Think you can pull just any photo off the internet and use it on your blog? Think again.

Kari DePhillips, CEO of The Content Factory, found that out the hard way when one of her newly hired staff writers accidentally included a copyrighted picture in a blog post he created for a client. Even though it wasn’t a very popular post (DePhillips reports that it had less than a hundred page views), the owner of the photograph found it and filed for $8,000 in damages.

DePhillips ended up paying a reduced settlement of $3,000, but it was still a painful lesson to learn. “This problem isn’t going away, so the only thing you can do as a blog content producer is protect yourself,” she said.

Before you decide to ditch your photos, remember that there are a lot of great reasons to use images on your blog. Humans are visual creatures, so including images helps draw readers in and keep them engaged. Images are also indexed by Google and can offer a boost to your SEO. People are forty times more likely to share posts with great pictures on social media, too!

So what can you do to protect your company while still serving up great, shareable images? Here are a few ways to stay in the clear.

In-House Photography

This is the safest route since you’ll know for a fact that you own the photos. You’ll also know that your photos are unique since you didn’t license them from a stock photo service. However, businesses that provide services rather than tangible products may struggle with finding relevant shots.

Decent camera equipment and lighting can be costly, too, but amateur photography shot with your phone can send the wrong message about your brand. If you do decide to take your own photos, make sure that you correctly tag and label it for optimum SEO. You might also want to watermark it to prevent others from stealing your photos!

Royalty Free Stock Photos

If you choose to use a stock photo (meaning a photo produced by someone else) on your blog, make sure that you source it through a reputable vendor like Shutterstock. These images are known as “royalty free,” meaning that although you pay a one-time licensing fee to use it on your site, there are no recurring fees whenever the image is viewed or used (i.e. royalties).

The upside of using professional stock photos is that you’ll get quality shots that are 100 percent legal. Keep in mind, though, that stock photos can be pricey and that other sites can license the same images.

Totally Free Photos

Some photos can be freely used by anyone. These may be stock photos, as in the case of freeimages.com, or they may be amateur photos licensed under Creative Commons. In the case of Creative Commons photos, there may be limitations in what you can do with the images, so make sure to read the fine print. This is the best option for bloggers on a budget, but depending on how specific you are in your search, you may find it challenging to find high quality shots.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

No matter which type of images you choose to use, make sure to give appropriate credit to your source. Blogger Sue Waters has a great overview of image attribution here, but the short version is that you should always let your readers know who created the image, either at the very end of your post or in the photo’s caption. Not only is this polite, but it can also help cover you in case of a copyright infringement issue in the future.

Just remember that “borrowing” a photo without permission or an appropriate license is never okay, even if you link back to the source.

What’s your favorite source for blogging images? Please share in the comments!