Where to Get Free Stock Images, and Why You Need to

Does your website seem a little bland? Is there too much empty “whitespace” as you’re scrolling through doing last-minute edits? What you need are some images! Not just any images will work though, and unless you’re taking or creating the images yourself, you need specific ones so you don’t break any copyright laws.


What is a Creative Commons license?


What you want are images, GIFs, videos, or any other media that fall under what’s called a Creative Commons (CC) license. When an author, illustrator, composer or photographer wants to give people the right to share, use, or build off of their copyrighted work, they utilize a CC license to allow that to happen. CC provides an author flexibility in how they want their work distributed, and protects the people who use an author’s work from concerns of copyright infringement, so long as they abide by the conditions of the license.


Can’t I Just Do a Google Image Search?


No, you can’t! A lot of the images on Google are protected by copyrights and specific licensing that limits what can be done with them, or where you can use them. You can land yourself in a lot of trouble if the owner of the image sees that you took their work and published it without proper permissions and attributions. You may receive website cease and desist orders, the image owner requesting large sums of money, and could expect to have to acquire a lawyer if things persist. Really, it’s a lot of hassle that can be easily avoided!



So What Kinds of Licenses Are There?


There are a lot of CC licenses, but there are seven main, regularly-used ones that you should know about and get familiar with before you go scouring around for different kinds of media to use on your website.


The first of these is the CC0 license. This is what you’ll want to look for the most for your website. Media (images, videos, music, etc.) that falls under the CC0 licensure are typically free to use, require no attribution be given to the author, and can be edited, copied, and used commercially or personally. CC0 media is basically public domain.


CC BY lets you distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the media, even commercially, as long as you credit the author for the original creation. Be aware that there is a CC BY-SA license as well, though; the BY-SA not only requires attribution, but requires you to distribute your contributions (such as if you’ve edited or built upon the original) under the same license as the original work.


BY-NC and Beyond

You start really hitting restrictions with the next two license types: BY-NC and BY-ND. With BY-NC, you again have to give attribution and indicate any changes that may have been made, but you are not allowed to use the media for any commercial use. BY-ND, on the other hand, can be shared for any purpose, including commercial use, except if you do any editing, transforming, or building upon the work, at which point you may not distribute the modified material at all.


Another restrictive license is the BY-NC-SA. BY-NC-SA allows you to copy and share the media in any format, and also allows editing of the media. You must give appropriate credit and indicate what changes, if any, were made. Under BY-NC-SA, you may not use the media for commercial purposes, and if you do edit or build off the original, you have to distribute the edited version under the same license as the original work.

BY-NC-ND is a license that you may not want to mess with at all, as it is the most restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses. Edits cannot be redistributed, you may not use the material for commercial purposes, and you have to properly attribute credit, providing a link to the license and indicating if any changes were made to the image. Pretty much the only thing you can do with anything that was filed under the BY-NC-ND license is share it, as long as you follow the licensing terms.


Now that you have an idea of what Creative Commons means, the different license types, and how they could apply to you, let’s move on to places that provide media you can use for your website!



Creative Commons Search


Appropriately named, the Creative Commons website offers convenient access to search services provided by other organizations. Most of the media that shows up in your returned search do fall under the CC licensure, but it never hurts to double-check or verify the copyright, since some of the media requires attribution to the author. Creative Commons searches sites such as YouTube, ccMixter, Google, Flickr, and Pixabay, so it could save you a lot of time using it rather than going to each individual site.


Pixabay & Pexels


Pixabay and Pexels are two of our favorite sites to find images. All of the content on these sites are released under CC0. This makes them perfectly safe and legal to use, even commercially, without asking for permission or giving credit to the author. Depicted content could possibly be protected by trademarks, publicity or privacy rights, but all of those terms and conditions can be found right on their websites. The only real restriction is that any identifiable people in the images may not appear in a negative light, or in a way that they might find offensive, unless consent is obtained. So just be aware of where you post these particular images and in what context. Otherwise, you’re good to go! You can search the sites for over one million images to use, so whether you’re looking for a picture of a cityscape or a cat in sunglasses, they’ve probably got just what you’re looking for! One thing to note is that there are sponsored images, complete with watermarks, on both websites.




Need a gorgeous, artsy landscape picture, or a photograph of the ocean? Unsplash is where you want to go. You have to join the site, but it’s absolutely free to use, and offers over 300,000 high-resolution photographs that are uploaded directly by the photographers. When you join, and find that you consistently like someone’s pictures, you can even follow them and get updates on their uploads! It’s community-run, so there’s always something new to check out there. It’s also really convenient for searching images of a specific color palette, as you can search by color on Unsplash, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind.



How to Attribute Credit to Media Owners


Say you’ve found an image that you love, but it requires attribution. Well, how do you properly attribute credit to the owner? There are four things that you should always include in any attributions you have to make:


  • Title
  • Author
  • Source
  • License


The title would be the name of the image, not what it saves as but what it’s actually titled, usually found to the side or bottom of the image along with the author’s name. The author, while also needing to be named, should link to their profile or portfolio. The source would be the original source of where the image could be found. Include the hyperlink there, too. Lastly, the license will be one of the CC licenses that was explained before, and you can link to an actual copy of the legal documentation if you like. You can do a basic attribution as seen below, as long as the correct licensing allows it.



Something Extra


These are only a few of the sites you can find totally free images on. They have plenty of pictures to choose from. If you want or need a few more options, head on over to our 101 Free Blogging Resources page!

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