With the threat of SOPA, PIPA and ACTA still looming, it’s a good plan to avoid any chance of FBI helicopters landing on your lawn. So for writers, bloggers, graphic designers, photographers or anyone creating content online, photos or images found and used online could potentially create a huge range of legal issues. What I’ve done is round up the best 4 search engines to find free images to use. This way you can fully explore your free options before looking at paid options or risk using possibly copyrighted images.  


Free-use photo of what could happen to you for stealing photos onlineCredit: By Signaleer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Being a blogger for social photography site Viewbug, photo usage rights are an important issue to our members and of course to any photogapher out there. So I thought sharing this info would be a great way to help photographers, along with anyone needing photos to reuse online. By trying these image search engines, you'll find the right match to help you find images with the rights to reuse, modify or use for commercial purposes. And while there are plenty of sites selling usage for photos, they can be a turnoff for the millions of casual bloggers or small businesses.

These search engines use a range of styles, sources and methods for finding free images. While some photos or images will be public domain, many will use a Creative commons Licence, which if you’re not familiar with, uses several symbols to show how you can legally use them. Most sources will link to explain the individual usage rights, but for a full explanation, see this Wikipedia article. Now check them out and see which one works best for you: 

Creative Commons Media Search

The Creative Commons media search isn’t really a search engine, but a portal to a range of search engines.  It’s simple to use, searching automatically for photos, images or videos with a Creative Commons licence to reuse the image. It offers two options to search for creative common licensed images, either find images that can be used for commercial purposes or modify, adapt or build upon.  You just enter your term and check the options if you need them, then you click on the search engine you want to use.

Not only does it put these great image and media search engines in one place, such as Google Images, Flickr and Wikimedia (images from Wikipedia), it makes searching for free photos much easier. Using any of the included search engines alone means getting to know their layout and advanced functions to make sure you’re getting photos that are free or with the appropriate useage rights. If you haven't noticed, Google image search removed their “advanced search” link over the last year, which used to be my go-to for searching for free images. Now you have to actually google “advanced image search” just to find it, smh... But with the Creative Commons Search, you just click the Google Images button and it will instantly pull up images with CC licences.

Creative Commons Search(88393)



Everystockphoto.com is a great, easy-to-use free image search. It pulls images from a variety of sources and offers an advanced search with options that include displaying the image details, such as resolution, source and licence and sorting the image, by relevance, size, date and popularity. A cool option is it can search by image shape, letting you find panoramic images.

 A key feature is the column view, which divides the images by licence type, making it clear and easy to know what your usage rights are with each picture. The columns include free licences, public domain and Creative Commons. It also provides a separate column of paid images from their partner Fotolia, giving you the on-the-fly option of low-cost images if you can’t find a suitable free one.  A favorite feature here is it divides out the free licence and public domain images, so you can use those without having to check the CC licence found on most free images online.

EveryStockPhoto.com image search



This image search engine pulls only from Flickr, but serves as a fast and easy alternative to Flickr’s search when you’re just looking for free images. Instead of using Flickr’s advanced search, the options you need are lined up under the search field in the left column, freeing virtually the whole screen for dozens of image thumbnails. The far right column displays paid image results from istockphoto.com. The thin blue bar that appears under each picture marks if Flickr holds the original image. And if you signup for the free membership, you can use collection feature, which lets you drag-and-drop images into a collection. You can save the collection and go back to it, letting you go back and download or pay for them, only when you’re sure you need them and want to.

CompFlight.com image search



Here is another alternative search engine for Flickr, offering a unique minimalist interface and search feature. The search lets you search by CC licence, but the results also pull up related contextual images, such as if you search for “Machu Picchu” it will also pull images relating to Peru or Incan ruins for example. When you first load and search onFlickr-Storm, you’ll see the images on the left, looking like the website hasn’t loaded fully, but click one of the images and the image opens to the right. This lets you quickly go through images without having to open them in a new tab or go back.

Now when you have an image displayed on the right, you’ll see an option “Add to Tray”. Clicking this adds the image to the yellow strip on the far right. This allows you to collect images and download them as a batch. It also lets you run through your selected images and drop or replace images, leaving only the ones you really want. I’m sure that when you’re searching for images, you find yourself wasting time either downloading images you won’t use or just flipping back and forth to pick an image. Flickr-Storm’s features definitely help out in that area.

Flickr-Storm image search


Hope this post helps you on find the right free images and keeps SOPA off your back! Let me know which is your favorite and especially if you know any good alternatives.