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Finding Photos Online: The Who, What, Where, and Why

by Amanda DiSilvestro

dailyegg1By now, most companies have figured out the benefit of having a blog as part of a company website, and being able to add images to your blog posts is a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, many companies are still hazy about how photos work when you put them into blog posts. At times, it just seems easier to ignore the legal fine print that comes with grabbing a photo off the Internet and throwing in onto your blog. (I’m guilty myself.)

However, finding a photo you are allowed to use can help save you a huge headache in the future. The last thing you want is to be found using photos illegally, even if it does take a few extra minutes each time you load a post. It’s important you know the who, what, where, and why of photos for your blog posts.

The Who, Where, Where, and Why of Finding Photos Online for Your Blog

When it comes to finding photos, you want to make sure that you are staying legal on all aspects of your website; not just your blog.

Blogs are typically where most of the issues lie, but being educated about photos is something you can apply to any aspect of your website. So let’s look at some of the details you need to know:

The Who

You want to make sure that you are relaying information about photo publishing to everyone involved in your company.

Although you might be the one that publishes most of the photos on your blog, there could come a time when you’re on vacation or when you take a sick day that someone else has to take over. You want everyone to be on the same page, not just the company owner or the content manager.

The What

What you’re looking for when you look for photos to use on your blog online are one of two different types: Creative Commons, which are free, or Royalty Free Stock Images, which are usually paid. Below explains a little bit about each:

Creative Commons.

This is a type of license that allows photographers to license their work for free in certain situations (including blog use). Images under the creative commons license are typically not available for commercial use, and you almost always need to give attribution.

Royalty Free.

Royalty free images are images you can pay for. Most recommend using these images if you’re going to highlight the photo in any way or use it as a major point on your blog post.

Price usually depends upon the size of the photo, but are typically only 2-3 dollars per photo. Most companies have you buy a certain number of credits that allow you to purchase any photo on the website at any time.

Want tips on selecting the right image? Check out this article on conversion-boosting images.

The Where

This is the big question and, as discussed above, it can be split up into two parts: free photos online or paid photos online. Below are a few places you can find photos legally online and whether or not they are free or for a charge.

iStock Photo. Paid.

This is a site that is very easy to navigate. It utilizes different categories and allows you to search for photos by keyword terms. They also offer flexible payment options, which is something pretty unique to this site.


Flickr. Free.

This is the most popular place to find free photos that you can use. In fact, I found the photo above by using Flickr.

I like this site because it is very clear about what you need to do in order to be able to share an image. Once you find an image that works for you, you can click on the link under “license” to see what your options are. Below is a screenshot of the screen I saw when considering using the photo for my article:


Every Stock Photo. Free.

This is more of a directory full of licensed photos from around the web (many coming from Flickr). They have a great selection and also explain to you under what terms you can use the photo. In most cases, you simply have to give attribution to the site. Other than that, you’re good to go.


Bigstock. Paid.

This website allows you to buy credit pack so that you can buy photos as you need them. They have many 99-cent images and everything is high quality. According to the site, they have over 13 million photos, illustrations, and vectors.


Creative Commons. Free.

This is the site devoted strictly to creative commons. In addition to photos, it offers information about why it matters and what all of the terminology in the online photo industry means. You can also find photos here that can be used for commercial use.


The Why

You want to make sure that you have the correct photos for your blog for two reasons:

Legal Reasons.

Copyright laws are serious. If you’re found stealing a photo and claiming it as your own, you could wind up paying thousands of dollars just for that one photo. It all depends upon what the owner of the photo chooses to do, but paying a huge fine is likely your worst-case scenario.

SEO Reasons.

Google does not want to see websites stealing photos, and because it’s important to optimize your photos for search with descriptions and tags, Google will surely find you.

Having quality images on your website can help you show up in image search results and other SERPs, not to mention improve CTR, so you don’t want to get penalized if Google finds out you stole the photos that are getting you so much attention.

It’s easier than you think

In the end, finding pictures to put on you blog should be one of the easiest aspects to running your website. Not only do you have to worry about all of the normal things associated with a company website — SEO, conversion rates, PPC ads, reader engagement, analytics and other data, etc. — but you have to worry about things such as duplicate content and intellectual property when you go to publish content.

These things can get messy; at least with photos you can stick to a few great sites and know you’re safe.

Do you have any tips about finding photos online? Have you ever gotten in trouble for using a photo that you weren’t allowed to use? Let us know your story and tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Valerie Everett on



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Amanda DiSilvestro

Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from algorithm updates. She writes for the, a nationally recognized as one of the best search engine optimization firms.


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  1. Prateek says:
    June 24, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Now we can use istockphoto for free and this is the best achievement as of now.

    • Neil Patel says:
      June 24, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Prateek, awesome! It really is great 🙂

  2. Bob says:
    October 28, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Some other sites you should consider for free stock photos that are public domain at and

  3. girish says:
    August 15, 2013 at 5:02 am

    Thanks, Ashley! Morguefile is one of my favorite resources too.

  4. June 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you so much for commenting Sharon and Ashley! I love that everyone is actually giving out helpful tips that add to the article. So happy to have found this site and published my first article–more to come!

    • June 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm

      It’s a great community, Amanda. Welcome aboard!

  5. June 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Love this list, Amanda. I use Flickr all the time, along with Wikimedia Commons, which is great for older (historical) images. I used to use Morguefile a lot too.

  6. June 20, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Hey Amanda, nice summary of a very common area of confusion.

    I also urge my readers to not blatantly take images from Google Image search OR Pinterest (or similar) because not only is it often illegal/not nice, but there are so many resources out there for free images.

    We all need images and it is often a tough process. My standard at the moment is morguefile or freedigitalphotos (the latter requires attribution – just a link you can copy from their download page for the image). You readers might be interested in my post (link below) where there are a few more resources they can use, and some more details on finding creative commons freebies etc.

    There is also another post in the related posts section on some cool image tools you can use to change images easily. Because if the license allows, you can change the image too – I like using instagram style filters to spice my posts up – I use picmonkey or pixler a lot lately!! simple to resize/crop etc too.

    keep up the great posts!!

    • June 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Thanks, Ashley! Morguefile is one of my favorite resources too.

  7. June 19, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Great article! More people need to know about this. Also, I’d like to throw in my favorite stock photo site:

  8. Alex Zemkus says:
    June 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks Amanda for clarifying the different sources and use of images online. How would using parts of an image to make a whole new image be interpreted, such as memes?

    • June 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

      That is an excellent questions, and I’m going to be totally honest with you here I’m really not sure at the moment. I know those typical memes people create are just done on a website, but if you’re creating your own thing it could be different! I’ll have to do a little bit of research and see if I can get back to you.

      Does anyone else know how to help Alex?

  9. Satish says:
    June 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Awesome source of information! Actually I take some pictures from Google randomly, and then upload them to my article mentioning the image credits. Will Google consider this as a volation too? Can we use the images if we have mentioned the source? I’m actually very much confused to make my own images at work here.

    • June 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      You’re actually not supposed to do that; although so many people do and thre are typically no problems. To my knowledge, you have a much better chance of getting in trouble with the site where you took the photo than with Google, but even that is a stretch!

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