"Software," said Linus Torvalds, the inventor of Linux, "is like sex. It's better when it's free". By "free" he meant, of course, "free, willingly given and legally obtained." This isn't true only about sex and software, it's true about anything, including the pictures we use on our blogs.
We all know that blogs look snappier and catch the prospective reader's eye better if they contain images. I personally prefer only one picture, at the top, to illustrate the topic of the article, although in this piece I've added a couple more. Others prefer to sprinkle pictures here and there, and some have a penchant for inserting a picture after every few lines of text.
However you choose to illustrate your blogs, you need to make sure that all the pictures you use are legally obtained. Many of the images found on Google are copyrighted, and using them without permission is illegal—so you want to avoid displaying them on your work.
Here are a few simple things you need to know about how to display other people's images on your blog or website, without infringing on copyright.
"Royalty-Free" Isn't "Free"
"Royalty-Free" is a licensing arrangement under which a user can buy rights to an image and use it for almost any purpose. "Rights managed" licensing is more strict, and limits how, where, and for how long an image may be used by the buyer.
There are many sites offering royalty-free images. They're relatively straightforward and simple to use. You sign up, pick a payment plan, find an image, and download it.
Popular Royalty-Free Image Sites
Note: Pricing and search results are as they appeared on the websites on the day I wrote this article and may change with time.
- Shutterstock: Has millions of images to illustrate almost anything. Want to blog about your favorite warthog? I found 97 pages of warthog images. Want to blog about blogging? Over 6,000 pages of images for the word "blog." Shutterstock (to the best of my knowledge) is considered the top site for royalty-free images. The cheapest payment plan is for 27 cents a picture, but that costs $199 a month. Five images will cost $49, or $9.80 each.
- iStockPhoto: Run by Getty images, one of the pioneer stock image companies. They have millions of photos divided into "Essentials," which are "low price," and high-quality "Signature" photos, which cost more. Searching for pictures of warthogs returned over 90 pages of results, including several dozen pictures of the A-10 Thunderbolt attack jet (nicknamed, apparently, "warthog"). Searching for "warthog NOT A-10" returned 86 pages of all types of animal warthog pictures: 4,400 or so "essential" images, which looked fine to me, and 706 "signature" images. Pricing goes by "credits." There are "essential" images for one credit apiece, and a prepaid pack of six credits costs $60. You can also prepay for a given number of essential images per month or per year, for less money.
- Adobe Stock: Offers a huge selection of photos. For example: searching for "warthog" pictures returned almost 8,000 "standard" results. Filtering out the A-10, returned over 7,500. The images on this site are top quality, but they aren't so cheap. Three "standard" photos a month are $29. With a one-year prepaid plan, you can get use of 10 images per month for $29 (and they also offer free images as a signing up bonus). "Premium" images are also available.
- 99club: There are "only" five million photos on this site. If you search for photos of warthogs, you'll only find about 300, but that should be more than enough. There are also several payment plans. The basic is $99 for one year, which will get you the use of 200 pictures. If you want to pay for only five pictures, it will be about $7.80 per picture.
- Photocase: I didn't like this site. A search for "warthog" turned up only three pictures, and one was of an elephant. A search for "blog" photos turned up 109 images, but most were generic and could be related to anything or nothing. The main attraction of this site is that one can buy rights to photos "on demand," but they're expensive: between $10–$20, depending on the size. Four prepaid photos (standard size) are $49.
My Favorite Sites for "Totally Free" Images
I don't make any money off my blogs. I write them for fun and in the hope that someday I can turn them into a portfolio that will get me a real writing job. I don't have money to shell out for royalty free stock photos. As it happens, there are several websites that offer totally free and legal images which you can use however you want (but read the "terms" on the websites anyway, before downloading). All that's asked is that you credit the owner (see image above, for example). I use these, or images I've taken myself, on all my blogs. My favorites are:
- Pixabay: This site has "only" about 1.6 million pictures, but I find them to be high quality and appealing to the eye. Searching for "warthog" pictures only netted 75 results. I couldn't filter out the A-10, but there were plenty of non-jet propelled warthog pictures to choose from, including the one below, which I thought was totally cute. A search for "blog" pictures yielded 10 pages of results, including the picture at the top of this page.
Pixabay, I admit, is my number one favorite place for free images, but I always check two other sites, and sometimes come up with great photos not available there.
- Unsplash: Has a relatively small selection of images, but they're really, really good. So I always check this site before deciding on a picture. Searching for "warthog" turned up over 200 pictures, but only a handful were actually of warthogs. A search for "blog" photos was more successful and turned up around 1,700 results, including this one below, which I think is brilliant.
- Pexels: This is a popular site and also has a nice collection of high-quality pictures, but not nearly as extensive as Pixabay. Pexels totally failed the "warthog" test, however, and returned 0 results. Searching for "blog" returned a nice array of images, but many had nothing to do with blogging, such as one titled: "photo of woman sitting on zebra statue."
Other Sources for Free Images
The three sites listed above are the only ones I use regularly. There are others, some owned by one or a small group of photographers who offer their work for free. The images are high quality, but the selection is small. A few such websites are:
- Skitterphoto: A website where photographers offer their work for free, in the public domain.
- MMT: Owned by Jeffrey Betts. You won't find warthogs here, but there are plenty of pictures grouped into collections, for example: "work and tech," "city streets," and "yellow flowers."
There are plenty of other websites where you can get free pictures, including some devoted to a specific topic (such as foodiesfeed, which has pictures only of food, or Mad4Wheels, which has only car pictures).
Another good source of free pictures are agency websites. For example, NASA has a huge database of images and states that: "Users can embed content in their own sites and choose from multiple resolutions, including the original size, to download."
No matter where you get your pictures from, just remember: "free and legally obtained."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 David A Cohen
Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on March 18, 2019:
This is a great reminder for everyone that we can't just go and use any old picture that we want. I try and really only use my own pictures, that makes it more fitting to my writing as well as avoids the hassle of making sure I'm using photos that I'm allowed to use! Thank you for all the resources!
Darline Kilpatrick from Delaware on March 15, 2019:
Finding totally free images has been so difficult. Thank you for explaining the difference between royalty free and really free. Thank you also for 3 sites I can search. Great info!