How to Properly Source Photos

As some of you may know, I’m a contributing author in the hubpages community (my page is here), and it was there that I learned how to properly and legally attain photos for my articles.

Contrary to popular belief, when a picture pops up on google or bing image search, that doesn’t mean it’s free for anyone to use. The photographer more than likely owns the rights on the picture, and it may only be legally usable through purchase. We all need to make a living, right?

Generally, it’s best to use your own photos, but that’s not always possible. Fortunately, there are some pictures that you can use, under a few conditions.

Creative Commons

This photo of a lovely jewelry collection from Venice is
protected under the Creative Commons license and credited
properly below.
By user:shakko (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons


When looking for photos to use, always look for any indication of what kinds of license the photographer has. If it’s from a periodical, odds are the publication owns the rights to that picture, because they bought them from the photographer, or the photographer works directly with them.

Creative Commons, however, allows the picture to be used with commercial work, usually provided the owner of the picture is credited, and a link is provided back to their page.

For instance, in my last entry, Activity Ideas for Kids on Roadtrips, that first picture is under creative commons, and I had sited it as such. WikiMedia Commons is an excellent source for these types of pictures. You can also do an advanced search on flickr.

To use the advanced search feature on flickr, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, tic the “Only search Creative Commons-licensed content”, then mark whether it will be used for commercial use and if you want to alter it in any way, like adding text to it.

Other forums, like Deviant Art, also give people the choice of whether or not to designate their work under a creative commons license.

When in doubt, ask the original poster who owns the rights if they mind if you used it. Always link back to the photographer’s web page, especially if they request you do so. If the person says they just pulled it off the internet, find something else or forgo using an image to begin with.

If they send you a picture as a part of their body of work, like in the case of the guest blog entry, The Effects of Donning A Ruby Stone, don’t alter the picture without their permission. Changing things like the size to fit your blog probably wouldn’t be a problem, though. The picture Shivangi sent was included without any changes made to it. Of course, always credit others for their work.

This stunning shot of the Northern Lights is in the public
domain because it was taken by an Airman while he was
working for the US Air Force.
By United States Air Force photo by
Senior Airman Joshua Strang [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain
The other type of photo you can use freely is public domain images. These pictures were either released by their creators, taken as part of a government official’s job or after a period of time after the creator’s death. In the US and many other countries, that spans between 50 and 70 years.

You don’t necessarily have to credit the author of public domain works, but I still like to, simply because it’s the respectful thing to do. If I’m using an old painting or something to illustrate my point, I also like noting what its name is, so others can find prints of it if they like it, too.

So, to sum up, these are the best ways to find photos for your online writing –

  • Search for photos in the public domain
  • Search for photos with a Creative Commons license, and make sure they’re free to use in whatever format you want to use them in
  • Purchase them from the person who owns their rights
  • Ask first, then credit the photographer/artist and link back to the source if you get permission
  • Use your own pictures

Never just pull a photo off of a search engine and use it for your own purposes. At the least, you may upset a lot of people and be forced to remove the image, as happened here, and at the worst you could find yourself on the wrong end of a legal battle.

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