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Image Sources for Web Projects

By B Lingafelter          graphics

Yes, the web makes it very easy to copy images and code. But downloading an image from another website or copying the code and passing it off as your own is piracy, and that is illegal and unprofessional. Even if the website doesn't have a posted copyright notice, original creative work is automatically owned by the creator and protected by copyright law.

If you have design or photography skills, consider creating your own images for web projects. Take photos with a digital camera or even your phone, create artwork, logos, and illustrations with a drawing or photo-editing application (like PhotoShop or Illustrator), and scan your 2-D and 3-D objects. Remember, you have full rights to use your own images any way you see fit. Copyright law protects you too.

Free Images with Creative Commons licenses

When you can't create your own images and don't want to pay for high quality stock images, look for images released under a Creative Commons license.

The non-profit Creative Commons organization has developed some simple copyright licenses designed to protect the basic rights of content creators. Some licenses allow you to use the work as long as you credit the creator (attribution), or remix, adapt, and build upon the work if you credit the creator and release the new creation under the same license (attribution share alike). Others allow redistribution as long as the work is unchanged and intact (attribution no derivatives), or limit use to non-commercial purposes (attribution non-commercial). Read descriptions of the six Creative Commons licenses.

Many photographers and artists release their creative works for free under a Creative Commons license to sites like those listed below. Most of the images in these collections are free to use for personal web projects but not all allow derivative works. Always read the image license to verify appropriateness before using it in a project.

  • Creative Commons Search - find content you can use, share, and remix
  • Flickr Creative Commons- images released under Creative Commons license
  • Compfight - image search engine that uses Flickr api
  • Unsplash - Free high resolution photos Note: All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero¬†which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.
  • Pixabay - high quality images and videos released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0
  • freeimages - the leading free stock photography site (formerly Stock Xchng)
  • morgueFile - another free photo archive
  • Every Stock Photo - search engine for photos licensed under Creative Commons
  • Wikimedia Commons database of freely usable media files

Still can't find what you're looking for?

The following sites have smaller collections and general terms of use/license information rather than a specific license for each image.

  • Image*After - free for personal and commercial use, can be modified or altered
  • StockVault - free for personal and non-commercial use
  • Open Photo Project  - public domain and creative commons licensed images
  • Freerangestock - free registration to download, free for online use with attribution including photographer and site
  • FreeFoto  - free for online use with attribution and link back to image

Royalty-free and Rights-managed Images

These images are not free. You must pay for any images you wish to use.

Royalty-free means you purchase the unlimited use of an image for a one-time fee, but the use is not exclusive. Another party can also choose to purchase and use the same image. The price of a royalty-free image can vary from about three dollars to several hundred dollars.

Rights-managed licenses grant you ownership of an image for an exact use and period of time, and control whether anyone else can use the image. The cost for exclusivity and increased control is expensive. The price of a single rights-managed image can range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

  • iStockPhoto - Large, affordable collection of royalty-free stock photographs and illustrations (payment in US dollars or credits)
  • Getty Images - Largest collection of professional stock images and media (both royalty-free and rights-managed)
  • Veer - Large collection of photos, illustrations and stock video (both royalty-free and rights-managed)