Every time you write a post, it’s the same thing.
Hours spent writing, revising, and editing.
You write multiple drafts. Craft the perfect headline. Write a great opening, and then… After all that…
you still have to find a killer image to compliment the story.
Fortunately, there are some well-known, and some not-so-well-known places to get images for your site.
Some are free. Some cost money. But, all give you an array of images to use legally, so you can stop committing copyright infringement by using whatever image you found on Google.
Here are 10 resources for finding high-quality images for your website.
5 Free Resources for High-Quality Images
1. Flickr Creative Commons : The sheer number of users on Flickr, many of whom license their images for free use, means you’ll find a good variety to choose from. You will find many images that are high-quality. Though, you’ll also sift through some that may not meet your standards, so be prepared to spend a little time looking.
ProTip: When you’re searching the Flickr Creative Commons, be sure you search in the Creative Commons search box (which you’ll see once you choose the license type you want to search under). The regular search is still there (at the top right) and will take you out of the Creative Commons search if you use it, and that means you may end up picking an image that isn’t in the Creative Commons by accident!
2. 500px Creative Commons : The 500px Creative Commons has a large number of professional and high-quality amateur photos. The variety isn’t as large as Flickr, but the per-image quality is top-notch. There are a number of international photographers on 500px, so you’ll find a lot of images that have a European flavor. There are also a lot of fashion/model pictures to choose from.
3. Google Creative Commons Search : If you want to search across the Internet for just about any Creative Commons image available, then use Google’s Advanced Search. The license option you want to search for is at the very bottom of the search.
ProTip: Even after you find an image, you should verify the license with the site hosting the image or the image owner. I only use images I find in Google Creative Commons search if I can verify they are Creative Commons. Google has been reliable but doesn’t take any chances.
4. Wylio : Wylio is on a mission to help bloggers find free images and they do a good job. I have found that results are hit or miss and you can’t do advanced searches on criteria like image size, but overall Wylio is a great place to look. The free account does limit you to 5 images per month. They do offer a premium account (125 images for $2.99/month) and a pro account (1250 images for $9.99/month) if you want more. According to Wylio, the only images you will find through them are those that under the Creative Commons or are in the public domain but their terms state that the end-user is still responsible for ensuring they are properly licensed.
ProTip: When you choose an image, it will open in a lightbox where you can resize the image, test alignment, and download.
5. Unsplash: Unsplash has become a favorite because their images are large, high-quality, and free to use however you wish (attribution not required but I still give it). The downside is that there are relatively few images and there is no search. It’s just a run-on page with images so you have to scroll to see if you find something that works. They say they add 10 photos per day (though they don’t seem they keep that up).
ProTip: Subscribe to the mailing list (top of the site) and they will send new images to your inbox every week.
Scroll down to see the premium image options, or if you want to learn more about the Creative Commons, just keep reading.
What is the Creative Commons?
The Creative Commons is a set of licenses by which an original content creator grants end users copyright permissions to their creative work. When using Creative Commons licensed images, it’s important to understand the basic license types to make sure you adhere to the law.
The least restrictive license requires only attribution. If people are giving you their images to use for free, the least you can do is credit them appropriately.
The Creative Commons licenses are (license language taken directly from the Creative Commons website):
- Attribution: This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
- Attribution-No Derivatives: This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
- Attribution-ShareAlike: This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
- Attribution-NonCommercial: This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Learn more about the Creative Commons the licensing options.
It’s important to note that some people may specify how they want credit. Whether or not it is strictly required, it is in your best interest to adhere to the request. If you don’t like the way the image owner has requested attribution, don’t use the image. Always check the image description, you can see how an example of how I request attribution on my Flickr account.
Even if the photographer doesn’t ask for a link, I typically still provide one to their website, Flickr account, Twitter, something… as a courtesy anyway.
4 Paid Resources for High-Quality Images
Stock photography can make it easy to find a professional image to compliment your story. Most premium stock photography sites have a ton of images to choose from and good search capabilities to find them. The downside is that some images are expensive and not cost-effective for use in a blog post. Still, there are gems if you look.
A word to the wise, try to stay away from anything that looks too “stock.” When the same image starts to show up on a lot of sites, it can detract a little if only for lack of originality.
1. Shutterstock : When it comes to stock photography, Shutterstock is my go-to site. They have a lot of high-quality images, including a large number that doesn’t look like typical stock photography. Shutterstock prices are a little more expensive, but you don’t pay more for higher resolution so you can always grab the biggest file available.
Pricing options include pay-as-you-go packages, subscription packages, and large print-run packages.
ProTip: Check in weekly for the free photo of the week. They get some gems.
2. iStockPhoto : iStockPhoto is one of the most popular sites for stock images. I’ve used them for years with good success. They have everything from photos and illustrations to vectors and videos.
Pricing is as-you-go or subscription and uses a “points” scale to determine the cost. So, you buy a bundle of points, and depending on the image and the size of the image you want, it will deduct a specified number of points from your account. You can find some great images for very few points, but some of them can get very expensive and calculating the exact cost can take a bit of math since the point bundles use tiered pricing (gets cheaper as you buy more). iStockPhoto also does a free picture-of-the-week (and you can download the last couple weeks if you missed one).
ProTip: Grab the biggest image size you can afford, not the smallest. You’ll never know when you want to use that image again or somewhere else and being stuck with one that’s too small is a pain.
3. GettyImages : GettyImages should have the tagline “purveyors of high-quality photography.” You will find some amazing pictures here. Unfortunately, Getty is expensive, so I never use them. However, they are worth considering if you need the perfect image for a big project, a website background image, or something that needs to stand out and you’re willing to spend a little extra. Updated: As of 3/6/2014 Getty Images has made embeddable images free. Note, this won’t work for “featured” images on your site since they’re iFrame embeds but they can be great for complimenting your post inline.
ProTip: If you find a GettyImages you like, look carefully at the license and make sure you have permission to use it. In my experience, Getty is aggressive about enforcing their licenses, and at their prices, failing to comply could get expensive fast.
4. 123RF: I’ve recently discovered 123RF.com but haven’t used them yet. On initial searches, they do have a good collection of high-quality images, though they seem to have a lot that looks like traditional stock images. 123RF pops up in Google image searches often so don’t be surprised if you stumble across them.
Pricing is subscription only and follows a downloads-per-day model with fees covering a period of time (e.g. 5 downloads per day for 30 days for $89). That means you’ll pay about $.60 per image, which is great, but most of us won’t need that many images. If you do, it’s a good deal.
ProTip: 123RF provides “royalty-free stock photos,” but don’t let that fool you. Royalty-free means you don’t pay a recurring royalty, you do have to pay for rights to use the image.
The next time you need an image for a blog post, resist the urge to snag a picture from Google. Instead, use one of the many resources available to you, and sleep well knowing you’re legally allowed to use them.