Everyone knows they need images for their blogs, and everyone knows you shouldn’t steal. Unfortunately, a lot of folks have trouble navigating those two rules at the same time.
I recently read an article that advised marketers to find images using a Google image search, and then to decide whether it is okay to use one for their blog based on how often the image has been shared. The (il)logic of this advice was that if an image has already been shared many times before, then it is probably okay for you to share as well.
No. No no no nononononnono. NO.
Stop it. This approach is called stealing. And you’ll probably not ever be caught but it’s bad for your soul and bad for the artists you steal from, so don’t do it.
Besides, it’s so easy to do this right and not run afoul of copyright law and karma.
To help you along, here are 9 easy, free-or-cheap ways to find and use visual material for your blog without stealing from artists.
One: Public Domain and Creative Commons
Wikimedia Commons Images contains a fairly comprehensive collection of public domain images, and is easy to search and use. My friend Kyle Crew also suggests you try Public Domain Review, and Suzy Dees says you can search Flickr for creative commons images.
Photo by: Daiji Hirata via Wikimedia Commons.
The down side of public domain is that it can sometimes be hard to find just the right thing and the quality of the images varies significantly.
Additionally, much of the material is historical in nature and lacks relevance for modern topics. One easy solution to this is to couple this source with the next one: Canva.
Canva makes it super simple to edit and customize images that you upload yourself (such as something you found on Wikimedia Commons), and also provides a large library of free-to-use and pay-to-use photos, layouts, graphic elements, and illustrations. The free version is ideal for hobbyists and others who can’t afford to pay for images, while the monthly premium plan provides a good value for professional marketers.
Photo credit: Daiji Hirata via Wikimedia Commons
Image created by author using Canva
Time to create: Less than five minutes
If Canva doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of other options. Stephanie Boyette Nelson at SBN Marketing says she finds Pic Monkey to be more user friendly. She also had a few additional recommendations to try out.
By combining a free photo source such as Wikimedia Commons with Canva, authors can quickly and easily create completely custom visual content that does not infringe on anyone’s rights. When possible, it’s still courteous to credit the photographer.
If you really want to own your illustrations, create them yourself. Something that you’ve created is yours forever and always, and you never have to pay for it or ask permission. Screenshots are a great way to create images for a blog. You can screenshot conversations on Twitter, Facebook posts, graphs, Powerpoint slides, and software dashboards.
Caution: Don’t use this tip as a work-around for avoiding copyright laws. If your screenshot consists entirely or primarily of someone’s copyrighted work, it is still a copyright violation. It’s beyond the scope of this post to examine where that line is, just be aware that the line is there, and be careful. Safest: Don’t screenshot art or photos that don’t belong to you, even as elements in a larger image.
Caution Too: Protect the privacy of your friends and associates. Screenshots of conversations on public posts (such as the one below) are fine to share, but don’t screen cap conversations in private groups or private messages without the permission of everyone involved. If in doubt, consider blacking out identifying information such as photos and names. Use common sense and treat other people with respect.
As you can see from Janis’ response to my inquiry, artists CARE ABOUT PROTECTING THEIR ART. Be a decent human being and don’t make it harder on them.
And while we’re on the topic of screenshots and whether artists and photographers care, literally the same day I wrote this post another friend posted this:
That’s Krista Anderson of Emozen, and she wants you to stop stealing her stuff and other artists’ stuff. Please. And of course I asked her permission to use it, and she offered it enthusiastically. Even though it’s a screenshot, it’s a great example of how you can take a screenshot that mostly contains someone else’s work… and when you do that, you need to ask permission & credit the artist!
Four: Photos of Your Own
You don’t have to be a professional photographer to create photography for a blog. Depending on the content and the audience and the style, something as simple as a silly selfie or a shot of tulips can add a personal touch that attracts readers and builds connections.
It’s also a good idea to look for interesting textures in your environment and to get in the habit of shooting photos of them. This can be rocks in a path or the texture of grass or even the sky. These type of images can serve as excellent backgrounds for quotes and other types of content you create in Canva, and you’ll never have to worry about copyright on them.
In a corporate setting, encourage your colleagues to snap photos at conventions, demos, and networking events as well as at client sites (with permission) and of your products or services in action, and to share those with the marketing department for use on your blogs.
Five: Stock Photography
If you’ve got a half a minute, you can find hundreds of stock photography sites that will take your bucks in exchange for images. Most of them let you purchase either individual photos or a monthly subscription.
Caution: The standard stock photography places tend to offer a lot of cheesy stuff, and if you use it unedited, the odds are high that your unique written work will share the same feature image as a dozen other works… and that’s not a great thing for you. However, editing in Canva can eliminate this problem.
Artist Anthony (Ant) Pruitt suggests Adobe Stock because it allows individual artists (like Ant) to upload their work and get paid for it. This means you get access to a wider variety of unique visual elements, while ensuring the artists behind it get paid.
But don’t ignore the free sites. Unsplash, suggested by Hillary above, is an excellent staple resource.
Photo credit: Andrew Neel
Source: Unsplash Search phrase: Blogger
Besides Unsplash, Amy Baldwin George and others also recommended pixabay, which I haven’t tested, but with so many recommendations to its credit, it’s worth checking out.
Six: Partner With An Artist
If you know artists and photographers, it’s worth reaching out to them to ask whether they’d be willing to let you use some of their work with credit. If you do this, make sure the relationship provides value to both of you, either by exchanging work on each other’s blogs or some other means that makes sense for them and you. And if they say no or waffle about it, don’t press the issue. This is only a good option if it’s good for both of you.
Artist Credit: Ivy “Swankivy” Decker True professionals never steal another’s work
Ivy Decker (whose work is featured above) is an artist and award-winning author who helps other writers get published. She’s pretty freaking amazing and you should totally check out her comic strip as well as her blog. She gave me permission to use the comic above because we’re friends and, I suspect, because she knows I’ll treat her work with respect. True professionals respect each other.
Seven: Ask Permission
Found the absolutely perfect image and you really, really, really want to use it? Reach out to the artist and ask. It can sometimes be hard to track down the artist, but don’t let that deter you. Hard is not impossible. Do an image search and dig for artist information. You’ll often find artists whose work has been shared widely are active on Deviantart, which provides a comment section that allows you to contact the artist.
Many of them will be glad you contacted them and grateful that you asked and may be willing to let you use their art in exchange for a link back to them. HOWEVER, proceed with caution. Not all artists are willing to work for links, and rightly so. Respect the “no” that some of them will give you. For that matter, respect the non-answer some will give you as a “no.” The rule of positive consent applies here.
Eight: Embed Video
By the way… another super simple way to add visual content is to embed videos! If it’s on Youtube or Vimeo, you canNOT just download it and call it your own, but you CAN stick a link in your blog and let it embed for your readers to watch. This works because the technology automatically creates the trail right back to the work and the creator of the work, and by publishing the video content on these sites, the authors have already granted the permission for you to do that.
Nine: Commission It
Author and coach Angie Stegall says she gets inexpensive commissioned artwork through Fiverr, where artists offer up their services in exchange for affordable prices. This is also a great place to get cover art and other visual elements to illustrate your other types of work (books, ebooks, etc).
So there you have it. With so many easy and free-or-cheap ways to illustrate your blog, there is simply no excuse for stealing someone’s work. I hope you enjoyed the list, and if you know of other great places to grab visual content responsibly, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.