Quality images are important to the success of your website. While they don’t replace high quality content, they help keep people interested in your content. The challenge is in finding free images to use.
Safest, of course, is to use images you have created yourself. Photographs you’ve taken and graphics you’ve created completely on your own free you from worries about copyright issues on the images. You may still need to consider how you’re portraying products visible in your images.
It’s not always practical to create your own images, however. It’s extra work, and you won’t always have time to create the image you want. It is often easier to seek out images online. That makes it important to consider copyright.
What Should You Look For?
Knowing the copyright status of any image you use is vital. If you can’t figure out the copyright status of an image, assume it exists and that you cannot use the image. That’s safest.
A very helpful form of copyright is called Creative Commons. This allows owners to declare what level of protection they want on their images. If you want to use an image on a website that you earn money from, you want images that allow commercial use. But there’s more to it than that.
You will also need to pay attention to whether or not use of the image requires attribution. You must give credit to the creator of the image if they require it.
You must also note whether you are allowed to change the image at all. Some want no changes at all to their images if you use them.
There’s also a Share Alike possibility, which means that anything you create from their image must have the same license.
Creative Commons 0 (CC0) may be the easiest license to deal with. That places the image effectively in the public domain. You can use it, change it, and you don’t have to give attribution.
Make sure you understand which Creative Commons license applies to any images you use that show it. If someone goes through the effort to put a Creative Commons license on something, it makes sense to follow those rules.
Images go into the public domain when they’re old enough. When that is can be complicated. You can read up on it here.
Once you’ve done that, I hope you’ll see why there isn’t any one answer I can give there. Many things published before 1923 are in the public domain, but that’s not a guarantee. Some older items will still not be public domain because they were never published, and so remain under copyright longer.
Where To Find Images
You can search sites such as Flickr for images with no known copyright restrictions. It’s one of the options you find when you do a search. If you don’t see it right away, do a search, and the results page should have the option to narrow it down by copyright.
Google Images allows you to search by usage. Do your search, then click on Tools. Click on Usage Rights, then select the appropriate level. It only goes to “Labeled for reuse with modification,” which will usually be enough. Google search can be easier than searching some of these sites, plus it’s searching all over the internet, rather than a site at a time.
Click on any image you’re considering, and go to the site it is on. Don’t download it straight from Google. Check the license as listed on that site so you know what you’re getting.
Most image sites also have ads on them, and it may be difficult to tell whether an image is going to lead you to a paid site instead. Watch your sources!
Life Of Pix
New Old Stock
Public Domain Archive
Public Domain Pictures
How to Research Images
If you want to know more about where an image comes from, you can do a reverse image search. TinEye is a good resource for this. You can also use Google Images to do a reverse image search. It’s not a bad idea to check on images you’ve downloaded, for your own safety. I can’t promise that you’ll always spot the copyright if there is one, but it may help.