We’ve heard it all our lives – “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Indeed, now more than ever, people expect most writing to be accompanied by graphic elements1. Facebook posts and blog posts attract more attention if they have photos attached. And of course, Instagram and Pinterest are all about pictures.
The internet teems with photographs. And each of those millions of photos was someone’s creation.
Yet, too often, our modern view is that everything should be free. Where can I get free software? Where can I get a free website? What’s the best site for free music? And, of course, can’t I just download whatever photos I need from the internet? It’s all free, right?
Free for the Taking?
As a photographer, I know that I didn’t get any of the photos I take without cost. I invested in equipment and training. I invested my time and resources to travel to locations to get good photos. Even the ones I take in my basement studio require equipment that comes at a price.
Yet, many in the internet community believe that I should make those photos available to anyone for free. And yes, if I post a photo on the internet, I know there’s a good possibility that it will be taken – downloaded with a right-click or a screen grab.
But does that make it right?
Truly Free & Legal Photos
However, there is a couple of very good sites on the internet that offer completely free photos.
Pexels.com offers good quality photos at no charge and no attribution to the photographer is required – although it is encouraged.
In this case, the photographer uploading the photo to Pexels knows that s/he will not be paid for the photo nor will it usually be attributed. But that’s a choice for the photographer, and if they choose to go that route, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the photos there.
Their selection is more limited than some of the other stock sites I mention in this article, but the cost difference – a few dollars vs. free – can make getting more creative with your selections easier.
One of the most popular free photo sites is Pixabay.com. Like Pexels, they offer free photos with no attribution required. I haven’t used them, but I know other bloggers who swear by Pixabay as their go-to site for illustrative photos.
Should I Use Free Photos?
While in many cases, photos from these sites – or similar free sites – may be fine, blogging lawyer Lucrezia Iapichino cautions serious writers or bloggers against using these sites. While there may be issues with photos having been uploaded without the permission of the photographer, the main reason is that Google and Pinterest downgrade rankings for posts using free photos.
Not Free, But Usually Cheap
Many photographers, me included, post photos on stock photography sites. These sites offer photographs at, usually, very reasonable prices to those looking for photos to illustrate their own internet postings.
For those looking for photos, this is the preferred way to get them. The photographer gets a small portion of the fee paid for the photo, and the recipient is legally and ethically obtaining an illustration for their post.
What is ‘small’? You can often get photos from stock sites for little more than a dollar. Of that, the photographer may get only 10-20%. But when we upload photos to stock sites, we know we are not going to make a lot of money on individual sales. Rather, we are getting some recognition for our work in the form of a small payout and a listing credit.
When you purchase a photo from a stock photography site, you will be provided with the photographer’s name. The proper way to display the photo is to show a credit line along with the photo. It can be as simple as “Photo Credit: Mike Worley” but it shows that you appreciate the work of the photographer.
Sometimes, the name of the actual photographer isn’t shown. This most often occurs when the photographer was working on behalf of a company. In those cases, it is still appropriate to list the source of the photo – “Photo Credit: Disney Studios.”
Where Do I Find Stock Photos?
I have listed images on all three of the major sites in the past. Currently, I have photos on Getty and Shutterstock, although I no longer list on Adobe Stock.
One site I use often in Dreamstime. While I haven’t listed many photos with them, I find their site very easy to use and their prices very reasonable. Most of the photos I use to illustrate my blog posts are either my own photos or ones I have purchased through Dreamstime. Many stock photo sites also list videos which can be downloaded to use in posts.
Are There Restrictions on Stock Photo Use?
Can you just use a photo purchased through a stock agency for any purpose you like?
The answer is no, but that really doesn’t affect most people. Typically, you can use a photo purchased through a stock site in personal web postings and even in multiple postings.
Although the rules can vary, check the information listed on the stock site or on individual photo listings. Typically, you may use the photo “as-is” for personal use, but you may not modify it. Nor may you sell it to anyone else.
The biggest restriction is that, in most instances, stock photos may not be used for commercial purposes. So you can use that photo of a woman working at her desk to illustrate a blog post about working from home. But you cannot use that same photo to promote your office supply business.
What About Other Illustrations?
Sometimes, you want to highlight your writing with something other than a photograph. Where do you get drawings or other illustrations?
Often, they are available from the same stock sites as photographs. Search form ‘stock illustrations’ and you will likely find many sources. The same rules for attribution apply to drawings and other images as apply for photographs.
Keep Using Photos
What you have to say is important, at the very least it is to you – or you wouldn’t write it. Make sure it’s noticed by adding photos or other illustrations to draw people’s attention.
But also give the person who provided that photo or illustration his/her due credit, even if you use a site like Pexels where it’s not required.
Do you have a favorite stock photo site? Tell us in the comments.
- I ask that all guest authors on this site submit photos to accompany their article.