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Blogging Best Practices: Photo Use and Attribution

Welcome to our series of posts on Blogging Best Practices! Each Thursday for 10 weeks, we'll debut a new post designed to help you create great content, share it with the world, and become a better blogger. Check out other posts in the series here!

It's a simple rule of blogging: images add visual interest to your posts and that's a good thing. But beyond that, finding and using images can be a little complicated. What if you don't have your own image to use? What if the absolutely perfect image is owned by someone else?

Without getting too much into legalities, the basic rule is that whoever took or created an image holds the copyright to that image. Ownership can be bought or legally transferred but for the sake of this post, let's just assume that you don't legally own any of the images out there on the internet, unless it's an image you took yourself.

This is an image that I took so I own it and can do whatever I want with it.

If you don't have your own image to use, a good next step is to check out sites that provide stock images. You can either buy images to use on a site like iStockphoto or sign up for a site like stock.xchng, which hosts royalty free images that are free to use. This is a good way to add an image to your content without having to deal directly with a photographer (great people but copyright gets sticky).

Keep in mind that you still don't own the images from a stock photo site, you're basically just borrowing them in a legal way. Also note that some artists who share their work on royalty-free sites still ask for attribution.

It's worth noting that while Google image search is awesome, it's not a great tool for finding royalty free images. Swiping an image from there is the same as swiping it directly from someone else's site: they own the image and using it without permission or attribution is violating copyright.

This image is from stock.xchng. I don't own it but I can use it here.

Now let's say you find a copyrighted image that's so unbelievably perfect, you just have to use it. Beyond being illegal, using someone else's image without their permission or attribution is poor etiquette. If you do things like that enough, you'll build up a bad reputation and no one wants that!

Many photographers and artists provide easy ways to contact them to ask permission to use their work, often on a dedicated page on their site. They may require a fee to use their image or a link back to their site with the image in your post.

When in doubt, ask for permission before using an image on your blog. If you can't get proper permission, find another image to use. The most beautiful, perfect photo in the world isn't worth using if you can't do it legally.



Another great way to get photos for your site is to use Flickr.com. Many of the photographers on Flickr have Creative Commons Copyright licenses (http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/) allowing varying degrees of use by other people as long as you credit them and link back to the image.

Flickr Advance Search has this built right into their search so you can search for images which you can use on your site, on your commercial site and/or images you can modify, adapt, or build upon.

Idle Hands DC

Are the best practices any different if you're talking about a product or business? Let's say I want to do a post about a new sewing pattern I bought, and I'm going to link to the vendor's website. Is it appropriate to use a photo from the vendor's website with some sort of acknowledgement? Or is the only way to do this totally legally to take my own photo of the front of the pattern?

French la Vie

As a photographer, and a blogger, one of the most important things about "using" or borrowing" another person's photo on your blog is to give credit back to them with a link back to the image.
An Example:
(Imagine a photo is in this space)
Photo Source: Tongue in Cheek. (Link attached when clicking on the name of the blog)

The link back to the photo should be right under the photo, not hidden in small print on the bottom of ones post, NOR linked back to Pinterest or Flickr. The link should GIVE the owner of the photo credit. That is the appreciated thing to do.

Account Deleted

Great idea for a post. A lot of people need educating about photo usage rights.

Literally Engineer

I agree - Flickr CC photos are a great resource. Associate Creative Commons with Common Courtesy (credits and link-back) and you can't go far wrong.


Just in my own personal experience, retailers tend to be more willing to let you use their images, since you're promoting their product. I would still note where the image came from in my post and when in doubt, go ahead and ask them if they have preferences for image use. Retailers also sometimes have a page on their site detailing trademark info and providing logos, etc. for media use.

Kate Trafford

Building on Lex's suggestion about searching Flickr for Creative Commons licensed pics, here's a super resource I only discovered last week: http://search.creativecommons.org is a portal which allows you to do the equivalent search to a 'Google Images' search, but which applies a creative commons filter. It works by plugging in your key words, setting the filter as tight as you need it (see below) and then visiting different photo search engines one at a time. You still need to check for attribution requests etc but it's a real time-saver!

Another important point is that some permissions only let you use an image if you share it in its original form (ie unaltered in any way) or for non-commercial purposes. The above portal allows you to tick two boxes which tighten the filter even more, so it then offers you just pics which have been released for modification (important if you want to make a little 'quote poster' for example) or for promotional / commercial use (important if your blog is a business blog).

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