Everyone publishes nowadays. (Well, almost everyone…)
In one way or another, we all create, reproduce and publish content on a regular basis, be it on a blog, Facebook, a forum, etc. and we need images to illustrate them.
So we can go ahead and make the image we need or we can look for it… on the internet. And because of this intensive digital visual culture we now live in, we will probably find it! On Facebook, Instagram, Google, Flickr, 500px, 1x, in one of the endless number of photographer's websites, take your pick!
Here arises a problem that the photographer (and writer, and musician…) has to deal with on a daily basis. Many people are misinformed about the usage rights of what they find online.
If not stated otherwise, an image cannot be copied and reused without the formal consent of it’s author. (Bummer!)
But this is not the dead end it may seem, there are a number of solutions (some of them free!)
1- We can contact the photographer directly and explain what we want the image for. If it’s not for commercial use, sometimes we will only be asked to credit his/her name and link back to his/her website.
You never know ‘till you try.
2- Use a search tool like Google Images to find an image similar to the one we want.
All you have to do is introduce some kind of reference (keywords, URL or file) and filter the results. "Labeled for reuse” means an image has been released for free usage. (This should be confirmed at the website of origin)
3- When we run out of free options, or if we need a photo for commercial purposes (advertising, company website, etc) there is always the possibility of licensing it (purchasing the rights to use or reproduce the image).
Again, we can always contact the photographer directly (especially if we want a very specific photo), or we can choose from a library on one of the many stock photo sites. They come in many sizes, color and shapes (and prices!), so here are a few examples to get you started: Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Alamy, Getty. If you’re looking for something mores specific, like animals or sports, try Animal Photography or Aurora.
Some stock photo sites offer free photos, but beware the pitfalls, especially if the photos include people. You should read the terms and restrictions very carefully. This article on TechRadar has an interesting selection of such sites.
The caveat about stock photo sites: the more attractive and inexpensive the image is, the more likely it is that a lot of people are already using it and you will likely see it everywhere! No surprise there...