Free, Royalty Free Photos For Your Blog or Website

Visitors  to your blog or website have a horrible attention deficit. One of the biggest strengths of the Internet is one of the biggest problems for content generators; the Internet is mindbogglingly large.  In most cases, what you are offering is offered elsewhere, and your consumers will jump ship at the drop of a hat. In practical terms, this means that your content must be unique, genius, or, at a minimum, not turn-off the user.  For the moment, I want to focus on that last one.  One common way to scare a reader away is with a solid wall of monochromatic text.  Even if your readers goal is to, well, read, large blocks of text will send them screaming into the night.  Your text should be broken up with something visually appealing.  This visual stimuli can easily be provided by using some simple photos.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

But this presents a problem. Where do you get these photographs?  Unless content generation is your only job, and maybe not even then, you likely don’t have time to take, edit, and publish relevant photographs for every post you write. Turning to the Internet, with its seemingly limitless supply of photos is an attractive proposition. However, you’re technically not supposed to use most of that eye candy. There are legal and ethical problems with simply Googling an image and then repurposing it for your own use. So how are you supposed to navigate these murky waters of morality, ethics, and legality? When can you use a photo? When can’t you? This is the quagmire that I have found myself in on more than one occasion. In fact, until recently, most of my previous blog posts didn’t use any pictures that I didn’t personally create because I didn’t want to deal with this. But, simply ignoring photos is an untenable position. So, I finally got sick of it and decided to research a solution.



The Core Issue

Most countries in the world are signatories of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  This means that most every work “published” to the world is copyrighted by default.  Photographers do not need to register for copyright protection, it is automatically applied.  Not surprisingly, there are numerous legal subtleties to this.  But it’s safest to assume that the photo you have discovered is not safe for you to use unless you are absolutely positive of the contrary.  Since everything is copyrighted, you need to somehow get the author’s permission before using their works.


Getting Permission to Use Photos

Method 1: Ask for It

If the author has not in some way stated that you are free to use a photo (more on this later), you can simply ask the author for permission to use their work.  Be sure to clearly ask whether you are free to use the photo, whether the author wants to be credited (and if so, what information the author wants you to give), and if there are any restrictions.  Most people will be flattered by this request and will react positively.  If the author does give you permission, document it.  Save a copy of all relevant communications and all the information about the author that you have.  This can provide some protections if the author changes their mind later on down the road.


Method 2: Subscribe to a Stock Photo Service

Room service, how can I help you? You want a photo? Wait one moment, we'll be right up.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  inkiboo 

There are numerous websites out there dealing in royalty free photos.  A very popular example is Getty Images.  These services are wonderful and useful, but not particularly cheap.  If you find yourself producing content constantly, it may be worth it. I recommend you think long and hard about subscribing to one of these services, because they will make your life easier.  If you require photos often, it may be worth the money.


Method 3: Creative Commons

But for those of you who don’t find it to be worth it, there is an alternative.  “Creative Commons is a non-profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California, United States devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.”  People who wish to share their photographs with the world can “license” their photos with the ready made Creative Commons licenses.  There are usually a few minor restrictions for photos licensed under Creative Commons, such as having to attribute the work to the original author, but most of the time, these restrictions are very reasonable.

A very useful way of searching for Creative Commons licensed photos is using Flickr.  You can restrict searches to Creative Commons photos only, and thus have a search engine for photos that you are then free to use.  More than that, Flickr provides a tool, that does all the attribution work for you, and clearly states what the restrictions are.  So you search the Creative Commons filtered photos on Flickr, when you find one, give the URL to ImageCodr, and it spits out the necessary code along with a list of restrictions.  All for free, while remaining relatively painless.

Flickr is not the only way to find photos with “free” licenses, and Creative Commons is not the only “free” license, but it is the most convenient combination, with the largest supply of photos, that I have found.  If you have any other good websites or tips for this, please comment and I will update this post accordingly.  All photos in this post were found and are displayed using this Flickr/ImageCodr combination.



It’s true that simply throwing up a mesmerizing manifesto dearth of pictures is a viable option that is easier to accomplish.  However, if you want traffic, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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