Where can you find images to use on your website? Fifteen years ago, in a corporate setting – worse, at a law firm – I was actually taught that it was perfectly acceptable to use Google images to search for clip art or photos to use in presentations. Spoiler: it’s not ok. Nor is it ok to use those images on your website.
Why can’t I use images I find from the internet?
The internet and information on the internet is NOT public domain. Images and information online are subject to copyright law just like printed materials are. Copyright law means you can’t just use images you find “lying around” on the internet and use them on your website without permission. In fact, if you do so, you may learn a difficult lesson, like I did a few years back. At best, you may find that you receive a takedown notice, where the owner of the image asks you to take down the image. Worse, you may be charged for your unauthorized use of the image, and the bill can be steep. Even worse, if your web host is notified of this copyright infringement, they may take your entire website down, or you may find yourself involved in a lawsuit.
Don’t think you can get away with if it you have a small website; and that the image owner will never notice. Serious photographers and particularly stock photo companies have programs that can search the internet for unauthorized use of their images, no matter the size of the website the images are used on.
So where can you find images to use on your website?
Take your own photos.
If you read articles about finding the best images for your website, you’ll see that the most-often-recommended route is to avoid stock images altogether. Designers often recommend you have a photographer take photos of your organization. This ensures that you’ll have unique images that will truly represent your organization in its best light. You might even find that someone in your organization has a hidden talent as a photographer.
However, sometimes it’s appropriate to use stock images. If you’re looking for background images to add color to a page, or graphics to enhance your message, stock images may fit your needs.
Use free stock photography or graphics websites.
Pixabay provides “Stunning free images & royalty free stock.” Content may be used for commercial and non-commercial use, you may modify the images, and attribution is not required, but is appreciated. There are some restrictions on the use of images, like not reselling images. You can read their full license terms here.
Pexels provides free photos and videos, has similar license terms to Pixabay, allowing you to use the images for free or modify them as you choose. Their restrictions are also similar. Read the full terms here.
Unsplash shares “freely useable images,” which you can use for commercial or non-commercial purposes short of reselling the images. Attribution is not required, but appreciated. Read Unsplash’s license terms here.
Use paid stock photography or graphics websites.
Then you have paid options. You might choose a paid stock photo when you’re looking for something very specific that you can’t find on one of the free sites.
iStock is powered by Getty Images, one of the most well-known stock photography providers. They have pricing plans where you either buy packs of credits or pay monthly or yearly to access a certain number of images per month. Be sure to read and understand the licenses granted, which also depend on how you purchase the images, before you use the photos.
Use specialized websites for particular types of images.
How do I know if it’s ok to use an image on my website?
If you’re not hiring a photographer, then we recommend using a known stock photo site and reading the license carefully. We also recommend keeping a record of where you sourced the photo from, including the link to the URL you found it at, so you have documentation and traceability for the images you use on your website.
If you see a Creative Commons Zero (CC0 license), that means the image has been released in the public domain, and you can use it on your website, worry-free.
Do you need help sourcing images for your website project? Let us know, we’ll be happy to help.