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Finding Images For Your Website: The Possibilities and Pitfalls

Aug 4, 2020 | Websites

Strong imagery and visual content is important to the success of your website, blog and social media activity.

But where do you find the images? And how can you be sure you are allowed to use the images you do find?

Images are often protected by copyright, and many businesses and bloggers are finding themselves on the wrong side of big fines and legal action for using unauthorised photos and visuals.

Common Traps of Sourcing Visual Content Online

Just because you can find it on Google Images, doesn’t mean it’s free to be used.

Many people mistakenly believe that if you find an image in Google images, it is available for use online.  Google Images delivers search results of a huge range of images indexed online, and the vast majority of these are subject to copyright and license restrictions.

There is a way to filter Google images for usage.  When in Google Images, click on Search Tools, and then Usage Rights.  Images can then be filtered via the terms of use.  When you click through to the individual image, it will often have the license terms outlined, including attributions or links required.  If the license is unclear, I would avoid using that image.

Never assume an image is free or open to use. If anything assume the opposite.

Royalty-free does not mean it can be used for free.

Many stock photo libraries and websites offer “royalty-free” images.  This generally means that once you have purchased the image, you do not then have to pay for each use or per volume use.  Note, though, that you do generally have to purchase the right to use the image.

Images found under the Creative Commons Licenses may still require attribution or links.

The Creative Commons copyright licenses “are legal tools that creators and other rights holders can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights”.  (Source:  creativecommons.org).  They outline rights and restrictions for the use of images including (among other things) commercial or non-commercial use, attribution required, whether an image can be modified and how an image can be used.  Whenever you are using an image found under Creative Commons (or any other source) always check the terms of use before using it on your website or blog.

Free images often don’t include model releases or property releases

Many of the free image sites permit you to use the image, but do not include model releases and property releases – so always be cautious using images with people included, particularly where they can be identified.

Don’t think you won’t get caught

There are several ways that photographers and image owners can find unauthorised use of their images online.  Don’t assume that you’re too small / niche / off the radar to be found.

Precautions to take in the search for images

Use only authorised images

There are a huge range of image sources with a huge range of prices. It is not difficult to find the perfect images for your online activity – but you may have to pay.

Seek permission rather than forgiveness

When you are using an image, always ensure you have the right to use that image.  Check the details of the license or terms for a purchased image, or seek permission from the image owner if it is not available for purchase.  Even if the image is owned by a friend or colleague, ask permission. At the very least, it is the polite thing to do when you are using work created or photographed by someone else.

Understand the terms and conditions of each stock photography website and check the license requirements of each individual photo.

The terms and conditions of each stock photo library or website can be different. Familiarise yourself with their terms and the license of each image, ensuring you are providing the correct attribution and using the image in the correct way.

Keep track of the source and license of the images you use.

When using images on your website or blog, keep track of the source and license applicable for that image in a spreadsheet. That way, if you are ever questioned or contacted about the use of that image, you can quickly and easily find the source and the license that was applied to the image at the time of purchase/download.  I use an excel spreadsheet to keep these details for each blog post.

Sources of Imagery

There are so many sources of photos, illustrations and visual content.

Among the most well-known are stock photo libraries such as Istock (by Getty Images) and Shutterstock.  While they are also among the more expensive options, their size and reputation means that there is less risk associated with using their images (if used in the correct way according to the individual image’s license).

More cost effective options include the DepositPhoto, Adobe Stock and Canva (an online design tool that provides a stock library of images, each costing $1 per use).  (Hint: by joining the mailing lists of some of these services such as DepositPhoto, you will be informed of special offers where you can buy packages of credits for really reasonable prices).

There are also free photo options including:


Pixabay (offers some free images, but also includes links to Shutterstock images.  Note the license does not guarantee model release or property release, and indicates that certain images may be subject to additional copyrights and require consent of a third party.)


Unsplash is another source of free stock photos. Unsplash emails a curated collection of images to its subscribers, but now allows users to search via categories as well.

Death to the Stock Photo

Death to the Stock Photo offers two options for stock photography. Its free subscription emails packs of images to your inbox that you can download and keep for future use. Its premium subscription (starting from $12USD per month) lets you search through the library of photos.


Pikwizard is a great option for free stock photography. You can take each image and edit on graphic design tool, Design Wizard. And the images of people are great!”

The Safest Option:  Create Your Own Images

The lowest-risk option is to create your own visual content.  With most of us carrying a smartphone, and with easy-to-use, affordable graphic creation tools such as Easil and Canva, there are more and more opportunities to create our own images and avoid all the pitfalls mentioned above.

Take action! Do a quick audit of your website, blog and social media activity and check if you are using any images that you do not have the rights or permission to use. Where needed, create or find an alternative for these images.

(Please note: this blog is a general discussion and is not intended as legal advice. If in doubt, always seek the advice of a legal professional).

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