What images can I use online?

by on September 10, 2015

What images can I use online?There’s no question of the vast importance of images when it come to any business’, big or small, marketing efforts.

When it comes to social media, there’s the by-now-no-front-page-news that images increase engagement. Especially since the (once text only) Twitter now has images on display!

Beyond social media, using images on your blog helps to add interest and break up the content. Blog images became even more important when Facebook, a couple years ago, made blog images the dominant feature when posting a blog link. (If you’re not exactly following what I mean by Facebook making blog images front and center, check out my previous blog post highlighting this.)

(If I can continue with a little tangent here on the importance of blog images, they are also a handy little SEO booster. They give you some extra areas – in the photo tags – to add keywords. And aren’t we all looking for discreet little ways to boost search visibility of our websites? Ok, tangent over.)

The question a lot of small business owners are asking is: What images can I use online? More specifically: What images can I LEGALLY use online? Something that’s stuck with me from years ago when I was first starting out my marketing business, was the case of a small business getting sued for improper use of an image online. That had me motivated right from the start of my small biz to use photos in the proper way, beyond the respect that I carry for an artist’s work!

Well then, let’s dig into some options for images…

Heads up: Google images are not free!

A lot of people think that the images you can get off of Google are fair game. Because if they were protected, they wouldn’t be there, right? Or they would have one of those watermarks that clearly states the image is protected or property of someone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Now you know.

The confusion with Google images was re-iterated to me recently when my assistant came across a hilarious comic on small business and suggested I share it across my social media channels. When I asked her where she found it, the answer was, of course, on Google. To my hesitation, her reply was: “Oh, well, can’t you just maybe tag the comic artist in the post, thanking him for the great comic?” That sparked my curiosity, so I took a quick peek at the comic artist’s website…and, sure enough, there was a price attached for the sharing of any work.

Proper sources and things to consider

Just because grabbing a photo from somewhere in a search is not a viable option doesn’t mean that you can’t use the internet at all! There are lots of resources available on-line. A lot of artists have made their work available to be shared (especially in the small size of pics that you’d use for your blog!) You just have to to read the rules and give proper attribution.

Here are some sources for finding photos:

  • Free Digital Photos.net  They have quite a few good images, and the library keeps on growing. What I like the best is how clear the instructions are. For all photos, it tells you exactly how to credit the photographer.
  • http://photodune.net/ They have monthly freebie photos, and other photos are as low as $1.
  • http://pixabay.com/ Free, and attribution not even required, just appreciated!

How about Flickr? It’s a free image source often referenced and recommended. I personally find the language and the instructions for attributions ambiguous, so I prefer to use other sites that make it clear what to do.

If you come across a photo on the internet that you would love to share or use, then just go through a few steps to ensure you’re sharing legally!

  • Check out the original source. Is there any information about sharing their images? If no, you could always contact them and ask permission.
  • Buy it! A lot of images can be purchased for use for just a few dollars.
  • If you have absolutely no idea where the image came from or who to credit then that image is an example of how something had its original credit or watermark removed and is no longer a legal image to grab up and use. Tough to swallow, but true.

Here’s a great infographic from Design Sponge to help you sort through the steps of how to use an image in the correct way: How to Credit? Just Check the Poster…

Put on your creative pants

Another option for sharing images is sharing your own. Put on your creative pants and become a photographer! This might sound a bit overwhelming at first but it’s actually easier than you think.

  • Take photos of your biz in action: your employees, location, customers (with permission, of course!), events, things around town that inspire your biz, the list could go on…
  • Product shots or branded graphics created for you by your designer. You can reuse these in creative ways, and, of course, since you would have paid your designer, the images are now yours!
  • Create your own graphics over you own images, or use quotes (acknowledging the source, naturally). You can also “watermark” the image so that the image is then copyrighted as your own. Karen Gunton shares the simple steps using Pic Monkey to watermark your images, as does Pamela Wilson in this post for Constant Contact. Both these fabulous ladies (who, may I add, are both incredibly savvy when it comes to creating cool images) share more details on how to do so.

I can’t stress how easy this seemingly intense tack of “putting on your creative pants” is. Take for example this pic of a maple leaf I shared on my Small Business Bliss Facebook page for Canada Day. Took it while on a forest walk. Simple, yes, but just the Canadiana content I wanted 🙂

Social media sharing

When it comes to social media sharing of images, this makes it easier. By sharing directly from the source (e.g. just by pressing the Facebook share button), you are engaging on social media, sharing cool content, and not having to any image research. By sharing correctly (i.e. not saving the image and then re-uploading it as if it were your own), then the creator/artist/author still has the credit!

Remember, even if you’re sharing on social media, you still need to be cognizant of where images come from and properly crediting the source if it’s not your own image.

Those were my suggestions for what images to use on-line, but this is definitely a subject about marketing that is in the grey zone. On to you, what methods do you use for using images for your small business? Look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: twobee

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Weber September 16, 2015 at 6:22 am

This IS so important Sarah. Always helpful information. Glad to learn of PhotoDune.

Delighted you mentioned pixabay as it’s my most used website. I also contribute every 10 or 12 pics because I want it to still be free use.

You didn’t mention Google’s advanced search setting for – usage rights. It also DOES allow you to find images that are free.
Patricia Weber recently posted..Coping More Easily With Loss And Grief As An Introvert


Martina Iring September 16, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Awesome Patricia! And appreciate you sharing your Google images tip. Was not aware of that option. Thanks!


Don September 17, 2015 at 11:41 am

Hi Martina–

Important information here! Thanks.

I’ve a question. Here are two sentences from your article about sharing images that are on social media:
“By sharing correctly (i.e. not saving the image and then re-uploading it as if it were your own), then the creator/artist/author still has the credit!
Remember, even if you’re sharing on social media, you still need to be cognizant of where images come from and properly crediting the source if it’s not your own image.”

The first sentence says the author has the credit. I think FD shares and Twitter retweets automatically credit the artist. But your second sentence says you need to give credit.
Which is correct, please?



Martina Iring September 18, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Hi Don,

Apologies if I caused you any confusion with my wording. I just wanted to stress that even on social media you need to think about the image source and make sure that you are not posting an image that is not yours without giving the proper credit. I find that the easiest way to make sure that the original source is credited is to hit the “share” or “retweet” buttons. Does that help to clarify?

Thanks for checking out the post!


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