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The Internet is a more visual place than ever. Where Facebook and Twitter were the hot new social media platforms of yesteryear, now photo-centric platforms like Instagram and Pinterest dominate the marketplace. As such, it’s important to understand how to use images legally and effectively to enhance your blog and attract new visitors. Today I’m going to give you three places where you can find free photos to use legally on your blog, and then we’ll talk about how to make the most them.
A Quick Introduction to Copyright Law
Many bloggers are in the habit of pulling images from Google without thinking about copyright laws or the potential consequences of ignoring them. I know because I used to be one of them! That was before I learned that many of the photos and graphics I was using on my blog were protected under copyright and I could be sued for using them without explicit permission from the owner. It doesn’t matter if…
- You didn’t know the photo was copyrighted.
- You provide credit by linking back to your source.
- You comply with a DMCA takedown notice.
- You have a disclaimer on your site.
- You don’t make money from your blog.
Needless to say, learning all of this left me with a lot of work. I had to go through over 200 blog posts and delete every single copyrighted image. It was a big fat pain the butt, and if you’re a new blogger, I’d like to save you the trouble.
Now, all of that being said, there are exceptions to the rule. There’s something called “fair use.” To quote Wikipedia, “Fair use is a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders.” Fair use is not a free-for-all. Basically it means that reasonable use of a copyrighted work that does not diminish the value of said work may be legal. Here are a few exceptions that I make to the hard-and-fast “no copyrighted images” rule.
- Movie stills. Using movie stills in editorial pieces would fall under fair use. Part of what determines whether something is fair use is how much of the work is used. Movie stills are only a tiny snapshot of the whole work, which is one of the reasons I think it’s generally safe to use them.
- Book covers. Book covers are copyrighted by law, but publishers want bloggers to use them to promote their books.
- Pictures of products I’m featuring. I use photos of products I’m featuring because my use does not decrease the value of that product in any way. (If anything, it increases it.)
When in doubt, ask permission. Last month I did a roundup of 10 Striking Portraits of Edgar Allan Poe. I received permission in writing to use every single one of those portraits. This goes for Instagram photos too. While many people won’t mind if you embed their Instagram photos without permission, some will, and it’s always best to ask.
3 Places to Find Free, Legal Images for Your Blog
Now that you know where not to go looking for images, let’s talk about where you can go to find free photos that are 100% legal to use.
Free Stock Photo Websites
There are tons of websites that offer totally free professional stock photos for you to use any way you want. In fact, the photo I used to make the graphic at the top of this post came from Unsplash, one of my favorite free stock photo websites. Here are some others.
- IM Free
- Jay Mantri
- Life of Pix
- Little Visuals
- Negative Space
- Public Domain Archive
Canva also has a list of 73 free stock image websites, ranked according to quality.
There are also a couple of free specialty stock image websites I like. If you need digital patterns, The Pattern Library is a great place to look. If you’re looking for vintage public domain photos, try New Old Stock.
Free Trials for Paid Stock Photo Websites
The price of stock photos on websites like iStock and Shutterstock is usually prohibitive for individual bloggers, and even subscription sites charge more than most can afford. Some of these subscription sites offer free trials though, which is a great way to stock up on photos that might come in handy later. I’ve signed up for free trials at GraphicStock (more downloads, less variety) and BigStock (more variety, fewer downloads) and have been able to download well over 100 photos and vectors for free. The vector image that I used to make the graphics for The Inkwell came from a GraphicStock free trial. Keep an eye out for free trial offers and free downloads when you sign up for a free account, etc.
Creative Commons Images
Free stock photos have you covered when you need generic photos, but what about when you need photos of a specific person or place? That’s when Creative Commons photos are a blogger’s salvation. As an example, I needed lots of photos of specific actors and actresses for my post, “40 Book to Movie Adaptations Hitting Theaters in 2016.” Getty Images offers plenty of celebrity red carpet photos–for an outrageous cost. So instead I searched through Flickr’s Creative Commons database and was able to find photos of the all the actors I needed. All you have to do to legally use Creative Commons photos is provide proper attribution. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses, so make sure you know which license applies to the photo you’re using and what the limitations of that license are. Also, just because someone posted a photo to the Creative Commons database doesn’t mean they own the rights to that photo. Check to make sure the photo you want to use was posted by the legal license owner.
Of course, your other option is to take your own photos. While I find this unrealistic most of the time, there are occasions when I whip out the ol’ camera.
How to Make Your Blog Retina-Ready
Retina displays are all the rage. My Macbook Pro has one and I love it because everything is crystal-clear–except when I encounter a website that isn’t Retina-ready. On a Retina display, images that have not been prepared properly look fuzzy and out of focus, which is really annoying. Fortunately, making your images Retina-ready is super easy. Here’s how to do it.
- Decide how big you want your image to be. For example, the width of my content space is 680px, so that’s how wide I wanted the graphic at the top of this post to be.
- Double that number. Continuing with the example above, that would be 1360px. That’s how wide you want the image to be before you upload it. (FYI–you don’t always have to double it. Many of the post graphics I use are only 1000px wide, which works fine, but I would recommend doubling it just to be safe–especially if you don’t have a Retina display to check and make sure that your image looks good.)
- Upload your image and adjust the size to your specifications. Once you’ve inserted the image into your post, click on it, and then click on the edit button that pops up (the little pencil). In the Image Details window, select the “size” dropdown menu and click custom size. Adjust the size to whatever you want and click “update.” Depending on your theme, you may be able to skip this step for full-width photos. My theme, Foodie Pro, automatically restrains image proportions to fit within my content area and it does the same for feature images, as long as they are proportionally correct. I only have to manually edit the size of an image when I want it to be narrower than the content area.
How to Use Images without Sacrificing Speed
Using large, colorful, professional photos will make your blog instantly attractive to visitors, but it won’t do you much good if your readers leave before they even have a chance to see the aforementioned photos. You see an image-heavy homepage increases the time it takes for your blog to load. To fix this, you’ll need to do two things before you upload.
- Check to make sure the image or photo you are using is set to 72dpi resolution. (To do this in Mac, simply open up the photo in Preview, and then go to Tools→Adjust Size.) Many stock photos will have a 300dpi resolution as the default, which is excellent for print, but not necessary for digital use.
- Losslessly compress your images when you upload them. To do this, I recommend using a plugin called ShortPixel. It compresses photos without sacrificing image quality (hence the name “lossless compression”), which will speed up the loading time of your homepage. You can also prepare image for the web in Photoshop, but I personally find this process cumbersome and prefer to use an easy drag-and-drop app.
How to Make Your Images SEO-Friendly
Once you’ve uploaded your images to your media library, you’ll have to do a teensy bit of editing to ensure that your images are SEO-friendly. In the “Attachment Details” window, make sure that the title of your image isn’t a string of gobbledygook. For example, notice how the title of the image below is the same as the title of the book in the photograph. Also fill in the “Alt Text” window. This is the text that will appear if there’s a glitch and the image doesn’t show up. It also makes your photos easier to find in search engines and it serves as the pin description when someone pins your image on Pinterest.
Having a Pinterest-friendly graphic in each blog post is hugely important. I’ll be going into more detail about that in a few weeks when we talk specifically about Pinterest, so stay tuned!
Questions? Leave them in the comments below!
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Book Blogging for more tips and tricks on how to become a book blogging wiz!