How to Legally Use Your Own Photos on Your Blog

Using Your Own Photos on Your BlogAlongside the photos offered on free stock sites and through WANA Commons on Flickr, many people are opting to use their own photos on their blog. After all, you can’t get into trouble for using your own pictures, can you? Last week Melinda VanLone gave us 7 free and legal places to find stock photos and 7 places to inexpensively buy hard-to-find pictures. She’s back today to help us sort through what we can and can’t take pictures of. Please join me in welcoming and thanking Melinda for taking the time to help us stay out of trouble 🙂 (All the pictures in this post were also taken by her. Aren’t they gorgeous?)


How to Legally Take and Use Your Own Photos on Your Blog

By Melinda VanLone (@MelindaVan)

With all the talk of law suits and copyright, you might be wondering if it’s safer to not use any images at all. I’m happy to tell you there’s no need to go to extremes. We’ve already talked about places where you can find free, or inexpensive, images for your blog.

This week I’d like to point out another method of dressing up your articles. By far the safest, and easiest, approach to the problem is simply to take your own images. Get a good camera, take it with you everywhere you go, and snap images of anything you think might come in handy someday. Use your imagination. Even a photo of a stop sign can be useful. 

Of course, there are some things you should keep in mind as a fledgling shutterbug. Even with your own photography, there are legal issues to consider. (Please note: I’m NOT a lawyer. This is NOT legal advice. I have to put this disclaimer to cover my own behind…which is something I’m trying to teach you to do.)

Public PlacesUsing your own photos on your blog

Taking photos in public places is, in general, legal. If you are on the sidewalk, and taking a picture of a street scene, a park, a house, or the people on the sidewalk or in the park, that’s ok. Those people have no expectation of privacy, so they are fair game. If you are getting random crowd shots, go ahead…snap away. If you would like a close up of someone, courtesy would dictate that you let them know or ask them if they mind. But you don’t have to. 

This includes children. Yes, it’s perfectly legal to take photos of children you don’t know in a public place. You might find yourself on the wrong end of an angry mother, or someone might call the police just to make sure you’re not a pedophile. But it’s legal both to take the photo and to use it on your blog. You don’t even need parental permission (unless you plan on selling the photo to a stock website–they’ll want a model release).

When I’m getting shots of people, I try to use a telephoto lens. Stay a good distance away and just zoom in on them. Chances are they’ll never know you took the photo.

What’s not ok is to take the shot if there’s an expectation of privacy. In general, this means restrooms, locker rooms, or other places like that. Just because your crazy neighbor always stands naked next to the open window in their bathroom doesn’t mean you have a right to stand on the street, take a photo, and blog about it. They have an expectation of privacy, even though they left that window open. Feel free to point and laugh, just not with your camera.

Private PropertyUsing your own photos in your blog

It’s off limits unless you have permission. Yes, you can stand on the sidewalk and take a photo of that beautiful house, no matter how much the property owner gives you the evil eye. No, you can’t stand in their driveway without permission to get the shot. It’s called trespassing, and it can get you arrested or, if you’re in Texas, shot. If you’re in a restaurant or bar, that’s private property that is open to the public, which is an odd mix. They can post a “no photography” sign and you must comply with it. If there’s no sign, you’re ok to take the photo. But they can ask you to stop, or leave. If you don’t, they can have you arrested for trespass.

Photos of Other Art

Someone else’s photo/artwork/poster/logo/etc. are protected by copyright. You taking a photo of it does not remove their copyright. You’ll need permission from the copyright owner to use your photo unless it falls under fair use. If you’re wondering about that museum trip you have scheduled, a lot of that artwork has passed out of copyright protection and is ok to photograph (see previously mentioned private property open to the public note).  

Photos Where You Might Endanger Others

In general, photographing accidents, fires, or public officials going about their jobs in a public place is legal. If you will block traffic or hinder them from doing their job in order to get that awesome shot, don’t. They have the right to arrest you if you get in the way.

Military Installations

Military installations are, in general, off limits. You can try to get a photo of those from the sidewalk or street but don’t be surprised if soldiers with guns show up. If there’s a fence, usually they’ll have a sign telling you to go away. I’d take their word for it.

(Marcy here: FBI buildings are also off limits for obvious reasons. They don’t know if you’re a tourist or a terrorist. Back when my husband lived in D.C., I reached for my camera to take a picture of the emblem on an FBI building, and he quickly informed me of my mistake before I got myself into trouble.)

Public Attractions

It’s usually legal to take a photo of tourist attractions, whether public or privately owned, unless they’ve posted signs to the contrary.

The Up-The-Skirt Cam

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Please don’t photograph someone’s private body parts without their permission. Even if they are in a public place. In most states it’s illegal for you to stick your camera up a woman’s skirt and snap a photo, even if she is in the park and not wearing any underwear. Just…don’t. 

What’s This About Fair Use?

According to Wikipedia, fair use is “a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.” I would add blogging to that list. If you’re doing a book, movie, or restaurant review, fair use would be using a shot of the book cover, movie poster, or image of the restaurant.  Please note, the idea that blogging is journalism is still being debated in the courts. Therefore, think about what you’re saying and/or doing. If in doubt, make friends with a lawyer you can hit up for advice.

I Got the Shot! Now What?

Once you have that great shot, be careful what you DO with the photo. Yes, you own it. Yes, you may use it on your blog or even sell it. However, be sure that when you use a photo with people that you aren’t disparaging them. Taking a random shot of someone sitting on a park bench, and then putting the photo with a blog post about drug users, is implying that they are a drug user. That leaves you right in the middle of something that could be considered slander.

Ask yourself: if that were me in the photo, would I be upset at how I’m using it? Would any reasonable person? If that were my child up there next to my blog post, would it upset me? If you are in the slightest doubt, don’t use it. This is a blog, and if you’re not making money from your blog it’s not worth the lawsuit if you’re wrong. Or simply use photos without people. It’s hard for a piece of fruit or a stop sign to sue you.

But I Don’t Know Anything About Photography!

A fantastic resource for photographers, whether you are a beginner or advanced professional, is They have tutorials for the basics, and assignments for the advanced, and a ton of advice. Don’t be afraid of it, just go for it! Who knows, you might stumble on a whole new hobby that will bring you joy.

What other questions do you have about using your own photos? Have you already been using photos you’ve taken yourself on your blog?

Melinda VanLoneMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

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