When someone lands on your website, book sales page or social post, you may get only a fraction of a second to capture their attention before they decide to move on. Photos and illustrations (along with strong headlines) are key to drawing the eye and breaking up large blocks of text to make it more inviting.
Carefully selected images can also convey a sense of the message contained in the text, but sometimes bloggers choose beautiful or whimsical images to capture the reader's attention. (I ran across this gnome image while working on this article and just couldn't resist!)
Like our writing, the work of photographs and illustrators is protected by copyright. The creators of photos and illustrations can choose to make their work available to others through various types of licenses that govern how and where the images can be used and how they are compensated.
It doesn't make sense to buy an image for every blog post or social post, but it can be a challenge to find images at no charge. Following are some tips for finding and using images in your book promotion.
Creative Commons Licenses
Many images are available free under a "Creative Commons License". Although there is no charge for using the image, there may be restrictions on how it's used and you may be required to give credit to the creator. See the bottom of this page for an explanation of various types of creative commons licenses.
Here are two sources of free creative commons images:
Flickr Creative Commons is especially good for photos of places and nature, but a wide variety of images can be found here. Be sure to check which type of license is being offered for the image you want.
Wikimedia Creative Commons - Enter a search term in the box at the top and then scroll down the page to see images. You're free to copy, use and modify images found here as long as you follow the terms specified by the creator. The license conditions of each media file can be found on its description page.
Images available for licensing are often called "stock photos," but you'll also see the term "royalty-free." That means that the creator allows the image to be used multiple times according to the terms of the license, without paying a royalty fee for each use or viewing.
Royalty-free images are offered through several online agencies. Typically you pay a one-time fee to license the image and then you can use it as many times as you like within the terms of the license. Some sites offer royalty-free images at no charge, but attribution to the source may be required.
Sources for Free Images
For years I've been using Microsoft's free image library, which was accessible online and directly through programs like Word and PowerPoint. This service has been discontinued, so here are my new favorite sources for free images:
Free Digital Photos gives away the smallest size image free (usually about 400 pixels wide, suitable for blog posts) and then charges a fee for larger versions. The only catch is that you must give attribution when using the free image. The easiest way to do that is to use a phrase like this in small type beneath the photo or at the end of your blog post: Image courtesy of [name of the image creator] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Pixabay is another good resource for free photos and illustrations. The "sponsored images" on the top row of each search results page are available for purchase, but the other images on the page are free to download. The images that I have found there required no attribution. This site is especially good for nature photos and social media images, but they have a variety of subject matter. The selection of free images is somewhat limited, as the goal of the site is to sell the sponsored images. Here is an example of a free image I found on Pixabay:
Free Images, owned by Getty Images, is similar to Pixabay. I find the selection to be more limited than some other sites, but you might find just the right thing.
Google Images and Bing Images are also possible sources of free images. On both sites, enter you search term and then near the top of the results page you can choose what type of license you're looking for to narrow down the results. However, my experience has been that many searches lead to images that are being used on websites and I'm not very confident that those images are really licensed for free use.
When you are creating a book cover, sales page or other important marketing tool, it makes sense to spend some money to find just the right high-quality image.
Each of the sites listed below allow you to purchase individual images, but some require that you purchase a package of "credits" to be used to buy images. Prices vary and are usually based on the image size and resolution. Some of these sites also offer audio and video clips. When shopping for images, you will see a watermark on the image, but that will disappear when you download the purchased image.
123RF is my go-to site when I can't find what I want on the free sites. Quality images can be purchased for as little as $1 for the smallest size, so this is also a good source for blog posts. Here are a few examples:
iStockPhoto has a huge library of high quality photos and illustrations and their search engine allows you to narrow down your results better than some other sites. This is a good place to search for just the right image for your book cover, but the prices are rather high for blog post images. Here are several similar sources:
Savvy Tips for Finding and Using Images
- If you don't find quite the image you're looking for, try different keywords. It may work better to search for one keyword or phrase at a time. On some sites you can also narrow your search to include just photos or illustrations (also called vector art).
- Low-resolution images are suitable for online use, but you will need high-resolution for anything that's being printed. Image sizes are usually shown in pixels, but some sites also list inches for reference.
- When I save an image to my computer, I add the name of the site where I found it to the file name. If attribution is required, I also include the name of the creator. That makes it easy to remember where I found the image later, and also to give proper credit when necessary.
- If you're working with a graphic artist on a book cover or other marketing materials, send them a link to the image that you are interested in and ask for advice on the suitability and the size required.
If you have any other favorite sources for photos and illustrations, please share in the comments below.
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