Sourcing Free Images 2.0

paulus self portrait

Paulus Moreelse self-portrait from the Rijksmuseum

I needed an image of a Renaissance self portrait for a recent post on my blog,  but having made an expensive mistake once, I’ve become hyper vigilant about sourcing free images.

In my search for digital images I could use free and clear, I made two discoveries worth sharing. First, I stumbled across Open Culture, which proclaims to be “the best free cultural and educational media on the web.” There, I found links to over twenty world-famous museums that make images of their collections available on-line.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Essentially, it’s possible to see a significant portion of the world’s great art with the ease of a few keystrokes. While this isn’t the same as visiting the Museum of New Zealand in person, for those of us in North America, it’s a lot cheaper. And while I’d love to spend a week at the British Library, or visit the Getty in Los Angeles, or even stroll through the National Gallery in Washington, DC, traveling requires the dual resources of time and money, which are not always available separately, let alone at the same time.

Should time and money allow, however, these websites could

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

serve as a wonderful primer in advance of a trip. And for the blogger in need of images with which to illustrate a post, these sites offer a wealth of images.

Not every museum gives carte blanche, however, so blogger beware, and follow the rules. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for instance, has made 400,000 high-resolution images available on-line, but has restricted downloading them to non-commercial use. Looking closer, The Met’s free-use policy is even more restrictive: the images are available for “Open Access for Scholarly Content.” As I understand it, this excludes using an image from their collection on a personal blog.

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post at

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post

The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, on the other hand, not only makes most of the collection available on-line, it also allows ordinary users to download and manipulate their images, whole or in part through their Rijks Studio – a program that allows a viewer to save, edit and change images. I was glad to make this discovery and found an image that served my purpose well. And I’m determined to return to the site and figure out how to use the tools fully.

I’m also intrigued by Open Culture which offers a great deal of free material, including on-line courses, free audio books, e-books, movies, free music and more.

Where do you find open source images for your posts?

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-wining novel Into the Wilderness, a love story between people in their mid-sixties, set in Vermont in 1964. She blogs at

Sourcing Free Photos

Autumn Mums Deborah Lee Luskin

Autumn Mums
photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

So many people responded to my last post about fair use of images on the internet that a follow-up post is in order.

Many readers didn’t know anything at all about copyrights, and many of you reblogged the post. Thank you; this is information we all need to know. As I learned, ignorance is not a defensible excuse, so keep spreading the word and be sure you have permission to use the images you find. This permission comes in three basic categories:

  • Out of copyright and free to anyone to use.
  • Free to use with permission and credit.
  • Available with permission for a fee.

Since most bloggers don’t earn money from their blogs, few of us can afford either to pay for images or pay fines for using images without permission. But there are a wealth of sources for available photos as I learned from readers who included links to their favorites in their comments. Crowd sourcing information is one of the great benefits of the blogosphere. In return for my readers’ collective kindness and generosity, I’ve compiled their links below. “hi resolution photos with royalty free license” “high resolution and high quality free stock photos” photo editing “amazingly simple graphic design for blogs” “free high quality images you can use anywhere” ten free photos sent to your email every ten days

I recommend checking out each site to see which has images you like and reading the fine print before signing up.

Another source of potentially terrific photographs are those taken by people you know. I have several friends who are accomplished photographers. The one friend I’ve asked so far is happy for the free publicity of having her photos appear on my blog with credit and a link to her website. I’ll ask others as opportunity permits.

photo: Kathy Lena

Finally, I’ve relearned how to use the camera we bought for a trip to Utah in 2011 and haven’t used since. I’m now creating my own file of images for my personal use.

I have a long, personal, history with photography, going back to the days of developing black and white film and photos in a basement darkroom. But after I bore three children in four years, I resorted to snapshots that I still haven’t sorted. My digital files are even more of a mess – until now.

One of the unintended consequences of my own lesson in fair use is a resurgent interest in documenting what I see in a format other than words. It feels good to flex my visual muscles and to relearn the physics of light. Since I started following The Artist’s Way again, I’ve been taking my camera out on my weekly Artist Date and seeing the world around me in an entirely new way. This post is illustrated with a few of the images I’ve captured in the past few weeks.

Two-Toned Maples photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

Two-Toned Maples
photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

Thanks to all the readers who replied to my last post and inspired this one.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this post contains no explicit legal advice, just this admonition: learn the rules and follow them.

Deborah Lee Luskin lives, writes, and takes photos in southern Vermont.

Buddha in the Woods photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

Buddha in the Woods
photo: Deborah Lee Luskin



Running Over Copyrights

Stop SignIn my haste to post Planning A Blog, I rushed to find free images to illustrate it and inadvertently used a photograph without permission or credit. I didn’t see the photographer’s name in the link, which is just about the same as running a red light.

A few days after the post was up, the photographer contacted me and sent me a bill for “release from liability of copyright infringement for unauthorised and uncredited” use of his image. I apologized and appealed, to no response. So I’ve paid the fee, and I’m writing this post both to make amends and to warn others not to make the same mistake, even unwittingly.

There are images available to use for little or no cost, and there are images that are owned by their creators. These artists deserve to be credited for their work and have the right to charge for it, and it is up to the user to find out and know. That would be me.

 That said, the world of rights is confusing, and I don’t pretend to know all there is to know by a long shot, but here are some basic things you must know:

  • There are free photos available online through Creative Commons, a non-profit organization “that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.” Creative Commons has rules about attribution and links; follow them.
  • There are images in the public domain (i.e. out of copyright). Wikimedia is a good place to look, but you still have to check each image for its particular rules.
  • There are services that stock Creative Commons photos and automatically upload credit and links to the images. Wylio has been recommended to me. $36 a year for the service is significantly less than paying a fine.
  • There’s lots more to learn. Some of the sites where I found helpful information:

My advice for all bloggers:Image

  • Schedule the time to ask permission and/or to find available images before rushing your post online (i.e. Don’t speed.)
  • Take your own photos.

I’m not the first person in the world this has ever happened to, nor am I likely to be the last. I hope this post will prevent others from using images without permission and help artists receive full credit for their work.


M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

As part of her practice of Restorative Justice, Deborah Lee Luskin takes full responsibility for her wrongdoing and hopes this helps make amends.