Finding images to use on blogs

A picture of a red butterfly resting on a leaf.

I recently transferred stewardship of the Leicester Sabres PR machine1 to a new council, and as part of the process had to explain how to construct blog posts on WordPress. The new PR rep asked some questions about how to find images to use on a website, and what the rules were about using images. I explained that she would have to either find images that were in the public domain or licenced with Creative Commons2. It is not legal to simply use an image and credit the copyright holder; you must have their explicit permission before using any image! She balked a little at the news, and so I briefly explained some of my tricks for finding suitable images. Since I figure they might help my fellow bloggers, I humbly present them here!

Take your own photographs

Simply create your own images, either by photographing things that you want to write about or by drawing the images you want to use. In one way, this is the simplest solution: you created the image, so you definitely know you can use it. In another, it’s the hardest: you need to be able to create the image. You can’t just take a photograph of a piece of artwork, since that’s making a copy of the artwork and therefore copyright infringement. It has to be original!3

A stylised photograph of a butterfly landing on a yellow and red flower.

Flickr

This is usually my first port of call. Visit Flickr, and simply enter what it is you’re looking for in the search box on the front page. Then, click ‘Advanced Search’, scroll to the bottom and tick the box that says ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’. The result of your search will give you images that you can use on your site. Flickr is a huge website with a lot of talented photographers putting images up completely for free, so this is a great way to do things.

deviantART

A drawing of a blue butterfly.

Like Flickr, deviantART lets creators tell their visitors that images are under Creative Commons licences. Unlike Flickr, DeviantArt lacks any sort of way to search based on this. As a result, Google is our friend; simply perform a Google search for what it is you’re looking for, with site:deviantart.com "creative commons" tacked on (if you’re lazy, click here). Doublecheck the copyright status of the image by opening the ‘details’ tab below the picture; if it has a Creative Commons licence, you’re good to go!

Alternatively, you can search via DeviantArt and then click ‘Resources & Stock Images’. The description of the image will generally have the terms under which you may use it. This is another useful way to find images you can use on the site.

Wikimedia Commons

A photograph of a butterfly on someone's fingertip.

Wikimedia Commons is a collection of media, including images, which are free for you to use either because they are licenced by their creators under Creative Commons or because they are in the public domain. Simply head over to the website, enter the thing you’re looking for, and look through the pictures to find one that you like. Below the photograph will be information about the copyright status of the photograph explaining how you can use it.

Other sources

If you’ve explored the above sources thoroughly and you don’t know where else to turn, there is a setting in the Advanced Search on Google Images which can find permissible images. I’m a bit hesitant to use it, though, because I don’t fully understand how they tell if a photograph is available for use; it’s worth a try, but make sure to read the webpage that Google finds before using the images!

Another potential source for images is organisations like NASA, which tend to make their images free to download and use as people see fit. This is provided that a specific credit is used, depending on the institutions and agencies involved in creating a given image. Other organisations involved in scientific research disseminate images, so if you know of one, look to see whether you can use their images. For instance, EFDA, the organisation responsible for JET and ITER, lets you use their images for “non-commercial, scientific, news and educational purposes provided that you acknowledge EFDA as the source”.

Hopefully this blog post will give people the tools they need to illustrate their blog posts whilst staying within the law. I hope you find it useful!


  1. It’s not a very big machine, if I’m honest. Mostly a Facebook group and a website. 
  2. If you haven’t encountered them before, this is a good explanation of the different Creative Commons licences and what they let you do
  3. A legal grey area arises if you take a photograph that happens to include a piece of copyrighted artwork, but which isn’t simply a copy. Or making screenshots of software, since they include the developer’s art assets. Do these count as making a copy and are they therefore against the rules? I haven’t found the answer to either of these problems — if you know the answers, please do comment below (preferably citing your sources!).