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Tip #9: Finding legal photos to use on

By David Silverberg
Posted Jun 8, 2009 in Internet
It's one of the most common questions asked by Digital Journalists: "What photos can I freely use from the Web to complement my article?" It's a popular question because many people believe they can nab photos from any website, without any consequence.
Photos on many news sites comes with an attribution and a copyright license. Photos from Reuters and AP and AFP can't just be taken from one site and posted on another; that would be a blatant copyright violation, and it's something we don't allow on
This DJ Tip n' Trick post will teach you what photos you can use and how to find them.
First, government websites are excellent resources. On a site like, all photos are public domain and can be used by anyone (as long as attribution is given). Recently, the Blog section of the White House website has been filled with photos of President Obama and Vice President Biden, all uploaded the day of the shoot. For political writers, this is a site worth bookmarking.
The same rule applies to other governmental websites in various countries, from Canada to South Korea to Israel. Just make certain you are indeed on a government website, and not an advocacy group's homepage.
Second, we highly recommend using Flickr's advanced search options. It's quite easy to find a photo that has a Creative Commons license -- a license allowing you to use their work freely alongside editorial.
Simply go to the Advanced Search option in Flickr. Input the search terms for the story (e.g. Brazil, the economy, marijuana) and then scroll to the bottom. Click the box marked "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content."
The Advanced Search area in Flickr
This is the box to tick when looking for Flickr photos having the Creative Commons license
by Digital Journal
Then click SEARCH and choose a photo you like. If you click on the link titled "All sizes" above the image you'll see larger images you can right-click and save to your computer.
Once you've downloaded the photo size you like, click back to the image's main detail page. Once there, make sure you take note of the photographer's name (top-right corner) and the Creative Commons licenses (bottom right under the header "Additional inforomation"). There are various types of licenses and Digital Journalist must mark the correct licenses when they fill in image details on
Speaking of Flickr, the White House has a great Flickr account that offers journalists copyright-free content here.
If you have trouble finding the license for a photo on Flickr, these steps should help you out:
Copyright image, cannot use:
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
This image has a copyright (c) and "All rights reserved" which means you cannot use it.
Instead, you need to check the box for "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" in the advanced search (as mentioned above). Once you get results, look for this:
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
This photo shows "Some rights reserved" and a few logos. If you hover over the logos, you can see it says "Attribution - Non Commercial - Sharealike" which is OK to use on our site.
If you want to see bigger icons to be sure, click on "All sizes" above the photo:
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
Then scroll down to below the photo and you have large icons that show the Creative Commons license when you hover over them:
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
Identifying copyrights on Flickr photos
These icons will become more familiar to you as you use them more often.
Finally, in addition to Flickr, a website has popped up to offer anyone access to their vast database of photos. Check out, and key in search terms in the Free Images search bar. If you are doing a story on Web surfing, inputting the word "Internet" will give you 83 pics from which to choose. Just download the pic by clicking the Download button at the bottom, and when you upload the photo to make sure to give credit to the photographer and the website (e.g. in the Attribution field -- Photo by mzacha/
MorgueFile doesn't have breaking news photos but more general photos. It's no AP, but we appreciate the wide variety of pics from which to choose.
Also, don't be shy about being aggressive. If you are interviewing individuals, snap photos of them as often as possible. Alternately, for phone interviews, request photos to be sent to you via email, as .jpegs (that's the only format we accept). Many PR companies have a library of photos they can send journalists and will share them if asked. You can also ask individuals whom you interview for their photo, and explain to them it's always important to show people behind the stories. Ask who took the photo and who should receive credit. For example, "Photo courtesy -Person's Name-"
Be sure to get company photos from the actual company, as opposed to stealing images off their website. It also never hurts to phone police departments for crime-related photos, if that's your beat.
Any questions? Let us know in the comments section. Happy uploading!

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