Don't Steal. Instead, Take Wisely. Or Shoot Your Own.

Don't Steal. Instead, Take Wisely. Or Shoot Your Own.

At last, I found the only good use of a stock photo: Halloween costume. If the kids in my neighborhood were 40-something office workers or ad agency people, I’d wear this costume to hand out candy this year. But no.

I found this "Stock Photo Halloween Dude" on Reddit from afterthesunsets

I found this "Stock Photo Halloween Dude" on Reddit from afterthesunsets

This post is more than just another rant against stock photography – man that stuff is dreadful. It’s also a cry against stealing images off the internet for use on your blog or website.

Photography is an important part of your communication tactics. And anything that’s important takes a little more effort. Finish up your current subscription to iStockPhoto - print out some Halloween costumes perhaps - then end it. When that's done, refer to these easy ways to find good photography for your website, your blog and LinkedIn posts.

I’m putting the legal up front, full-size type, right here: You cannot simply do a Google search for an image, and then use a photo you find. As noted on, “Google is a search engine that helps you locate content such as images and photos. It isn’t a content depository, and it’s not a collection of public-domain or copyright-free works…. It’s always prudent to start by assuming that the image is protected by copyright law in your own country and around the world. Then do your research. Take the necessary effort and steps to determine if the image is protected by copyright and, if so, get permission to use it before you use it.”

Here is your list of options for finding good-quality, safe-to-use, not-stock photography.

Option 1: Google Advanced Search

You know how to find an image using Google, now here's how to do it legally. In the Google Image search window, look to the top right and click on “Settings,” then “Advanced Search.” That window opens to present several “narrow your results” options. The bottom one – “usage rights” – is most important for this discussion. Click on the drop-down menu, and select one of the “commercially” options. Now click “Advanced Search” and the Google Machine will return with images you can use.


You’ll now see images “labeled for reuse.” It’s still a good idea to credit the web source of that image when you use it on your site or in an email; just type “photo credit:” below the image. Depending on the photo you’re looking for, you may have far fewer photo choices with this method. But you won’t have to pay for them, or worry that you might be stealing them. If this is too limited for you, check Option 2. 

Option 2: Creative Commons, and Flickr

This is the “we-can-all-get-along” section of the internet. What is Creative Commons? Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say. “Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public.” There you go.

Once you get to this Creative Commons page, you can choose from a few different sites for images, video and music. For images, I often use Flickr. And I have my own Flickr page as well. I’ve even purchased photos from other Flickr photogs. 

Flickr stores millions of images. Its search tool is easy to use. And even though we don’t know what might happen with Flickr in the future – it’s owned by Yahoo – it remains a good place to search for a find images.

As a photographer, I’m not trusting Flickr as my sole photo-storage option, but that’s another story. 

UPDATED - Option 2.1: Buy The Photo

I saw a discussion on Facebook recently about photos from an event. If you're in a 10K run or a bicycle race, and the photog shares a link to event photos that are watermarked with that photographer's name or logo, don't just copy and share those like you're doing the shooter a favor promotionally. 

I have a friend who shoots mountain bike races, and he's exceedingly good. Photos are available for sale post-race for about $10. Buy the photo. Just buy it. 

Option 3: Shoot Your Own, or Hire A Photographer

If your photo needs are immediate, like for a blog post or email, your smart phone might be a good option for you. Many of the photos I use on this blog (such as my book reviews) are shot minutes before posting with my iPhone. Just take your time, get the lighting right, and watch out for the shadow of your arm or the phone itself. Most smart phones have surprisingly good editing capabilities too, enabling you to adjust lighting and color saturation, and to crop images.

If you need pictures of people, especially company executives, or your brand's products, your smart phone is not the best tool. These images require a bit more thought, some setup – you know, planning. Find a photographer (call me), and hire him or her to shoot all the photos you might need.

And shoot your own stock photography! Make a fun day out of it at the office. I’ve done this for clients, and most employees love it. They will like that you asked, they get a little break from the daily grind, and their picture might show up on your website or elsewhere. I’ve had managers ask me, “But what about when one of those employees leaves the company?” That’s a chance you take, but I find it far better than using stock photos of models who have NEVER worked for your company. 

Option 4: Good Stock

I recently found, and I plan to use it, both as a photographer and as a content creator. This anti-stock stock photo site includes more than 300,000 high-resolution images that are free to use, and are “brought to you by the world’s most generous community of photographers,” as the site’s About page says.

My new Unsplash Page starter

My new Unsplash Page starter

If nothing else, we should all celebrate a “generous community” whenever we see one. Unsplash gives simple guidelines on how to credit a photographer – or not, it’s not a requirement. But it’s the right thing to do.

Good luck with your image searching. Don’t steal. 

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