If you run a blog, or do social media posting for yourself or for your company, you are often going to need a picture (or pictures) 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 find your picture somewhere else.
Even if you do have access to photo services, you may still 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. And an article about the importance of eating your salad or vegetables will need a picture of a salad, or a photo of a person eating salad, for that crucial Instagram post.
So you go on the Internet and take a picture. Everything’s free on the Internet (or should be), right? Well, actually, no that’s not right.
First, a word about copyright
If you download a picture and use it online, and someone holds copyright, you are crossing the line:
1. You have broken the law and might be subject to a criminal or civil lawsuit.
2. Far more likely, you can expect a bill from the professional photographer who holds copyright and who wants legitimate payment for their work.
3. You’ve also stolen someone else’s work, and that’s just plain wrong.
My article on this: Copyright: What it is, why it is important
(A word on licences that say the picture can’t be used commercially: You might think that your blog about healthy eating is non-commercial. 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 use a picture which might get you into trouble).
That’s terrifying, right?
Faced with all this, you could try doing without a picture at all – but that’s just not a good idea. SEO guru Neil Patel sums up the importance of images:
Images not only add life to a website, they also make it convert better. People no longer want to browse a website – they want to experience it. Using the right images can boost your site’s conversions and get you to connect better with your target audience.
So: here’s a guide to finding pictures that look good, that won’t get you into trouble and that won’t cost money.
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”).
As discussed, you don’t want to use a picture that is copyrighted.
Your first instinct is probably to go to Google and type in a search query like “free stock picture of women on a diet”.
Be a bit more strategic. My top tip: Look for pictures in places where they are already singled out as usable.
Where to look
Those places are:
- Use your own images. You have a phone, make it your best friend.
- Use websites that offer free-to-use pictures: Unsplash and Pixabay are my go-to places.
- Use pictures that have a creative commons licence. Wikimedia Commons is a good source (and here’s my guide to Creative Commons: A simple guide to sharing and using Creative Commons pictures).
- Or do a Google search (see tips below).
- Flickr is also good source of pictures – but modify your search (see below).
What to do while you are looking for a picture
Remember that when you have found your picture and are ready to use it, you need to do the decent thing – give credit to the photographer and site that you took the picture from. So, as you are searching and downloading, keep a record of the person’s name and the name of the site and record the URL.
When you upload it, make sure you have a line like this:
Picture: Joe Bloggs, flickr.com (with a link to the picture).
How to search on Google
Use Google’s in-built filter to eliminate pictures that you can’t use. On your Google search page, click on Images below the search bar. Then select Tools/Usage Rights and choose Creative Commons licenses.
Then click on the picture you want. A panel will open on the right of your screen and you’ll be able to see where the picture comes from. Click on that and check the source and copyright information.
Then, and only then, save the picture.
How to search on Flickr
The first time you go to Flickr.com, you’ll see their general welcome page.
Perform a search in order to get to a page that shows the filter options in the top left-hand corner (you don’t have to register).
Use the “any license” filter and select Creative Commons. “No known copyright restrictions” is also good, but you’ll get limited results.
When you find a picture you want, check its licence and then use the arrow button in the bottom right-hand corner to download.
Generally, on any picture site, look for a usage rights/licensing menu and narrow it down so that you are are looking at a selection of pictures labelled for commercial use, or as creative commons.
Then and only then start downloading!
Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).
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Note: This is a substantially updated version of a post that first appeared in 2018.