How to find a free picture

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 get 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.

Basic principles

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:

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: Zuri Adams, (with a link to the picture), (CC BY-SA 4.0) (with a link to the licence)

How to search on Google

Use Google’s in-built filter to eliminate pictures that you can’t use. On your Google search page, do your search: “pictures of dogs”.

Google image search

Click on Images below the search bar.

Then select Tools/Usage Rights and choose Creative Commons licenses. A different set of results appears: these are pictures which have a creative commons licence applied to them.

Gooogle creative commons dropdown

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. Clicking on that takes you to the source, where you can check the source and copyright information.

Google image search detail

Then, and only then, download the picture.

How to search on Flickr

The first time you go to, 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.

Flickr licence dropdown

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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Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Note: This is a substantially updated version of a post that first appeared in 2018.

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