We all know that great online content is about the perfect mix of words and images. Getting the image right could get your content noticed, shared and engaged with more widely, so it pays to take the time to source professional images that demonstrate you’re serious about your content. Photography can be expensive, but there are several ways you can access great quality images either at a low cost or completely free of charge – and our virtual social media manager guide will give you the advice you need on how to source quality images without breaking the bank.

A quick note on images

As a content producer, you need to make sure you don’t infringe anyone’s copyright when you use an image from the internet. Not all images are copyright free, or available for you to share and use. And if you do use a copyrighted image without permission, the owner can ask you to remove it, ask for a royalty payment or even take you to court. So it’s always best to be cautious and if you need to consider taking out a subscription to a paid image site, then do so. Here are some key terms you might come across:

Creative Commons – this is an organisation that encourages the sharing of knowledge and creativity. A Creative Common license gives the originator a quick and easy way to grant copyright permission for their work, make it freely available to others, and make sure that the work is properly attributed. Owners of creative work like images can choose from a range of Creative Commons licences – from those that allow any type of adaptation or re-use of the content as long as it is attributed, to licences that allow just straightforward reproduction under certain conditions. Licenses are available for commercial and non-commercial use, so if you are sourcing an image with a Creative Commons license for your business use, you must check you can re-use the content for commercial purposes.

Royalty-free images – usually, royalties are payable for each use of an image or piece of protected content. Royalty-free images usually require a single one-off payment that then allows you to use the image as often as you like. So don’t expect these images to be free: expect to pay for the ability to use it.

Images in the public domain – there may be images where copyright has expired or is no longer applicable. These images are usually available to use freely, but you should always double check. Don’t confuse ‘in the public domain’ with images that you can find and save online – most online images will be copyrighted unless explicitly labelled otherwise.

Useful image sites

Here are our top ten image sites to help you find the most professional and relevant images for your marketing content management.

1. Google Images – this is a popular way to find images related to specific search terms. Google offers a license option when you search, which you can find in the ‘Filters’ section of the image search. Choose the type of license that suits your needs and Google will filter the image results accordingly. When you find an image you like, click through to the website it’s hosted on to make absolutely sure you are able to use it and that you know how to attribute it.

2. Unsplash – this site has its own license for images which means you can search and download images for most purposes. Social media managers love Unsplash because it has a great range of high quality images that just require a photographer credit.

3. Pixabay – images on Pixabay are free to download and use under the Creative Commons Zero license. You don’t have to add a credit, although it’s always good practice to do so.

4. Canva – a fantastic online graphic design tool that also offers free stock photos. Used by lots of content marketing managers, it lets you turn images into a bespoke graphic that you can use on social media or your website.

5. Flickr Creative Commons – Flickr has been around for a long time and thousands of professional and amateur photographers load their images to the site. You can search by image rights, to help you find those images that have a Creative Commons license. Always give credit to the photographer and link to their Flickr profile. And double-check that the image is licensed for commercial re-use.

6. Burst – this is a free stock photo platform from Shopify, and gives you access to both completely free images and royalty-free images.

7. Free Images – with several hundred thousand stock images, Free Images has its own license which allows wide usage for most images. Again, check that the image you want doesn’t have restricted.

8. Kaboompics – the license in place at Kaboompics allows you to use its images, but not redistribute them. You can search by colour, which is great for images that are using your brand colours, giving you extra design points.

9. Stocksnap – this uses the Creative Commons CCO license, which means that you can use the photos, edit them if you want to, and use them for commercial and non-commercial content.

10. Take your own – for some businesses this is a great way to ensure that you’re not using the same old stock photos as everyone else, and that you can inject some of your brand personality and style into your images. Whilst it might be an initial outlay, in terms of content maintenance and curation, it’s a great option. Find a good local photographer that you can build a relationship with and you can just arrange ongoing shoots to update your photos and make your content truly unique. Read our photography blog to find out more.

Whether you manage your content in-house or outsource to a virtual social media manager, you are responsible for ensuring that the images you choose are fully available to use – either free or on a paid-for basis. Get this right, and you can keep producing great-looking content that helps to drive people to your business to find out more.

If you’re short on time and need help with content management, feel free to call us on 0800 994 9016 or use our contact form in the menu above.


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