Picture This: Free Images from the Web

Written by | Field Service

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You’re good people. You try to do the right thing. And you want to create a vibrant, attractive website that will keep people coming back.

And you’re not heir to a king’s ransom in clip art, either.

So where do you get fresh, compelling images without resorting to the horrors of stock photography or mortgaging the children so you can buy a couple of snapshots of Kate Moss to appease the ravenous maw of the interwebs?

Google.

Yes, Google.

Say, you need a picture of a horse, for your blog post about — oh — disrupting vertical markets for post-feminist Web 3.0 equine fashion accessories. Or whatever.

You go to Google. You type “Horse” in the search box, you hit Enter, you click to Images, and you are immediately crushed by a wave of guilt, because you, as a savvy webmaster, know that just because you can find it on Google doesn’t mean you can use it on your blog.

Particularly not for free.

Fortunately for you there are thousands, maybe millions, of photographers and illustrators out there willing to let you use a low quality, web-resolution image on your blog post free of charge. Some will give you their images in exchange for credit and/or a link back, and some don’t put any restrictions at all on the use of their images.

Some images are out of copyright altogether. Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York put 400,000 works of art online for you to use, completely free. Those images are high-resolution, good enough to print out poster-sized, but you can reduce them to a web-standard 72 dpi and stick them in your blog if you want.

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We like The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur, a gift of Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1887. And there, we just used it for free.

Getting back to Google for a moment: how do you find free or Creative Commons licensed images when the majority of uploaded images are “all rights reserved” until you cross their palms with silver? We’ll let you in on a little secret called advanced settings.

You’re on Google Image Search. You look to the right-hand side, down at the bottom where it says Settings. Click on that, and then click on Advanced Search. Scroll down the page to just above the Advanced Search button and you’ll see “usage rights.” That’s the drop-down menu where you select what you want; if you’re going to run the image as-is, then select images “free to use or share, even commercially” assuming you’re using it on a business blog. If you’re going to adapt the image, perhaps by some photoshopping or cropping, then select “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.” Then you put “horse” in the search box and away you go.

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This one, it turns out, is on DeviantArt, a fantastic art-sharing site. The specific terms under which it’s shared are in the sidebar on the right (they’re always in the sidebar on the right): it’s a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, and clicking on the link leads you to the full terms, which are still pretty simple.

You are free to:

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

for any purpose, even commercially.

The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Well, we don’t want to claim it’s OUR horse, so no worries there. We link to the site, we post the license terms and link to the CC site, and we’re good to go. Crop, photoshop, whatever you like.

The Advanced Search license filter works for text as well as for images, but there are a lot more images free to use than text; maybe the Writer’s Guild is more aggressive than the Photographer’s Union.

In any case, now you have a free source of high-quality images that lets you sleep at night. And who knows, you might just make somebody’s day, knowing that their artwork has been chosen, out of the millions of horse pictures out there, as the very best.

Last modified: November 23, 2016

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