Copyright-Free Photos for Your Blog

by Marylee MacDonald in For Writers Who Need Readers

Finding copyright-free photos proved to be one of my biggest challenges when I began this blog. Needless to say, I wanted photos that were properly lit, in focus, and the right size. In this post I’ll share information about where to find copyright-free photos and where to purchase photos if you’re in a pinch.

If you’re an author planning to blog or Tweet about your book, good photos will give your words a big boost. Also, check out my post on copyright issues, and how you can stay on the right side of the law.

man taking photos

Image from Open Clip Art via

Copyright-free photos + Quality

First of all, you don’t need Ansel-Adams-quality photos for your blog, but neither do you want blurry, small format images. The important thing to know is you can find copyright-free photos that are truly stunning. These photos generally come from serious amateurs or photography students.

Photographers who make their livings from selling and licensing their photos struggle to maintain control of their creative work. And, if you think about it, how is a photographer supposed to survive if he or she can’t collect money for licensing their images? As authors, we want to support our fellow creative artists; but, we still need images.

Finding Copyright-Free Photos on Flickr

Here’s how to stay on the right side of the law with one of the most popular photo services on the web: If you log onto Flickr, you’re going to look for photos that allow you to modify them or use them for commercial purposes. The screenshot shows how to search for such photos. You’ll want to select for the following criteria:

  • commercial use allowed
  • commercial use and modifications allowed
  • US government works
copyright-free photos and licensing

If you’re a blogger or author and have never explored Flickr, then jump on it right away. You’ll find a feast of photos and be tempted to buy a plane ticket to see these sites for yourself. The one caveat when using Flickr is that you must find search for photos that can legally be placed on your blog. As a courtesy, always cite the photographer by name. If in doubt about rights, contact the photographer and ask their permission.

Images, Illustrations, and Videos on Pixabay

Pixabay is a site that has scads of copyright-free photos. What I like about this site is that you can search for a particular image by entering keywords such as “cat.” Also, you can search by size. This is handy because it allows you to find a large format photo that can be the featured image for your blog or social media post.

copyright-free photos

Pixabay lets you search for photos, illustrations, and even videos. One of the best features of the site is its search feature. If you’re looking for a post that’s already sized for Facebook or Twitter, just enter your size parameters.


The ImageSuite Plug-in For WordPress

Most photos on this blog come from a WordPress plug-in called ImageSuite.

The ImageSuite plug-in adds a tab above the WordPress formatting menu. Click on the ImageSuite tab and you’ll see a menu.


ImageSuite tab

ImageSuite adds a tab to the formatting menu.

Next, type your search term in the box at the top right. In this search, I entered “Walt Whitman.”

Images will populate the boxes to the left. The boxes don’t show the image in its entirety. Highlight a box to see the full image in MEDIA DETAILS.

If you want WordPress to automatically send your blog post to Facebook, make sure you verify the dimensions in MEDIA DETAILS. (Facebook won’t repost images smaller than 1200 x 628 pixels.) I try to avoid small images like the first photo in this post.

Once you’ve chosen a picture, add a caption and “alternate text.”

copyright-free photos

Improve Your SEO Rank With Alternate Text

Don’t leave the “alternate text” box blank. The “alternate text” is the text that appears while a website is loading an image. However, “alternate text” is more than a placeholder.

Use the “alt text” box to improve your SEO rank with search engines. Edit the “alt text” to include a descriptor of the image itself, AND the keyword that’s the subject of your blog post. In the example of Walt Whitman, ImageSuite automatically filled the “Alt text” field with “Walt Whitman.” I added “copyright-free photos.” That phrase is the keyword for this post. Anyone searching Google for “copyright-free photos” might stumble on this post.

By adding the blog post’s keyword to “alt text,” I improved the post’s SEO score. (Go here for a great article on SEO scores and how they can help your site rank higher.)

Images in European Archives

ImageSuite gets its images from copyright-free image depositories, such as Pixabay, but the plug-in has an additional source that’s just amazing. It’s called Europeana. (If you love European museums, take a quick look at their portal.)

Because ImageSuite taps into the Europeana portal, you don’t have to search the portal yourself. Instead, ImageSuite pulls out illustrations from old books, posters, and engravings and makes these images available to you, right from WordPress. These images would be super for anyone writing historical fiction, particularly novels set in Europe or the ancient world. However, before you can use this feature, you’ll have to take a couple of extra steps to register on the Europeana website. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able use the images however you like.

To give you another specific example, take a look at my post on “Dialogue Exercises: 40 Prompts to Get You Going.” I searched for “Ebro” and found an image of the white hills above the river. The image went perfectly with the Hemingway story, “Hills Like White Elephants.”

Sometimes You Need to Buy A Photo

If you can’t find a photo on free sites, buy an image. One of my favorite sites is Death To Stock. If you want an image with real people (rather than models), this is the place for you. The site charges subscribers a small fee. The money goes to photographers and helps them finance their shoots.

You can also go to a large stock-image provider such as Getty Images. If you’re looking for images for a book cover, definitely check them out.

The stock site I’ve used a lot is Fotolia. Their monthly subscription service gives you a certain number of photos per month. If you choose to download photos at half size, you get twice as many. Their half-size photos make terrific blog illustrations.

Fotolia photo service

Fotolia offers a subscription that allows you a certain number of downloads per month. By choosing half-sized images, I’m able to get greater value from the subscription.

Beyond Your Blog

The take maximum advantage of the images linked to your content, resize them and use them on Twitter. For an example of that, see what author Decima Blake is doing with images. Her post on using images with Twitter is right here.

We authors need to remind ourselves that one picture is worth 1,000 words. Images can serve as hooks to intrigue readers. If we’re lucky, they’ll even buy our books.


  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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2 Responses to “Copyright-Free Photos for Your Blog”

  1. Marylee,

    I just have thank you for all your useful research. I can’t imagine where you find time to write these blogs, much less do the research for them. At first I didn’t realize how useful they are but I’m more and more impressed, especially as you sometimes come up with just what I need, like these image websites. I don’t draw very well and I depend on reference photos for my bird and flower drawings for notecards. I usually combine several to avoid copyright infringement but I’d be safer with totally free images to begin with.

    So anyway, thank you so much, and also for adding my memoir project to your wealth of information. I think I may have a subscriber or two from your link.

    Happy New Year! Mary

    • I’m very happy the posts are useful. I really like sharing things I’ve discovered, and comments like yours are what make that effort rewarding. As to your memoir, I can’t wait to see what you discover when you look back at your many years of living the creative life.