Picture This: Free Images for Use on the Web

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By Bonny Clayton, Your Web Chick

Navigating the Web for photos to populate your website, company newsletter, or other marketing tools can be like tip-toeing through a minefield. You might emerge on the other side completely unscathed, but one wrong step can blow up into a legal morass.

Just about everyone has, shall we say, appropriated an image from another website at one time or another. If you’re illustrating a report or PowerPoint presentation, there’s no problem. But if you use that photo for external marketing – in other words, put it out there as your own, without permission of the website or copyright holder – you can get hit with a copyright infringement suit. 

Think about Shepard Fairey. After his stylized portrait of then-Senator Barack Obama over the word “Hope” became ubiquitous on posters, T-shirts and innumerable other products, the Associated Press, for whom freelance photographer Mannie Garcia took the original photo in 2006, filed suit. Eventually, the parties settled out of court.   

Even if you’re not using an image directly to sell things, you may still be guilty of stealing someone’s intellectual property. And if you thought buying a stock photo was expensive, try getting hit with a copyright infringement fine. So why risk stepping on a landmine when you can get hundreds of thousands of copyright-free images or stock photos online for little cost, or even completely free?

Beyond iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and other heavy hitters, here are a few sources for photographs that won’t blow up your marketing budget: 

Unsplash doesn’t have thousands of images (yet) and it’ll take you a good 20 minutes to “scroll” through what’s on the front page, but if you go to Archive, you’ll see thumbnails of everything that’s on the site. Every image at Unsplash falls under the Public Domain Dedication Code, meaning the person who created the work has dedicated it to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law. You can copy, modify, and distribute the work, even for commercial purposes, without asking permission. You can also subscribe to get 10 new hi-res images sent to your inbox every 10 days, absolutely free.

Death to the Stock Photo - they have no archive, just free monthly photos sent to your inbox, to use any way you want. When you sign up, they give you a free pack to download right away.

Gratisography – Get free high-res pictures you can use on your personal or business projects. New pictures are added weekly and they are all free of copyright restrictions.

Pixabay – A vault full of stunning public domain pictures. Get free vectors, drawings and photos on this site. You can freely use any of the images in digital and/or printed format, for personal and/or commercial use, without attributing credit to the original creator of the work.

If you’re more creative, try graphic composers like PicMonkey and Canva. Each lets you put together text, patterns and elements to create an image that is uniquely you. Canva offers many elements for free, while others are only $1 each. PicMonkey is just $4.99 per month or $33 per year (just $2.75 per month) to use ALL their premium features. But you can whip up some wicked cool stuff using a free account as well.

Finally, there are more cost-effective stock image sites than the big names. 123RF.com, CanStockPhoto.com, and DepositPhotos.com are all excellent choices. Remember too when buying an image that for most Web applications, like for use on your website or in social media or e-mail marketing, you can get away with a smaller version of the image.

Bonny Clayton, aka Your Web Chick, is an award-winning professional specializing in Web design, social media and e-mail marketing.


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PeterB 09-12-2014 1:42 PM

Make sure to advise clients STRONGLY about using Googled images in their CMS authored content! Have seen more than 1 get slapped with suits from Getty (settled for hundreds in each case)! And, in both cases, they had been warned not to. #SMH

Frugal Diva Designz 09-12-2014 1:55 PM

Wow! I was just looking for new stock images to purchase. This is superb. Thanks a million!

KimM 09-12-2014 2:47 PM

I like Dollar Photo Club also.  10 bucks, 10 images. http://mbsy.co/8gvnT

HeatherG 09-12-2014 3:29 PM

I have used http://www.freeimages.com/ for years, (since it it was sxc.hu). Its owned by Getty now, but the images are still free and most have no restrictions. Its where I send most of my clients  when they don't want to (or cant afford to) pay for stock art.

CarolG 09-12-2014 3:44 PM

Excellent news!!! Finally no limit on stock photos

GaryF 09-12-2014 4:25 PM

Excellent article and very useful information. I've been guilty of using images pulled from the web for my e-marketing activities, but now I know where to go for some royalty-free pics, for both my own business and my clients. Thanks for this!

JohnnyW 09-12-2014 5:13 PM

Another source is Wkimedia Commons. Each picture varies, as in licensing and crediting, but most have permission sources linked and available.

JenniferM 09-12-2014 9:42 PM

Google has a tool Advanced Image Search where you can set the level of copyright. I am not entirely sure its foolproof tho.

Tapsearch ComE 09-13-2014 8:36 PM

Enjoy many free services and tools including free clip art from pro draw at http://tapsearch.com  Note best free submissions and promoters too.

ZacheryS 09-13-2014 11:27 PM

Thank you for the subscription and great article on finding free images. I hardly use images because I am not able to afford the high cost, so your information is excellent and highly needed. That's again.

Tommy Landry 09-15-2014 5:31 PM

Good article - some of these were new for me. We recently wrote a piece on a very similar topic that also outlines how the licensing works. Take a look for yourself:


BrianS 09-17-2014 9:45 AM

Great article, but what is the best way to show copyright of an image that you use on your site once you have bought ii (if not free). I've seen some images shown with courtesy of istock photo or similar is that all i need to do?

PaigeP 09-18-2014 3:28 PM

You forgot all about another treasure-trove of free images — just about ANY agency from the U.S. government. Each of the armed services, like the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard has a photo library, and the photos are "public domain" since they are paid by our tax dollars. Finally! Our tax dollars at work! Often they do ask that you give a photo credit to the photographer, a small thing we can do for them. And don't forget NASA — all those planets, all those photos of the earth. One of my favorites is visibleearth.nasa.gov and there's also the Dept. of Agriculture, USGS — U.S. Geological Survey. They all have hard-to-find photos if you're looking for something specific.

Best stock free 12-05-2014 3:05 PM


Free images!

Creative Commons! :)


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