Free Photos for Blogs and Websites

“Where can I get royalty free photos?” is a common question asked. People are looking for free photos for blogs and websites with the demand of more content by guest contributor – Ross Chandler, features editor for the Rocky Mount Telegram and as a Web designer.

Only the most talented web designers can create engaging sites without art of some sort. But the issue is, where can you get attention-grabbing images, especially if you do not have a budget for them?

Frankly, I suspect most people do not hesitate to use a service such as Google Images to find what they want, then steal – yes, you read that correctly, “steal” – the images. The simple actions of clicking the right mouse button and choosing “save image as” is theft, even if the work is not marked with a copyright symbol. So, what is a designer left to do?

There are several options. First, look at how you are planning to use the image and compare that against the standards of fair use.[i] Copyright law – a federal issue found in Sections 107 to 118 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code[ii] – allows you to use protected materials within certain clearly defined ways if the use meets a four-part test. The parts are:

  • Whether you’re using the images for commercial or educational purpose.
  • The nature of the copyrighted image.
  • How much of the copyrighted image you’re using.
  • How your use would affect the potential value of the copyrighted image.[iii]

Of course, most people designing websites are not lawyers, and trying to read and apply the actual laws can seem overwhelming. My advice: Err on the side of caution. If you absolutely and honestly don’t think your plans for the image would be a fair use, don’t use it.

Another option is websites that offer free art.[iv] [v] The images range from photos to graphic devices such as buttons and banners. Some are included with the purchase of programs such as the Microsoft Office suite.[vi] Of course, you get what you pay for. Some of the images are of good quality; others are, well, Е you understand what I mean.

A third option is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The images that illustrate its entries are a mix of copyrighted items, which are included under fair use, and others that often are posted by their creators. Many of the latter have been released from copyright; some completely so, others with requirements such as the creator be given credit when the image is used elsewhere. It’s easy to tell a work’s status; click on it then scroll down in the window it opens in until you come to the licensing section where the copyright status is described. Here is an example from a recently added article:

Copywrite image

The government is another source. Images created by federal employees are in the public domain – that is, they are not copyrighted. Some agencies such as NASA[vii] and the Army[iii] have excellent searchable databases of works that can be downloaded for free.

When all else fails, there is another alternative: Ask the person who created the image. This recently worked well for me. As a newspaper editor, I needed a photo to illustrated a story on my weekly religion page. A Google Images search turned up a courtroom drawing that would work perfectly. An email pleading my case to the artist – need for art, no budget to buy any, and so on – led him to give me permission to use the drawing so long as Iong as I gave him credit in print and linked to his blog when the story was posted on my newspaper’s website. Will this work everytime? No. Did it take more time than other options? Yes. But, this shows that the approach can work.

This list isn’t all inclusive. The breadth and depth of the web means that new options regularly appear while some older ones disappear. Checks on search engines such as Google, ideas offered by other designers, and even luck can help you find the work you need for a website.

Article contributed by: Ross Chandler, features editor for the Rocky Mount Telegram and as a Web designer.