Every business needs a blog. And every blog needs images. Images make your post more reader friendly, increase social shares and keep people reading to the end. But licensing professional images can be expensive. So where can you find free pictures?
Fortunately, there are more options today than ever before, and I’m going to give you three of the best. But first, let’s look at some common approaches that are not worth trying:
- Just stealing an image. To be clear: if you run a Google image search, and use the first result that looks good, you are probably stealing a picture. Not only can this result in legal action (unlikely), it can result in very vocal trash talk that hurts your customer base (much more likely).
- Adding an attribution… after stealing an image. Contrary to common belief, just linking to the site where you got the image does not make using it okay. Unless the image comes with a Creative Commons permission or the owner explicitly gives permission, attributing it doesn’t make it legal to use.
- Disclaimers. The popular move on amateur blogs is to say, “All images found on the internet and presumed to be free to use. If you are the copyright owner, contact us and we’ll take it down.” This kind of disclaimer serves absolutely no legal purpose other than to publicly admit you knew you were stealing.
- Ignoring watermarks. Professional photographers often print a white or off-color logo across free versions of their work. This is known as a watermark. Watermarked photos might be up on their website for everyone to see, but it’s still not legal to take them for your own use. Plus, it will look shoddy.
- DIY photoshoots. This isn’t always a bad idea. If you have a professional photographer and are doing a real shoot, you’re probably good. But unless you’re bootstrapping an indie creative project, don’t make the mistake of just snapping pics with your iPhone. It’s legal, but the photo quality really will be low if you don’t have a professional involved.
So if those avenues are all closed, what’s a business owner to do? The smartest thing possible: get professional pics for free — the legal way.
Three Totally Free Sources for Great Images
Here are my three top sources for free, legal images:
- Compfight. Compfight doesn’t post photography of its own. Instead, it’s a tool for searching Flickr, the photo sharing site. This is my favorite source, because I not only get great images, I can help amateur and indie photographers show off their work. Of course, not all the images on Flickr are up to professional standards, but Compfight will reward some careful searching — especially if you like artsy or hip images.Two important tips for using Flickr: first, make sure you set the filter on the left sidebar to return only “Commercial Use” images. Second, be aware that you have to honor the Creative Commons license of the image and attribute it; learn the details here.
- Pixabay. Pixabay is one of the largest and easiest to use free photo sites out there. The selection is simply massive, and unlike Compfight/Flickr, every image is up to professional standards. Plus, you don’t have to attribute the images (most of the time). One word of warning, though: Because it’s so useful, Pixabay gets used by a lot of companies. If you’re looking for images to represent a competitive niche, you may want to try less well-trod ground. That beautiful beach has been seen before.
- FreeImages. The aptly named FreeImages is my backup plan — and sometimes, my first stop. It also has a massive selection, but does a good job of drawing together images that fit niche categories. That means you can find something that truly represents your industry or topic. Like Compfight, though, many of the images require attribution.
Where do you get your images from? Have you ever made the mistake of grabbing one off the internet — and did anybody notice?