Millions of images are Googled every day, and many of those images find their way into web and graphic design projects. But should they be there? Many designers take little heed of copyright issues, and use images with little or no regard for their right to do so. It leads to shock and horror when the owner of the images demands a fee for their use.
There are some stock image sites on the web where you can go to find images that are free to use, but before we go and look at those sites, let’s look at some of the issues around copyright and the rights to use images you find on the web.
Copyright and photographs
What does the word ‘copyright’ mean? The definition of copyright makes it very clear that the creator of a literary piece, a musical composition or any artistic work (this includes photographs) has the exclusive right to use that creation however they wish. What it does not do is give anyone else the right to use that creation, unless they are given that right by the creator. From January 1st, 1978, all creations are covered by a copyright law that lasts for the lifetime of the creator, and for 70 years after they die. From this, it is clear that unless the photographer gives you the rights to use an image, you are contravening the law.
To keep yourself out of trouble, make sure you find image sites that spell out the copyright license for the images. Most of the sites quoted in this blog will use one of two license types; Creative Commons Zero and Creative Commons with Attribution.
Creative Commons Zero means the images are free to use in whatever way you like. The photographer has made the image available to anyone, for any purpose.
Creative Commons with Attribution means the images are free to use in whatever way you like, providing you credit the photographer for the image.
It is not difficult to attribute a photo or image you are using. Next to, or underneath the image, include text that gives the name of the photographer and include a link to the site or directly to the photographer.
It is right and ethical to give credit where credit is due, so don’t be tempted to take images from the web and pass them off as your own. Even if the images you use are covered by the Creative Commons Zero license, you should indicate on your site the name of the site from which you took the images. In this way, the library that supplied the images is given credit for the work they do.
If you are uncertain of how to correctly attribute an image, there are some tools available on the net that will assist you. Some are designed specifically for sites such as Flickr, while others are a more generalized attribution builder.
Now let’s look at some of the sites that you can use to find good quality stock photographs for your web or other graphic designs.
This site holds a large collection of stunning landscape photographs which they add to every day. If you are looking for autumn colors, misty rivers, beautiful mountains or gritty urban landscapes, look no further. There is, however, no search feature so browsing can take some time and attribution is required. The site does provide an attribute you can copy.
Los Angeles based SuperFamous Studios, run by Dutch artist Folkert Gorter, has collected an incredible collection of images that will suit any project, especially one looking for arresting backgrounds. The site is not searchable and it is easy to get lost in the beautiful photographs. Attribution is required.
A wonderful and varied collection of photographs that do not all require attribution. This site is well known for its food clips, so if that is where your need lies, take a look at this site. There is a good search facility, and navigation is very simple. Usefully, this site will send you an e-mail showing new images if you need a constant supply of fresh photographs.
This searchable site should be the go-to collection for every freelance web designer! There is a very wide range of subjects available, including human portraits, landscapes, animals and nature, backgrounds, urban images, birds, food and any other subject you desire. Most of the images require no attribution.
It is difficult to believe the images on this site are available for free. Not only do you get a selection of superb images, but you also have access to an online web building tool. The site is searchable, and attribution is required.
All the images on this site are the work of Ryan McGuire. His whimsical, evocative and slightly different photographs will provide excellent focal points in any design. The site is not searchable and he asks for no attribution, but his work is individual and easily recognizable.
This site boasts a very wide array of topics. The photographs have been created by enthusiastic amateurs as well as dedicated professionals, but all of them are of a very high quality. The site is very easy to navigate, and attribution is not required.
This is one of the largest collections of free images available on the web. This site offers thousands of images on a huge array of topics. It is highly unlikely you will not find an image to suit your purposes from this site. The site is searchable, which saves hours of time by allowing you to zero in on your subject quickly. Not all images require attribution.
New Old Stock
This is a magnificent collection of antique photographs that came from estate sales as well as governmental agencies; amazing historical images that will keep you occupied for hours. As the images are historical, they are not covered by copyright, but it is good practice to attribute where the photograph is kept. The only drawback is that the site is not searchable so you can get lost for hours.
Irish company Hidden Depth have accumulated some stunning images from many professional photographers. There is no search feature, but it is worth spending time here if you are looking for a very special photograph that evokes a specific emotion. Attribution is not required.
Mainly European architectural and landscape images that are free to use. Unfortunately, it is not searchable, but attribution is also not required.
This is another collection of beautiful photographs from designer Jay Mantri. Based in Southern California, this designer has amassed a stunning, eclectic collection of images that are free to use. No attribution is required.
Public Domain Archive
This collection ranges from the very latest in modern photographs to beautiful sepia-tinted vintage images. Unfortunately, it is not searchable. No attribution is required.
One of the largest photo sharing sites available on the web. Many photographs are available for use providing you correctly attribute them. Quality varies as anyone can upload their images, but perhaps there is something you can use.
All these sites will give you images you can use in your designs, but at the same time, will keep you on the right side of the law. It is not worth taking the risk of using a photograph from an unknown source and then embarrassing your client - or worse, embroiling them in a copyright lawsuit. Be aware of where you get your images from, and make sure they are correctly attributed. Photographers deserve to be noticed, and by attributing their work, that is exactly what you will be doing.
Do you know of another collection of free images that designers can use? If so, please share details in the comments section.