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How to Find Quality Images for Your Site


A website without images can be pretty bland, but where do you find images that you can use legally? Stories about sites caught in costly litigation over copyright violations can be found all over the news, and avoiding this type of situation is paramount to maintaining a good, reputable site.

So, where do you find these images? How can you make sure that you're using photos that aren't being claimed by someone that doesn't want their image readily shared with the world?

In this article, we'll go over some considerations, as well as some of our favorite image sources.

Understanding Licensing

Before we get into some of our favorite options, we'd like to state on record that this article should not replace good legal council, nor should you post any images on your site without taking some precautions to protect yourself, and your organization, from potentially falling into legal trouble over something as simple as using an image to add a visual touch to an article. Information presented here may only be accurate for specific cases and/or regions, and is only intended as a starting point for someone's own research.

Creative Commons, Royalty Free, Public Domain, and Copyleft licenses are great starting points for finding images that can be used by your site, but these are not all created equal.


For example, Creative Commons (CC) licensing comes in several different flavors. You might find an image that bears the CC license, but it may not allow for distribution without attribution (credit being given to the original creator). Some CC images are restricted to personal use only (non-commercial), meaning that you could be in legal trouble if you use them on a site that makes income, even if only by advertising revenue. Creative Commons licenses can take on a number of different forms, and they can be as restrictive or as open as the content creator wants them to. You'll find more information about the various types of Creative Commons licenses on this website.

Share Alike terms are also important to consider, as they mean you can't make them part of something that you're selling as it can only be shared if done so under the same free licensing it was found under. You couldn't, for example sell access to a library of photos that includes ones created with the Share Alike option without first getting permission from the copyright holder. Almost all Copyleft licensed content carry the Share Alike feature.

Royalty Free images are another option, and one that is very popular among stock photo sites (like the ones listed below). Essentially, you pay once for the ability to use the image in your commercial or personal work, without the requirement of attribution. This license can be temporary or permanent, and can have certain specific restrictions placed on it by the stock photo reseller. If you're searching for a good stock image to use at the head of your site, this would be one of the better choices out there.

Public Domain images are those that have an abandoned copyright or are simply handed over to the public. These include any intellectual property with expired, forfeited, or inapplicable rights. Basically, no one owns these images. Many photographers release images to Public Domain because they don't want to keep them for themselves. You can use these images in pretty much any way you'd like, but remember that anyone else can use the same image.

If, for example, two competing political blogs were to use the same photo of a politician taken by White House staff during a recent visit, there would be no basis for which one would complain to the other for using that image. No one actually owns it, so it's fair game.

Company Trademarks are a whole different beast. These mostly consist of logos that are used by a company when conducting business. Trademarks are very closely guarded and can lead a site into serious legal tangles if they're used improperly. Even in the spirit of critique or parody, there are plenty of cases where a company goes to great lengths to protect its mark from almost any unauthorized use.

Your local laws might differ concerning one of more of these explanations, so please check with those channels to make sure you're doing it right.

Paid Image Services


Shutterstock is one of our favorite choices. We use this service for many of our template demos, and have no problem recommending it to anyone in need of stock photography for commercial use. Shutterstock has thousands of high-quality stock images that come with Royalty Free licensing allowing you to use them commercially for just about anything you need.

Some of Shutterstocks biggest competitors (which are also also quite good) include: Getty Images, iStock, Bigstock, and Fotolia.

These sites give you the ability to quickly and easily pick up high quality images without having to worry about the validity of the licensing. One important thing to keep in mind is that not every stock photo site has the same licensing, and even within a single site, you could be given the option to choose between standard and extended licenses. Review each site's offerings carefully before using images purchased from them.

Free Image Resources


There are plenty of great free image resources out there, including some that specialize in high quality stock images.

Unsplash is a Tumblr site that releases 10 new CC0 images every ten days. These images are typically landscapes and not something you'd find on your average corporate website, but they could prove quite useful as a background in a number of scenarios.

morgueFile is another excellent source for free stock photography. Essentially, it takes the idea of the print morgueFile and brings it online. Many of its images have a very high resolution, and fit in a variety of categories. Everything from people and animals to architecture can be found and freely downloaded here.

Flickr is another excellent resource. Flickr has a mixture of images ranging from personal (copyright protected) to Public Domain. You can find a lot of professional photographers here offering their work under Copyright licensing, or willing to license it out for commercial use for a small fee through Getty Images.

Probably one of the easiest resources for quickly locating freely available CC or Public Domain images is the Creative Commons Search. This tool allows you to use the advanced search features of many of the Web's most popular image resources (including Wikimedia Commons) to locate images that carry the license you need. It isn't perfect, as it can occasionally pull up an image that doesn't exactly fit your specified CC preferences, but it's a great place to start.

Wherever you decide to get your images, just remember that there are always photographers and artists behind them. If you remember to pay close attention to image licensing and usage requirements, you'll be better prepared to create beautiful websites without the worry.

Image Source: Thom