Blog Images Where To Find Them The Legal Way

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Blog Images: Where To Find Them (The Legal Way)

You’ve probably already noticed that images have a huge effect on your blog traffic and bounce rate. There’s no question about it – you have to have at least one great image in every blog post. However, contrary to popular opinion, every image you see on the Internet isn’t yours for the taking. Some of them – most of the great ones, actually – have a copyright attached, making it illegal (against the law!) for you to use them. There are lots of websites you can visit to find images for your blog, but first let’s define the word “legal”.

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Why aren’t all images free for the taking?

A lot of the images you see on the Internet are pictures taken by professional photographers and they’re either promoting their own work or selling those pictures (to websites, magazines, newspapers, etc). They own them, they have the right to say who can use them. Some of the images are the work of graphic artists or designers doing the same thing. Again, they created the image, they have the right to say who can use it.

Legally” you can use these images – IF – you first contact the copyright owner and get his or her permission. In most cases they’re going to require compensation, either in the form of cold hard cash or a link back to their website, maybe even both. If you don’t have prior approval to use their images then they can file a DMCA claim with Google, and/or their own lawyer, and have you take their images down and possibly even shut down your blog. Of course, they can also sue you for monetary damages. One stolen image can get you in a world of hurt.

What images can you use legally?

Pictures you take yourself or artwork you create are always safe. The benefit is, they’re yours, you own the copyright, and if someone else wants to use them you can charge a fee and/or ask for a link back.

Images you purchase, as long as you pay for the right to use them for commercial purposes. Some people don’t mind letting bloggers use their images but if they find out you’re using them to dress up your blog so you can make more money, then they want more money for their work. Even if you just have a “personal” blog, if it’s monetized in any way, then you need to have commercial rights to your images.

Where can you find images for your blog (the legal way)?

For free images, I like to use Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Pictures, and Free Digital Photos. Between these three sites I can generally find something I can use. However, it’s important to check the rights before you just grab one. Most require at least attribution (a link back to the owner.) and some do have certain commercial restrictions.

For inexpensive images I like to use iStockPhoto. This site is so huge you can spend days just surfing all the beautiful images. You have to buy credits, first, and then use the credits to buy images. Most images come in a variety of sizes and prices, which is great for bloggers. You don’t need a huge image so you can get photos that are just the right size for as little as one or two dollars. On the upside, once you buy the image it’s yours and you can use it over and over again.

In the beginning it was a no-no to use images from Pinterest but they’ve loosened up their terms and copyright policy. Now, if you see an image on Pinterest you like you can grab an embed code and use it on your blog. That code drags along the attribution link, too. There an iframe around the image and it might not blend with your blog, but there are some beautiful pics on Pinterest so it’s worth a look.

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  1. Eric Lopez

    Sources like Wikimedia and Free Digital Photos are exactly what I’ve been looking for. At the end of the day, is it worth considering purchasing photos or is it best practice to try generating my own media first?

    1. Steven

      Eric, if you like photography and you have time to do it, you can take your own pictures.

  2. Steve Aquila

    I also wrote an article on this very topic. The title is “Finding Images you can really use” by Steve Aquila. It is short and to the point. In fact there is a beautiful picture of an inflating hot air balloon used as an example gracing the page. The pictures from our source are getting better all the time as photographers like you are trying to get their name out there and provide these shots for free. The only catch is you must give them credit with a link back and or a writeup in your blog about them. We have use them for web design too.

    1. Steven

      Thanks for your comment Steve

  3. Colleen Madden Devan

    I was hoping you woud mention Creative Commons images too. I have used photos from Flickr that are labeled as SRR- Some Rights Reserved and my understanding is that you can legally use these as long as you attribute them with a link back to the owner’s Flickr account.

    1. Steven

      Colleen, be careful with SRR. As far as I understand, some of them can be used for personal stuff but not for commercial use.

  4. Richard Hussey

    I like to use the WordPress plugin Compfight. Loads of creative commons licensed photos to browse. You can select the size and it pulls in the attribute automatically

    1. Steven

      Richard, I’ll check this out. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Benjamin Bloom

    Good article – thanks for bringing awareness to people about photograph copyrights and how to legally navigate a tricky space.

    I think you’re mistaken about Pinterest. It is NOT ok to blindly use an embed link from Pinterest.

    Here’s a very real scenario. I, as a photographer, post a photo to my blog, website, or other sharing site. Person A right clicks & saves, screenshots, or otherwise gets a copy of the photo. They pin it to Pinterest without attribution back to me (very common, unfortunately.) If you use this photo, you’re violating my copyright. Even if Person A pins the image and it retains attribution back to my original blog, you still do not have the right to use it in your site without my permission.

    Consider images on Pinterest to be just like images in Google Image Search. You still have to contact the copyright holder in order to use them legally.

    1. Steven

      Benjamin, I think you didn’t get what I was explaining. I’m not saying that you can just save any image from Pinterest and use it on your blog. I’m talking about a functionality developed by Pinterest that allows you to use the picture and insert an attribution link at the same time.

    2. Benjamin D. Bloom


      I understand that you’re talking about using Pinterest provided capabilities. Still, if I post an image to the web and someone posts it, that does not mean that I have licensed it for commercial use. (Yes, blogging is often commercial use.) It doesn’t matter if you or Pinterest includes the attribution, you should still *always* contact the photographer.

      Pinterest’s insert option is equal to going to Google to grab an image and thinking it’s OK to use it because you link back to their site. It’s not – you need to contact the original photographer.


    3. Steven

      Pinterest insert option is NOT the same as grabbing any image from Google. It’s against their TOS to share images that you don’t have the rights for. If I grab an image from Pinterest with the attribution link they are providing, I am not an outlaw. The person who shared it on Pinterest in the first place might be, but I’m not responsible for that, am I?

    4. Benjamin D. Bloom

      Welcome to the grey world of copyright infringement vs fair use.

      “The person who shared it on Pinterest in the first place might be, but I’m not responsible for that, am I?”

      The answer to this question will depend on the country you’re in, the attitude of the photographer, and the quality of the lawyers involved. You may be in violation and you may not. My point is — ALWAYS make the effort to contact the photographer. ESPECIALLY for anything that could be perceived as commercial use.

  6. Lucille Ossai

    Thanks Steven!

    I was initially using images with watermarks on my blog until a reader advised me otherwise.

    I too stumbled upon and wikimedia Commons (which does some great gif animations too) and have tended to stick to these, especially the former, but always listing the website at the end of every post.

    I also use which has free animations.

    I would check out the as well.

    Many thanks for such a helpful post!

    1. Steven

      Thanks for your comment Lucille

  7. David Dewhirst

    Check out PhotoPin, which is a searchable interface for CCR images from Flickr and also provides you the attribution code to put in your post.

    1. Steven

      Thanks for sharing that tip, David

  8. Elliott Scott

    When I first started blogging, I never took into account that you need permission to use photos on the web; they are in fact other peoples. My questions is: having recently become aware of this, should I take photos that are not my own out of my older posts?

    1. Steven

      Elliott, if you want to be completely within the boundaries of law, you should take these pictures down.

  9. Matoweb

    I find lots of beautiful photos on Flickr, but the catch is, that you have to ask the author if you can use it. Most of the time they have no problem with that, but you have to give them a link back.

    1. Steven

      That’s the right way of doing things but that a LOT of leg work. Especially if you are publishing several blog posts per day. How do you manage this on a big scale?

    2. Matej Latin

      Hey Steven,

      I know it can be… but I publish blog posts on a weekly basis not daily, and when I need a photo I want it to be a good one, possibly with some artistic value, too. That’s why I always try looking on Flickr.

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