Updated: Jan 24
Most blogs now usually have multiple images per post, and there are reasons for this (aside from making the posts look pretty). Using images in your posts have two main benefits:
They make your posts more appealing to readers
They enhance your SEO (if properly optimised)
But where and how do you source the right images for your posts? You need to navigate the minefield that is copyright law and licenses if you are to use images properly. If you fail to follow the relevant rules, guidelines and licenses in your country, you could risk facing a lawsuit.
In this post, I'll cover the basics of copyright law (based on UK regulations) and licenses, before showing you five ways you can safely and legally source stunning images for your blog posts.
Why Are Images Important For Blog Posts?
Blog posts now need to be visual and engaging. Reading on a screen is harder than reading printed text (source: BrainFacts.org). While we might read much quicker on screens than on printed text, the information doesn't necessarily get processed in the same way.
This is one of the reasons why having images is essential for blog posts. Images and illustrations break up blocks of text to give readers a chance to absorb and understand the information. They also add context, and if you use infographics and diagrams, another way of presenting information engagingly.
A further advantage of using images in blog posts is their role in SEO. Google does have a visual as well as a textual element to its ranking system, so having high-quality and SEO optimised images in your posts will help them to rank higher (source: Yoast). Adding keywords to the alt text of an image (the text that screenreaders read) also adds to your SEO ranking.
So using images in your blog posts is an essential tool that benefits your readers first and foremost, but also can positively affect your ranking in search results. But how do you go about sourcing images? Before looking at places you can go to get images, let's talk about copyright law.
Copyright Law and Licensing
Rule number one when sourcing images for your blog posts is you can't use whatever image you want. Here in the UK, work created by someone is automatically protected by copyright law, meaning no one can copy, use or recreate that work without the creator's permission. If someone were to violate copyright law by using someone else's work without permission, they could face some hefty fines and penalties.
Photographs, artwork, and graphic designs are included under copyright protection. If you were to take a photo of your dog, for example, that photo is automatically protected under UK copyright law and cannot be copied or redistributed by someone else without your permission. You own the creative rights to that image.
How do you use images legally?
So, if every image online is protected by copyright law, how do you use them legally in your blog posts. Before I dive into the five ways to source images for your posts, here are a few tips on how to avoid violating copyright law.
1. Don't pull images randomly from Google
Google Images is great for finding images as inspiration, but it is not a free image bank. When searching for images, you can use the advanced search tool to filter images under different licenses (see below). But do not take images from results without checking if they are viable first.
2. Understand the different licenses
Commercial licensing: these licenses allow you to use the protected images for commercial use under certain conditions (e.g. no image alterations). You typically need to pay for images under these licenses.
Creative Commons licenses: copyright owners with these licenses can allow anyone to use their images for free under certain conditions. Creative Commons has six licenses with varying degrees of protection and usage, so it's important to look out for and adhere to the conditions these licenses have. For example, a CC BY license allows you to use the image for free for commercial and non-commercial purposes, as long as you give credit to the creator.
Public domain: images in the public domain (CC0 under Creative Commons) are free to use with no conditions. A creator who gives their work over to the public domain forfeits their rights to copyright protection.
3. Always give credit where you can
Unless I'm using images from the free Wix image bank (since this is a Wix hosted website), I always give credit to the original creator where I can. However, you still need to be careful about licensing. Don't think giving credit is a free pass to use and modify any image you want. Always check the license before you use it, and make sure you do give credit where it is required.
No one is going to think badly of you for crediting someone else's work, but people will think badly of you for stealing someone else's work.
4. You can ask permission from the creator
Unsure if you can use an image? Don't be afraid to get in touch with the creator and ask for their permission. If they say no, respect their decision. It's better than winging it and facing a lawsuit.
5 Ways to Source Images For Your Blog
1. Take your own photos
Pros: it's free; you don't need to worry about copyright infringement (because they are your photos)
Cons: time-consuming; you need high-quality equipment to take high-quality photos
Taking photos for your blog posts is the best way to guarantee you're not infringing on copyrighted material. After all, the images you take are copyrighted automatically (at least they are in the UK where I am from).
However, taking photos takes a lot of time and preparation. You need to have the right equipment (camera, lighting, space, etc.), plus the time to take the photos, find people who would be willing to participate (if you need them in the pictures), and time to edit and select your photos.
Unless you're a professional photographer, I think it would be challenging to maintain that process because it takes time away from your business. However, there are other options.
2. Design your own (Canva)
Pros: it's free with a paid upgrade option; easy to use; lots of design options
Cons: many features are locked behind the paid upgrade
Following on from using your photographs, you have the option to design illustrations too with tools such as Canva. I remember someone saying to me once that Canva is like a poor man's graphic designer, and that's honestly pretty accurate.
Canva is my go-to tool for designing blog cover images, Pinterest pins, and more. It's free and very easy to use, with plenty of customisable options available and its own set of free stock photos.
The only downside to Canva is that many of its features are locked behind its paid "Pro" version (£99.99/year). The 30-day free trial is a useful way to test the waters and see if it's worth purchasing. I think that if you can afford it, Canva Pro is worth the price tag.
That said, the free version still has enough to use in your content. Plus, there's no need to worry about copyrighted material, because all your designs are yours.
Pros: professional photos/illustrations; great for creating unique images for your blog
Cons: can be expensive;
The next step up from using your photos is to commission someone else to take them for you or to hire a graphic designer. If you have enough room in the budget, it's worth hiring a photographer or illustrator to create your images for you, whether they are in-house or freelance.
This strategy is perfect if you have a very niche idea for a blog that you might otherwise struggle to source images for. Having an illustrator or graphic designer create images for you can also make your blog more unique, helping you stand out from competitors who use the same stock images repeatedly.
I suppose the only downside to this strategy is the pricing. Hiring someone to create your images costs money, not only for the service but also for your right to use their material on your blog. So, if you are starting up a blog with little money in the bank, I wouldn't recommend this strategy.
4. Unsplash (free)
Pros: professional-looking photos; free to use; supporting photographers
Cons: might not have the quality or type of photos you are looking for
Unsplash is one of the best free image banks out there, and I think the best part about it is discovering so many talented photographers and artists. Unsplash is free to use and has a range of images taken by professionals and amateurs alike. Some even promote their services on the site too.
The Unsplash license allows all photos and images to be used freely for commercial and non-commercial usage, and no permission is required. Giving credit to the creators is appreciated, but not necessary either. Be mindful that you cannot sell the images you download from Unsplash.
The downside? It's not much, but sometimes you might not find the images you are looking for. They might not be the right quality or tone, or what you're looking for could be so niche that it won't appear. In those cases, it's better to find images from the other sources in this list.
5. Shutterstock (paid)
Pros: professional photos; no need to worry about copyright infringement
Cons: can be expensive if you are on a budget
Finally, we come to paid stock images. Sites like Shutterstock offer high-quality photos and images from professional photographers for a price, often via a subscription plan. Their database is packed full of photos, videos, and other visual content that you can use not only for your blog posts but across your other marketing channels.
The main downside to paid stock photo sites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock is the price tag. If you are just starting out or on a tight budget, I wouldn't recommend going down this route. However, if you have plenty of financial room, then I would say it's well worth investing in a subscription plan to gain access to the millions of extremely high-quality images they have in their database.
Images are important for making blog posts fresh, vibrant, and engaging to readers. They also have the added benefit of enhancing your search engine rankings if they are optimised properly.
But sourcing images for your blog posts legally and safely is vital. It's not only important for you to follow national and global copyright law, but it's also important to respect the artists and photographers who work hard to create their images. Above all, you need to make sure you understand the differences between the different licenses and labels:
In this post, I discussed why using images is important, what you need to know about copyright law and image licensing, and how to source images legally and safely. The five sources I talked about are:
Take your own photos
Design your images (using Canva)
Unsplash (free images)
Shutterstock (paid stock photos)
Each method has pros and cons, and I would advise using a mix of different methods (depending on your budget and time) to get the most out of your image collection.