Where to find Creative Commons licensed photos that will bring your site to life

If you publish content online and you’re not a photographer then chances are that you will at some point have searched for images to illustrate your work. Finding the right photo to accompany a blog post, a magazine article or a new website is often crucial to the success of the project.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but of course the reverse is also true. In this post, I want to highlight a number of excellent free photo sources; places you can bookmark and visit to find that perfect image that brings your work to life. Where possible, I’ve opted for sites that release photos under creative commons licenses to avoid any ambiguity regarding copyright. So here goes…

Google Image Search

The first two sites will be familiar to most readers and I’m sure many of you use them on a daily basis. They are Google Image Search and Flickr. Combined, they represent the Web’s largest collection of images. However, not everyone is aware of the fact that both of these sites allow for creative commons license image filtering.

On the front page of Google Image Search you’ll notice an “advanced image search” link on the right hand side.

Clicking this link will take you to a multiple choice options screen. At the bottom of that screen you’ll find a drop down menu box under the field name “Usage Rights”.

There you can select one of several Creative Commons licenses with varying degrees of usage. Applying this filter to your search will mean that any image returned on the search page will (in principle) have been released into the public domain under Creative Commons license.

Flickr Advanced Search

Similarly, Flickr offers an advanced search option allowing you to browse the gigantic Flickr photo pool for images labeled for reuse. Flickr is usually my first port of call for sourcing free and modifiable images.

On the Flickr front page simply enter the type of image you’re looking for and click “search”. On the next screen you will have the opportunity to shift to the advanced search mode.

Scroll down until you reach the Creative Commons section where you will be able to choose between searching for free photos to use commercially and photos to modify, adapt or build on.

Flickr really is one of the best resources for free imagery because the volume of images uploaded everyday to the site outweighs that of any rival. The site currently has an upload average of 7000 photos per minute!


In case you’re looking for a solution that combines both Google Images and Flickr in one neat package then look no further than Creative Commons Search. Not only can you do image searches from a single search box, but you can also browse Creative Commons licensed music, videos and other media.

Free Photos Bank

Free Photos Bank is a site that does pretty much what it says on the tin. It offers a collection of free user uploaded photos organised with a comprehensive categorisation. However, you should be aware that the site asks for acknowledgment when using one of its images as follows:

You cannot download our photos to sell as is or modified from any source. To use our photos/pictures you must accredit us on the work that you used the photo/picture on/in for the use of them or we will consider it a copyright infringement.

Free Photos Bank differs from Google Image Search and Flickr in that it is oriented more towards stock photography. This is useful for instances where you need a generic image to use as content filler, but not always the most inspirational of photos. Another free stock photo site and one that I like a lot more is the long-running Stock.xchng.com.

Stock Xchng.com

Stock.xcchng is now owned by the legendary Getty Images and remains a superb outlet for free stock imagery. The quality is usually very good given that user uploaded images are screened before being accepted onto the site. It does require creating a user account and some of the images may ask you to contact the author for permission of reuse.

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Sep 28th, 2011, 9:45 pm | #

Another site I find useful for web design images is morguefile.com, check it out.

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