At some point (probably soon after you launch your blog) you’ll want to start using images.
You probably already have some of your own images you can use: a photo of yourself for your About page, or a photo of your workspace, home, garden, or whatever’s relevant for your blog.
But when it comes to your regular blog posts, your first instinct might be to head to Google and search for whatever you need: “happy people”, “woman writing”, “fresh salad”, etc.
But looking for images through Google can be a huge and very expensive mistake.
Images, just like blog posts, are automatically copyrighted to the person who created them. You wouldn’t want someone to take your blog post and use it on their site, would you? Well, photographers and artists feel the same way about their work.
While it’s unlikely you’d get sued for inadvertently using someone else’s art without permission, you could upset someone and look unprofessional.
But bloggers have been threatened with legal action (and pressured into paying huge fines) for using copyrighted images.
In The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!, Chrystie from Living for Naptime details her experience with being asked for $7,500 in ‘damages’ by a scammy photographer for using a single green bell pepper photograph.
Big companies can also pursue bloggers for minor, unintentional infractions. Getty Images has gathered a bit of a reputation for this. And a lot of blog posts out there explain how to respond to Getty Images if they contact you demanding money. (Settlement Demand Letter from Getty Images and Tips for Responding to a Getty Images Extortion Letter are good places to start if you’ve run up against Getty Images yourself.)
You might think that if you’ve seen an image being used on someone else’s blog then you’re safe. But that’s not necessarily the case. They might be using it illegally without realising.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to safely use other people’s images on your blog that are completely legal.
Copyright and Creative Commons (Briefly) Explained
Before we take a look at specific image sources, I want to briefly talk you through a couple of important terms: ‘copyright’ and ‘creative commons’. Note that I am not a lawyer, and this is a quick rather than exhaustive explanation.
‘Copyright’ indicates that a person holds the rights to control where an image, blog post, etc. is published. They can give you permission to use their photo (e.g. if you email them to ask), but you can’t (legally) use it without their permission.
‘Creative Commons’ is a special type of licensing system for images, blog posts and other creative works. If an image is licensed under Creative Commons, you may be able to use it safely on your blog. However, there are several different types of Creative Commons licenses, so make sure you follow the terms of the specific license for your chosen image.
For instance, an image might be licensed under Creative Commons for “non-commercial use”. This means you shouldn’t use it on a blog that runs ads, sells products, or otherwise brings in money. And you definitely shouldn’t use it as, say, the cover image for an ebook.
Images can also be licensed under Creative Commons to require attribution. This means you must name and link to the photographer or artist from your blog post. If you prefer not to do this, you’ll need to source images that don’t require attribution.
Note: licensing an image under Creative Commons doesn’t mean the photographer/artist has given up their copyright. For instance, you can’t take their image and claim that you made it yourself.
You can find out all about Creative Commons on the Creative Commons website.
This might all sound very daunting, and I hope I haven’t put you off ever using images on your blog again The good news is there are plenty of ways to find images that you can safely use. And I’m going to share some of the best ones with you now.
Option #1: Use Stock Photographs You Pay For
There are plenty of stock photo sites out there that sell images, normally for a fairly small fee. If you want high-quality images for your site this is a good option, although it may be unrealistic to pay for an image every time you write a blog post.
Stock photos can be a good option for products/services you offer. Even if you don’t want to use them regularly, you might want to dip into stock libraries occasionally. Just check the terms and conditions carefully to make sure you’re allowed to use them in this way.
Some large, reputable stock photo sites include:
As well as letting you buy individual images, most stock photo sites let you buy a subscription plan. If you want a lot of stock photos (e.g. you want to use one in every post you write), this may be better value.
Stock images are normally available in a variety of sizes, with the smallest size being the cheapest. If you want a 500px wide image for a blog post, the smallest size will often be all you need.
Option #2: Use Free Images that are Creative Commons Licensed for Commercial Use
While you could use non-commercial licensed Creative Commons images if you’re blogging as a hobby, it’s safest to use only images that have been licensed for commercial use. This way, if you monetise your blog in the future you won’t have to worry about whether it’s still okay to use all of your images.
Free images vary in quality, and you may find your search doesn’t bring up many options. And some of the better free images may have already appeared on a lot of other blogs in your niche. So you might need to dig around a bit to find ones you’re happy to use for your posts.
But since you’re not paying anything, you can always switch an image for a new one if you find something better in the future.
We’ve covered lots of great places to find free images for your blog here on ProBlogger before, so I’ll share just three good options here:
Pexels – All images on the site are licensed for commercial use and don’t need attribution.
Flickr – Some images are copyrighted, while others are licensed under various Creative Commons licenses. You can use the Advanced search to find commercial-use images.
Unsplash – As with Pexels, all images are licensed for commercial use and don’t need attribution.
Option #3: Creating Your Own Images
Finally, you could create your own images for your blog. That might mean taking photos, sketching cartoons, creating digital art, or whatever you enjoy.
Using your own images can make your blog feel especially real and authentic to readers. In some types of blogging – e.g. if you’re a craft blogger – it’s expected that you’ll use your own images of your projects.
Taking Photos for Your Blog
You don’t need to be super professional, but try to make it the best you can. If you have a DSLR camera, learn how to use it properly. Who knows? You might discover an entirely new hobby to blogging!
ProBlogger’s sister site, Digital Photography School, has plenty of resources to help you. A good place to begin is on the Start Here page.
Using Screenshots on Your Blog
Another type of image you can create is a screenshot. These can be very helpful when giving a tutorial about how to do something online. If you’re using screenshots of web pages that are publicly available, the copyright holder (i.e. the website owner) probably wouldn’t object. But it never hurts to check with them.
If you want to use screenshots in a paid-for product (such as an ebook) or something people have to sign up for (such as a free email course), always check with the copyright holder first.
I know there’s a lot to take in here, especially if you’ve been using Google to find images in the past.
If you’re worried the images you’ve already used might be infringing someone’s copyright, it would be worth going through your posts and searching for each one in Google Images. (Click the camera icon next to the search bar to upload the image.)
Once you’ve found the image, track down the original source (e.g. a stock photography site or the photographer’s own website) and check whether the image is licensed under Creative Commons. If it isn’t, or you can’t be sure of the original source, take it down immediately and replace it with an image you can legally use.
How do you source great images for your blog? Or do you prefer to create your own? Share your tips with us in the comments.