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5 Sources for Free and Legal Images

5 Sources for Free and Legal Images

Everyone knows that almost any blog post is better with images. However, getting them can be a difficult matter. With a maze of licensing and fair use issues making it hard to decide what is and is not legal to use, many bloggers don’t wish to use images that they have not taken themselves.

But while using your own images is always the best way to go, there are several great sources to help you find and locate images that you can use as part of your blog posts. In fact, there are some very neat tools designed specifically to help you correctly license and use other people’s photography, art and more.

The best part of all is that these tools are free. They will not cost you a dime to use and, if used correctly, can let you fill up your blog posts with as many images as your heart desires.

Photo Dropper

Photo Dropper is hands down one of my favorite WordPress plugins. Not only does it make excellent use of Creative Commons-licensed photos, but it solves one of the biggest problems with CC licensing, incomplete compliance with the terms of the license.

Photo Dropper is extremely simple to use. Simply install it in your WordPress plugins, activate it, set your options and then, on the “Write Post” page you can either click the “PD” icon next to the other media items or scroll down below the post entry box.

From there, you’ll be able to search for keywords related to your post. Photo Dropper will then search Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed works that might fit with your description. When you find one you like, you select the size you want and Photo Dropper inserts it into your post, complete with a CC-compliant attribution line.

Photo Dropper may take some fiddling to get relevant images and you might have to tweak the HTML to get it to fit well in your posts. However, it is still by far the easiest way to insert legal images into your posts.


Zemanta is a Firefox extension/IE plugin that integrates itself with most major blogging platforms, including both self-installed and hosted WordPress blogs, Blogger accounts, MovableType and more. When the user pulls up their blog’s editing interface, they are presented with related links, stories, tags and images that they can use with the post.

The advantage of Zemanta is that its images come from a variety of sources including public domain sources, Creative Commons sources, including Flickr, and other sources that license their images for use at low resolution. This provides a much greater variety of images to the user and it automatically performs a license-compliant insertion of the image into the post.

The drawback to Zemanta is that it can make modifications to the post beyond what is selected. You may need to go through your post’s HTML code thoroughly after insertion to be certain that nothing unwanted was inserted.


While the sources above are great for those that need abstract photographs or just something quirky to go with a story, finding an image to go with a news or politics story can be very tricky. Fortunately there are also a series of services to help with that, including GumGum.

The service allows publishers to search through related images and then embed interesting photos as a line of JavaScript code. Why JavaScript? Because that is how GumGum provides the service for free, using the JavaScript to both protect the image and display ads on top of it.

This use of ads is what may upset many. Where Photo Dropper and Zamanta don’t display ads, GumGum does. Also, the use of JavaScript may prevent the image from showing up in some RSS readers. These drawbacks, along with the need to apply for an account, are but a small price to pay for high-quality images.

Update: GumGum has clarified this article and said that they only require a one-time JavaScript insertion and then grant access to the full images, this negates many of these drawbacks. There is also a pay-per view model that allows you to skip the ads and just pay every time the image is displayed.


Similar to GumGum, PicApp lets you search through newsworthy images to find ones that might interest you and then lets you embed the one that works best as a JavaScript. However, PicApp also lets you search for “creative” as well as “editorial” images, giving you a slightly wider variety.

PicApp comes with many of the same concerns and drawbacks as GumGum and uses a similar advertising model to pay for the free service. PicApp, however, does not require you to register for the service and you can begin embedding images from the very first time you visit.

See Also
Google Search Report Tool

Whether you use PicApp or GumGum will likely be a matter of personal preference as the two sites largely fill the same niche. It comes down to which site has the best images for your content and which embeds you prefer.

Voxant Newsroom

Voxant Newsroom is another service that functions similar to GumGum or PicApp, letting users embed content, this time as a Flash app. But this service, unlike the former two, get their images exclusively from major mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press, CBS News and more.

As neat as Voxant is, I previously covered it in my broader article about getting free content for your site, there is not much flexibility regarding the layout of the embedded images. However, the site does offer a variety of content, including video and articles, all from major news sources.

Once again you and your visitors will be putting up with advertisements over the media, at least in many cases, but what is more likely a deal breaker for many is that the layouts of the images may not fit in many blog layouts and are often too large to go neatly with posts.

This is definitely one to consider though and see if it can work for you.


The bottom line is this, content licensing is hard, even with Creative Commons. Fortunately though, there are a series of sites that have come up to do the hard work for you and let you easily and legally use images with your blog posts.

In addition to these sites, there are also a slew of stock photography sites that let you download and use photographs and images for free or a small license. However, they generally provide no help with the insertion process and, if there are licensing terms, provide little help in complying with them.

A solution such as these tools can help not only keep your site legal, but speed up the writing process dramatically, saving you time and money.

View Comments (35)
  • Glad to see Zemanta on the list here. Not only is it a great source for images (which, granted can sometimes flummox your layout), but their ‘related posts’ feature is a great way to set trackbacks, garner links, and help promote other great articles across the blogosphere.

    Thanks for the others, going to have to check them out today.

  • These are great sites. I am rather a newbie to all these sites. Thanks a lot for sharing this awesome list.

    Btw, congrats on making on the top of


  • Congratulations, Jonathan. Making a post on the top of is my dream :-)

    There is new website,, addressing the image problem in an approach that is totally different from the sites you mentioned – it collects properly licensed images, hosts those images, and allows user to hotlink the images. That really releases bloggers from tedious image work .

    This is a new site just released. We sincerely invite you to try it and give your comments and suggestions. Thank you.

  • Images are difficult to acquire for blog posts and websites. I try to bring my camera with me all the time and shoot photos of random things as well as blog ideas that I have in mind. With that said, there is always a need for more photos. I will have to check out the WordPress plug-in.

  • Sweet! Thanks for this guide. I am working on a site where I will offer book reviews. Is there a place on the net where I can legally get pictures of the cover of these books. I could go to amazon an just lif tthe thumbnails but want to be legal. I would think it would be in the publishers interest to create a repository of sorts. Any ideas?

    thanks again for sharing your experience.

  • I recommend this great site

    “Public domain images, royalty free stock photos. All photos on this site are top quality high resolution public domain images. They are explicitly placed in the public domain. Use them freely for personal and commercial use. Largest image archive, several thousand photos in high resolution, nicely organized hierarchically in folders, easy to browse, all are public domain images, and all are 100% free for download.”

    “ Public domain images, several thousand photos nicely organized in folders, free for personal and commercial use.”

  • Images are difficult to acquire for blog posts and websites. I try to bring my camera with me all the time and shoot photos of random things as well as blog ideas that I have in mind. With that said, there is always a need for more photos. I will have to check out the WordPress plug-in

  • thanks for sharing! it is hard for blogger to find free picture. sometimes and even purchase from some online photo store which charges me $2 for just ONE photo with low pixel.

  • From my personal experience, I have realised how important it is to hire services from only reliable law firms specialising in specific legal areas. To share my experience, once, I got stuck with a long term parental property issue and there was no hope to overcome all the legal matters. Thereafter, I searched a law firm directory; from the directory I hired a property disputes lawyer who has capable enough to solve my legal disputes within short span. Thanks to the internet which now offers every piece of information and has opened up 1000s options!

  • Fabulous list of sites. I’m constantly looking for quality photos for my blog, and this has helped. Thanks so much. I’d like to add flickr as a great site for plenty of free images too.

  • Hey Jonathan,

    Although this post was written quite some time ago it is still relevant to what currently happens, one is never sure as to just what you may or may not place on your site. I normally end up trying to create my own for this very reason and end up losing a lot of time on occasion – Alas Time Is Money. So thanks I trust the sites mentioned are still available, will take a look!

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