photo in a blog post, even though I do make money on my blog. This is a matter of some legal murkiness, so if you want to be absolutely certain, click this box as well.
  • Check "Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon" if you want to alter the image substantially (such as by making another artwork from it). I don't believe (again, not a lawyer) this means you can't crop or resize images or add text (as for Pinterest) but that some people don't want their images substantially altered without their permission — such as a mashup, or drawing mustaches on it, or whatever.
  • Read more about Creative Commons license types here.

To use a photo from Flickr, you've got two options: hotlink from Flickr, or download the photo and upload it into your blog from your computer or your image host. Since I despise that they've obscured all the functions under really unhelpful icons, I'll give you a couple screenshots to show you where these two options are.

Click the weird bucket-vomiting-an-arrow icon (that's supposed to be "sharing," by the by) to find the share code in html. Select your size, and copy and paste into HTML mode in your blog post. It will automatically link to the original image for you, but you'll still want to add a credit to your post. The text you can use is right there in the HTML: "Growing Grapes by cight, on Flickr." Easy-peasy.

Click some weird horizontal dots to have more control over a Flickr image by downloading it to your own computer and then uploading it from there to some sort of image pool under your own auspices. (Images on Flickr get deleted or moved, and then your hotlinks won't be so hot anymore.) You can also then edit the images, if allowed, by cropping, sharpening, adding text, etc.

2. PhotoPin

I've seen people use PhotoPin, and I don't really understand it, because it's just Flickr Creative Commons images put into a different site with a bunch of sponsored images up top. So…like…an extra step and some weirdness.

That said, I guess you might appreciate that they code out the photo credit for you so you just have to copy and paste.

3. Stock.xchng

A bucketful of puppies? Yes, please!

Stock.xchng is my go-to place for free stock photos. If I want high-energy, on-the-fly shots, I head to Flickr; if I want staged and professional(ish) shots, I head to stock.xchng. It's owned by Getty Images, a paid stock photo conglomerate, but all the images on www.sxc.hu (that's the odd website URL) are free.

There are a few caveats. First of all, you need to become a member (for free).

Secondly, quality varies a lot. Some will look like high-quality stock photos, but most are clearly from amateur photographers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind when choosing the vibe of your blog post. I don't like mine to look too slick, personally, so I'm fine with that.

Thirdly, you need to take note of the usage options when you try to download. The most common is no-strings-attached. There used to be a clue under Usage in the top right sidebar, but right now they're all just listed as Royalty Free.

At any rate, most of the photos are available for immediate download and use, with credit requested but not explicitly demanded.

Other images will trigger one of two things: a requirement that you first request permission, or a requirement for a specific credit back.

I'm willing to go through this bother if it's the perfect image and if I'm not in a time crunch for getting a photo onto my post. Only…I'm always in a time crunch. Getting an image is usually the last thing I do before publishing, so…I mostly just use the photos that are immediately available. I always give credit back in any case.

Stock.xchng's guidelines allow you to use images in digital and print formats as long as you don't endorse a product with an image that includes a person, use it as your logo, or sell and redistribute the image. You have to ask permission if you want to sell items with the image embedded.

A lot of times in the sidebar or on the profile of a photographer, there will be additional requests, such as crediting info or a request for a comment or email when a photo is used:

These are simple enough requests, so I try to when I remember. (I have to admit, sometimes with scheduling posts in advance, I don't always go back to email or leave a comment once the post is live.)

4. Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia's free image collection is an interesting one if you're looking for certain types of photos or videos — well, basically, if you're looking for images of the types of things that might be in Wikipedia! So, for instance: photos of specific animals, historical images, celebrity publicity stills, locations, buildings, artworks. I used it to find a picture of cat mummies, if you need a highly practical example.

Everything in Wikimedia Commons has been validated as free to use, with some restrictions. Some content is public domain, and others have been uploaded by users with the intent of being openly reused. There might be requirements to provide proper credit (the right idea in any case) or link to the license. Click on an image to view the licensing and attribution information at the bottom.

Sample copyright and attribution information from a Wikimedia Commons image
I use this information to link back to the Wikimedia page and credit the photographer and title of the work.

5. FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FreeDigitalPhotos.net is a site I see other bloggers use sometimes but haven't gotten into as much myself. That said, it looks like a decent resource for (small) stock images.

Photos are free if they are web resolution (72 dpi) and a small size (288x400 pixels for the sample I downloaded). They're not watermarked, but attribution is required.
If you use this free image, you must publish an acknowledgement to FreeDigitalPhotos.net and the image creator on the same page or screen where the image is used.
This is standard journalistic practice, anyway, so that seems more than reasonable.

If you desire a higher resolution or larger size, or if you don't want to provide a credit (as on an advertisement or in a video or some other use where a credit would be clunky), then you can pay stock photo prices to own the image at various sizes.

6. StockPhotosForFree.com

This is a site I just heard of while researching this article, so I can't vouch for it, but it looks like you can get high-quality stock photos…for free. Oo — like the name!

In just a couple minutes of browsing, I discovered a couple quibbles: You have to have a (free) account to download (ok, that's fine), and they really try to upsell you to their paid stock photo services. (That's something Stock.XCHNG does as well, but less overtly, in my opinion.)

If you can wade past the buy-buy-buy hype, it looks like the photos are free for any use, including commercial, and they look like expert stock photos.

7. Zemanta

Creative Commons activist Michelle Thorne.
Creative Commons activist Michelle Thorne.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Zemanta's one I've only started using recently. It's a plugin that works on Wordpress or Blogger sites (it will install itself into your blog platform's sidebar), or on browsers, to help you find both content links and images. It will automatically insert the credit as well.

I find it a bit clunky to use. For one thing, it works only in Compose/View mode, not Edit HTML. Since I use HTML mode 98% of the time, that's not super helpful for me. However, it's worth a shot for finding CC or public domain images. I've included a Zemanta-sourced image here so you can see what the default credits look like — one attached to the image, and a little Zemanta button at the bottom of the post. These can be altered or styled in the HTML, though — as mentioned — you'll be disabling Zemanta by moving into HTML mode.

You can search by keyword or look at the suggestions that autopopulate as you type your post. You can also use Zemanta to search your own content by setting your source preferences to include your blogs and link to your Flickr and Instagram accounts. Here's hoping they add Photobucket and Picasa/Google+, and then I'll be golden.

{affiliate link, ahoy:}

8. Dreamstime

Dreamstime has a lot of paid stock photos but also a free photos section. I haven't been through it thoroughly, but it has some really high-quality stock images. They require a photographer credit and a link back to Dreamstime. They provide samples and code on each photo to make things easier.

9. Other people's images

I said up front you can't just take someone's image from another site. That said, you can ask permission to use someone else's image — and you'll very often be granted it. Whenever I've asked to use someone's picture, I've been granted permission with a smile (and I've done the same back). Just be clear about your use of the image — if it's for a sensitive topic or commercial use, be honest about that when requesting.

10. Your own images

My favorite images to use for blog posts? My own! They're free, immediately available (well, once I find the download cord…), and I can draw mustaches on every single one if I so desire.

If you're a blogger, it's worth getting used to taking photographs. A lot of them. All the time. Of everything. You never know when one might come in handy!

You might also want to upgrade your equipment. Far be it from me to insist you go fancy with your camera, but…well, I love mine, so I'll share my affiliate links for the specific camera and lens we use: Canon Digital Rebel XTi 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) (I believe this is the newer version: Canon EOS Rebel T3 12.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera and DIGIC 4 Imaging) with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens, which we lurve. (It's closeup, but the atmosphere of it can't be beat.) These don't qualify as professional-grade, because Sam won't let me spend thousands of dollars on photography equipment {he's so dang reasonable}, but they're a really, really nice combo for about $640.

But, seriously, you can take good (and better and better) images with your point-and-shoot or your cellphone, too. Then do your best to keep your images sorted into helpful folders with keywords added, if possible. That way, if you just know you have the perfect photo of a bucketful of puppies somewhere, you'll be able to track it down.

Bonus sites!

Since publishing, I've received some other tips from readers.

Rachel points out that Wylio does the same thing where it gives you the coding for Creative Commons images it's pulled from Flickr. According to the pricing page, you can get 5 free pictures a month that way.

Avishai Bitton recommends Imonomy and Pixabay.


If you're using someone else's image, the legal and ethical and downright-nice thing to do next is give credit!

At a minimum, list the photographer's (or photo-owner's) name with a link back to where you found it, such as this:
<i>Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/5063884802/in/set-72157622552252143" target="_blank">Lauren Wayne</a></i>

Which ends up looking like this:
Photo Credit: Lauren Wayne

Another nice touch is to link each picture to its source as well (the <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/5063884802/in/set-72157622552252143"></a> part bracketed around your img code).

Example credit requests
on stock.xchng
I try to look for the preferred name of the photographer. On stock.xchng, the photographer will often have a requested attribution line listed in the profile (e.g., "Please credit all photos to Super Photography at this web address"). On Flickr, I look for the person's full name and use the Flickr profile name if that's not available or obscure, or both (so, in order of my own preferences, I'd use Lauren Wayne if given, then Lauren/HoboMama if only a first name is available, or HoboMama if only a profile name is).

You can add in other information as well that might be helpful for the reader or courteous to the creator, such as a blog or website name and link if someone gave you permission to use a photo (e.g., "Lauren from LaurenWayne.com"), the Creative Commons licensing information (CC Wiki has examples for proper use, e.g. "'My Awesome Photo,' © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/"), or the title of the photo or artwork (I particularly recommend this with art pieces).


First big DO: Do use photos in your blog posts! Not only does it make your post pop, but it's a necessity if you want your posts pinned on Pinterest. Note I didn't say "nice addition"; I said "necessity." As in, Pinterest won't let anyone pin your post without a photo to grab. Now, you might not be on Pinterest and don't care (who are you?!), but some of your readers (probably a lot of your readers) will be, so you want to let them get you some pinning juice if they're in the mood to share your work.1

What if you take all the copyright and credit precautions and a photographer still asks you take down a photo that you found? Well: Do take it down if there's a request. Swap it out for a different one from someone else. It's not your photo, obviously, and it's best to err on the side of caution in copyright debates. Maybe the photographer isn't happy with how it was used (e.g., his nephew's face in your article on genital warts). Speaking personally, I've never had any complaints about my uses of other people's photographs in my blog posts, and I have heard from some photographers who were happy to see their photos in use. I know as a photographer (and CC-licensor) myself, I feel the same way: It's fun to see my artwork traveling the blogosphere!

If you have any doubts about the proper use of a photo, do contact the photographer. Most will be pleasant about granting you permission or asking for a particular credit.

I hope these resources and rules will give you plenty of material to use free and clear! Enjoy making your blog posts more colorful.

What are your favorite sources for photos to use in blog posts?


1 Now, there is some legal wrangling about what's fair to pin on Pinterest. For instance, is it fair that photos get pinned without the inherent credits? My take is that I do not put all the information a pinner would need into someone else's photograph, so that pinners have to click on the blog post for the full scoop, including the photo credit. Again, not a lawyer. Things might change in Pinterest-land, and you might need to include photo credits in pins at some point (not that you couldn't now). Sites can opt out of having images pinned, but that doesn't protect you as the pinner if you pin something that's copyrighted.

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