When expert Fred R. Bernard proclaimed in a 1927 edition of Printer’s Ink that “A picture is worth ten thousand words” he probably didn’t realize that this phrase would be apter than ever in the current age of social media, where people often see posts with images and often no words at all. This keen old kerner also didn’t foresee that buying high-quality, appropriate images for a blog can also cost you $10,000 a year (especially if you have a blog about celebrities, entertainment or fashion), and that by June 2017, 10,000 photos per second were uploaded on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.

Figure 1. A 1913 Ad – One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words!

For a serious blogger or serial social media poster, obtaining free quality stock photos is crucial as stock photos can be quite expensive. Happily, there are websites that offer truly free images that are royalty-free and copyright-free. The top 5 image sources discussed in this article that don’t even require you to submit your email or pay any type of membership fee and you can do anything you like with the images after you download them. The top five sites for this are:

  1. Unsplash
  2. Pexels
  3. Pixabay
  4. Stocksnap.io
  5. Gratiphotography

Later on, we will be discussing how you, as a penny-pinching blogger, can take full advantage of the free images that these sites have to offer without risking any legal complications.

A Post Without A Picture Might Be Worth …Nothing!

You might be sitting here thinking that it is quite okay to simply continue to post your blog without an image and that this is a way to save your business a lot of money. Unless being completely image-free is part of your personal branding, as might be the case with a not-for-profit literary site that wants to be free of pithy distractions, this might be a big mistake, especially if your site is all about membership conversions, affiliate marketing or retail. Before posting that blog, Twitter post or auto-responder email without any image at all, consider the research that has been done about how internet users respond to blogs that are just words.

A Book, Restaurant and Everything Else is Indeed Judged By Its Cover

Figure 2 A metaphor for a blog without a cover photo.

No matter what type of creative endeavor, business or service you are trying to market with a blog or social media, you are most likely to be judged by 1) whether or not you have an image and 2) whether or not it reflects a certain level of professionalism. The online surfer decides in a split second whether or not they relate to you enough to actually click on your link. This means that the photograph that you put up must not look dated, stolen or amateurish. Mastering this means knowing your audience and the kind of photographic aesthetic they appreciate, which can be a bit of a challenge when you are trying to find the perfect free photograph. That being said, it is not a good idea to put up an image that is a bit of a bad fit for the post, just because you got it for free.

Familiarity Breeds A Click

Figure 3 The neighborhood Chinatown in Flushing, New York, By Yanping Nora Soong – DSLR photograph for a photogig

The internet is all about “relateability” these days, a term that means that most people are motivated to click because there is something about your posted image that twinges an emotion, memory or sense of familiarity. For instance, if you are using a blog to market a brick and mortar business, a 2011 survey conducted by BrightLocal Media found that “60 percent of consumers are more willing to consider local search results that include images and another 23 percent are more likely to contact a business showcasing an image.” Posting pictures of local landmarks helps your customers develop recognition and a sense of fellowship with you.

People Remember Pictures, Not Words

Figure 4 – An example of a free Wikimedia Commons image with impact not requiring attribution.

In a landmark article published In the Law Teacher Volume 11, 2004 called Reaching the Visual Learner: Teaching Property Through Art, the great political scientist William C. Bradford claimed that 65 percent of the population is made up of visual learners, not readers. This means that you could write that most eloquent piece of click-bait in the world, but if there is no image attached to it, your message will be either misunderstood or not noticed at all

The popularity of Instagram as a platform is testimony as to how visually oriented Internet users have become. According to Brandwatch, 32% of US internet users are now on Instagram, which means it is also a good idea to link your blog image to an Instagram photo if you want the millions of potential customers there to notice that you exist.

Understanding The Legal Jargon Behind Free Imagery

In the 5 Best Places to Find Free Images for Your Blog or Social Media Post section of this article, you will be given links to five websites that offer you free no-strings-attached images as well as instruction on how to use Google to find images in such image archives as Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia. However, it is important to note that even if you do use an image that is described as royalty-free, in the public domain, or part of a creative commons, that you are bound to possible laws and/or conditions associated with its use.

For starters, you just can’t filch any image that you like from a Google image search, download it and repost it on your blog. That is a form of plagiarism or copyright violation, especially if the site you sourced it from specifically asks you to give the photographer credit or a specific attribution. It is also a mistake to believe that if you alter an image, for instance, making it black and white or cropping it, that you have changed it sufficiently to make it yours unless the photo is designated “no attribution necessary.”

Here are the four types of legal rights, that you will find as you try to discover free images that are a good fit for your social media or blog.

Public Domain

Figure 5: A Public Domain Image of Gregor Rasputin (1914) from Wikimedia Commons

Public domain images have absolutely no restrictions and you can usually crop them, alter them and print them without permission. However, there are some common delusions associated with the use of public domain photographs

The first is that once the creator of the original image has died, that the image is in the public domain and that you can claim it as your own. Usually, copyright lasts 70 years from its creation and 93 years if it owned by a company or corporation. However, it may still be expected that you attribute it to the original author. Very often, an artist will deliberately release imagery into the public domain, in which case, you must credit it. Also consider that you look professional if you give credit where it is due, even though you might have gotten the image for free.

Furthermore, if it is a photograph depicting a very famous image in such as a photograph of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then you or a photographer cannot claim the image as your own. The image is automatically in the public domain and anyone can then take it off of your blog and also use it.

Obviously, the drawback of using a public domain image is that it may seem dated, stale or overused, especially if the image is used frequently on other websites. People might think you are lazy or imitating others, rather than taking the time to impress them. This is where a little art direction can come in handy. You can brand the image to make it your own by resizing it, coloring, cropping or enhancing it.

Creative Commons

A Creative Commons offers a repository of images that have donated to the community by creators, but you often need to include a photo credit. Creators might also place restrictions about the reuse or altering of the image or specify that they may only be used for educational purposes. Often these photographs are discarded shots from a commercial shoot that a professional simply does not want to put his name on or keep anymore. Very often, the website offering the image will specify whether or not the photographer desires to be credited or not.

Figure 6 – A discarded image from a photo shoot requiring no attribution.

Managed Rights

Rights are usually managed if you have to pay for them and you can find all kinds of situations at play online when it comes to buying an image. However, sometimes you can luck out and find an image that offers the image for free as long as you don’t download a high-resolution version of it. Usually, it is the photographer that sets the available rights on these sites, as is the case with Flickr.

Royalty Free Images

This type of site often lures you in with the promise of free stock photos or copyright free images. However, in order to have access to these free photos, you might also have to enroll in a monthly or annual paid membership. You can use the image however you like but you may not edit it or resell it. On these sites, certain high-resolution images may be inaccessible to you if you can’t pay for them, but low-resolution images with fewer pixels might be free.

How to Find Free Images Using Google Settings

This might be a bit obvious, but many people do not realize that Google has a sub-menu that can be very helpful when it comes to sourcing free images. Mostly you will be led to free images posted on Wikimedia Commons or Wikipedia, but your still must always check to make sure that is so before you download them. There are many photos on Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia that are specified for non-commercial (educational use) only and most of them also require a photo credit to the creator or an actual attribution with a link back to Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons as a source.

Figure 7 – The Google Images Sub-Menu

To search for free images on Google, simply click on Images and type what you are looking for in the search engine field. Then to your left, you will see a menu item called Tools. Click on Tools to open a submenu called Usage Rights (third item to the right.) Here you will find a couple of designated filters (appearing here in the order that they do in the menu.)

Not filtered by license – You want to use filters to find free images so ignore this category as it is going to turn up all kinds of images that have copyright restrictions or that you have to pay for to use.

Labeled for reuse with modification – This means that the image can be written on, cropped or used artistically, but you may still have to credit the photographer.

Labeled for reuse – This is a very broad designation that would include search results from Labeled for reuse, Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification and Labeled for noncommercial reuse and it should be the “go-to” filtered category for you to peruse for free photos when you open the Usage Rights Sub-Menu.

Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification – These free images are for educational or non-profit use only but they can be changed in some way as long as they are not sold.

Labeled for noncommercial reuse — This means that the image can only be used for educational or non-profit purposes only and that it cannot be altered or sold.

The category that is going to be most useful or you to click on is the label for Labeled for reuse filter as it is going to give you the most results and lead you to sites with absolutely free images. However, always visit the site of the sourced photo to make sure that it is truly in the public domain.

5 Places to Find Free Images for Blogging or Social Media

For the most part, the best place to find free images for your blog or social media are in sites that are community or creator-driven. These are the sites that are that have their own license, which allows them to offer the free photo to you without conditions. There is never any mistake about who owns the copyright when you use these sites, as they are not affiliated with larger sites that do require you to purchase copyright for some of their photo such as Flickr. Furthermore, the images on these sites tend to be more inspiring and creative than standard stock photo sources.

Note that all of the following photos turned up for the search term “red.”

  1. Unsplash
Figure 8 – A “red” themed photo from Unsplash.

The free photographs on Unsplash are gifts to the site from both professional and amateur photographers. Although the Unsplash License allows you to share with others without limitation, they advise you to support artists by giving them a photo credit. This site gets high marks for quality and creativity, with every photo being an HD one. The owners of the site have also curated thousands of photos into unusual collections such as “Minimal Black and White”, “Spectrums”, “Diverse Women”, Boho Chic” and “Creep It Real” (a moodier, darker selection of imagery.)

  1. Pexels
Figure 9 -A “red” themed photo from Pexels.

The free stock photos are courtesy of the Pexel’s site’s license agreement. You can modify them as you like with no attribution, but a credit to the photographer is always appreciated. Any of the images on Pexel can be modified in any way they may not be sold. You also can’t depict individuals that might be in the photos in “a bad light or offensive way (for example, in a meme.)   The photos on Pexels are quite commercial with categories devoted to everyday matters such as “Travel”, “Clothes”, “Street” or “Work.”

  1. Pixabay
Figure 10 – A “red” themed photo from Pixabay.

Pixabay offers a stunning array of free photos, illustrations and vector graphics that are searchable by category. The nice thing about Pixabay is that the photos are HD, vivid and iconic in nature. Although you do not have to attribute the photographer, Pixabay’s license encourages you to give credit where credit is due. Pixabay also discourages the use of photographs already associated with a brand to sell your brand.

  1. Stocksnap.io
Figure 11 – A “red” themed photo from Stocksnap.

Stocksnap photos are free to download, edit, and use for both commercial and non-commercial projects. If you are looking for traditional photos to suit commercial or business needs then this is a great source for you. Stocknap’s CC Commons licence allows you to download, publish, revise, alter and share the image as you please. You don’t need to attribute it to a creator but you are kindly reminded to do those. https://stocksnap.io/license

  1. Gratisphotography
Figure 12 – A “red” themed photo from Gratisphotography.

Gratisphotography has a colorful selection of high-resolution images that are quirky, creative and of course, completely free of copyright restrictions. The Gratisphotography’s free photo license allows you to adapt and modify the images and get paid for the resulting artwork. However, you can’t use them in ways that are pornographic, criminal, degrading, immoral or unlawful or to sell weapons, pornography or drugs.

Figure 13 – An image like this says nothing!

Even though it seems that the best photos in life are free, that is not always true if the cost-free photo somehow undermines your content. A good example is the use of a photo that is out-of-focus or “too creative” to be understood by all of your readers. Yet another issue is that credit from Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons can make you seem more amateur, as many people are aware that photos from that site are free.

Photos that you choose should always be absolutely representative of your branding and relatable to your audience, or you could be better off paying for one from a stock photo site such as Shutterstock, Fotolia, or Dreamstime or even springing for the cost of a professional photographer to create a special image for you.


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