19 Jan 2009

The Simple Guide to Finding Free Images for Your Blog Posts

Last week, I lamented the fact that I’d been beaten to the punch in posting about finding images for blog posts. I sent our bloggers a link to the Smackdown post, but I think that post does a little too much “throat clearing” before it gets to the good stuff. (I say this because I’ve still had a lot of questions about image rights, and I’ve had to remove some images that we didn’t have the rights to use.)  Here’s a simpler guide to finding free images for your blog posts.

Public Domain Images

You really can’t get much better than images in the public domain. No attribution is needed. You can modify them and use them commercially. How can you find public domain images to use?

  1. Wikipedia is your friend. While I don’t often advocate using Wikipedia as a source for anything, they provide a great listing of public domain image resources, and they list them by category.  Categories include history, art, books, logos and flags, postage stamps, culture, and more.
  2. Try the US Government. There are a lot of great .gov images in the public domain.  The government even made a list of the best copyright-free image libraries they offer.
  3. Good ol’ DMOZ. Why not check the open directory for some free images? DMOZ categories have human editors, so you can trust that each link does what it says on the box. Check out their listing of clip art in the public domain.

Creative Commons Images

Because not everything you need is going to be available in the public domain, Creative Commons is the next best thing. These images were often created by people like us who want to share their work as long as they get credit for it. If you use any images with the Creative Common license, make sure you follow the artist’s wishes for proper attribution! There are a lot of great Creative Commons resources out there:

  1. Flickr. There are so many images out there on Flickr!  For our purposes, we use the Flickr Advanced search. The Smackdown post has a great screen capture (have to scroll down) of the Creative Commons section of the search page. Since we don’t generally need to modify or build upon the images we find, we only need to check the Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content and Find content to use commercially options, but I can’t currently create my own screencap to portray this. Maybe I can edit later.
  2. Google it. You can’t just do a Google image search for this; most of the images you find from a normal image search will return images with uncertain usage rights.  But one user created their own Custom Search engine called the Connected Classroom Creative Commons Image Search, which searches 14 sites for Creative Commons images.
  3. Bad Neighborhood. The Creative Commons Google Image Search Assistant is a great meta search tool that can save you a lot of legwork by crawling multiple image resources to find only images that can be both modified and used commercially.

Free Stock Images

And of course, there are sites out there that offer free stock photos with their own rules for usage. Some require attribution, while others do not. Some require artist notification… Be sure to read the guidelines for each site to make sure you’re following the rules!

  1. Stock Exchange. This is one of my personal favorites. You’ll get to know the Stock Exchange URL (sxc.hu) quite well. They do list “premium” results at the top of each search page, which require purchase to download, so be sure you’re looking at the free image results. If you don’t see a watermark, you should be fine.
  2. MorgueFile. I used this site a lot when I was writing for a popular web content portal. Artists generally ask to be notified when you use their photos, and it doesn’t take long to leave them a comment to let them know where they can see their pics in use.
  3. Top Free Photo Site Lists. Everyone has an opinion about the best free stock image sites. See what the following people have to say: SpeckyBoy, DazzlinDonna, HubPages, PhotoshopSupport, Digital Image Magazine, CPAOffers (formerly Nooti)… You get the idea.
  4. Bad Neighborhood. And of course, there’s always the Free Image Meta Search that crawls multiple free image sites to save you the hassle of going to each site yourself. I generally don’t use this unless I hit a wall, because I like to check the sites with the best usage terms for my needs first.

Have I overlooked your favorite source of free images? Let me know.