Using Images Online: How To Find Great Photos You Can Legally Use

November 2, 2021

Originally published on July 6th, 2017. Updated for November 2nd, 2021.

Using images online can be perplexing. We all want our blog posts, webpages, and social media posts to include stunning photos and graphics, right? For good reason! A picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and an eye-catching image can make your post or page really stand out.

However, it’s important to be careful about where you get your gorgeous photos. Images on the internet are not a share-everything free-for-all, so you’ll need to make sure you’re only using images that you actually have the right to use. Here are 4 ways to find photos and images you can legally use online on your website and social media posts:

Using Images Online: How To Find Great Photos You Can Legally Use

1. Take Your Own Photos

Want to avoid the copyright headache altogether? Your best and safest option is to get creative and try taking your own photos. Make a folder of all the cool internet-worthy photos you’ve taken. Then organize them by either creating sub-folders by category, or labeling the files with keywords, to help you find the perfect image later on.

2. Royalty-Free Stock Photos

The most straightforward option for finding images you can use online is to use a website dedicated to Stock Photos, aka Royalty-Free Images. “Royalty-free” basically means that you don’t have to continually pay royalties ($$$) to the owner of the photo every time you use it. Most of these stock photo sites have a one-time fee to download the photo, and then you can use it as much as you want. Make sure to take a look at the license since images from these sites will still have some stipulations as to acceptable use, but it isn’t anything too crazy. For example, these stock photos often have a limit to how many times you can print them commercially.

Here are a few places to find good royalty-free stock photos:

3. Creative Commons Licensed Images

The next category of photos you can legally use on your website or social media is photos that fall under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is actually a non-profit organization that has created an alternative copyright licensing system for photographers and artists who want to share their work, but not under the normal full copyright laws. Photos that are licensed under Creative Commons are royalty-free but have stipulations as to how you can use them. The most common stipulation is requiring attribution (which basically means saying where you got the photo from, in order to give credit to the creator). Make sure to read the license when using a Creative Commons photo to be sure to follow their requirements.

Pixabay is a great resource to find royalty-free images that are licensed under Creative Commons CC0. Their images are free and do not require attribution. Another great free photo website is Unsplash.

4. Public Domain Images

Public domain images are photos that are royalty-free and free for the taking. The tricky thing with public domain photos, though, is being absolutely sure the photo is actually public domain. Just because it’s on Google Images does not mean it’s public domain. However, there is a trick to finding public domain photos on Google. Once you’re on the Google Images page, you should see a “Tools” button below the search bar. Once you click on “Tools” you’ll see a toolbar with several options for sorting the photos which include “Usage Rights.” Click on “Usage Rights” and select “Labeled for reuse with modification.” This will sort the photos to show images that were labeled as allowed for commercial reuse with modification. Watch the video below to see how it’s done:

When using images online, it’s best to be safe and always assume a photo is copyrighted until proven otherwise. However, there are plenty of great sites to find images you can legally use.

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Former Creative Director

Hana focuses on website design, graphic design and email marketing for Technology Aloha and our clients.

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