You’ve all heard the expression ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Well, sometimes there’s no such thing as a free image, either. Even when it says they’re free. Now, this could come as some unfortunate (and confusing) news for those of us who require images for our content, especially if you’re hungry after getting stiffed on a ‘100% discount’ Domino’s lunch coupon. It’s in the past, just grab a snack and listen up. It is possible to source free quality images from a number of sites and then optimise them for SEO – you just have to make sure you know how to credit the images correctly. We’re here to give you the rundown on how to source the best free images for your blog, which image sites are safe and which ones are seemingly free but potentially costly…if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So first up, an important distinction should be highlighted: There are a lot of ‘free’ image sites out there but not all of them were created equal. Some offer completely copyright-free images that can be used by anyone, anywhere. These sites feature the all-important Creative Commons License (handily abbreviated as CC0). This means there is no copyright reserved on the image and they’re free to be communally used for whatever means you can dream up (anyone else want to create a montage of pizza slices right about now?). Sites in this category include Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels. These guys are who you should turn to regularly – they’re dependable, upfront and varied…and offer a stuffed crust if you ask nicely. Wait a minute… Anyway, you should have them on speed dial rather than those faux-generous cretins Domino’s.
The problem is, not all sites carry the CC0 license. Some contain free images that can only be used with credit. This is the distinction you have to be really careful with, as it can result in legal action if you don’t follow the rules (as can a lot of things. Like vandalising your local well-known pizza chain restaurant in a hanger-induced rage. Always try and keep within the law, kids). Trouble is, in this case the rules aren’t always apparent. Here’s the inside track – sites like Flickr and Wikimedia Commons require a specific form of credit and a note to say how the image has changed in appearance in your application of it. If you don’t do this, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. While the odds of being prosecuted for this aren’t especially high, the risk is always there, and ultimately it can make your site and business appear less professional.
So, if you’re going to use ‘free with credit’ images, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing! Fortunately, there are plenty of stunning shots on the CC0 sites that should provide you with more than enough choice for your content. Best practice is to also credit these images with a simple byline at the bottom of the post that links to both the site and the photographer. This is not strictly necessary in a legal sense but it’s always nice to give a thankful nod in the photographer’s direction (as we do at the bottom of this post, ‘cos we’re nice like that). All in all, unless there’s an image you’re DYING to use, smart idea is to stick with the best CC0 sites. If you must use a ‘free with credit’, make sure you treat it with the proper respect and legal wording…and use way fewer expletives than we’re going to use in our letter to the Head Office of you-know-who.