This is an update to a previous article, “Sourcing Images for Blog Posts Without Breaking the Law.” I often answer this question in the midst of web projects and have some new items to add to the list, so here is it…
Two things I have observed about blogging and website content are:
#1 A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you should probably have a picture for every 500 words you include in a blog post. Blogs without pictures don’t get the same reader engagement as those who know how to utilize them well. Especially in the social media landscape, a link with a thumbnail from Facebook is going to be much more likely to get a click than plain text. Especially with WordPress’ featured image function, setting thumbnails for posts is quick and easy and powerful when set up correctly by your web programmer/designer.
#2 Pictures can be tricky to source without breaking copyright law. I know, I know…ignorance is bliss. But most people understand that pictures on the internet are covered by copyright protection, but in the absence of a good source for imagery, a Google image search is just so tempting. The problem with an image search is that it is almost impossible to verify that the site you are obtaining an image from is the actual copyright holder, despite all appearances. I have seen websites blocked, hosting accounts frozen, threatening letters received, and legal penalties paid—all over the unauthorized use of an image in a blog post.
Yikes, thanks for the scare, now what?
Here are some things to be aware of when sourcing pictures:
Know your intended use: Commercial or Personal? If you charge money for anything you do, the use of imagery on a blog is considered commercial use as it is a form of advertising. Non-profits can generally consider themselves as non-commercial, but be aware of whether you are promoting an event that might include a commercial aspect like ticket sales or commercial sponsors and take the high road in every case to avoid potential conflicts.
Non-profits are not exempt from copyright law. It sounds absurd, but the worst copyright violations I’ve seen have been in churches and non-profits who assume that breaking copyright law for a good cause is a good idea. Warning: you open yourself up to significant liability when you flaunt the law. That could be damaging to your organization and mission should a problem arise.
Give credit where credit is due. Read copyright information carefully as credit or attribution is required or requested by many image providers. Your readers generally know you didn’t take the amazing photo you’re posting anyways, so why not give the artist a bit of credit. It makes photographers more likely to release their work for public use in the future.
Invest in imagery. I know you don’t have a big budget for blog photos, but think about what employing a professional photographer for one or two photo shoots could provide for your organization long-term. A small investment of $500 could get you very high quality imagery that reflects your brand, mission, and context better than stock and could be reused for years to come on marketing materials, web content, and social media with no restrictions if you are the sole copyright holder. Besides, you could help feed a starving artist with your business. 😉
Where to Find Photos for Your Website
Free Picture Sources (In order of preference)
Unsplash.com – “Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos.” I love this source, but you will notice these images in use by a lot of web designers these days. My own site uses photos that I see too often now. Still the highest quality stuff you’ll see out there for free! Also, no oppressive advertisements.
Pexels.com – You’ll see a lot of repeats from Unsplash, but still a great source and super easy to use. Advertising for Shutterstock now if you can stand it.
Sxc.hu – Stock XChange – Owned by iStockphoto.com but truly free if you observe licensing restrictions carefully. Almost exclusively for non-commercial uses.
Flickr.com – If you use their advanced search features, you’ll find images released under a Creative Commons license which is a great way to go. You’ll even find some with commercial use permitted.
Google.com – Now offers filtering by license type in the search tools to enable you to find images you can actually use. If you don’t understand the licenses, stay away to avoid possible copyright infringement and legal action.
All-free-download.com – One of a myriad of ‘free download’ sites. Use at your own risk and read all copyright info carefully as they are not all covered the same.
Low-Cost Stock Imagery Sources
iStockphoto.com – One of the leading royalty-free stock image sources. Prices keep creeping up, but they still offer some great options at a low cost when you’re in a pinch.
Lightstock.com – Making a quick entry into the field, these guys focus on appealing to churches, but have a great selection of modern looking shots at prices lower than istock. Worth the search!