Where to Find Free Images. A Guide to Legal (and Ethical) Photos for Your Website

Computer open with lots of images

When you’re faced with a large block of text online, what do you do?

I know that when I open a webpage, and I’m faced with a long wall of text, I balk a little.

It might be a well written, well researched piece, but my first reaction is to leave the site to find an article that’s more broken up and easier to navigate. 

And, I’m not alone. A study by Skyword found that blogs that contained visual content received 94% more views than blogs that did not

It’s not just blog posts. Social media content is also overwhelmingly visual-based, and tons of studies have shown that posts with images gain more attention than those without.

Images serve a few purposes. They give a visual hint as to what the article is about. They break up the text making the article easier to read. They add an aesthetic appeal to the article. And more.

But, finding images that you can legally use isn’t always easy. Not everyone has a budget to invest in their images, and there are lots of copyright laws protecting the photographers and their property (as there should be).

Luckily, there are a few free resources and other simple ways for you to find fantastic photos for your social media pages and blog without breaking the bank. Here’s a quick guide.

Find free stock photo sites

There are three free stock photo sites that are my go-tos when I’m in need of a quick image: Unsplash, Pixabay, and Pexels.

The images on these sites are completely free, so you just need to download the picture and add it to your post. They even make it easy for you to credit the photographer by offering linked phrasing that you can copy and paste. (Although crediting isn’t required in order to use the photos, you should consider it; the photographers aren’t getting paid to let you use their photos, and crediting them is a small way to say thanks.)

pic of unsplash sign
Sites like Unsplash give access to thousands of stock photos for free.

When it comes to using stock photos, don’t go too overboard. You’re not the only one using those sites, and after a while, the same photo starts to make its rounds on the internet. The last thing that you want is your images to make your site appear stale. But, when you need a photo fast, these sites can be lifesavers.

Reach out to people via Instagram

Another easy way to find photos is to browse Instagram.

When you find a picture that you like, you can reach out to the user to ask permission to use their photo (with credit, of course).

Much of the time, IG users are more than happy to allow you to use their photos for free. They’re usually casual users who are thrilled to have their photos noticed. 

Some, however, might have a rate for their photos or ask for some sort of discount on your products or services. This usually happens if the person is an influencer or a professional photographer. In this case, you can decide whether you want to pay for the photo or move onto the next one.

Person Browsing Instagram
Many Instagram users are thrilled to let you use their photos on your site.

While it is possible to embed Instagram images directly onto your site without permission (it’s essentially the same as including a link to another article in your post), asking for permission to use the photo is preferable for a number of reasons.

  1. You have more control over the photo. If you embed the image, then you can’t control whether the image is deleted. Embedded images also include the original caption and, in some cases, comments as well.
  2. There’s no doubt about whether or not you’re allowed to use the image. The average Instagram user is unaware of the fact that people can embed public images on their sites without permission. If a person stumbles upon your site and sees their photo being used, they might get upset, even if you’re following all of the rules by using it. Avoid negative encounters by reaching out to the photographer.
  3. You get to connect with people. As a business owner, you should never turn your nose up at a networking opportunity. The majority of your interactions with Instagram users will probably be quite brief, but there’s also the possibility of gaining a business relationship. (I’ve personally found experts through Instagram who I use for fact checking some of my articles.)

Search Flickr Creative Commons

The photo sharing site, Flickr, has a section where photographers can post their pictures for free use. Similar to the free stock photo sites, you can download and use the images there without asking for permission or paying a fee.

However, it can get a little complicated.

Person Searching on Phone
You might have to search a bit, but there’s some gold within Flickr Creative Commons.

The photos are sorted by how you’re allowed to use the photo. The stipulations range from using the photo as is with attribution to being able to do whatever you want with the photo without giving credit to the photographer at all.

As you search Flickr Creative Commons, make sure that you understand your permissions and follow all of the rules. Not only is it polite to do so, you could get into legal trouble. 

All that said, it’s a fantastic resource if you’re looking for something a little different and don’t have time to wait for permissions.

Take your own photos

This might be an obvious one, but people tend to be shy about posting their own photos on their professional website. However, these days, it’s easier than ever.

Most newer phones have cameras that are more than adequate for digital platforms. They even have settings that make photos look surprisingly professional. You don’t have to have much of a photographic talent to bust out a decent picture.

If you really lack confidence with your photo taking, you can always turn your photos into graphics or put it through some editing sites. (Canva is an excellent, free graphic creation site, and Pixlr offers fantastic photo editing for free.)

woman taking photo with phone
With today’s smartphone technology, it’s pretty easy to take your own professional-looking photos.

You can find quick tutorials online to help you learn angles, lighting, and other things necessary for a decent photo.

Of course, you need to be a bit self-aware before you start filling your website with your own images. They do need to have a level of professionalism about them, and if you can’t achieve that, then leave your photo-taking skills for your personal Facebook account instead.

Finding images for your site doesn’t have to be difficult. There are so many resources available that you just need to know where to look. And, when in doubt, you can always track down the photographer of an image you like and gain permission to use their photo.

Cover photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: