By Brad Beckstrom
Images are the language of a generation. Regardless of our race, language, our education, our views on the world, we can all be moved by a great photograph. If you’re creating a blog, presentation, new website, or just want a fresh look on your boring computer desktop, a great image can communicate a lot. Most modern websites feature a single image or video across the entire top third of the page.
Just one image
The best presenters use one large image per slide and just a few words to communicate their ideas. Watch any Ted talk and you’ll see very few people presenting slides full of words, charts, and bullet points. Less is more. Some of the best blogs have a consistent look and feel using images to accentuate quality content. Even tweets and Facebook posts with images get far more attention than a string of text with a link.
If you work for a large company, you may have access to a stock photo account or archive. I’ve found that even some of the largest stock photo sites lack some of that creative edge I’m looking for. I can often spot traditional stock photos instantly. You’ve seen them, people with coffee and laptops usually perfectly dressed for a business meeting in 1996, pointing at things and smiling, maybe even a high five.
Know the rules
I’ve used stock photos before and have no problem with licensing fees. However, I’ve been zapped for using a photo with an expired license, or a photo that was licensed for a different project. It can get tricky and expensive. You can’t just search an image on Google and use it. Many contain invisible watermarks and are owned by companies like Getty that will send you a legal notice attached to an invoice. It’s best to search directly (on a reliable source) for high quality free images. Over the years, I’ve kept a list of some nicely curated free image sites. These sites promote the work of photographers who are willing to share images with attribution for most projects, whether they’re personal or commercial. Some of the sites support themselves by also linking to traditional stock image sites if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
If you really want to get into using free images on websites, commercial work,and on public pages like slideshare, I recommend you quickly educate yourself on Creative Commons licensing. Two great places to do this are Wikimedia Commons and Flickr Creative Commons. These are two of the largest free image databases and explain how the whole public domain and photo attribution process works. It’s really all pretty straightforward and worth a quick look before you start publishing, using, or creating free photos. Both of the sites are linked to huge databases of images, but in some cases too big making it a bit tricky to find what you’re looking for.
So, if you want access to some unique and beautiful images all at the same time supporting small groups of creators and photographers, here are a few of the sites I recommend.
Morgue File. Great name, actually an old newspaper term that reporters used to call a file that they stored all of their old photos and notes in for future reference. I put this one first because it’s the site I found the most usable images on.
Unsplash. Big free high quality professional images. The site is a great example of how photographers are using a few free images to promote their work.
Gratisography. Excellent example of a photographer who’s putting it all out there, including thousands of free images to promote his work.
Library of Congress and New York Public Library. Large collections of free images in the public domain. Like Wikimedia these are great websites if you’re looking for historical or black and white images. They also have a great deal of artwork free to use and publish. Always check the usage rights information before downloading.
500px Marketplace. If you have a budget for your stock photography I highly recommend 500px. 500px shares a higher percentage of revenue with photographers so they attract some of the best in the world. You won’t find a more creative collection of images anywhere. Type in anything and you can get lost for hours on this site.
So, those are my favorites. While you’re there share a few of your own best images so you can contribute to the site. If you want to see a fantastic image every time you open a new browser tab, I highly recommend momentumdash.com. It’s completely free browser extension and a great example of what can be done with gratis photography.