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Snagging Your Photos from the World Wide Web - By Attribute or Public Domain

Updated on June 6, 2012

Readers Love A Visual Picture

© May 2012

As you browse through the latest hub topics, where does your eye travel first? Mine usually focuses in on the photos while the written words take a little longer for my brain to absorb.

A hub I recently read suggested that the photo be placed lower down in the article so that the Google Adsense ads would fill in that top spot. I disagree with this logic though. When I click over to an article to begin reading it, I'm planning to invest a little of my time at the least in reading that authors work. Most of us aren't going to leave immediately after landing on that page, but will spend some time scanning the article to see if it catches our interest. If it captivates us we read to the very last line. If not, after we've scanned a paragraph or two and see that the material doesn't mesh well with our interests, then we are ready to move on. With this in mind, I think it's better to embed the ads further down into the article, or even at the very end of it in the final capsule. Think positively - You've taken the time needed to write a fabulous hub, readers are going to love it, and they're bound to stay.

Choosing Your Cover Photo

The publisher or author chooses a beautiful alluring illustration to go on the cover of a book in the hopes that it will catch a potential reader's attention and draw them in for a closer look at the synopsis. With online articles on Hubpages, Squidoo and such, the first glimpse the reader may have is likely the title displayed with a thumbnail sized photo in the topic directory. The black Hubpages default image used when there isn't a picture just doesn't cut it. Take the time to find a photo that fits your subject matter. Don't have one of your own? No problem. You should be able to snag one for free online from the Creative Commons or Public Domain.

Public Domain

My favorite place to snag photos is from the Public Domain. As writers, we often research a subject and then pen an article about it. We may not have any pictures of our own to use that match up to what we are writing about. In this scenario, it is very convenient and worth the bit of effort it takes to surf the internet and browse for photos that can be used commercially without restriction.

Most photos in the Public Domain are copyright free and users aren't restricted or required to acknowledge where they obtained the photo or who it belongs to. However, this isn't always the case, and it is advisable to thoroughly read any and all terms that accompany the photo on the site where it originates, and make sure you do attribute the photo appropriately if it specifies that this is a requirement.

Photos that are truly Public Domain are free of cost, carry a full rights license, or are absent of copyrights. This means that users can display these images anywhere they like, and may use them for personal use or commercial. With that said, there is always an exception. Many sites that display Public Domain photos have a disclaimer clause and will also display a warning that states that although the photos may be displayed without restriction, you can not offer them for redistribution on your website, or sell them collectively on CD, DVD, or any other such media. So keep in mind that use may be for you only and you may not be able to offer the photos to others in a way that would make it appear that you are the contributor. This falls in line with the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would like them to do to you."

Although there are a vast number of photograph publishers now dedicating works to the public domain, it can be a daunting and very time consuming task to locate good quality photos that match the criteria needed. When you perform your searches, be specific. If you happen to be looking for a photo of a dolphin jumping, input the words public domain photo + dolphin + jumping in the search box. This may be common sense to most, but for some that aren't as search engine savvy (I seem to learn the best through trial and error) it wasn't obvious in the beginning and accounted for many hours of futile browsing. Fortunately, I grew wiser through experience.

There are many sources on the web for downloading photos at no cost. Detailed below are photo source references to some of my favorite sites for obtaining photos from the Public Domain.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Butterfly fish at Palmyra Island Atoll National Refuge in the Pacific Islands swims by corals.Short-tailed Albatross Chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.Bear cub photo taken at Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park.   Stellar sea lion haul out, Amak Island, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.Coprinus Inky Cap mushrooms (aka, Mica Cap) at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
Butterfly fish at Palmyra Island Atoll National Refuge in the Pacific Islands swims by corals.
Butterfly fish at Palmyra Island Atoll National Refuge in the Pacific Islands swims by corals. | Source
Short-tailed Albatross Chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Short-tailed Albatross Chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. | Source
Bear cub photo taken at Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park.
Bear cub photo taken at Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park. | Source
Stellar sea lion haul out, Amak Island, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Stellar sea lion haul out, Amak Island, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. | Source
Coprinus Inky Cap mushrooms (aka, Mica Cap) at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
Coprinus Inky Cap mushrooms (aka, Mica Cap) at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. | Source

The US Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library

Topping the list is my absolute favorite:

I believe all the photos on this site are Public Domain and can be freely used by anyone for any purpose except for redistribution. The Digital Library is set-up as a database with title, source, description, resolution and rights information as well as other helpful characteristics and details of interest for research purposes. Most of the photos were taken on Wildlife Refuges or National Parks by US Fish and Wildlife Service workers while performing their duties.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Castle Fortress Natural Forest HabitatBig Sur Ocean CoveRed wine served in an Italian RestaurantFireworks Display Celebration Scene from the back of Queen Mary
Castle Fortress
Castle Fortress | Source
Natural Forest Habitat
Natural Forest Habitat | Source
Big Sur Ocean Cove
Big Sur Ocean Cove | Source
Red wine served in an Italian Restaurant
Red wine served in an Italian Restaurant | Source
Fireworks Display Celebration Scene from the back of Queen Mary
Fireworks Display Celebration Scene from the back of Queen Mary | Source

Public Domain Image

This site has no restrictions and even allows users to sell the photos if they choose:

The layout of this site is rather generic in appearance, but most of the images are pretty good. It is interspersed with Google Adsense ads at the top of each page, and there is also an option for you to donate money for the images if you like. I kind of doubt that many do and probably most of their revenues, I'm guessing, come from those strategically placed ads that cover a large section on most of their pages.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Funny cat hanging upside down on his scratching post. Assortment of sea shellsCurious cat checking out his owner's breakfast.Wild RaspberriesPink Rose Bud (fully open)
Funny cat hanging upside down on his scratching post.
Funny cat hanging upside down on his scratching post. | Source
Assortment of sea shells
Assortment of sea shells | Source
Curious cat checking out his owner's breakfast.
Curious cat checking out his owner's breakfast. | Source
Wild Raspberries
Wild Raspberries | Source
Pink Rose Bud (fully open)
Pink Rose Bud (fully open) | Source

Photos Public Domain

This is an incredibly search friendly site where photos are arranged by category:

On the right-hand side of most of the web pages is a handy subject menu that makes it easy to see what sort of images are available on the site. Categories vary widely, starting with the 4th of July and ending with the Zoo option. Donations are accepted and you can send them money if you desire, but it is stated that they are "absolutely NOT required". All the photos on this site carry the Creative Commons Public Domain certification which allows for free use including commercial, non-commercial, and also redistribution. There are no limits or restrictions listed on this site.

Creative Commons - By Attribution

Although I love to snag photos that are in the Public Domain due to ease of use and no requirement to provide credit back to the contributor, when it comes to my own photos, I prefer to make them available solely by attribution. To the best of my knowledge, I have never dedicated any of my own images to the Public Domain. It is true that I probably would not go to the trouble of prosecuting someone who did not stick to my terms, and would merely ask this person to remedy the situation to comply with my specifications for their use.

That being said, the majority who offer their photos for free use do license their works in some way and will set a few limits on how and where their photos may be displayed. Some permit commercial use, while others only allow their images to be used for personal or non-commercial purposes. One may also give permission for derivative projects. This is when another's work is altered or changed in a manner that makes it different in some way than the contributor's original . It isn't as common with photos as it is with other types of media such as articles, music, or videos, but with the advanced technology and software programs available today, it's a viable option. Products such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Photo Editor are applications commonly used for this purpose.

I won't go too much into all the details in this article about the different types of creative commons (cc) licenses that are offered, but there are six choices to chose from. These are: Attribution (CC BY), Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND), Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA), Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA), Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC), Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND). You can find more in-depth information for these on the Creative Commons Organization's website.

Photo sources abound on the internet today and many photographers contribute their works to these venues. Most of these share sites offer professional or higher quality images at a reasonable price (sometimes as low as $1 or $2 per image) in addition to their royalty free stock photos. The free ones require an acknowledgement of the photo creator and may also state that you have to provide a link back to the site where you obtained them if you use the photos online.

Sharing Your Photos

If you have good quality photos consider using them to your advantage online. You can make them available by attribute on sites such as Flickr, or even sell them on sites such as Veer (formerly known as Snap Village) or 123RF. Don't let all those snapshots you have on your computer go to waste.


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    • frogyfish profile image


      7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Needed and useful information. Thank you for a simple declaration of tips and sites for the images! Bookmarking your hub too.

    • Lisas-thoughts101 profile image


      8 years ago from Northeast Texas

      I voted up, interesting and useful. I really appreciate knowing where to look for photos other than my own. Thanks for your help. This was a very interactive hub. You write very well.


    • jojo29 profile image

      Jane Boucheirre 

      8 years ago from CA

      Now--you show me the way to that valuable websites. Thanks!

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Liz Rayen 

      8 years ago from California

      Hi Cathleena, this is a wonderful hub with great information regarding using our pictures correctly. I try to take most of my pictures, but always try to look for the public domain photos or buy ones that I really need for a specific hub. Great job! Thumbs up! Lisa

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      8 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      I also feel the top slot should be left for the photo, as it is the image one is drawn to when one is looking at an article for the first time. My hubs start off with an image on top.

      Thanks for sharing some good sites to choose free photos from. I'm bookmarking this hub, Cathleena.

      Voted up, useful and interesting. Sharing this hub.

    • Cathleena Beams profile imageAUTHOR

      Cathleena Beams 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      Thank you Xstatic for your feedback. I definitely agree with you that photos sometimes take more time than it does to write the article. I just paid a visit to your page and spotted your iris photo for your hub "Beautiful Spring Iris Poem", what a treat it was to read. I ended up sharing it with my Iris Lovers Group on Facebook.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      8 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Great information! Photos take more time sometimes than writing the Hub! This should help.

    • Cathleena Beams profile imageAUTHOR

      Cathleena Beams 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      Thank you so much Peggy. I appreciate your up votes and especially the tweet!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      As you pointed out, one must be very certain and read all of the rules when using other people's photos. A good source is also Wikimedia Commons Images. I generally always leave a link back to the source even if it is in the public domain. Nice job on this hub and I agree that good images add to the overall effect of a hub. Up votes and tweeted.

    • Cathleena Beams profile imageAUTHOR

      Cathleena Beams 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      Thank you Vinaya Ghimire for your feedback. I agree with you that pictures hook visitors to the page!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      8 years ago from Nepal

      The image which shows with the article title is very important. So it is necessary to chose the perfect picture. I also believe, when the written content fails to deliver the message, pictures will make the visitors hook to the page.

      Thanks for sharing your views.

    • Cathleena Beams profile imageAUTHOR

      Cathleena Beams 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      Taking a moment to thank each of you for your comments. I am glad that you found this hub to be useful and interesting.

    • profile image

      Miss Kate000 

      8 years ago

      Interesting read, I have always used Public Domain Pictures if im not using my own, but am always on the scout for other places. I have to agree, an image can be what makes or breaks the attention of a reader to stay until they begin reading your page.

    • profile image

      Team Leader 

      8 years ago

      Hello Cathleena, Thank you sooo much. I used istockphotos so far but it is very pricy. I am grateful for your detailed and excellently written hub. Thanks 'Your Team Leader'

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 

      8 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Like you, I find that good images can significantly add value to a hub. Finding the best image for a point I am making is key. Thanks for additional sources.

    • flashmakeit profile image


      8 years ago from usa

      Thank you now I know where to go for photos and I am adding one from to my hub. Vote up!!!

    • dmop profile image


      8 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      Thanks for sharing this I found it very useful. I like to use my own photos whenever possible, but as you stated that isn't always a viable option.


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