Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

The Best Free and Low-Cost Image Sources for Your Website or Blog

by Susan Pomeroy

Free and low-cost images for your web site or blog

Images make your site and your blog pop. They enliven any sales page or email. They’re picked up automatically by many social media sharing tools, and those little thumbnails can make your shared links pretty darned attractive.

Often, an image can express a concept or a mood, or elicit a smile or laugh, far better than words can. And studies show that some people respond particularly viscerally and immediately to light and color… so you’re increasing the reach and the attention-grabbing abilities of any page or article by incorporating an image or images into it.

But where do you find great images?

Free and Not-Really-So-Easy Images

First, there’s the Big Temptation… just google an image and use it. But to avoid legal liability, you must double-check that any image you find out there is available for free public use. Most times, it’s impossible to find this information. Safest course: don’t even go this route when there are other, quicker, better ways that don’t leave you legally liable for copyright infringement.

Many people use Flickr and Picasa’s “Creative Commons” license searches. However, Creative Commons licenses are owner-defined, i.e. they’re not all a uniform “yes, go use it however you want to.” So again, take the time to check each individual image license. Most require specific crediting, as well.

And, while there are some fantastic images in Flickr and Picasa… there’s also a lot of junk, which means you’re sorting not just for appropriateness, but for image “readability,” composition, focus… again, more time.

Bottom line: if time isn’t an issue, go for it.

Foolproof Free Images

I’m usually in a hurry when I’m hunting for images—I want something I can safely use right now! I usually head straight for one of these sources first, both of which have large, high-quality, multi-subject collections:

http://www.morguefile.com/
http://www.sxc.hu/ (images in middle area are free, images in top and bottom rows are paid)

Specific Wikipedia topics are a good source of public domain images if you’re researching a particular subject (again, check each image license). Here’s a fantastic Wikipedia source list for public domain images, which includes specialized collections such as wildlife, art, history, vintage postcards, and many more.

You can also check this excellent resource,50 Sites to Find Free Stock Images” at Cats Who Code.

Low-Cost Professional Quality Illustrations and Stock Photos

When the free images aren’t cutting it—not precise enough, not on point, too murky—it’s time to hit the low-cost, royalty-free image sites.

“Royalty-free” images are images upon which there’s no need to pay a royalty or fee for each use. Rather, you pay a small fee up front for a certain number of impressions, or particular type of usage (most web site use easily falls within basic royalty-free licensing).

The images are professional quality, both photos and vector art. There’s no need to scrutinize them for basic things like focus, or angle. Many if not most are designed for commercial use, which means that they express a concept, mood or idea economically and elegantly.

Most of the services listed below offer a “pay as you go” plan, where you can purchase a certain number of “image credits” via card or Paypal. Each image then requires a certain number of credits to download. Generally, “small” or “extra-small” images (width approximately 400 pixels) are perfect for blogs and websites and cost a dollar or so per image (some slightly more, some less).

http://www.crestock.com/ ($1 for small image)
http://www.123rf.com/
http://www.dreamstime.com/ (particularly good with “new age”, fantasy or surreal images)
http://www.istockphoto.com/
http://us.fotolia.com/
https://stockfresh.com/
http://photodune.net/

Check this link for special royalty-free bargains & more: http://www.stockphotosecrets.com/category/buyers-guide.

Now Use ‘Em!

Not sure how to select eye-catching images? I’ll be talking more about that in a later article. Meanwhile, go ahead, I dare you… put some color on your page!

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