How To Find Free Photos for Your Local Blog
I’m a strong believer in the power of images. Add a memorable photo or two to a good blog post, and it can become a great blog post. I think this is especially true with local blogs, where readers may respond even more strongly to familiar images of local places or events — things they’ve seen out and about, but maybe don’t see too often online.
Sometimes, you can build entire blog posts around a photo. On one of our local blogs, I recently recently posted a photo of an elderly man trying to cool off at an outdoor fountain. Not the most amazing photo ever, but it certainly told the story about the weather we’ve been experiencing.
That was a photo I took myself, but you don’t always have to rely on your own camera skills; you can find free photos online, and use them to spice up your hyperlocal blog. The lazy way is to search Google images, find a photo, steal it, and publish your blog post. That’s not what this post is about, nor is it something I’d ever recommend. If you’re going to use someone else’s photos and don’t want to pay, please play by the rules and be fair to the photographers. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is technically a non-profit organization, but when most of us talk about CC, we’re referring to the system of licensing that lets content creators indicate how and where others may use their content. Creative Commons applies to any type of content – photos, articles, sounds, videos, you name it. It’s a supplement to the traditional copyright law that says “all rights reserved” when you create something. Creative Commons lets you say, Yes, I created and own this work, but you may use it for free under certain conditions. Here’s a list and explanation of the current Creative Commons licenses.
Where to Find Free Photos for Local Blog Posts
There are several places where you can search specifically for photos that have been licensed via Creative Commons.
Photographers can apply a Creative Commons license to their photos when uploading them to Flickr. And Flickr conveniently lets you search/browse images that match each type of license. When I’m blogging and in need of a photo, I stick with the “Attribution License”, which lets me use the image in any way I want as long as I give credit to the owner.
For example, on my Small Business Search Marketing blog, I was writing an article a couple months ago called When Local Keyword Research is a Dead End. I wanted a good, strong “dead end” image to illustrate the article. I used the link above to search Flickr for photos tagged with “dead end,” and found a great photo of a street sign in decay. It was perfect:
And since the license was “Attribution Only,” I was free to use the image, edit it, add my own text to it, etc., as long as I credited the photographer (which I did at the end of the blog post).
In terms of local blogging, you may think that Flickr won’t have any photos of your home town that can be licensed, but don’t give up that quickly. Try it. Try different license types if need be. Earlier this year, I needed a photo to illustrate a post on our Richland Real Estate Blog, Hanford Tour Schedule Announced. Sure enough, Flickr had several to choose from. And this isn’t exactly a booming metropolis we’re talking about.
1a. Flickr Groups
A second Flickr option is to search Flickr Groups for groups about your area. No matter how small your hometown is, I’m willing to bet there’s a group on Flickr where local photographers are uploading pictures. Now, these people may not be granting free usage of their photos … but there’s nothing to stop you from introducing yourself and politely asking if you can use a certain image on your blog.
A couple months ago, Yahoo added a Creative Commons search option to its advanced image search page. If you want to edit the photo in any way, be sure to click the “Remix, tweak, build upon” option, and if you’re using the photo on a commercial web site or blog, click the “Commercial use” box, too.
One drawback here is that Yahoo only searches Flickr photos at the moment, so it’s pretty much redundant to what I described in option #1 above.
One of the options on Google’s advanced image search page is “Usage Rights.” This is where you go to search for photos with specific licenses applied to them. Google will search Flickr and other sources, so it may be a better source of free-to-use photos than Flickr itself.
“Labeled for reuse” is the equivalent of the Creative Commons “Attribution License,” so choose that if you plan to edit or modify the image before using it. Google only introduced this recently, so I haven’t had a chance to use it much yet.
You can use web-sized photos from FreeFoto.com provided that you provide attribution to the image and a link to FreeFoto.com. But you cannot edit the images in any way. There are limitations, though. Click on the link for “USA” photos, and FreeFoto.com tells you that only photos from the east and west coast are in their system.
5. Morgue File
Photos from MorgueFile can be used commercially, can be edited, and you don’t even have to provide attribution to the source or photographer. Here, too, the number of local photos for your area may be limited. A search for “Seattle,” for example, only brings up 129 matching photos. A search for “Kennewick,” one of the cities near me, has no matching photos.
Recently bought by Getty Images, this site will show you both free images in its own system, plus some very inexpensive options from the popular iStockPhoto.com site. A search here for “Seattle” produces 302 matching photos. It even shows three photos when I search for “Kennewick.” Individual photographers can set their own usage rules on each photo, but the site’s image usage policy is a bit confusing on the whole.
At this point, Flickr and Google appear to be the best places to find free photos for use on your local blog. There are several free photo sites in addition to the three listed above, but my impression is that finding local photos on sites like these will be a hit-and-miss affair.
If you have a favorite source of free photos, please drop a note about it in the comments!