Roni Loren

7 Free and Legal Places to Find Photos

Roni Loren You Can Get Sued for Using Pictures on Your BlogLast Friday, when Roni Loren shared her personal experience story in her post Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog, the blogosphere exploded in panic. Almost every blogger I know was pulling down pictures they’d found on Google Images or other places because they weren’t sure if those pictures violated copyright and they didn’t want to take the chance. Some writers with photo heavy posts found their blogs gutted.

I felt terrible for them, and so did the techie talented Melinda VanLone who offered to come by today and share an amazing list of places where we can legally get photos. And many of them are free!


Where Can We Find Pictures for Our Blogs?

By Melinda VanLone (@MelindaVan)

We have the power to get our words out to millions of people all over the world through our blogs. Naturally, we want to decorate those words with pretty pictures because studies show people pay more attention to images than they do words.

But just where do we get the images? One wrong step and we could wind up in court, facing costly litigation. It’s a scary thing to contemplate.  

What’s a blogger to do?

Stock photo websites to the rescue. There are hundreds of them out there, but they aren’t all created equal. Here are some I’ve personally used and can recommend…

Free Pictures Here!

Some sites offer free images, under a creative commons license. What does this mean? It means you can use the image on your blog or even your book cover. Most often you must credit the photographer (although some don’t demand that). A simple line somewhere on the page (or back of the book or inside flap) that says “photo courtesy of XXX XXXX” or whatever verbiage they give you to use is enough. It’s painless, and it helps support a fellow artist in their goal of getting their name out there. You can go one step further and put a link attached to the photo which directs people to the photographer’s website. We all like link-backs! It’s a scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours type of scenario. Not a bad price to pay.

Stock Exchange Photos provided free of charge for the greater good. There’s a link with each image detailing exactly what you may do with it, or not, as the case may be. The power behind this site is Getty images and iStockPhoto (both pay sites that are power houses in the stock photo industry), which means you can be sure they’ve done the best they can to make sure you don’t end up in trouble. 

Free Digital Photos This site offers photos both for free and for a fee, depending on what you want to do with the image. Some will be offered free but have a watermark (a light imprint indicating the photographer), or you can pay a small fee for a watermark-free version. They also let you pin most of their images to Pinterest, a bonus.

Morgue File They don’t have the biggest selection, and the quality is sometimes a bit dubious, but the price is right and the license is generous (you can use them on your website/book cover/business card, you can alter the image as you wish, etc.). Most don’t even require attribution. 

Open Photo The user interface is a bit clunky. To download the image, look for a tiny link below it. Each image explains what they’d like in return, such as attribution or a link. 

Flickr Not every image is available for use, of course, but there are plenty that are, and they are free with just an attribution. They have the best explanation of the Creative Commons license in easy to understand language: (Marcy here – Kristen Lamb, the WANA mama, has opened a WANACommons group on Flickr in response to Roni’s post. Contribute the photos you’re willing to share, and feel free to use any photos from this group without fear.)

StockVault I list this one with a caveat. The images are free, but the license is a bit…fuzzy. Basically you can use the images for your website or personal use (business card), but you can’t use them on anything you intend to sell (book cover) or in any way that might make the person in the image “look bad.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, and I suspect everyone has a different view of what “looks bad.” You can avoid the issue entirely by not using any image with people in it or by making sure your blog topic isn’t a controversial one.

Every Stock Photo This is a license-specific photo search engine. They index and search millions of freely licensed photos, from many sources, and present them in an integrated search. The license is listed with each image, and each is different, so be sure to read what you’re allowed to do. They do not host the images themselves. They simply help you search.

For a Few Dollars More

Some sites offer royalty free images for a fee or on a monthly/yearly subscription basis. This can range anywhere from a few pennies to several hundred dollars, depending on what you are going to do with the image. Most often, the price hinges on the size of the image you want to download. For a blog, you don’t need a big image so the price will be relatively small.

The license they give you allows you one time only use of the photo. That means you can use it on your blog but not on your book cover unless you pay another fee. The fee is “per instance.” Can you use it again in your blog at a later date? Yes. Can you use it on your business card also? Not without buying it again.

Why would you use one of these sites? Because the variety and scope of images is much larger and, in general, the quality is much higher. For hard to find things, sometimes this is the only option.

iStockPhoto One of my favorites. They have a wide variety of images and most are high quality. They have a standard license which covers just about anything a blogger would be using the image for, plus there’s an extended license available for purchase in case you need more. Be aware that some images are marked for “editorial use” only, which means you can use them for a blog but are limited in other applications. Purchase individually or in image packs or subscription. Great variety and quality, and they’re easy to search. 

Dreamstime You buy credits, then spend them on the image you want. Different size images will require different amounts of credits. They have a monthly subscription, but unless you plan on downloading 700 images in a month, the pay-as-you-go plan is probably the best for an occasional blog image. They also have a “free image” section. The license agreement is pretty liberal, which is what makes this a nice go-to site. You can alter the images, use them on everything from your blog to a book cover, etc. You can also buy exclusive rights if you want or need to (as in you want an image that only you can use forever). 

Jupiter Images A more professional website and a conglomerate of several sites in one. It’s also more expensive. If you’re looking for a unique image for a book cover, this is a great place to search because it hunts several places at once. Be sure to check the price of the image before you fall in love.  

Big Stock Photo You can pay as you go or save a bit by buying a package of credits. They also have a few free images available. The license is a bit more limited than others but nothing that should stop you from using them. Each instance requires you to purchase the image again (as in, once for your blog and once for your business card, etc.). They have a wide selection, and the quality is good.

123RF The subscription price on this site is one of the few I’ve thought might be worth it—if you don’t mind spending time every day for a month finding images to download. For one month, you can download up to 26 images a day. If you planned it right, you could end up with quite a stockpile of blog photos for a decent price. 

Shutterstock A little more expensive than some of the others, but they have images you might not find elsewhere. Go here for the hard-to-find thing you don’t mind paying for.

How did you react to Roni’s post? Did you have to take down photos from your blog or had you been using free stock photos prior to this?

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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I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

How to Make Your Novel Scratch and Sniff

Sense of Smell in FictionDo you want your reader to feel like they’re part of your world? Do you want your setting to stick with them long after they’ve closed your book?

One of the best ways to bring your fictional world to life is to use all five senses. Because each sense comes with its own unique strengths and challenges, today I’m starting into a new series to give smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound their due.

The trick with smells is that if you include too many you can burn your reader out the way you deaden your nose if you smell every candle in the Yankee Candle store. (Not that I’m admitting to having done that, but in case you were wondering, my favorite is the Buttercream.)

Three techniques can help you make the most of the smells you choose.

Connect the Smell to an Emotion

Smell can be one of the most powerful senses in your fiction because of its ability to evoke emotions. You probably associate certain smells with memories, people, or places. I hate the way the dentist office smells like burning hair. The smell comes from the singed protein of teeth being drilled, and I associate that smell with pain. If I’m stressed, the warm scent of a clean dog will calm me down because I associate it with the comfort I find in my Great Dane when I throw my arms around her after a hard day.

Think about your own life and what smells evoke memories and emotions. Why do they have that effect on you? You don’t need to duplicate that precise smell in your fiction (you should find one that belongs organically to your character), but by paying attention to how smells intertwine throughout your life, you can learn how to build them into your stories.

If you’re struggling with how to naturally slide in necessary backstory, smell can be your saving grace. As Roni Loren recently pointed out in her post on How to Dish Out Backstory in Digestible Bites, something needs to trigger a memory in order to introduce backstory. Because of how memories cling to scents, smells work as a perfect trigger.

Choose One “Showpiece” Scent

In Ted Dekker’s The Boneman’s Daughter, the serial killer is addicted to Noxzema. I think about it every time I wash my face. That’s the staying power of giving a single scent a starring role.

This isn’t just for fiction writers. For non-fiction writers, you can create the same lasting memory by finding the one key smell to grab your readers. It could be the difference between a forgettable article or chapter in your book and motivating your readers to act. Are you writing a parenting book? What smell defines motherhood for you? How did that smell grow and change with your child? Differ between sickness and health?

Even though you’ll have other scents in your book, weaving one key smell throughout, changing it, playing off of it in moments of tension, ties your entire story together and imprints it on your reader’s mind. The next time they smell that scent in the world, they’ll think of your book.

Contrast a Good Smell with a Bad One

Choosing two antagonistic scents can be done simply to make both smells stand out more than they would on their own, complement a theme, or subtly support what’s happening inside your character.

In my co-written historical fantasy, our main male character is torn between the desire to sleep with his new female slave and the desire to obey his new God who forbids it. He commands her to strip off her tunic, and when she does, the scent of sweat and cypress invades his nostrils. The opposing scents mirror the struggle between his opposing desires.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow smells like blood and roses. He uses the roses to cover up the fact that his breath reeks of blood, and this becomes a metaphor in a way for how the beauty and glitz of the capital tries to disguise the repulsiveness of the country’s situation. Suzanne Collins could have just had him smell like blood, but the contrast with something as beautiful and symbolic as roses made the smell of blood that much more grotesque. And Katniss is never able to think about roses the same way again.

What smell brings back a strong emotion for you, either good or bad?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

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