Images have become an important part or our online lives. Bloggers and Social Media folk are always looking for the perfect picture to illustrate a thought or topic. While taking our own photos has become easier with the advent of digital cameras and now cell phones, there are times when we are looking for something that we can’t photograph in our corner of the world. Luckily, the Internet abounds with images.

In fact, when doing a Google search, we are invited to look at images that match our search terms. Google offers filters to help find “free” images. (After bringing up images for your search term, you must go to “Search Tools” and then “Usage Rights.”) Beware! Some of the “free” images on Google may have been copied from other sources, and then labeled as “free.” If you use them, even innocently, you are liable for damages for copyright infringement – and the damages can be steep.

After getting socked with a $500 bill for using a Getty Image that I got while searching for “free to use” images on Google, I decided to look elsewhere for my images.

Photographers and other image creators can license their images for use in many different and complicated ways. For example, did you know that Royalty Free doesn’t mean free? It actually means that after you pay for the image, you can reuse it. However, some of these RF licenses are for a prescribed period of time. Use the image after the expiration date, and you might be in violation and will pay far more than the image originally cost.

After researching (and becoming confused myself) I have a few suggestions. First of all, beware of Getty images. The Internet is full of horror stories about them. If you make a mistake, you will pay – sometimes thousands of dollars. (Getty also owns iStock Photo.) Internet comments about PhotoBucket indicate that a lot of photos there are uploaded by people who have illegally (even if innocently) uploaded licensed media. If you use these images, you might also end up paying a hefty fee.

As mentioned, licenses for image sharing can be tricky. Here are a few websites offering various licensing terms. Again, look carefully at both the information on the website and the image itself to make sure you are using the images correctly:

Free to use without attribution.

These images are free to download and use without giving credit to the creator or photographer.

Microsoft ClipArt

This ClipArt used to be free with their Office Suite, but the website now seems to be available to anyone.

This website has a tab for free photos, and states that no attribution is necessary. However, make sure you are in the right category, as there are tabs for other sites that charge for images.

According to the website, “ is a collection of photos, mostly taken by David Niblack, that can be freely used for personal, commercial, non-profit, artistic, or creative purposes.” Read the “What does free mean?” disclaimer (found in the right upper corner or the home page). Some of these photos are quite impressive.

Creative Commons License.

This license allows people to use images for free. However, there are different “flavors” of this license. Check the website at to learn more about how work is licensed and how it can be used. In most cases, the creator of the work and where it was found will have to be placed on the same page as the image.

CreativeCommons Search. This page on the website displays links to several websites that offer Creative Commons material, and explains the licenses available on each of the images. (A good place to start if you want to understand how these licenses work.)

Flickr Creative Commons

Many “amateur” and professional photos are licensed here for use with attribution.


There are creative commons photos here, but also images with other licenses. Be sure the image you want to use is free. Using the correct embed feature will bring up the correct Creative Commons link.


A lot of great images here. (The links at the bottom of the page offer a good “Wikipedia” answer to how Creative Commons licenses work.)

Royalty Free.

As mentioned above, most Royalty Free images are not free to use. Please read the licensing information carefully on each of these sites to understand how the images can be used and how much they will cost. Almost all of these sites charge in “credits.” It is important to understand both how much a credit costs and how many credits it will take to download the image.

This site has a lot of good images and Vector files. They offer both subscription and “pay as you go” options for those of us who only use images occasionally.

This website offers small size images for free. Larger images must be purchased with credits.

This site offers both photos and vector images, and offers both subscription and “pay as you go” options.

I am writing this article to help readers understand that using images is a little more complicated than it might at first seem, and that not following the rules can be very expensive. I am not specifically recommending or endorsing any of these sites, and there are many more sites out there. Readers are invited to research for themselves. I hope this will help people understand how to search for that perfect image.

Read more: Complimentary Should Mean Free