Where can I find free images for my site?

Great photos can augment great writing, but we might not have the time to go out and snap all the photos ourselves. For this, one can look online for photos that are licensed for reuse by others, beyond what would would be considered “fair use”.

Search Repositories

As you may have guessed already, Google should be your first stop in your search for imagery that is licensed for reuse. Use Google’s Advanced Image Search for this. Google lets you search the web for images that have been licensed under Creative Commons, a GNU Free Documentation license, or are in the public domain).

Google Advanced Image Search lets you search for the following types of content:

  • Labeled for reuse: includes images labeled with a license that allows you to copy and/or modify the image in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for commercial reuse: includes images labeled with a license that allows you to copy the image for commercial purposes, in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for reuse with modification: includes images labeled with a license that allows you to copy and modify the image in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for commercial reuse with modification: includes images labeled with a license that allows you to copy the image for commercial purposes and modify it in ways specified in the license.

Flickr, not surprisingly, is also a great resource for finding free images. Go to Flickr’s Creative Commons search page to select the Creative Commons License under which you can abide.

Below are the different reuse obligations specified under Creative Commons six licensing schemes:

  1. Attribution (CC BY): This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  2. Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  3. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  4. Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  5. Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

*Here’s a dandy Creative Commons search tool that combines the above two search apps into one page. http://search.creativecommons.org/

Free Photo Sites

While you can do a simple Google search for free images or photos, below are a couple of the larger and more popular free photo sites. Beware, however, that they might also be after your hard-earned dollar.

Government Imagery and the Public Domain

Imagery created by the U.S. government is usually in the public domain and can be reused. Here’s a nifty flowchart for determining when creative works end up in the public domain.

Visit the following pages for comprehensive lists of government sites hosting free-to-use imagery.

*Please feel free to email webhelp@journalism.cuny.edu suggest updates this page.