There are numerous ways to get graphics or photos for use on your website or other online marketing.
Unfortunately some of them are illegal. Copyright law and intellectual property licensing is very difficult to explain. Keep in mind, I am NOT a lawyer. I recommend you talk to a legal professional who specializes in the practice of copyright and intellectual property law to get the actual facts.
That said, I start with the thought that every image I see is copyrighted. The photographer does NOT have to put some sort of warning or marking on the image. Just because you can see it on Facebook or use Google’s image search to view it doesn’t mean that it is there for you to take and do whatever you want.
It is my basic understanding that any person who creates something has legal protections the instant they create it. One of those protections is the exclusive right to make copies of it, display it publicly or use it in another body of work. No, it doesn’t matter whether you are wanting to re-use the photo for financial gain or not.
Many photographic resource websites state that certain Images may be subject to additional copyrights, property rights, trademarks etc. and may require the consent of a third party or the license of these rights. For example, pictures with company logos or recognizable people in them often require a release from the logo holder or the person in the photo and sometimes even property can require a release form.
Essentially, all you learned on your first day of kindergarten is coming back to haunt you. Don’t take something from someone else without their permission.
As adults we should instinctively know that if you want to use something that someone else created or owns, you need to get permission from the creator or owner of that item to do so. Otherwise, you are taking something without permission. Getting put into “timeout” as an adult can be very costly and time consuming.
Often when you get a license it is for a very specific use or the license has limits to how you can use the image.
Do NOT purchase a license to put a picture on a T-Shirt and then assume that you can also use it as your logo on your website. That’s not how many licenses work.
However, there are a series of licenses that allow you “free use” of the item in question. “Creative Commons 0” (CC0) and “Public Domain” are often terms used to indicate this sort of license.
Above all else, make sure you know what type of license your source requires and what you need to to do comply with it before you use the image.
Some sources I have reviewed and consider using are listed below. Read their particular usage license rules. Make sure you abide by them. Getting sued for copyright violation happens to “normal people” and small businesses more commonly than you would imagine.
I do NOT have any affiliation with these sites and can NOT answer your questions about their licensing rules. You will need to contact the source directly to get answers for any questions you may have.
- DesignerPics.com – A very simply laid out searchable resource for a nice variety of photos. Jeshu John is the photographer, attribution is not required, but, is welcome.
- Free Stock Textures – Sometimes finding the right picture isn’t about getting a specific item on the screen, but, more about setting the mood. That’s when a good texture or background image can come to play. When you just want to beat your head against a wall, use this website. Most of these textures are really high quality photos of walls and floors. Most won’t “background tile” on a website, however, they can be used as touchstones or as a blank canvas to work with and put text on top of.
- Gratisography.com – Love the play on words. This site is apparently put on by Ryan McGuire and he claims the all pictures on this site are photographed by him and are “free of copyright restrictions”. However, please note that you should click on the words “copyright restrictions” to learn of his simple modification to the CC0 license approach. As with many others he has a “Buy me a coffee” PayPal donate button. The quality of these photos is really quite good and many of them have truly unique aspects to the images.
- Jay Mantri – Another good photographer putting images online via CC0. Doesn’t have search or tagging, but, the photos are fun to browse and of really good quality.
- LibreShot.com – The tag line on this site when I first reviewed it pretty much says it all: “Beautiful Photos. Totally Free. Public Domain License (CC0).” Be safe and double-check.
- LittleVisuals.co – A site with dozens of wonderful photos apparently from a very talented young person named Nic who passed away due to a cardiac episode at age 26. His family has decided to keep the site running and dedicate it to him. They also have a Donation button that leads to a “JustGiving.com” donation page that appears to be trying to raise money “To supply schools with portable defibrillators.”
- Lock and Stock Photos – A very intriguing and minimalist approach to a searchable and categorized image collection. The only place obvious that states the license is the tagline in the upper left “Free Stock Photos. Use in Any Way, Anywhere, Anytime”.
- Magdeleine.co – Described as “Hand-picked free photos for your inspiration”. A very interesting approach to a curated database of photos with various CC0 and attribution required photos. The site is well designed and features search and tags along with a color pallette search feature.
- Minimography.com/ – A nice play on words. A very professional, subdued and minimal approach to photography with a nice small set of photographic resources.
- Picjumbo.com – Part of the logo header plainly stated: “Totally free photos for your commercial & personal works”. What is doesn’t say is just how very good almost all of these photos are. I have been pleasantly surprised each time I use Picjumbo as a resource and I hope you will be too.
- Pixabay – Pixabay collects images “free of copyrights”. Pictures are released via Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain. Pixabay’s FAQ explains their licensing rules and advice.
- PublicDomainArchive.com – A very nice collection of images, with a lot of awkward advertising, they ask for donations. The last time I checked, apparently donating will get you bulk download capability and the elimination of the annoying advertising. Might be well worth donating if you like this site.
- PublicDomainPictures.net – The name says it all. This site has a variety of high and medium quality photos. It appears that the people who submit photos are automatically given a “buy me a coffee” button, which when pressed takes you to a PayPal donation screen. Implying that you can actually choose to pay money for the picture if you want to.
- SkitterPhoto.com – CC0 pictures with some that are of very good quality. The site is searchable and easy to use.
- SplitShire.com – Their Facebook page states: “SplitShire offers you delicious free stock photos for commercial & personal use without limitations.” Daniel Nanescu appears to be the photographer who runs and offers the photos. I have to admit, some of their images appear to be truly professional quality. Their Support page also has a very tiny PayPal “donate” button on it.
- Startup Stock Photos – Has some really nice photography using CC0. However, at the time I reviewed it, the site didn’t have any search or tagging capabilities. So you can spend a lot of time browsing as you hunt for that one photo you need.
- Stocksnap.io – Another nicely laid out website with plenty of searchable high quality CC0 images. I’m actually using some of these on this website. Check it out.
- Stock Up – A photo website indexer and search tool. Currently listed as having 26 different free stock photo websites with permission to index and link including many that I have listed in this article.
- SuperFamous.com – The last time I looked their images section states “The Superfamous Images are available under the conditions of a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. This means that you can use the work for your own purposes as long as credit is provided.”
- The Commons – A section of Flickr that offers a collection of public domain images, or images with “NO KNOWN COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS”. This puts you in the position of having to trust that someone else did their research. I wouldn’t want to argue in a court of law that my use of an image was legal because someone else said the image had “NO KNOWN COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS”.
- Travel Coffee Book – “Sharing beautiful travel moments.” All are CC0, and the photos that I viewed were of very good quality. The “Download here” link didn’t work for me at the time I tested it, but, it may be fixed when you try it.
- VisualHunt.com – A very nice search tool for Creative Commons photos. Each photo you find will have its own license, so be sure to read what the license holder requests that you do to comply.
- Wikimedia Commons – A collection of public domain images. This is one of the largest free image databases available. Here is a link to their usage rules.
- Unsplash.com – Last time I checked these very professional photos were generously licensed under CC0. Be sure to check to see if their terms of service have changed.
I would feel pretty silly if I didn’t mention one more resource. The one that most website administrators overlook. Use your own camera (even a smartphone) to take a picture yourself. I’ve done this myself when I can’t find just what I’m looking for and the results can be surprisingly good.
This article’s featured image – “Behind the Camera” – is a photo by Daniel Dionne.
Note: The image has been flipped horizontally from the original source.