List of resources for finding Public Domain, Creative Commons or otherwise free images

I’ve been using Pixabay for a while ever since a colleague told me about it, it’s amazing. I also came across Pexels and periodically gather other things together. I’ve known about NASA images and CDC PHIL for years and Flickr of course as resources of images but I keep finding more. This excellent blog post (10 Sites for Free Stock Photos (Updated for 2018) by Sean Filidis) lists a whole load of ones I’d not heard of.

I’ve added some extra ones to Sean’s list (mine are asterisked) but you should definitely go and look at Sean’s post because he says a bit more about what each site offers.

Further reading at the end πŸ™‚

  1. * CDC PHIL (Public Health Image Library) – public health image library (example of CDC’s request for acknowledgement “This image is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions. As a matter of courtesy we request that the content provider be credited and notified in any public or private usage of this image.NB these include medical images and search results may not be suitable for children.
  2. * Creative Commons search
  3. * Flickr Advanced Search – change the ‘Any licence’ option to suit. The obvious white search bar in the middle is, curiously, not the actual search bar despite the cursor arriving there first. The minute you start typing in it the secondary grey search bar at the top will immediately take over, so you might as well write there anyway. I cannot account for it!

    Flickr advanced search showing where to access licence options Screenshot 2018-10-16 14.23.53.png

  4. * Freebies Gallery (formerly Public Photo)
  5. * Google Images (handy tip: use -pinterest in your search, then adjust the licence you want, Tools Β» Usage rights)

    Google Image search for flowers showing Tools and Usage rights aka License options Screenshot 2018-10-16 14.20.35.png

  6. Gratisography
  7. Morguefile
  8. * NASAΒ – I think almost all US Government department images, when taken as part of publicly-funded work, are free to use though they might like credit too. Here are NASA’s media-use guidelines.
  9. Picjumbo
  10. Pexels
  11. Pikwizard
  12. PixabayΒ <– I’ve used this one a lot
  13. * Public Domain Review – a collection of collections, eg this lovely one on comets aka Flowers of the Sky.
  14. Rawpixel
  15. Reshot
  16. * Science Museum Group collection – use freely, but only for non-commercial projects. Images are from the Science Museum in London, Railway Museum etc
  17. Stockvault
  18. Unsplash
  19. * Wellcome Collection images – free to use with attribution (credit) but check for individual photos

An * just means I’ve added this resource to Sean’s list (also reordered alphabetically).

1. What terms mean and how you can use images

Images that are labelled as Public Domain (or CC0) can be used for any purpose including commercial and you don’t need to credit the person who took it (but it’s still nice if you do) or pay for it. Creative Commons-labelled images have different ‘levels’ of how they can be used – they don’t cost money but you may have to credit the author, and you may not be able to use them on commercial projects. Some image repositories (like Pixabay) share images that can be used under a very relaxed license but also include a tip jar so that you can ping the author the equivalent of a cup of coffee.

See also Best practices for (Creative Commons) attribution

2. Embedding images into blog posts (for example)

Obviously if you’re printing a brochure you’d need to be able to download a high-res image and attribute as appropriate (or not needed if CC0, or no attribution requested).

Flickr, for example, generally takes care of attribution itself.

  1. Autoembedding from link: For a blog like this one simply pasting the link into the post will result in the image appearing, already linking back to its page on Flickr for people to find out who took it.
  2. Embed code: For sites this auto-embedding doesn’t work so for things like that you’d use the embed code. The code carries attribution info and a link back so is just another way of doing (1)
  3. Downloading: You can save a copy of the image then upload to your site – doing this means it will no longer carry any info about author attribution (beyond the filename, unless you change it). You would need to add a caption or find some other way of referencing it appropriately.

3. Further reading


Getting reimbursed for social media images used in newspapers without your permission

β€œStolen photographs: what to do?” – this is probably worth reading before you act

If you are in the US you can register your work with the US Copyright Office and you can even do this after the image / video has been used. While you automatically own the copyright anyway registering seems to increase the amount of statutory damages you can claim.

Every few weeks I see a flurry of tweets about someone whose photo, which they shared on Twitter, has been used online (and possibly in print) in a newspaper without their permission. Quite often someone from the newspaper in question has asked if they can use the photo and then the paper has gone ahead and used it even where permission was denied.

There seems to be no currently known or effective way of preventing such unauthorised re-use but a handful of people have reported retrospective success in getting paid for use of the photo as well as additional payment for its unauthorised use. This post points to some of those successes and information about what your rights are – note however that I am not a lawyer, always seek advice from appropriately qualified people if you need it.

If you take a photograph it is automatically yours in terms of copyright and sharing it on social media doesn’t grant anyone else automatic rights to re-use it. Pictures posted to Twitter or anywhere else are not automatically “in the public domain” even though they are public and available to be seen by everyone. The phrase ‘public domain’ has different meanings in different contexts but in legal / copyright terms it does not simply mean ‘displayed in public‘: “The legal term public domain refers to works whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, have been expressly waived, or are inapplicable” – Wikipedia. If you’ve posted your photo somewhere you get to decide how it’s used.

Generally for practical purposes it’s usually fine to embed the image elsewhere because doing so links back to the original post with credit. Presumably people could object to this of course (I am not aware of examples). Ironically in this post I have embedded tweets above which contain images that were used without permission by one newspaper…

Note that online newspapers can also benefit from advertising revenue, which may depend on the number of page visits – so your image may also be contributing to their income.

If you are asked on Twitter by a newspaper to use your image, take a screenshot of their tweet and of your reply, showing context.

How people have responded to requests to use their images
This 2017 post outlines a disappointing phone call with newspaper staff about images used without permission and the photographer includes a copy of the letter they sent. The blog post hasn’t yet been updated with an outcome but there’s an interesting comment from ‘Frank’ who recommends that people speak with a lawyer before contacting an infringing party. They point to a 2011 article from Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland called “Stolen photographs: what to do?” – this is probably worth reading first, before contacting the paper.

β€’ Two people who got paid after contacting a newspaper that used their images
This blog post (from 2012) outlines how a photographer recovered payment for the unauthorised use of his images – he also recommends remaining polite and professional, and suggests watermarking images (see Watermarking note below). Another post (also from 2012) had similar success in getting payment and a link added into the infringing article which pointed back to their website.

β€’ One person who got paid after instigating Court proceedings
This, from just a few days ago (28 Feb 2018), is a nice story of persistence, but did involve learning quite a lot about the legal world before being able to proceed. I was particularly interested in the bit about the Tomlin order, which I’d not heard about before.

For people using smartphones to take images of ‘stuff happening’ that then becomes newsworthy there are apps that let you add watermarks and comments. I presume these can also be removed later, presumably by you (but perhaps by newspapers) so I might suggest screenshotting the image first and sharing that instead. For iPhone users on iOS 10+ there’s apparently something helpful within the Camera roll that lets you write on your pics.

Incidentally as far as I’m aware a screenshot also has minimal EXIF data.

Further reading
Freelance fees guide – Photography
β€’ Photographer wins $1.2 million from companies that took pictures off Twitter (2013) and the background to that story.
β€’ Can we use your photo? (9 March 2018) Articulate
He Said No, Fox News Used His Images Anyway (28 May 2018) Photoshelter Blog

For journalists
How to: know when to use photos from social media (2011)

The image accompanying this post is ‘CC0’ licensed which means that it can be used without attribution, but in case you want to use it too I got it from

How to add alt-text descriptions to pictures on Twitter for visually impaired people

I’ve seen a couple of tweets and Twitter threads in the last couple of days that have gone a bit viral, highlighting that everyone can set something up in their Twitter settings to make things easier for visually impaired users. If you switch ON the option to be able to caption your photos then, whenever you upload a pic to Twitter, you can click on the image and add a text description. This description doesn’t show up in your tweet (it doesn’t impinge on your character limit) but is useful for those using voice software.

  1. History
  2. How to set it up
  3. Write good descriptions

1. History: Twitter rolls out the ability to add alt text in 2016, initially just for phone apps I think, then later it rolls out to everything.

2. How to set it up

Full info in How to make images accessible for people but for desktop users (like me) the steps look like this, below.

a) Go to and scroll to the bottom of the panel on the left, click on Accessibility.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.12.14

b) Make sure there’s a tick next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.14.00

Example of what it looks like when you upload a picture to desktop

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.22

Click anywhere on the image to Add description and write your text in the box that appears.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.55

3. Write good descriptions: Lovely thread from RobotHugsComics (h/t ScottKeir) with suggestions of what to actually write in the description window.


How to display Instagram pictures correctly in tweets using IFTTT

If you post to Instagram and it sends a copy to Twitter then only a link appears, Twitter doesn’t display your image in the tweet. The reason is because Instagram does not support ‘Twitter cards’(1) but you can(2) bypass this by using the third party service IFTTT (If This, Then That) to get around it and display images correctly. Once you upload a new image to Instagram it will get tweeted out and display as a picture (note that it won’t work in cases where you write a tweet and include an Instagram link).

Be aware that if you have ‘post to Twitter’ switched on on your Instagram account then you may end up with two copies of the tweet – one directly from Instagram with no image (the wrong one), and the one via IFTTT with the image (the new and improved version). You can safely switch off the Instagram one (see my image below of my settings).

You will need, and to be logged into

  • a Twitter account
  • an Instagram account
  • an IFTTT account

Once logged into IFTTT visit this recipe(3) page Tweet your Instagrams as native photos and follow the instructions to ‘connect’ your Twitter ( and Instagram ( accounts – IFTTT refers to these as ‘channels’.


This will allow your Twitter and Instagram accounts can talk to each other independently, through IFTTT.

Once done it should look a bit like this and when you post an image to Instagram and it should turn up on your Twitter timeline with the picture appearing.


It worked… [if you’re viewing on a mobile it will probably look as if it didn’t, but it did!]

Note that these are my settings on Instagram – it says that I have Twitter-sharing switched off, which is true, but the IFTTT recipe is now overriding this.


(1)Twitter cards are basically a display-format that websites can sign up to so that pictures embed and display on Twitter as an image rather than as a link that you have to click on. The IFTTT system uploads the image to Twitter as a (usually hidden, but may show on mobile apps as a pic.twitter link and also provides a link back to the original Instagram (that link will show as

(2)However you might prefer that people click on the link so that your Instagram account gets the relevant metrics and you might also prefer that Twitter isn’t further overrun with images πŸ™‚

(3)There are other examples of recipes that will also perform this function, have a search of the options and see what’s on there.