How to Find Legal Free Images for Your Site

Tableau Gallery

In my last tutorial, I spoke about Creative Commons licenses, how to license your work and how to use the licensed work of others.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to find images that are licensed for you to use on your site, free of charge.

All you’ll be doing is looking for images that have a Creative Commons license. There’s two main places that I tend to look for them: Flickr and Google.


For me, Flickr is far more superior because it does not include images from stock photography sites, which typically have watermarks on their images. And there’s a vast number of photographers and artists on there with an exceptional amount of talent, who wouldn’t otherwise have an outlet for their work.

As it stands, there are well over 150 million images with a Creative Commons license on Flickr. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’re probably looking for something specialist and that is when my search turns towards Google instead.

First consider what kind of license you need to be searching under – if you’re a commercial entity, you can’t use images under the Non-commercial licenses. If you want to alter the image, you can’t use the NoDerivs licensed material (go back to my Creative Commons Guide if you need help deciding which license is right for you).

Then head over to Flickr’s Creative Commons search page and select which license you need to search within.

Bear in mind that if you need something under the Non-commercial NoDerivs license, you can also search under the attribution only license, so long as you’re not a commercial entity and you don’t plan to alter the image.

Once you find your image, simply save it and upload it to your own blog, crediting the owner as comprehensively as possible. I typically use the Flickr screen name and a link back to their gallery.


When I have a very specific image in mind and I’m not able to find it on Flickr, I turn to the mother of all knowledge – Google – to solve my problem.

In 2009, Google added a feature to its Advanced Search for Images which allows you to search for licensed images. It is based on the Creative Commons licenses, so you should be familiar with the terminology.

Once you pull up the Advanced Search page, you’ll see an option near the bottom for “usage rights”. Just select the appropriate option for what you need, enter your search term and you’re away.

When you find the image, double check the license at the source and be sure to credit the artist with as much information as possible, such as name, source website and link.

What methods do you use to find images for your site? Comments are always appreciated here.

18 thoughts on “How to Find Legal Free Images for Your Site”

  1. mark says:

    Hi Dave,

    I use much the same & sometimes make my own. You should consider the Photo Dropper plugin too – it makes things much easier. I will link to a post about it below.

    Have a good day!

    1. Dave says:

      Hi Mark,

      I did a bit of a search for the Photo Dropper plugin and noticed that it hasn’t been updated since 2008. I’m thinking it’s probably not all that compatible with WordPress 3.0/3.1.

      Its feature set seems to do the trick though. I can’t speak for how functional it is or how easy the UI is, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.


  2. Ileane says:

    Hey Dave, I have no problem paying a couple of buck for some images. I use iStock and it’s easy to find some great images for a dollar.

    Sometimes I use Flickr or Google via the Zemanta extension. Zemanta adds all of the credits so I don’t need to worry about creating them myself.

    Thanks for the sharing the tips!

    1. Dave says:

      I used to use Zemanta, but I didn’t like the way it added it’s styling to my posts. I’m a bit overprotective of how my posts look, so it wasn’t working out for me. As I’m writing this, I’m realising that it’s maybe necessary for me to lighten up a little.

      But maybe not. ;)

      Thanks Ileane

  3. Ileane says:

    That’s funny :) What didn’t you like about the style? I think the way you have the image positioned in this post is the same way Zemanta does it on my post. I like that I can choose between left and right placement because I prefer right. There are times when I’d like the image centered but that’s not an option with Zemanta – I’m not sure why though :)

    1. Dave says:

      I seem to remember it leaving little icons and external references all over the place. Maybe they’ve changed that, or maybe I’m thinking of something else altogether, although I’m sure I’m not…

  4. Unknown says:

    Flicker is always a preferred places for searching free legal images. it’s really a great service offered by yahoo. I think there should be a service like flicker from Google side also which allows user for searching images which do not have a copy write issue.

    1. Dave says:

      Google does have a service like this, and I described how to use it in this very tutorial.

  5. logo design says:

    Actually I also uses both, Flickr and Google. But I’m more comfortable with Tinypic. It’s very simple to use and has a very user friendly features.

    1. Does Tinypic have the ability to search for licensed images though? How does that work?

  6. wparena says:

    Google is the best option

    1. Do you use the license filter that Google provides?

  7. Patrick says:

    I’ve always had the same problem, any search for an image being inundated with results from pay-per-image sites like Shutterstock.

    I began by searching for royalty free images. But some clever marketing by these sites mean that all of their images are ‘royalty free’, you just pay a one-one charge; clever ey?

    Nowadays I resort to including “-royalty” in my Google search which often does the the job.

    I’m keen to try Flickr as a resource though, thanks.

    1. Indeed. Doing a simple image search on Google is futile because you get all the pay-for-access sites, though including an operator to eliminate the word royalty is a great idea. I wonder what the search results look like at that point.

      Flickr is definitely my go-to resource though. I can usually find what I’m looking for there.

  8. Unknown says:

    Another kickass power user tip. I always knew you could use Flickr if you give a credit link. I did not however know that you could use Google to search for images that give you free usage rights. Thanks for the awesome tip.

    – Jenny.

    1. Well, to clarify, you can only use images on Flickr that are licensed for reuse. It’s pretty neat that Google introduced a search function for that though. Very handy

  9. picdrome says:

    Hi and thank you for the article!
    I can also add, a growing Public Domain picture collection, free of copyright and licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication. All items are free to download for personal and commercial use, without restriction and are available in high definition. New photos are added on a daily basis.

    1. That’s a nice resource. I just checked it out and while it doesn’t have a colossal catalogue yet, it’s got a good number of high quality (resolution and image quality) images.

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