How To Source Copyright-Free Photographs

If a picture tells a thousand words, effective website photography clearly provides a powerful way to make a point or tell a story. Modern audiences have limited attention spans and little enthusiasm for long slabs of text. Well-chosen graphics don’t just break up web pages by adding color and character, they also speak volumes about a firm’s attitude and style.
However, professional photography is expensive, while taking your own pictures often exposes an absence of artistic flair. Smartphones and iPads lack the sophisticated wide-angle lens or room-filling light guns used by the pros. Even if a photo has been properly framed and staged, pictures taken on mobile devices often look grainy and inconsistently lit. That doesn’t convey the aura of quality and professionalism your company or website might need.
Although sourcing copyright-free photographs is possible with a few mouse-clicks, there’s plenty to consider before hitting Download. In this article, we outline the best ways to obtain images without copyright – starting with budgetary considerations…

Paid Platforms

It’s important to understand copyright-free photographs aren’t the same as royalty-free – or merely free – images. Acquiring copyright on purchased images is difficult since they’re often sold with a single-user license or various restrictions on reuse. Getty Images is particularly proactive in copyright enforcement, sending out legal letters to anyone deemed to be in breach of their strict usage policies.
Other paid platforms are more liberal with the licenses they offer. Adobe’s Fotolia platform offers extended licenses suitable for creating products and services for resale, with no expiry date or usage limitations. Checking for copyright is crucial on any platform, but it is especially so when you’re entering into a contract with a third-party site like Shutterstock. They resell the work of external photographers, so the diversity and professionalism of their product databases has to be contrasted against greater accountability for the original artist’s rights.

Free Platforms

The sheer numbers of copyright-free photographs available on free websites might come as a surprise. After all, contributors have little to gain beyond a sense of philanthropy, and that doesn’t pay the rent. Nevertheless, below are some of the platforms providing pictures across a spectrum of subjects and industries; more specific portals are featured in the next section.

#1. Stockvault

With 100,000 members and a slightly larger number of free files, Stockvault hosts an impressive online community. Alongside conventional subjects like animals and trains, it lists abstract categories including smoke and textures. A simple email-and-password combination creates an account, after which photos can be viewed in thumbnail form on the homepage or through the Search bar. Clicking on them reveals file size and dimensions alongside the author and license details; voluntary donations can be made to the photographer using a Coffee button.

#2. FreeImages

With an ever-changing portfolio of newly-added images on its homepage, FreeImages contains over 390,000 photos and illustrations. These are divided into 26 main categories, with another Bing-like homepage search bar making specific tags easy to search for. Though you can’t donate to the creator of a file, FreeImages supports private messages. Images are usually available in a variety of sizes, from a few hundred KB to full-screen high-res affairs.

#3. Pixabay

Pixabay’s archives house an impressive 1.3 million files. This includes videos and vector graphics, though some people might appreciate these additional formats. A predictive homepage search bar reveals a blend of photos and illustrations, many of which would equally grace any paid-for portal. Copyright is clearly stated above the Free Download button, and you can also donate to or follow the author of your favorite images. Multiple file sizes are offered, and many pictures are supplied with details of the camera type, ISO settings, etc.

#4. Wikimedia

Building on the egalitarian nature of Wikipedia, Wikimedia Common hosts a database of almost 45,000,000 multimedia files that can be freely used without copyright issues. Indeed, files will only be accepted for upload if they meet this criteria. The Wikimedia portal isn’t particularly easy to navigate, but it includes many specific subjects other free photography sites wouldn’t incorporate.

#5. Google

It’s important to clarify at the outset that a basic Google Images search calls up an assortment of public domain and copyrighted pictures. To conduct a search for copyright-free photographs, go to Settings > Advanced Search and scroll down to the Usage Rights box. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to make more than one selection, so it may be necessary to run several searches with different rights criteria selected.

Industry-Specific Platforms

The above platforms cover everything from sunsets to sandwiches, but dedicated media portals exist for many retail industries. From furniture to cars, accredited journalists (or anyone with a good reason to be approved) can register for access to directories of high-quality manufacturer images. Some of these may be used on any platform, while others include strict copyright restrictions. For this reason, it’s best to avoid registering directly with OEM platforms – they’re typically more assertive in terms of permitting image reuse than press offices or media aggregators.

Things to Avoid

Copyright is a sensitive and potentially libelous industry, so caution is needed. Never copy images from a competitor site as they’re highly likely to identify the theft. Not only is plagiarism a sure sign of unprofessionalism, but you’ll be defenseless against a cease-and-desist order. Ensure any website developer or designer you approach understands this, too. The generic photos offered with site builder tools will have been used on many other sites already, as will Wikimedia files. FreeImages is useful for avoiding overused pictures since new photos appear directly on the homepage.