Where to Find Free Images to Use Online
The web is growing more visual, and social media channels (from Pinterest to G+ to Facebook) rely on good quality imagery to entice users to click-through. Accompanying a blog post or a paid-search ad with the right image is invaluable. In a blog post an image is expected and adds to the user experience – and if tagged properly they can even give a small boost to SEO. But where can we source such images without paying for the privilege?
To begin with we need to understand a little about licensing requirements. Not all images are free to use, and many have rights assigned to them for different levels of re-use that we need to get to understand before we can use them on our pages. The bulk of images online are copyrighted, and no one wants to fall fowl of the law when it comes to infringement. It’s worth taking a look at creativecommons.org to get to grips with whats permissible and in what circumstances.
A good place to begin is Google Creative Commons Image Search. Google’s advanced image search allows you to specify if the images you’re looking for contain a license for reuse, modification, or for commercial purposes, and is a handy place to start. Being able to match colour is a much underrated feature, especially when tying in branding for presentations.
Flickr offers a similar service, with a much larger database of licensed content, in it’s Flickr’s Creative Commons Search. Flickr, owned by Yahoo, is the grand-daddy of online high quality image storage. It has a dedicated fanbase of talented and dedicated contributors, many of whom are happy for you to use their work in exchange for a simple credit. It lets the user select from images for commercial use, images that can altered and edited, or full creative commons content. Often this brings back unexpected results that can really enliven a post and promote sharing.
I’m a big fan of 123rf, and get a lot of images for the Just Search blog from this resource. Images tend to be small, but it’s rare for a blog post that we need anything larger than 400px (at their widest dimension). Sign up is required, as with most of these services, but there’s a wealth of content available for ‘zero credits.’ Also, as a point, images don’t stay on the site forever, so grab anything you thing you’ll need in one go and don’t rely on it being there (or still bing free) the next time you go back.
Over the years I’ve also found a lot of good content at StockVault, which also hosts design elements, templates, and artists work. A lot more straight forward than most, it has an international flair and often promotes ideas for further searches.
If I’ve not already found what I’m looking for I invariably find myself at EveryStockPhoto. Membership is free, and you can check an images license by clicking on the icon on the bottom left of any image. Celebrity images are always a problem to source (though checking out what’s on Wiki Commons can sometimes produce surprising results that only require a link or credit) so EveryStockPhoto has teamed up with ImageCollect to bolster this part of their database (be careful though, many of these require payment).
It’s also sometimes worth checking out Stock.xchng, thought once again the results can sometimes be annoying by pulling back licensed images that require payment along with free resources. Regardless, it’s a good resource but takes a little time to sift the paid from the licence free.
The ultimate solution to image sourcing is, obviously, to take your own images. SmartPhone technology has now made this assessable to virtually everyone. It’s surprising how the application of a bit of time and the right filter can add to a post and help create a ‘house style’. Adding an Instergramm account into the marketing mix, and using this to highlight a product range or style, has helped a lot of the fashion brands we work with to generate community.
Images add to a post, and help the user see the bigger picture. With so many free resources, there’s really no excuse not to use them.
EDIT: 27/02/12 – When I posted this to Google Plus today, asking for feedback and other suggestions from the Social Media Marketing community, Mark Alves kindly suggested morgueFile, which seems like another great free resource. I’ll definitely be giving it a try. Thanks Mark.