5 great ways to source free images

Stealing is wrong, but some images are legitimately available to use without a fee. Here's how to find them.

In an online environment where you have about a second to convince people to stay on your site, pictures are everything. Unless your content is amazing and caters to a certain niche, Arial and the perfect line-height won't be enough to catch your readers' interest.

Obviously you don't want to get into trouble for stealing images - copyright law is very real and can lead to serious fines and even court action. But there are some images available online that you can legitimately use without a fee. Here's how to find them....

01. Google

Creative Commons 1

Search Creative Commons will help you find what you're looking for

Just because an image is indexed on Google image search doesn't make it free to use. However, Google has recently added a Usage rights tab to its search tools so that you can filter images by licence to discover if they're available under a Creative Commons licence. Also useful is Search Creative Commons.

Creative Commons 2

You can search Flickr, Fotopedia, and more, as well as Google Images

This nifty search tool that allows you to search places like Google Images, Flickr, Fotopedia, and Open Clip Art Library. You can also search for other media like music on the Creative Commons website.

Be warned, though: there are different types of Creative Commons licences and so you still may be infringing copyright - many licences specify non-commercial use only, for example. So read the terms and conditions very carefully to make sure you are allowed to use the image.

02. Flickr

Flickr 1

Flickr allows a more in-depth search than through Creative Commons

Most images on Flickr are copyrighted, but some are copyright free. With the help of the advanced search tool you can find photos of events, places or celebrities by users who are willing to let you use them in exchange for a credit. But as before, read the licence carefully to make sure that actually is the case.

03. Free stock-photo websites

Stock Xchng

Stock.xchng is now owned by Getty and has a large selection of free photos

Stock.xchnge, now owned by Getty Images, is a popular website with around 400,000 photos taken by amateur photographers around the world. As ever, not all photos are Creative Commons so make sure you check.

Morguefile and Stockvault are other similar resources, although Stockvault only allows images to be used non-commercially.

Free Digital Photos is a good source for more classic type stock photos of laughing businessmen and the like. Again, not all images are free.

04. Out-of-copyright books and CDs

Dan Hillier

Dan Hillier creates his engravings using out-of-copyright illustrations

There are plenty of books and CDs out there full of images and illustrations that are out of copyright. London bookshop Dover Books is a great place to stock up on these books or to get the title and find them somewhere else.

Most images are quite different to what you might find on Flickr or a free stock-photo website. These books contain anything form old medical illustrations to Victorian engravings. They are also great resources for patterns and vectors. The Victorian engravings are popular with artists like Dan Hillier who creates his work using out-of-copyright illustrations.

05. Ask people

Twitter

Use social media to ask for images

Still struggling to find the right photo? You can do what newsrooms have done for years, ask the public. Both the BBC and the Guardian have sections on their website showcasing photos from readers.

If you're looking for a very specific image it might just be worth seeing if the internet can help you out. Ask your Twitter followers. Find a blogger in the city you need a picture from. Ask a Swede to take a picture of some rag rugs. Ask your friends on Facebook.

A word of warning though. People may unwittingly (or mischieviously) send you photos they've stolen themselves - in which case you may be opening yourself up to a copyright suit. So use a reverse image search engine such as TinEye to make sure you're not handling stolen goods.

And of course if you're still struggling, just go out and take your own photo!

This is an updated version of a post that originally featured on Creative Bloq.

Words: Charlotta Buxton and Craig Stewart

Charlotta Buxton is a Fenno-Swedish-expat multi-media freelance journalist and digital communicator who lives in London.

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