Use Wikimedia Images With Your Online Writing

Updated on January 8, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

An Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) in Antarctica jumping out of the water. This picture was selected as Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2014.
An Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) in Antarctica jumping out of the water. This picture was selected as Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2014. | Source

Why Use Images in Online Articles?

More people than ever are accessing the internet from cellphones rather than a PC. The downside is the screen size is small on mobile and text can be difficult to read. Reading articles on a cellphone is easier if text is divided into short paragraphs by images. Photographs, maps, and polls can all be used to break up large areas of print.

If you are an amateur photographer, you have a ready source of pictures to illustrate your online writing. However, not all of us have good photography skills, so the next best place to find images is the internet.

Most images online are copyrighted and cannot be freely used. The law protects copyrighted images from unauthorized copying. The creator has a right to payment if you reproduce their work without permission. Such payments can be thousands of dollars!

Any picture you use without a payment must be either (1) in the public domain, or (2) the copyright owner has given you permission to use the image through a Creative Commons License.

(1) A Creative Commons License enables a photographer to freely share their work without relinquishing ownership. They may grant permission to use images for nothing providing you credit them and quote the CC License.

(2) Public Domain images are published works where the copyright has expired. This is usually 70 years after creator's death, but it varies around the world.

If you are in any doubt about whether a picture is free to use, err on the side of caution and do not use it.

What Are Creative Commons Licenses?

Wikimedia is Part of a Non-Profit Foundation

There are several websites where you can find free-to-use images. The best known is probably Wikimedia Commons. I use this site to source the majority of pictures for my articles. Their terms and conditions are clearly stated and they specialize in photographs published under a Creative Commons license. It is an open source website. This means that anyone can contribute to it and anyone can edit existing content.

On the main page of Wikimedia Commons there is always a Picture of the Day displayed. This is an arresting image chosen by visitors to the site as being outstanding. Further voting takes place to choose a Picture of the Year.

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania, Australia. This is a featured picture on Wikimedia Commons.
Mortimer Bay, Tasmania, Australia. This is a featured picture on Wikimedia Commons. | Source

Red Sky at Night Shepherd’s Delight

It is possible the first image you see is exactly what you need to complement your writing, but often you need to navigate further into the site. To demonstrate how simple it is to find appropriate images, I am going to walk you through a search for outstanding photographs on Wikimedia Commons.

Imagine I am looking for pictures to illustrate an article about the evening sky. I want some images suitable for paragraphs describing the meaning of the English proverb “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”.

I type the phrase “red sky” into the search box on the main page of Wikimedia Commons. I am given a choice between two categories; sunrises or sunsets and I select sunsets. This gives me 100s of images to choose from, so I need to narrow down the results further.

I choose the color crimson from the rainbow menu at the top and this reduces the images to 27 options (see screenshot below).

Screen Grab of Red Sky Search on Wikimedia


Crimson, Red or Yellow Sunsets

There is an option to select for Quality Pictures or Featured Images. In this instance only one image out of the crimson 27 meets these criteria. Quality images have been voted by visitors to Wikimedia as being technically good and the photographs will be in sharp focus. This is important if they are intended to be viewed on cellphones.

This crimson sunset photo was taken in Minnesota.
This crimson sunset photo was taken in Minnesota. | Source

However, I want something more dramatic so I return to the rainbow color menu and this time select red sunsets. There are hundreds of photos in this category, so I refine the selection by picking just quality images. One of these not only meets Wikimedia’s quality guidelines, but has also been featured, which means it is considered one of the finest images. This is the picture of Basel shown below.

Red Skies Over Basel Make a Dramatic Picture

Sunset at Rhine Bank, Basel, Switzerland.
Sunset at Rhine Bank, Basel, Switzerland. | Source

But, I am still not satisfied. So far, I have searched for red skies and crimson skies. I now turn to synonyms to bring up more options. I try the word ‘sunset’ in the search box. This brings up a huge variety of colored skies and finally I find an image of a yellow and pink sky that I am happy to use.

The Setting Sun Colors the Evening Sky Pink and Yellow

Avondrood in Delft, Holland.
Avondrood in Delft, Holland. | Source

Pixel Density Affects User Experience

Once you have found your ideal picture make sure it has enough pixels. Image Jpeg files use the number of pixels to indicate a picture’s resolution. Too few pixels and an image can appear blurred. Too many and it takes a long time to load. I try to choose images sized approximately 800 x 600 pixels and that seems to give a good image quality on most screens.

If you are intending to upload your own photos, check your camera’s specification for image resolution. The denser the number of pixels when you take a shot, the greater your options to crop the image later (if needed).

Wikimedia is not the only place to host payment-free pictures. I also use Pixabay and Pexels and there are plenty of others too. You can find them by doing a search online for free-to-use images. Now it is over to you. A good photo will be the icing on your one thousand words.

Wikimedia Commons is constantly developing. It encourages users to upload videos as well as still photos. Using videos can help add depth to an article.

Wikimedia Commons Also Hosts Videos


Submit a Comment

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 5 months ago from SW England

    Good advice here. I use wikimedia pictures if I can't find a relevant one of my own. It saves having to wait for a reply if you wish to use some else's photo and it's easy to download the links and attributions.

    Useful article for everyone. Wish we still had the share button!


  • Vampsdes profile image

    Vampsdes 6 months ago from Missouri, US

    Excellent advice, and great pictures! It's tough to find good pictures you can use in your articles. I will definitely be using this source in the future!