Your guide to a successful online business!

Finding photos for your website can be difficult. Copyright means you can’t just grab ones you like from other sites – and if you do, there’s a bigger-than-ever chance you’ll get caught.

This recent story about a US family who discovered their photo was used by a shop in Prague demonstrates just that, and tools like TinEye (which is so impressive it deserves a post of its own) make it easier to find where photos are being used online.

How to find photos you can use

Going down the legitimate route isn’t quite as tricky as you might think.  There’s a vast range of free, high quality photos you can draw on – the secret is knowing where to look. Read on to find out where to go.

Today we’ll look at how to find great photos using Flickr, a really popular photo website. Then next week we’ll look at other ways to get your hands on free or very low-cost photos. (Edit: the post didn’t get written when we promised but is coming soon, so watch this space!)

Introducing Creative Commons

When photographers put their photos online, they can attach a licence to each image. The licence explains what other people are allowed to do with that picture. These days many photographers make their photos available under a Creative Commons licence.

This is good because you can usually use photos licensed under Creative Commons on your own website. And although they can generally only be used for non-commercial purposes, some photographers do release their work under a Creative Commons licence which lets you use it for anything – commercial or not.

Using Flickr to find Creative Commons images

The easiest place to find creative commons images is Flickr. This website hosts millions of photos and anyone can upload theirs to it. Here’s how to find ones you can use:

  1. Visit Flickr’s advanced search page
  2. Type what you’re looking for into the Search for box
  3. Scroll down to the Creative Commons option
  4. Select the checkbox next to Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content
  5. If you need photos for a commercial site, select Find content to use commercially
  6. Click Search

You’ll see a page of search results. As you scroll through, hopefully you’ll see a photo you like. If you do, click the image to see it larger. If you still like it and decide you want to use it, do this:

  1. Scroll down till you see Additional information on the right of the screen
  2. You’ll one or more symbols and Some rights reserved. Click this.
  3. You’ll see the licence for this image. (Here’s an example.)

It’s important you read the licence carefully, because there are several types of Creative Commons licence. It’ll explain, in plain English, how this particular image can and cannot be used. If you’re happy you won’t be breaking the terms of the licence, you can grab a copy and add it to your site:

  1. Hit the back button on your browser
  2. Click the All sizes icon above the image
  3. Click Download the Large size to save a copy of the photo to your computer

You can now resize the photo (if you need to) and add it to your website. If you’re planning to alter the photo (like cutting out an element and using it elsewhere), make sure the licence lets you do this. For basic changes, Picnik is a good online photo editor.

Credit where it’s due

When you upload the picture to your website, it’s important you give the original photographer credit. You can do this by adding a line of text to the page, linking back to the original photo on Flickr and stating the type of licence. The image on this page is a Creative Commons photo, so see the bottom of this post for an example.

It’s also polite to leave a comment on the photo on Flickr to let the photographer know you’ve used it. Most photographers there are pleased to see their work get used elsewhere – that’s why they make it available under Creative Commons!

And that’s it: you now know how to access a library of images which you can use on your website. Get searching – and remember to play by the rules.

(By the way, Flickr is a fantastic way to waste time online. There are loads of photographers on there uploading all sorts incredible pictures, and it’s quite easy to lose yourself in it. Try searching for stuff you’re interested in, looking at the explore page or viewing interesting photos from the last seven days.)

What next?

Image courtesy of OliverAlex under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

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4 Responses

  • Keith D

    Some of the photos on Flickr are fantastic, but I’m never sure if you can use them for free… are they “Creative Commons”? Or do they all have different terms?

    July 14, 2009 at 9:26 pm
  • John

    Hi Keith:

    Thanks for your comment. When Flickr users upload their photos to the site, they can set different rules for the use of each photo. That means it’s important you check each one individually.

    When you’re viewing a photo, look to where it says “some rights reserved” to the right of the photo. If you click that, you’ll see a page which describes exactly how you can use the photo. IF it says “all rights reserved” then you’ll need to ask them for permission to use it.

    To narrow the search results so you only see photos which can be used in some way, use the advanced search option as I’ve described above. And if you want to put them on a commercial site, make sure you choose the “Find content to use commercially” option.

    (You should always still check the rights for each photo, to make sure you credit the photographer correctly.)

    I hope that makes things clearer – let me know if not!

    July 14, 2009 at 10:19 pm
  • Chris

    As a web designer and a Flickr user, its even more important to ask before you use any images from Flickr.

    Often the answer will be yes, certainly it is from me, but if I find people leaching I often swap the image for some less than appropriate! Flickr has tools to tell you where the image has been used so be nice, ask and if for some reason you are turned down, go elsewhere.



    July 17, 2009 at 1:09 pm
  • Keith D

    John / Chris
    Thanks for the info… just what I needed.
    All clear now.

    July 19, 2009 at 11:10 am