How To Find Wow-Worthy Images (Ethically)

Finding images for your business can be a major, time-consuming headache. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so here are some simple steps to ethically sourcing images that are wow-worthy.

May 28, 2018

Unless you are a photographer, finding images for your social media feed, opt-ins, digital products, blog posts, and more can be a major headache. With so much riding on the visuals, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Maybe you are staring at a stock photo site with glazed-over eyes wishing the best photos would just jump off the page. Or, maybe you are still grabbing images off Google Image Search without even considering copyright issues. Either way, I’ve got you covered. Here are some simple steps to ethically sourcing images that are wow-worthy.

01. Everything(ish) is under copyright.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This article is not legal advice. Copyright law is a complex and evolving thing in the digital age. The remarks below are intended for informational purposes only. Please seek out an attorney experienced in copyright law if you need legal advice.

For anything created in a tangible form after 1977, a copyright (or legal protection automatically granted to the creator of an original work) is automatically in effect. A tangible form means that it is no longer just an idea in your head. A photo is certainly tangible. This means almost every photo you come across on the internet is copyrighted. It also means that the copyright is automatic. Someone posts a selfie on Instagram without a copyright notice. Guess what? It’s protected.  

A creator, or in this case a photographer, may release their work into the public domain. That’s kind of rare. Usually, what you will find is images with licensing options for others to use them legally.

image with copyright symbals

Since the internet is full of images, it is easy to forget that someone owns the rights to those photos. Just because it is online, does not mean that it is free to use. Another misconception is that you can freely use protected images if you aren’t selling the end product or if you link back to the source.

What about Pinterest? You can check out their terms here. When you upload your content to Pinterest, you agree that it can be displayed ON Pinterest. So, images that you find on Pinterest are licensed to be displayed only on Pinterest and not your site. What about creating a blog post that features images from Pinterest? To avoid any copyright infringement, you want to contact the owner of the image and ask permission.

Behind every photo on the internet is a fellow entrepreneur, small business owner, or artist with a camera. So, please honor the hard work of others, and take steps to ethically and legally source the images you use in your business. Keep reading to find out how.

02. Introduction to Licensing

Now that we have established that we are looking for licensed photos, let’s look at what that means. Many creators/photographers/makers will use a Creative Commons license for images that they wish to share with the public. There are a few license types outlined by the Creative Commons organization, so pay attention to which license is granted. For instance, you might be licensed to share with attribution (or credit to the original photographer).

To streamline our efforts in finding images with the appropriate license, it is best to stick to stock photo providers. Sure you could spend hours on Flickr or Google Images checking the license of each photo. But, who has time for that? By sticking with stocking photo sites/memberships you aren’t wasting precious time scrolling through photos that you can’t use to find a hidden gem.

Different stock photo sites have different licensing options. Unsplash grants the user a license to use, modify, copy, and share with others for commercial or personal purposes.  Other sites, like iStock offers two or three licenses based on how you will use the image. It’s important to read the terms. I know; it’s boring, or confusing. But really, we would want the same courtesy from others for our work, right?

03. How to search effectively

Ok, now that we have all the technical/legal information out of the way, what’s next?

Find a few go-to resources. There are a growing number of stock photo providers out there today with many different styles. Decide what you need most often. Are you generally looking for styled, feminine shots? Lifestyle images? Nature photos? Images of a particular industry? Ethnic/racial diversity? Find or ask for recommendations for stock photos with those particular type of images, and always start your search there.

Have a goal in mind. Get intentional with the style you are looking for before you start searching. Are you looking for images for a challenge in your Facebook group? How do you want your community to feel: Empowered? Inspired? Reflective? If you want to inspire, brighter colors or nature images might fit depending on your overall brand. Maybe you should look for soothing, serene images if you are writing a blog post about overcoming anxiety. It’s easier to narrow down your options if you decide on a style ahead of time.

search smarter, not harder

Use collections/lists/favorites. Many stock photo sites allow you and others to curate photos into lists. Browse publicly shared collections to save time. It’s a great way to quickly narrow down options.

Or create your own collections as you go. I often come across photos that I really like but are not right for the current project. It is very easy to favorite or add to a collection/list based on the style or content. Once you get into the habit of doing this regularly, you will have a great starting place for future searches. Keeping things organized will save you time in the long run!

Use tags to help you search. Sometimes our first efforts at finding the right search terms don’t work out. Don’t waste a lot of time continuing to scroll if the search results aren’t on the right track. Find an image that is the best match, and see what other tags/categories are listed. It is a quick way to get better search results.

04. Free Resources

Sometimes you are working on a tiny budget. I get it! Here are a few of my favorite sources for free stock images:

Many stock photographers offer freebies if you sign up for their mailing list. It is a great way to try out a new photographer’s style before committing to a membership. Quick note: Most of the time the license for these free photos on a photographers newsletter can only be used for your own business. No transferring them to clients.

05. Paid Resources

Like most things in life, you generally get what you pay for. However, there are more and better options than ever before. In fact, all of my favorite paid options are entrepreneurs and small businesses. I'm not usually a fan of the larger, older stock photo sites.

Here are few of my favorite sources for paid stock photos:

Creative Market is a great place to discover new photographers or other digital makers in general. :) I hope that these tips help ease some of the stress when it comes to finding photos for your business.

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