Images: How to Find and Choose High-Impact Photos

Ever throw up your hands in frustration when it comes time to look for an image for your latest blog post?

Let’s start with the bad news: a terrible stock photo is worse than no photo at all.

The good news? There are more free stock photos available now than ever before!

But you have to know where to look. And you need to understand a little about image licensing, like the difference between free, royalty-free, Creative Commons license terms. Or else that photo you use could land you in legal trouble.

In this episode, I’m sharing the best image tips from some of the people responsible for choosing images for our Copyblogger blog.

Listen in to Demian Farnworth, Robert Bruce, and Jerod Morris as we discuss:

  • What exactly “royalty-free” and “Creative Commons” means, and how knowing the difference could keep you out of court
  • How to “borrow” someone else’s esthetic sense if you feel like you don’t have any of your own
  • The crucial extra step you need to take when using certain “free” images you find online
  • Our favorite stock photo sites, and how to use what you find there

The Show Notes

Images: How to Find and Choose High-Impact Photos

Pamela Wilson: Maybe you know this feeling.

You finish writing an amazing blog post, you go through your first draft, and then you go through all of your edits, and you are finally at that point that you are ready to reveal your words to the whole world.

And now, ugh, you need to find an image.

It seems like so much extra work. But you know, images are a fast and efficient way to communicate.

When you pair a meaningful image with your well-written words, you give a huge boost to your copy. And well-chosen images help your post to get more shares on social media, and that’s going to put it in front of more people.

Images are worth the effort, and today I’m going to make it easier for you to find the good ones.

Welcome to Hit Publish, where I cover simple ways to get better results with your online business. This is Pamela Wilson of Copyblogger Media.

This week I’m bringing in Copyblogger team members to share their answers to your online marketing questions, and show you how to build a business that grows your profits.

I want to thank you for downloading this podcast and I want to thank Rainmaker.FM for hosting it.

Are you ready to find some amazing images to pair with your content? Let’s Hit Publish.

What Exactly “Royalty-Free” and “Creative Commons” Means, and How Knowing the Difference Could Keep You Out of Court

Pamela Wilson: I’m starting off today with Demian Farnworth. You know, when we talk about stock images, we bat around all these terms that might be unfamiliar. Terms like, “free” and “royalty-free” and “Creative Commons.” So I asked Demian what these terms mean, and how those meanings affect how we use the images.

Demian Farnworth So, “free” is like it sounds. When I think of free though, it’s sort of those sites, like there are a few out there that are popular now, like New Old Stock. It’s a site that is pulling a lot of very vintage photographs that are public domain and they are providing people an opportunity to take them. They are free, and since they don’t cost anything, you really don’t have to attribute them to anybody, although that’s just a good ethic to have, regardless.

And then there is Unsplash. Unsplash is a site where photographers are providing images at no cost, meaning you don’t have to pay them anything, and neither do you really have to attribute anything to them. You use them however you want, is sort of their slogan. So that’s “free,” and those are rare sort of resources.

Then the next sort of category is the Creative Commons. The Creative Commons is typically a license that says, “Hey, you can use this photograph but you have to use it in a certain way.” And you see this quite often on Flickr.

If you go on Flickr and you search for … say you are looking for “chemistry lab,” and so you look on there, and you can search by Creative Commons. It will show you all the photographs that people have said, “Yes, you can share this” and usually there is some other requirement. Like you need to share them, you can use it, you can even adapt it, but you then have to attribute it to them. You have to point it to them with a link back, and point out that the photograph was taken by them.

So that’s Creative Commons, and you’ll find that it’s a pretty popular way to do it.

Then the “royalty-free” simply means sites like iStock, where you find stock photographs that you can buy, and you don’t have to pay anybody every time you use them. I believe it’s Getty Images where you can buy them but then every time you use them, you have to pay the royalties like you would on music.

So “royalty-free” means you basically buy them once, and then you don’t have to worry about paying anybody again for using them. And I believe you can use them anyway that you want to.

Pamela Wilson: It sounds like, though, in every case, no matter what the license, you do have to familiarize yourself with what use is acceptable and what you need to stay away from.

Demian Farnworth Yeah, that’s absolutely true. You have to be careful. And again, I sort of mentioned that earlier, the ethic online is, “I scratch your back, you scratch my back.” So even if it’s a free photograph, it’s kind of good manners to link back to them and understand that.

And understand too, that just because someone shared a photograph on Facebook for instance, doesn’t mean it gives you permission to then go grab that photograph and use it on your site. It could actually be somebody’s site who has actually copyrighted, downloaded it, stripped it from their Instagram feed or something like that and then used it. So you do have to be careful about this, and just recognize that if you use stuff on the web, try to find out as best as you possibly can whose it is and find out what’s behind it. Usually I think it’s pretty clear with the content that is out there, like the license and the use requirements.

Pamela Wilson: And I think in particular when you are using it for a business website, you have to be extra careful, right?

Demian Farnworth Yeah, absolutely. One of the things with Creative Commons is that sometimes you can’t use it for commercial purposes. People don’t want to create something and then you make money off of it, when they are not making money off of it. If people didn’t allow you to do that, they will come and find you and sue you for using it for commercial purposes.

So yeah, from a business standpoint, the legalities of it are a lot, lot riskier, so you better know what you are doing.

Pamela Wilson: Demian shared what all those confusing terms mean, and that’s important information that can keep us all out of legal hot water. And it also makes you feel a lot more confident when you go to use those stock images on your website.

Before we move on, I want to remind you that Authority Rainmaker is our live event that’s designed to give you the foundation you need to build a successful online business. It’s happening in Denver, Colorado in May of this year, and I would love to see you there. Find out more at

How to “Borrow” Someone Else’s Aesthetic Sense If You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any of Your Own

Pamela Wilson: Our next guest is the man with the golden voice, Robert Bruce.

A few years back, Robert was heading up the Copyblogger blog. and he took over choosing our images. Back in those days I was a Copyblogger reader. As a reader, I noticed the difference when he took over the images.

You know, he’s really into this stuff. So I wanted to know more about the thought process behind the images that he likes. So I asked him, “What is the number one thing that we should avoid when we are choosing an image for our website?”

Robert Bruce: Can I have two Pamela?

Pamela Wilson: Absolutely.

Robert Bruce: Aside from number one, stealing copyrighted material, I think that has to be number one.

Number two, I think choosing bad stock photos has to be the unforgivable sin here, and this can be a little tricky because really this comes down to taste and aesthetic. And obviously some people just have different takes on this.

That’s probably the most diplomatic way of putting it. But I think everyone can relate to bad stock photos. You can Google around and find entire websites that are devoted to displaying bad stock photography, so the issue here becomes “Okay, well how do I avoid that?”

Number one, if you don’t have an idea of what bad stock photos are, find somebody who you could trust, who is a graphic designer, or who is an artist, and run things by them. This is just real basic, and I think it’s necessary and helpful for a lot of people out there who may not have — whatever — that gene in them, that allows them to be able to determine between bad and good photography, or design in general. So my tip there would be to find somebody who could help you.

Pamela Wilson: So borrow someone else’s aesthetic sense, it sounds like?

Robert Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. If you don’t have any aesthetic sense, borrow someone else’s. That’s a perfect way of putting it.

The Crucial Extra Step You Need to Take When Using Certain “Free” Images You Find Online

Robert Bruce: And then, number two, there are some great resources out there now.

Pamela, you might be able to help more in this, but there are free stock photo sites. I think if you Google “stock photos that don’t suck” (I looked this up last night), there’s a post out there, I think it’s on Medium, that offers some great, really, really good stock photography that’s free to use. Take a look at it, as there are some restrictions there. But something like that.

There’s all kinds of resources out there now of people freely giving really, really good, high-quality photography away. In my opinion, you always want to credit the photographer, although some of them are saying you don’t have to do that.

Another place to look is Flickr and look for Creative Commons licensed stuff that is available to use. There’s a couple of different levels of Creative Commons you can check that out for yourself.

So the point being, get online, find those things that you can use. Don’t just rely on these kind of bad stock photography and stock photography sites and find somebody to help you, if you can’t make that determination on your own.

Pamela Wilson: So if you are not naturally good at picking images, find someone who is, or — what I would recommend — is to find someone whose aesthetic sense you admire, and then just watch the kinds of images they choose.

Ask yourself why those images work. And if that person who you are admiring gives the photographer credit, take a look and see where they are getting their images.

Our Favorite Stock Photo Sites, and How to Use What You Find There

Pamela Wilson: We are going to wrap things up today with Jerod Morris. Jerod has picked a lot of images to attach to blog posts, and he knows stock photo sources like the back of his hand. I asked Jerod which were his go-to sites.

Jerod Morris: Well there are a couple of go-to places that I have.

One is a site called Unsplash which has a lot of really, really great images that you don’t even need to provide attribution for. Typically I do anyway, but you don’t need to. They are just there to use, anyway you want to. They aren’t appropriate for all types of situations but it’s a pretty good place to start.

I also like Flickr. I like the advanced search function, that allows you to search for only the Creative Commons images. So images that you actually have the right to use with attribution.

And for pretty much every need that I have had, I’ve been able to find an image in Flickr that I can use for free, and it just needs attribution.

So those two are good ones, and the third place I go is Google Images. Obviously, you can get a wide variety of images from Google Images. The thing is, you’ve got to make sure you get permission to use the image, or at the very least, provide credit. But for me, I would really say that I’m not the most sophisticated image gatherer, but when I am tasked with finding an image, those are the three places where I start.

Pamela Wilson: Right. I usually tell people to shy away from Google Images, only because it’s so tempting to grab an image from there and then not go through that extra step of tracking down the photographer and getting permission because you have the image. So I usually tell people to stay away from that, but if you are willing to take that extra step of tracking down who the image belongs to, and getting permission for using it, it is a massive image search engine. So that’s a valid place to be looking.

Demian explained what those confusing stock photo terms mean, so we can use them correctly, and keep ourselves out of trouble.

Robert told us to keep working to develop this aesthetic sense, and between you and me, this will definitely get better with practice. The more you use images, the more you look at them and choose them, and then use them, the better you’ll get at it.

And then Jerod shared his go-to resources for stock photos. And just a note: I’m going to link to all the sites recommended here, plus I’ll add a whole bunch more in the show notes for this episode.

Here are my questions for you today.

Are you using images currently to compliment your copy?

And will you explore some of the new sites that I’m sharing to see if you can find a new favorite resource?

I want to encourage you to explore the power of images. It’s something you’ll see us doing a lot more of on Copyblogger, now that I’m helping on the editorial side.

This is Pamela Wilson.

I want to thank you for being one of the remarkably attractive Hit Publish podcast subscribers — you know who you are!

Take a look at the show notes for more information on today’s topic, and if you haven’t yet, I would so appreciate it if you’d leave a review for Hit Publish on iTunes.

Let me know what you think: I really want to hear from you.

Until next time, take action and Hit Publish.