Three Great Sources for Free Photos

Whether we’re creating a blog post, mocking up a new brochure, or editing a website, it always seems that we need a clever, high-quality photo. And unless you happen to have a shot of a zebra running on the African plain or a portrait of Hemingway stored on your hard drive, odds are you’re going to have to seek outside help to find that perfect shot to really set off your piece.

Many of us head to Google or Yahoo! image searches and grab whatever comes up in the results. However, that’s a no-no. Most images on the internet are copyrighted and are the product of a photographer’s hard work. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to plagiarize your writing, that photographer doesn’t want you stealing his or her photographs. At best, it could mean a “cease and desist” letter or a nasty e-mail if your image is viewed by the owner; at worst, it could mean financial damages resulting from a lawsuit.

Luckily, there are several great sources of free, no (or few) strings attached photographs and artwork on the Internet. Here are three that you may want to consider:

Wikimedia Commons. An offshoot of the Wikipedia project, Wikimedia Commons is a collection of public domain and other freely licensed imagery. Some images, such as those provided by the United States government, are totally free with no requirements for attribution; others have attribution and use requirements specified by the creator. Currently, there are 6.5 million files in Wikimedia.

Flickr. Flickr, the world’s most popular photo-sharing site, has millions of images, from very bad cell phone snapshots taken at family reunions to high-quality professional-grade digital imagery. Flickr has an advanced search tool that lets you search by both keyword and license type, so if you need a photo of the Taj Mahal whose owner has specified that it can be freely used for commercial purposes, you can search for it. (That search results in 4,786 images, by the way.)

Dreamstime. Dreamstime is one of many stock photography sites that sells high-quality, professional-grade imagery suitable for use by graphic design pros and others who require high-end images. However, it also offers a selection of free images that is searchable. While often not the same quality as the paid imagery (Dreamstime gives photographers the option to make their image available for free if it’s rejected by the site for its stock collection), you can often find something usable.

Other possibilities include websites for chambers of commerce, colleges, museums and tourism bureaus, who will often let you use their photos for free if you attribute them, as well as struggling/rising photographers, who may let you use a photo for free if you ask them nicely in an e-mail and credit them. And even if you resort to a search engine, remember that most offer an advanced search option that will let you search for public domain or freely-licensed photos.

Playing by the rules really is easy, and you’ll sleep more easily, too!

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