One of the questions I get asked most commonly as an experienced freelance writer is “Which photos can I use in my articles?” There’s much more to it than just doing a search. In fact, doing a search without knowing what to check for could land you in some very hot water if you use the wrong image. I generally recommend using your own images to avoid common issues. However, not everyone is a photographer, so that isn't always possible.
Where should I look?
First, check with the client or site you are submitting to. Some prefer specific sources. Once you know the rules as far as this goes, you can go from there. You can look pretty much anywhere, but the photos need to be licensed for what you intend on using them for and be within the guidelines of where you will be posting them. Many sources offer free stock photos with various licensing rights attached. Some of my favorite sources besides my own images include Flickr and Wikimedia Commons.
How do I know which licensing types to use?
This will depend on your usage of the image, as much as the site as it's going on. If you are using the image for commercial purposes (meaning you will earn in any way from anything the image is used for), you must look for either public domain images or images that can be licensed for commercial use. All images available for use should clearly indicate the licensing type and terms.
What about Google Images and Yahoo! Images?
It may seem that because these two search engines are specifically for finding images that the images found there would be safe to use. But before you use one, stop!! Retrace the image tracks. What do I mean? Check the licensing rights with the source link (hint: Yahoo! and Google Images are not image sources).
I read all this and still have no clue what to do
When in doubt, don't use the image. Ever. If you can't understand whether you can use an image or not, then you should only use your own images. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense and you'll be better safe than sorry using only images you yourself have created or none at all.
Questions? Experiences to share?
Photo Credit: Lyn Lomasi
(Photo is free to use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes with credit to Lyn Lomasi as the photographer and a link back to this page as the source)