Anyone trying to establish a presence online wants to have a stunning website and social media accounts with professional quality imagery, but finding the right images is often more difficult than people imagine. The real challenge for many businesses is finding great images for their site at a good price (ideally free). If you’re struggling to find affordable and attractive photos to use on your website or social media, luckily there are lots of resources available. These are some of the most popular platforms:
Wikimedia Commons provides images of literally everything you can imagine. You can search for images based on the subject or description, which makes it much easier to wade through the massive number of images on the site. Images here are typically licensed under a creative commons license, permitting you to use them for free on your website or social media, as long as you give proper attribution. You should always read the license before you use an image, since it may preclude you from using it for profit. This means you can use it on your website, for instance, but you can’t use it on any branded merchandise or combine it with other images to create something new.
Wikimedia Commons also has images for commercial use. However, it’s just as important to read and understand the license for these images before you use them, since you may still legally be required to give attribution to the original creator and indicate if changes were made to the image before you can use it commercially. If the licenses just sound like legalese to you, you can search for public domain images, and you’re free to use them however you’d like, as there’s no associated copyright. Wikimedia Commons has an incredibly broad inventory of images, and the fact that no membership is required to access the site or download images is great. However, it can be difficult to fully understand the licensing requirements, so you have to be very careful about this.
Pexels provides free images for websites or other purposes. All images here are licensed under the CC0 license. This means they are free for both personal and commercial use, and you don’t have to provide attribution. The images on Pexels are also conveniently tagged for searchability on criteria other than what the image is. This includes things like image sizes, and technical details like the software used to create the images. No membership is required to access Pexels, which is convenient. Still, one issue you might encounter with the site is that it often shows sponsored photos; these images are not free and are shown alongside the free ones. You’ll have to pay for these images and you may have to create a login on the site that hosts the image.
The site also has a somewhat limited selection of images when compared to some of the competitors. And although the images are free, and attribution is not required, there’s still some legal jargon related to the images that can be confusing. The site states that “identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that they may find offensive, unless they give their consent. You should also make sure the depicted content (people, logos, private property, etc.) is suitable for your application and doesn’t infringe any rights.” While this may seem straightforward for some, it may be intimidating for others to understand these legal concepts, so once again, tread lightly.
Flickr is a mixed bag. Not all images here are free for use, and some of the ones that are free have poor resolution. While Flickr is seen as a social media site for photographers, the reality is that many of the images on the site might not be the best quality because they were taken by amateurs. Nevertheless, you can find images with no known copyright restrictions on the U.S. Library of Congress’ Flickr Photostream, for example. You can also find tons of images of the British Royal Family, public domain images of U.S. White House events, and most major institutions have accounts on this platform. Flickr encourages the creation of an account, though it isn’t a requirement to search images or download those in the public domain. If you do have an account, the site allows you to upload your own images to the website for storage, editing and sharing.
However, you should keep in mind that some of the free images are watermarked, so you may be legally obligated to maintain the watermark even if you use the image on your website. Also, you have to pay for the pro account to have access to the desktop Auto-Uploadr, and for the privilege of not seeing ads on the site. In short, Flickr contains lots of free images for websites that you can use if you’re careful about the licensing. But to be safe, you might want to stick with public domain images, as you’re basically free to do what you want with them.
Fortunately, for those of you looking to find free images to use online, there are numerous resources available. However, it can be confusing trying to understand all the licensing mumbo-jumbo on these websites. Understanding what images are free and which ones you have to pay for might be simple, but trying to figure out what you’re allowed to do with the images can feel like crawling through a legal minefield. In any case, it’s best to make sure that you fully understand and adhere to the licensing requirements that apply to each image you want to use. The last thing anyone wants is to misunderstand the licensing for an image they thought was free, only to end up getting sued, so make sure to do your research and be careful out there.