How to Find Creative Commons Photos You Can Legally Use

Feature image “Creation of Adam” by Michaelangelo. Public Domain

.It’s so easy to find photos on the internet via Google, Bing, Flickr, Pinterest and other sites, that people sometimes forget that there are rights attached to those photos. You need to make sure any photos you use on your blog or in your videos you have the legal right to use. If you don’t have the budget to license a photo from sites like Shutterstock or iStockPhoto, there are lots of photos online that will allow you to do this for free—you just need to make sure you follow the proper procedures. Using photos without proper permission is actually pretty serious as one blogger was sued for thousands and thousands of dollars by a photographer when she used one of his images without permission.

Here’s the process I go through to find Creative Commons photos for blog posts and videos:

  1. Go to and in the search box, enter the photo you’re looking for (e.g. “desert”). Make sure “used for commercial purposes” and “modify,adapt or build upon” are checked
  2. Select the online photo collection you want to use. I have the best luck with Flickr or Google Images (note: that’s Google Images, not Google Web).
  3. You’ll then be taken to a page that has photos that meet your search criteria. When you find the photo you want, click on it.
  4. On the photo page find and click the download button. On Flickr, it’s in the lower right-hand corner. Flickr will give you the chance to download different sizes.
  5. You’ll see a link just below the download button that says “Some rights reserved.” This will take you to the Creative Commons link that represents the license the photographer has given the image. The majority of images will usually be Creative Commons 2.0. This allows you to share and even modify the image.
  6. When you add the photo to your blog, add a caption to the image that says “Image copyright PHOTOGRAPHER. Creative Commons v X.0” (were “PHOTOGRAPHER” is the name of the photographer listed on the photo’s page, and X is the Creative Commons version number).
  7. You must then link to the Creative Commons license. Like this: Creative Commons 2.0

Here’s an example:

© Johnny Williams. Creative Commons 2.0.
© Johnny G. Williams on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0.

I know it’s a pain, but it actually doesn’t take as long as it may seem. And the extra time is worth the effort to protect yourself legally.

Some images are in the public domain. That means that anybody can use them because no one owns the copyright. Usually works of art older than 70 years fall into this category. A good example is Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” painting on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. For images like these, your copyright should read “Image in Public Domain.”

Use In Videos

When placing these photos in videos, I either add a small credit in the lower left or right-hand corner of the screen when the photo appears, or add it at the end of the video as a credit.

Happy image and photo hunting!

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