You need a photo or an image for a project you’re working on. You need it fast. You don’t want to pay anything to anybody, or get sued for copyright violation. Luckily, there are a lot of sources on the Web for finding royalty-free images! (Royalty-free = you don’t have to pay any money to use it.) Here is a list of some of the best websites for finding these types of photos and images. Is there a website that you like to use? Add a comment and let us all know!
The creators of many of the images on these websites are giving up some of their copyright protection and allowing you to use their photos and artwork. However, they may have usage rules that they require you to follow: for example, they might ask you to attribute the creator of the image if you use it. (Attribution = including information, on your website or wherever you use the image, saying who made the image and where you found it.) Before you copy or use any image, it’s a good idea to look at the webpage for the image and check for usage or licensing rules. I’ve included links to the general usage rules for many of the websites in this list. Quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and cannot provide advice regarding your legal rights. However, I can help find material that might assist you in your research, or help you learn how to contact a lawyer. Questions? Please ask!
Creative Commons Search - http://search.creativecommons.org: Creative Commons is an organization that creates standards for sharing content on the Web (photos, videos, writing, anything!) This webpage has buttons to search many different websites for images and other content that are free to use based on Creative Commons standards - choose a website and then type in your search. Searchable websites from this page include Flickr, Google Images, Wikimedia Commons, and more. Usage information is included on the bottom of the page, below the buttons for the different sites.
U.S. Government Images search - https://search.usa.gov/search/images?affiliate=usagov&query=: The USA.gov search engine lets you look for photos and images from the federal government. You can find photos of just about anything, from satellites to Socks the cat, with little or no usage restrictions. Most of the results take you to images located on the Flickr website: before you use the image for your own project, make sure to look for usage information on the image's Flickr page.
The Commons - http://www.flickr.com/commons: The Commons is a section of the photo-sharing website Flickr which provides access to images from public photography archives at museums and libraries around the world. It’s a great place to find historic photos, and everyone (including you!) is encouraged to add comments and tags to the images. The photos on this site have “no known copyright.”
Encyclopedia of Life - http://www.eol.org: this website’s mission is to “increase awareness and understanding of living nature,” and it includes information and images on all kinds of living creatures, from moths to amoebas to mollusks to monkeys. It includes many images, most of which are free to use as long as you attribute the source. Here is a usage statement for the site.
Morgue File - http://www.morguefile.com: a morgue file is “a place to keep post production materials for use of reference.” In other words, it is a place to store things. In this particular online morgue file, you can find many high resolution stock photos. Here is a usage statement for the site.
Openclipart - http://openclipart.org/: Unlike many websites which offer photos to use, this site has royalty-free clip art (clip art = little images and drawings ready to use in electronic documents). You can even register and submit your own clip-art for other people to use! Here is a usage policy for the site.
Are websites not your thing? Do you prefer books? Well, the library still has plenty of those. We have many books of illustrations and prints on all sorts of topics, most of them royalty-free. To find them, just do a subject search in the library catalog for “clip art.” You’ll find books with images of Victorian women’s fashion, birds, children’s book illustrations, fairies, and much more, many of them including CD-ROMs with computer files of all the images in the book. At the end of this blog post is a book list showing examples of the types of clip art books that the library owns.
If you still have trouble finding the images that you want, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.
Images included in this post:
- Photo of a camera, by Rodrigo Senna from Brasília, DF, Brasil (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photography.jpg
- Creative Commons logo, http://creativecommons.org/
- 19th century painting of an American schooner, courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/collection-search-result.html?accession=1991.144.1&pageNumber=1
- Children reading a wireless newspaper, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationaalarchief/4193509648/
- Photo of a flower, http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/196907
- Scissors illustration, http://openclipart.org/detail/25380/scissors-half-open-icon-by-pitr-25380