Finding Free to Use Images Online

Last week I attended a Finding Free-to-Use Images Online course at JISC Digital Media (the organisation formerly known as TASI) along with Shirley Keane, our UKOLN Web editor.


Our main main motivation for attending was to help us find more images for ourselves (and other UKOLN staff) to use for presentations, blog entries, on UKOLN Web sites etc. I’ve mentioned in the past that here at UKOLN, we are trying to use images in a more constructive way in presentations. I actually ran an internal Presentations Think Tank on this last year. We now have a good selection of resources on our Intranet and would also like to run some internal courses on image use. I guess coming from a user angle we differed slightly from the other attendees who were after images to use for training and as part of their institution’s image store. A few of the attendees were having problems with the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACs) and the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) who were somehow obstructing their creation of an institutional image store of internal slide images.

The training was led by Dave Kilbey and Zak Mesah and although not all of it was highly relevant to me there were some really useful pointers and lots of useful discussion.

Using General Search Engines

The session began with a exploration into the drawbacks of using general search engines (like Google image search) for finding good quality images. Having used Google image search many a time I felt myself to be already aware of its limitations. However I have to say this task almost had the reverse effect on me. I was actually quite impressed by some of the new search facilities Google has recently added. Searches can now be refined using image size, content type (news, faces, clip art etc) and colour.

It is also even easier to remove the annoying frames that used to try to stop users from leaving Google! That said there is a severe lack of up-front copyright information and the images linked to are often of very low quality.

Using Image Search Engines

After a look at image formats, a brief overview of copyright and for some a first introduction to Creative Commons we moved onto the meat of the day: an opportunity to try out a number of search engines that exclusively operate to find free-to-use images. Some of the most user friendly were:

I’d also recommend having a look at JISC Digital media’s Advice on Still images and the Intute online tutorial.

As well as the image search engines there was also an introduction to some of the JISC Image collections such as SCRAN and AHDS visual arts collection (VADS) (which continues to be maintained despite AHDS closure in 2007). Some of the collections will require your institution to be a member.

Finding a Particular Image

I actually set myself a challenge for the day. I am co-chair of the Institutional Web Management Workshop (a 3 day event or members of institutional Web management teams in the UK’s higher and further education community). This year the event is taking place in Colchester and our drinks reception is in Colchester Moot Hall. I wanted to source an image of the outside of the building. Throughout the day every lead took me to a dead end. I just couldn’t find anything except a few images on Flickr with ‘all rights reserved’. I’d already emailed the owner of this image and had received no reply. Later in the day I eventually gave in and asked one of the University of Essex staff about it (maybe they could mosey-on-down to the hall and take a quick snap for me?) and they told me that the Moot hall was actually in the Town Hall. A quick search for ‘town hall Colchester’ using the Flickr Advanced search Creative Commons option came up trumps. The photo is now on the Institutional Web Management Workshop social page.

It seems that despite the competition Flickr is still the biggest, easiest to use image repository there is. This probably wasn’t what I was expecting.

Image Management

Just before the workshop ended we spent a little time looking at image management software. I have to admit image management was not something I’d thought about before, but it does makes a lot of sense. I take a lot of images of my family and friends, I store many of these on my PC, some on external hard drives and some on CDs. I’m increasingly using these images on my blog and in presentations. I also take quite a few pictures of work related activities. At the moment I’ve tended to upload these to Flickr. I’m a pretty organised person and use some great tools to support my working from home. So why not add some image management software in to the mix. The JISC Digital team recommended Google Picassa but there are a lot of free applications out there. A quick twitter post on this brought back quite a few Picassa supporters and a couple of other possible applications for trying out. I’ll definitely add this to my to do list and my blog post list!

To Conclude

I really enjoyed the Finding Free-to-Use Images. The trainers were helpful and more than happy to adapt their programme to take in specific areas people were looking at. Although the day didn’t provide me with one complete answer it did throw up some very helpful resources and confirm that I’d been on the right track all along.

A few more recommendations


15 thoughts on “Finding Free to Use Images Online

  1. Pingback: Posts about education as of April 27, 2009 | Shirasmane

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  3. Hi Marieke

    As an old school Flickr user, I still tend to go there first (and last) and use their advanced search for CC photos. I generally like to relieve the textual tedium of my posts on our DA Blog with some interesting image, and Flickr always comes up trumps. I usually drop the image owner a note via Flickr saying what I’ve done – everyone’s always very friendly.

    One interesting Flickr tale of mine: a while back I made some photos of my wife’s enamel Soviet badge collection and a while later I was contacted by the guys who were creating this graphic design book, Signs and Symbols by Keith Stephenson (, and they ended up using quite a lot of the pictures in their book. We have a copy, it’s really nice!

    I recommend also you check out TinEye ( which can search for images using images. Do you remember James Currall’s image-search-challenge at IWMW 2008? TinEye’s got the answer:

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  7. Thanks for summarising this course which sounds like an interesting one – I’ll be saving the image search engine URLs for future use.

    I used to use Picasa (note spelling by the way) for photo management but recently discovered Windows Live Photo Gallery – Windows only of course, but a surpisingly good bit of software which seems less buggy and clunky than Picasa and can upload to Flickr.

  8. I would add to the “few more recommendations” section. Youtils supports Creative Commons licenses like Attribution as well as Public Domain licenses. This is a great site if you are photographer and wish to offer images for online use.

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