We are all familiar with the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Meaningful images often say more than several long paragraphs. The same principle tends to apply online too. A Facebook post with an image will typically perform better than a post with text only. While illustrating a blog post with at least one image is a necessity, a Home Page also requires an image that instantly captures what the business is about.
In other words, good quality visuals are essentials to make an impact and catch the attention of a diverse audience distributed across several online web and social media platforms.
While a lot of craft, creative or food businesses can easily post pictures of their own products on their websites or social feeds, not all organisations can do the same and generate visual content on a regular basis. Many website owners therefore need a steady source of meaningful and good quality pictures.
Google images is often the first port of call when searching for images. Yet, the platform is not the most straightforward or best method to source good quality images.
The default result screen displays images that were “not filtered by license”. This means that the majority of them, gathered from online magazines or newspapers, are subjected to copyright and can’t be reused or redistributed.
As with music, movies, books and plays, the usage of photographs online is governed by a set of open content licenses, ranging from restricted use (“© Copyright – All Rights Reserved”) to free use (Public Domain or CC0 Creative Commons zero license).
The onus is on users to find out whether a photograph can be displayed, reused, shared or remixed on their own websites for personal or commercial use.
To filter the results and find photos that are copyright-free on Google Images, click on Tools/Usage rights/Labelled for reuse.
Several “Stock Photos” websites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock or Getty Images for instance specialise in providing a large choice of “Royalty Free images”. So does the photo sharing marketplace 500px where all the images available are supplied by professional or amateur photographers.
While all the images available on such platforms are of a very high standard, “Royalty Free” means that the image rights are either sold for a once-off flat rate or are available as part of a monthly or yearly package.
Not all businesses or sole traders have the budget to cater for premium visual updates to their website or social media feed.
Fortunately, there are a lot of free alternatives.
Free high-resolution images
Several websites like Pexels, Pixabay, Unsplash, Gratisography or Life of Pix provide a vast array of free high-resolution photographs under a Creative Commons Zero license (CC0) meaning that there are no copyright restrictions for personal and commercial use.
Users can typically browse images by collections or generic categories such as “nature”, “technology”, “office”, “food”, “urban”, “fashion” etc. These are only some of the providers, but dozens more are available.
One minor caveat when using some of the above collections is that the same types of pictures tend to crop up on similar-themed blogs or feeds, thus diluting their impact. To find out how many times and where a free image has been used before, users can perform a reverse search on Google images.
Paste a url or upload an image, and Google will return all the webpages where the image has been used before.
Free images that require attribution
Many amateur photographers are happy to share their work for free on the internet, on the condition that the people who use the pictures on their websites or feeds credit them as authors of the picture. This is where all the different Creative Commons licenses come into play, letting users know whether the work can be reused or modified.
Wikimedia Commons for instance is a huge repository of free images, some in the public domain and others requiring attribution. Stockpholio and Photopin on the other hand are two very useful search engines that only return Creative Commons licensed photos from the photo sharing site Flickr. All pictures can be searched using the same type of keywords as on the free high-resolution images collections.
Both websites also provide the proper attribution link for the picture in html format (author, title, source and the exact Creative Commons license type).