E"Photographer" By Nicolás García (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commonsven the most poignant blog post is virtually unreadable without a little visual appeal. On one hand, text matters most because content is KING of SEO.

However, the queen in this strategic game toward publishing flanks the important part of your content – key words, headings, and links generate your SEO. Your ideas are what will make people keep coming back and your visitors come to your site for your writing. To make the obvious sartorial critique, very few people are willing to read through massive walls of text.

That’s where stock images come in.

By breaking up a blog post with punchy images, what could be a daunting block of text is chiseled into aesthetically pleasing nibbles of information.  A stock image can be just a dash of color, or it can be an essential facet of the story you are trying to tell – and luckily, great stock images are available online, for free.

The key words for finding free stock images are Public Domain and Creative Commons.

Images in the public domain are the simplest to use and understand – their intellectual property rights have expired, and they are free to use in anyway you wish. Edit them! Recolor them! Slap them on a t-shirt! Public domain images are your playground.

Creative Commons images are a little bit harder to navigate; you’ll have to wade through a quite a bit more legalese. CC is a non-profit organization that was founded to expand the ways creative works can be protected and shared. They released several copyright-licenses to the public that allow the creators of intellectual property (images, written works, videos) to communicate to people who may want to share, remix, and use their works.  There are some possibly confusing words that are bandied about in a creative commons license:

  • Attribution means that the creator will let you use this work, but only if you give them due credit for it. In your website, you can attribute the creator in the title of your image or the alternate text.
  • No Derivative Works means that you are allowed to use the image (or video, or text) as is – but not edited in any way, shape or form. Think the image would look better mirrored? In black or white? Cropped? That’s not going to fly. The only way you can use an image labeled NDW is in its unaltered form.
  • Share Alike means if you do edit the image in someway or create a derivative work, you release that image into the creative commons in the same way you found it.
  • Noncommercial means that the work can only be used in a noncommercial way. Since your blog is a professional, commercial venture, it is a good idea to steer clear of noncommercial images. It is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you aren’t directly making money off of the image, unless you are a teacher using the image for a PowerPoint or a non-profit sprucing up a flyer, it’s better just to pass noncommercial images by.

Navigating through the legal parlance is the tough part – once you cut through the jargon, finding images in the public domain or under a creative commons license is fairly simple.  Two of the best sites for finding images available to punctuate your website include:

  • Flickr –  Flickr has a large creative commons section that divides up images by their different restrictions.  If you go into their advanced search, you can also limit your image hits to pictures available with a creative commons license.
  • Wikimedia Commons – The same egalitarian, any-one-can-contribute attitude of Wikipedia is carried over to their sister site, a collection of all kinds of media. Read the print for each image you want to use – they all vary.

Before you use an image you find online, make sure you understand the terms that the artist had in mind when they posted it. If an image in unattributed, it should not be used. Always give credit to the creator – and be happy you didn’t have to spend a dime on images!

If you took the picture and you have a photographic release from whomever appears in the picture or owns the objects or landscape that appear in the image, then you own the copyright of the image. Freedom of copyright belongs to you and you can share it without paying anyone else a permission. An author who shares their own photographs with their audience shares their own snapshot of daily life and sometimes that’s all a reader really has time for: a snapshot of an author’s life.

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