How to find a free picture that really is free

Google Images search result screenshot

What you get if you search on “eating salad” in Google Images.

If you work on an online news website, or run a blog, or do social media posting for yourself or for your company, you are often going to need a picture to illustrate your work.
If you are lucky, you may have access to images from your organisation’s photographers, or to an agency service. But if you are not in a big organisation, you will need to go elsewhere. And even if you do have access to photo services, you may find a need to illustrate a story with a stock image – a story for a travel site about how to pack when going away on holiday will need a picture of a suitcase.
When looking for such a picture, you have two main considerations:

* You want a good picture – clear, relevant to your content and not too cheesy (we all know the kind of stock photo I am talking about. A friend and colleague describes it as “women smiling while eating salad”).

* You don’t want to use a picture that is copyrighted. It is just not okay to use the work of professionals without paying them. So you either pay or find an image that you can use for free.

If you don’t want to pay, or can’t afford to, you could go to Google and type in a search query like “free stock picture of women on a diet”. Or you could be a bit more strategic.

Top tip

Do that search either on a search engine or on picture aggregation sites – but use their in-built filters to exclude pictures that have been marked as out of your reach. Then from the outset you are only looking at pictures which you have the right to use.

How to do that?
Screenshot of Google Image menus

The Google Image menus that help you narrow things down.

Here’s one way. Go to Google Images. Put in your search term (“eating salad”). Use the Tools/Usage Rights menus and select the filter “Labeled for reuse with modification”. This means that any picture you see has been labelled by its creator as good to be used in any context.
You could use the filter “labelled for noncommercial use”, believing that your blog about healthy eating is noncommercial. It may be – but will you never, ever make a cent from it? Are you using it as advertising for your business? Are you hoping to get a following on Facebook? It’s better to play it safe and assume that your blog may have some commercial applications than it is to inadvertently get hit with a lawyer’s letter for using a picture to which you had no rights.
Sites like Flickr have similar search filters – there you are looking for the “Commercial use & mods” allowed filter in the advanced search.
Generally hunt for a usage rights/licencing menu and narrow it down so that you are are looking at a selection of pictures labelled for commercial use.
Then and only then start downloading!

AND in all cases, you must give credit to the photographer and site that you took the picture from. It’s just the polite thing to do.

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