Finding Free Pictures for Blog Posts and Presentations

When you want to illustrate your writing with pictures, it’s tempting to use Google Images Search.  With millions of pictures at your fingertips, why not just right-click on someone’s awesome picture, save it, and use it in your blog?

Even though it’s easy and it’s nearly impossible to catch, it’s still plagiarism, and you know how I feel about plagiarism:

Instead, try using Flickr’s Creative Commons search.  The results will be images you can use in your blog, presentation, or letter to Grandma without worrying about IP rights.  You just need to properly attribute them to their original source.  I do this by saving the picture on my blog (so that I’m not leeching their bandwidth), then linking the picture directly to the Flickr photo page.  People love clicking on pictures, and that way readers will go straight to the source, where they can see who took the photo, leave comments, and explore other photos from that user.

Here’s the catch – just because someone uploaded a photo to Flickr and licensed it with Creative Commons doesn’t mean they actually have the rights to that photo.  Take the search results for Lady Gaga – I have a sneaking suspicion that some of those images were taken by professional photographers.  Someone just saw an image they liked, stole it, and then uploaded it to Flickr.  This sucks, because now I have to be some kind of image detective that guesses whether a photo is really legit.

It's not a chain. There can be only one.
It’s not a chain. There can be only one.

To make my life easier, I use the “Interesting” link on the Flickr CC search at the top left.  It sorts images by the number of times they’ve been tagged Interesting by viewers, and this bubbles some cool content to the top.  For example, I was working with another blogger to find images he could use to reference The Highlander.  Rather than using an image of the movie itself, I suggested using a funny image that turned up in a Highlander search on Flickr – the Highlander Motel.  This ends up being even funnier than the movie cover itself.  Bonus points if you use a funny caption like:

  • “There are no rooms with two double beds.”
  • “Right down the street from the Hotel California.”

Sometimes I think I have more fun writing captions than writing the blog post itself, and I’m ashamed to admit I usually spend more time searching for the perfect photo than the perfect phrase.  Oooo!  Shiny object!

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • You can also use the tineye image search engine to try to track down the original and make sure that the content is legit. I’ve used that a few times to make sure that my content was not infringing up on any copyrights.

  • On going overboard with images. I sometimes go all-in and draw my own.

    And there are plenty of DBAs moonlighting as shutterbugs. But you don’t need to have much talent to take a decent photo of something like a server for example.

    Screenshots of products seem to be a different breed of image. Maybe this is fair to use because it is typically commentary on that work. (But I am not a lawyer)

  • Good tip. I’ve always gone the google images route, without much success. I’ll try this instead.

  • One other idea (which I’ve never explored personally) is to use microstock sites. A photo for a website (400 pixels wide) are typically $3 bucks + hassle.

  • You make some good points but I think it is worth mentioning “The Commons” and “Public domain” that do not require citing references at all.

    here is an example of that

    On the other hand an image like this one
    with “Attribution” you can use it for what ever you want as long as you specify the source somewhere. It does not have to be as predominate as people tent to make it.

    I think you could even have a link at the bottom of your website that goes to a “Works Cited” refrence page that lists all of the images on your site and where they came from.

    I have over 12,000 photos on flickr and personally am not very picky about how they are used for non commercial uses. I always get a kick out of seeing my photos out on the web! You can feel to use my images for non-commercial use as long as you cite me somewhere or just contact me and let me know where you are posting it.

    • Mike – I hear you, but I would much prefer that my source links be very predominant. As an author, I would be very pissed off if somebody used my work without prominently attributing it, and I can imagine a lot of photographers feel the same way. Better to err on the side of courtesy. I just had someone use my content in a way that was borderline legal, and I reacted strongly. Just because something’s technically legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do – better safe than sorry.

      • Personally I just like seeing people use my stuff 🙂 But if I use your stuff I will be sure to make the links predominant. Making your preference known is probably the best approach… I do like the way you do your flickr links.

  • I use, which searches flickr and a few other places. Most of the time I end up using flickr, but it’s nice to have options.

    • WOW, dude, that’s awesome! I’ve never seen that before, and I love it! Great find.

    • +1 for it works out really well. I’ve been finding some content from wikimedia instead of Flickr through that search engine for my presentations and some posts.

      It’s sometimes more time consuming to do it this way… I wanted an image that said “stupid” for a presentation (just a playful jab at developers, of course) and I really wanted to use the movie cover from “The Jerk” but that darn conscience and desire to not plagiarize overrode and I spent far too long searching for the right image. (Though, sometimes it is fun picking just the right image, I suppose 🙂 )

      As always, great post.

  • You might have a better time with the viewing of what you find in your searches by using CoolIris. I’ve been using it for my local computer picture browsing and for browsing galleries on the web. It’s a great way at looking at pics. You can get it at



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