6 Sources for Legal, Low-cost or Free Images

by | Nov 26, 2011 | Blog, Blog Archive, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

This image shows two weeks of post headlines & illustrations from this blog. The free or low-cost sources the images, clockwise from upper left, are: a photo of the editor’s grandson that she took, a chart from a survey we conducted created in Excel, a licensed cartoon ($12), a free cartoon, a scanner image of a man’s hand, and a photo of the editor’s dog.

Looking for great photos for your blog or social media site — without spending much cash? Good news from Silicon Valley last week: Wired.com staff-produced are now available in high-resolution format under a Creative Commons license on a newly launched public Flickr stream.

The Creative Commons license turns 10 years old next year, and the simple idea of releasing content with “some rights reserved” has revolutionized online sharing and fueled a thriving remix culture. (CC is a nonprofit and you can contribute to their annual campaign.)

The CC BY-NC license that Wired is offering means that the images are free for all to republish, with minor restrictions:

  1. Photos must be attributed to the photographer and copyright holder, and, if used online, a link back to the site where the photo first appeared is usually required. (Wired takes this a step further, and requires a link back to the story where the photo was originally published.)
  2. Commercial use (advertising, collateral, flyers, posters, T-shirts, etc.) is prohibited.
  3. Remixes and mash-ups are allowed.

With a three times a week publishing schedule, we need a lot of great images for this blog.  So one of the most common questions we get from other bloggers or even from casual friends is, “Where do you get your photographs and cartoons?”

But before we share some of our favorite sources for great illustrations, here’s a list of the forbidden sources that can get you into legal trouble. Unless you contact the copyright holder in advance, and get written permission to use their image, don’t use images from:

  • Other blogs
  • Google or Bing searches
  • Magazines or websites
  • Twitpix, Facebook, or any other social media site
  • Flickr, PhotoBucket or other sharing site UNLESS the image offers a Creative Commons license

If you remember nothing else from this blog post, memorize this: just because something is posted on the Internet and you can right-click on it to save it doesn’t give you the right to republish it on your blog — even if you credit the original source.

If you remember just two things, add this to your memory bank: publishing photos of identifiable people requires their advance written permission unless they are public figures photographed in a public place.

Even if you have permission to use the photo, you can’t use it in a way that makes the person look bad unless the article specifically applies to that person and the facts can be proved to be true.  So if you’re writing a blog post about the bad customer service you got at a hotel, and you find a Creative Commons licensed photo on Flickr of a hotel clerk, you can still get into trouble for using the image if a reasonable person might infer that the bad customer service experience happened with THIS person at THIS hotel, when it did not.

Six Great Sources for Legal Images

  1. Photographs that you take yourself, or photographs that friends give you written permission to use. A digital camera and some creativity will take you a long way – people love photos of children, dogs, and unusual landscapes, and they lend themselves to a lot of different posts. You do need model releases unless the person shown is a public figure.  This is absolutely the safest route for any marketer — your dog won’t sue you.
  2. Photographs or illustrations that are available under a Creative Commons License through Flickr, Morgue File, or other legal photo sharing sites. Flickr tip: Always use the “Advanced Search” feature and check the Commercial Use, Creative Commons boxes, and always include the required photo credits. See the caveat above about the context in which a photo is used.
  3. Free cartoons available from sites like agent-x.com.au, cartoonaday.com, sangrea.net, or Flickr. Some truly amazing cartoonists like Scott Hampson of Agent-X.com, and the comic geniuses behind Geek and Poke allow their work to be used under Creative Commons licenses — and it’s fabulous. So use it, and remember to say thanks with a by-line and a photo credit that links back to their blog or website.
  4. Cartoons and photos for which you have purchased a license. Only about 10% of the items we publish were purchased, most of those from Cartoonstock.  Prices can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on the image you want to use, and the rights you want to purchase.  Always be honest with the license holder about what you plan to do – this is no time to think about asking for forgiveness later.  There is, after all, no defense against copyright infringement.
  5. Graphics such as charts and graphs that you create.  Just put the data into PowerPoint or Excel, copy and paste it into Paint, and save it out as a vector file that you can scale for the blog. These are fast, easy, eye-catching, and free.
  6. PR photos provided by other marketers.  Download them legally from the “Press Room” section of a company’s website, or contact a PR firm or company and ask for a photo to use to illustrate a story.  If you ask for permission, be careful to tell them where you plan to use the image, and the headline of the story to be illustrated by the photo. Sometimes they may say “no”, but you can often get gorgeous, legal photos just by asking politely.

All that great art helps (a lot) with SEO, traffic, and subscriptions. Photos are also a big factor in helping online content “go viral”. One caveat: if the art overwhelms the text, your bounce rate may go up. (A bounce rate measures how much time people spend on your blog or website.) So keep the images relevant to your content.

Looking for more tips you can use to rev up and promote the content on your blog or website for 2012?  Download the presentation from a recent webinar titled, Master Techniques to Get Heard and Make Your Content Viral.