This article was originally published in 2011 and is updated regularly to include the latest, greatest information.
When you visit a blog, what’s the first thing about a particular post that catches your attention?
Other than the article’s title, it’s probably the image (or images) that accompany the post.
Readers’ eyes are drawn to images, so it’s important to place a visual that illustrates your point into every blog post.
Readers are also creatures of habit, so place images in a consistent location, such as the upper left or upper right area of each post. Wrap text around the image to create a clean, packaged look.
I’m forever on the hunt for free and inexpensive stock photos and illustrations to use on websites, blogs, marketing materials, and PowerPoint presentations. You can find oodles of high-quality, royalty-free stock photos and illustrations online.
Pictures you find via a Google or Bing (or any search engine) image search are almost always copyrighted. You can NOT use those images in your blog post unless you receive written permission from the person who took the photo.
Never assume that because you find an image via a search, it’s free for the taking.
To be on the safe side, use a photo you snap yourself or download an image from one of the following stock photo services. Each service functions slightly differently — some require a photo attribution, link, or byline and others don’t. Make sure you carefully read and follow the terms of service before downloading an image.
Free Stock Images
morgueFile – When I shared the name of my current favorite free stock photo house with a client, she responded, “Oooh, creepy!” She was thinking that a “morgue” is the place dead bodies are kept. Which is true.
However, the traditional meaning of the word “morgue” is “a reference file in a newspaper or magazine office.” The “morgue” in a newspaper office is where the old photos and print editions are stored (at least, they used to be until everything went digital).
Anyway, morgueFile is awesome — they have a fantastic selection of free images.
StockPholio - This service has an interesting interface. Enter your search term and an array of results displays, Pinterest-style. Click on an image you like and a large image displays along with details about licensing (many of the photos appear to be Creative Commons licensed). You can choose from several sizes available for free download, and the download page includes a handy photo credit area where you can copy/paste a snippet of code to correctly attribute the image. The images on this site are gorgeous; it may quickly become one of my favorites.
Stock.XCHNG – Even though it’s saddled with the most unusual of URLs – http://www.sxc.hu/ - Stock.XCHNG, owned by Getty Images, is my number one source for free stock images. I’ve used it for years and can almost always find what I’m looking for there.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Members of the Blogging Bistro team rely on FreeDigitalPhotos.net to find the perfect images to accompany blog articles we ghostwrite for our clients.
EveryStockPhoto - Touting itself as a “portal for the stock photo community,” everystock photo is a clearinghouse of free stock images from several sources.
Stick Stock – I haven’t used this service but one of my readers recommended it. As far as I can tell, the images are free to download using their creative commons license.
StockPhotos.io - Another reader recommendation, this service offers free, high-quality, high-resolution public domain and Creative Commons licensed photos. Currently, they have around 18,000 images on the site. You can use the photos for commercial use as long as you give proper credit to the author/photographer.
Pixabay – With a user-friendly, Pinterest-style interface, Pixabay is a repository for public domain images: free vectors, drawings and photos. You can freely use any image from this website in digital and printed format, for personal and commercial use, without attribution requirement to the original author.
Flickr Creative Commons – You can’t use just any Flickr photo on your blog, but you can use images from users who offer their work under the Creative Commons license. Be sure to check out the license before using an image from the Creative Commons.
Google Creative Commons – Use Google’s Advanced Image Search to find images, videos, and text you can reuse, share, or modify. Keep in mind that you can’t use just any old photo you find in a Google search on your site – it HAS to be one that is labeled for reuse, commercial reuse, and/or modification. Google says, “In addition to images labeled as being under the Creative Commons license or in the public domain, the usage rights filter on this page also shows you images labeled with the GNU Free Documentation license.”
Wikimedia Commons – Millions of images, sounds, and video clips to explore.
Plus! Image - This is not a stock photo service, but rather, a central location from which you can scan multiple image sources including Google, Flickr, Picasa, Bing, Yahoo, Fotolia, and more. Worth a try!
Low-Cost Stock Images
Fotolia – They offer both pay-as-you-go plans for as little as 75 cents per image, and subscription plans for as low as 19 cents per image.
depositphotos – Has three types of payment plans to choose from: Daily Subscription, Monthly Subscription, and Pay-As-You-Go Credits. Choose the plan that works best for you.
photodune – Buy and sell royalty-free photographs and images starting at $1. Items are priced on the size/megapixels of each file.
dreamstime- While their prices have skyrocketed during the past year, Dreamstime carries many of the same images as istockphoto and they have good royalty agreements. I’d compare images/prices between the two services before purchasing. A few select “featured” images are free.
iStockphoto – I regularly buy “credit packs” from iStock, so that must be a good sign that they have loads of great images. Which they do. iStock claims that their library of high-resolution stock photography, clip art, vector illustrations, video footage and music is almost 10 million strong.
123rf.com – Offers Basic and Premium subscription plans and a pay-as-you-go credits.
shutterstock - Over 25 million stock photos, illustrations, vectors, and videos. They offer pay-as-you-go images and a monthly, three-month or yearly plan. This service is more spendy than most, but if you download a lot of stock photos, it might be well worth the investment. They also offer multiple user and corporate plans.
5 hints for using stock images on your blog
- Set up an account with one or more stock photo services (it’s free) and login to your account.
- Search images by keyword. When you find one you like, carefully read the licensing agreement before purchasing and/or downloading the image.
- Before downloading, choose which size image you need for your project. Most stock photo services give you the option of choosing from among several different sizes. If you’re using the image in a blog post, the Extra Small or Small size should do just fine.
- Even if you download the extra small version, you will likely need to reduce the resolution of the image before you add it to your website or blog. Computer monitors recognize only 72 dpi (dots per inch), and images from stock photo services are usually 300 dpi (also called ppi). Plan on reducing both the image’s resolution and its size before uploading it to your blog. That way, you’re not uploading huge images to your blog, which can slow down your blog’s load time.
- After inserting a visual into your post, preview it before publishing to ensure that the graphic isn’t too large or too small. Images shouldn’t be so large that they dominate the post (unless, of course, the post features the image, a slideshow, or a video). On the other hand, images shouldn’t be postage-stamp small. If people have to use a magnifying glass (or reading glasses) to see your photo, it’s too small. Better to use no image at all than one that is too small.
Invest the time to carefully select and edit an image that will enhance your story. Images will help visitors to your site remember you longer and connect with you more deeply.
Share Your Favorite Stock Photo Resources
Please share links to stock photo sites you like so we can try them out.
Tweet This Post
Here are three ready-made tweets so you can share what you just learned. Tweet one or tweet ‘em all!
20 fantastic places to find free and low-cost stock photos online [Click to tweet]
5 tips for using stock images on your blog (plus links to 20 stock photo services) [Click to tweet]
Need stock images for your marketing materials? 20 excellent free and low-cost services [Click to tweet]