Michigan State University

Finding and Using Free Image Collections on the Web

This guide identifies sources of free images on the web.

ABOUT THIS PAGE

The image collections described on this page contain both copyrighted images AND images which have no restriction on use.

In the description for each collection, check SEARCHING for tips on filtering your results to include only unrestricted materials.

The Commons Collection, hosted by Flickr

Portrait of African American soldier from U.S. Civil WarLena M. Root, George Eastman House CollectionSarah Brody, Army Nurses Corp, from Jewish Women's Archive

 

Content

The Commons collection, hosted by Flickr provides access to public archives from about 100 libraries, museums, and archives. This collection is especially good for historic photographs.

Availability

Most of the material here is freely available for educational uses, but each institution may set its own terms of use. Be sure to check for restrictions on any image you want to use. These will be listed under the lower right corner of the photo, below the upload date.

Searching

Scroll down to the Search the Commons search box:

Don't use the main Flickr search box in the upper right corner of the page; that will search all photos. To continue searching the Commons instead of all photos, use the Advanced Search and make sure your search is limited to The Commons:

Detail of Flickr Advanced Search screen

(Note that this is different from the method required for the Internet Archive Book Images collection, which is also hosted on Flickr.)

Attribution

Follow any instructions for attribution given by the library or museum that supplied the photo.

Above, from left: Unidentified young African American soldier in Union Army, from Library of Congress; Lena M. Root, from George Eastman House Collection; Sarah Brody, Army Nurses Corp, from Jewish Women's Archive.

Flickr - Contemporary photography

 

Content

Flickr is an online photo sharing application. Anyone may create an account and upload photographs. The subject matter is unlimited, but Flickr is especially good for nature photos and travel destinations.

Availability

Not all material on Flickr has been made available for re-use. Many photographers reserve all rights to their work. Others make their work available for re-use with a Creative Commons license. You must filter your search to narrow the results to items you can re-use.

Limiting Your Search to Creative Commons Works

To find photos you can use, first enter a search term. On the results page look for the License menu. Check Creative Commons only (noncommercial, no modifications) or Commercial use allowed or Modifications allowed. If you want both Commercial use allowed and Modifications allowed, check both options. You can also add these filters on Flickr's Advanced Search page.

Attribution

Creative Commons licenses require you to "give appropriate credit" but do not dictate any specific format. A common method is to provide the name of photo with a link to it on Flickr; the photographer's name; and the type of Creative Commons license with a link to the page explaining its terms of use. Example for the Eiffel Tower photo:

Above: Paris Skyline Eiffel Tower by Taylor Miles. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Google Image Search

Google logo

Content

The Advanced Search on Google Images allows you to limit your results to images that can be re-used. Subject matter is unlimited. The content overlaps with Flickr and other image collections, but does not include all the material on all the other sites in this research guide. Much of the web is composed of "deep content" which Google indexing does not reach.

Availability

Google Images may give you results from millions of different websites. If you filter your search for material that can be re-used, it's still a good idea to check the terms on the website Google refers you to.

Searching

Using the Advanced Search for Google Images, filter your search by Usage Rights:

Google Advanced Image Search detail

If you change your search terms, make sure you are still limiting your search to images which can be re-used. An unfiltered Google Image search will return a huge amount of material that is not available for re-use.

Attribution/Citation

Follow the instructions for attribution on the website Google refers you to. Even if attribution is not required, remember that for an academic project you still need to cite your sources.

Pixabay

Stock photo of girl using laptop

 

Content

Pixabay offers about 300,000 stock photography and vector images similar those sold on Shutterstock or Dollar Photo Club.

Availability

Most Pixabay images are free for commercial use. There are two exceptions:

  • To enhance its product mix, the Pixabay website includes content from Shutterstock which is not free. Each image will indicate whether it has a "CC0 Public Domain license" or whether it is copyrighted. (There's no danger of accidentally using copyrighted images as long as you don't give Pixabay your credit card info!)
  • Pixabay also includes some public domain images which are marked "Editorial use only" because they include trademarked logos or similar material. These images can be used for educational purposes but not commercial purposes.

Searching

To limit your search to public domain images only, enter a search term and "user:PublicDomainImages" as shown here:

Pixabay search box

You can also enter a search term and browse until you find a Public Domain image. Then click on the Public Domain Pictures link. The results screen will include a search box with "user:PublicDomainImages" already entered; add your search term.

Attribution/Citation

No attribution is required for Pixabay's free content. Remember that for an academic project you will still need to cite your sources.

Above: Girl using laptop from Pixabay.

U.S. Government Photos and Images

U.S. Government Photos website header

 

Content

This is a portal to online image galleries provided by 57 departments and agencies of the U.S. government. They range from the National Cancer Institute, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to the Peace Corps Digital Library.

Availability

Most material published by the United States government is in the public domain, which means it is not protected by copyright and can be re-used. However, there can be exceptions. Check the conditions of use for each individual gallery.

Attribution

Check the conditions of use for each individual gallery to find out its requirements for giving attribution. Even if no attribution is required, you'll need to cite the work properly if you're using it for an academic project.

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