I am often asked by clients who are creating their first website or improving or replacing an existing one: “where can I find images for my site?”
What you definitely don’t do is fire up your browser, head over to Google Images, find something you like, and use that.
The most important advice I can give to this is not to steal or misappropriate. Just because you can doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it. Photographers need to eat too! If you think taking something someone else has created and using it for free, without their permission, is perfectly fine then I suggest you check with your conscience, your religion or whatever use as a moral compass. As a general rule “I wonder if I can get away with…” is not a particularly encouraging question.
Here are your options for doing it the right way:
Take them yourself
If you’re handy with a digital camera (or train up, there are plenty of courses, in the real world or online) then you could take your own. You get exactly the shot you want, you own the image rights and you don’t need to pay anyone.
Too much work you say? You don’t have the time or opportunity? Don’t have a camera? Then you’ll need images that someone else has taken. That usually means you’ll have to part with something of value (money or a link) but sometimes you don’t.
Lean on your friends
Does someone owe you a favour and has the time, equipment and opportunity to take the picture for you? Or maybe they’ve already taken it and shared it on Facebook, Flickr or Picasa. Well great, you don’t have to pay. But you do still need to keep a record of that person’s permission to use their image. What if you used that as the main image on your website’s homepage and you hit it big someday. A verbal ‘yeah, sure you can use it’ isn’t going to help when your friend wants a piece of your success.
Ask your suppliers or customers
If you’re selling something produced by someone else or you’re an agent for another company you can usually use their images on your website. Check with them for permission first though. Your customers are another potential source of imagery. Run a competition and make it clear that by submitting their images, entrants allow you permission to use them on your website.
Use images taken by other people
If you’re looking for an image to be used on a commercial (for a business, earns money) website, you need to either find a Creative Commons (CC) attribution licensed image that’s Attribution Only (and make the attribution clear) and that doesn’t specifically state that it can’t be used for commercial purposes. You can search specifically for CC licensed images on Flickr (see the checkboxes at the bottom of the form) or Picasa (do a search then select the license type to filter by, from the section on the left). Many of the images on Wikipedia are licensed under a CC license; though with a smaller selection there the chances are more people are using the same image (one of the side benefits of CC licensed images is that the sheer quantity means there’s more variety).
For images to illustrate blog posts, you can go for a slightly more restrictive CC license, blogs are seen as not so much of a commercial space, providing you’re not ‘monetising’ that blog with ads. See this guide to finding Creative Commons licensed images on Flickr for more thorough advice.
Remember to check what kind of attribution someone expects. Take a look at their Flickr profile for more info. In most cases they don’t specify, so it’s enough to link to the either or both of the image detail page or their profile page on Flickr but sometimes they request a link to their own website. If that’s the case check the site is something you’re ok with linking to (not Not Suitable For Work if that’s a problem for you) and link away.
Buy images sold by other people
If you’d rather not provide attribution to the creator of the work, because you feel it might make you look cheap, don’t use a Creative Commons licensed image, instead head over to iStockPhoto or any number of other stock photography library sites and fork out the cash (decent web resolution images cost from $5 to $15 with iStockPhoto). If it happens that you can’t find the right image on a stock site and are really set on using a particular CC licensed image without giving attribution, or an image with no CC licensed use allowed, try contacting the photographer and asking how much she wants for a single use license that doesn’t require you to attribute.
See what’s available for free
There are some free image libraries online, again check the license terms, you may be required to give attribution, and the selection will usually be much smaller than you have to choose from on Flickr. Certain uses might also be excluded, such as use in print (maybe you can pay for the highest resolution). stock.xchng, now owned by Getty (owners of iStockPhoto) is the largest, and most of the time doesn’t require attribution. Getty are using it as an additional venue to display their iStockPhoto inventory, with paid-for images appearing alongside the free images so pay attention to the section of the page you’re looking at.
Keeping things ship-shape
To keep things in order it’s a good idea to keep a record, for each image you use on your site that isn’t explicitly attributed, of where it came from and the license under which it was used. An Excel, Numbers or Google Docs Spreadsheet should be sufficient.
Image credit: caesol via Creative Commons on Flickr