Finding appropriate images to use legally and fairly

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

How often, when you’re writing a blog or preparing something for social media, do you tell yourself you need to include an image? Most of the time, I’d guess. But finding appropriate images can be difficult.
Certainly time-consuming.

And even when you’ve found one, can you legally use it?

This one on the right, of a glorious beach in north-west Scotland, is fine because I took it myself. My copyright. No problem.

That’s my first tip.
Tip #1 Use your own pics whenever you can.
And if you’re worried about other people snaffling them, make sure you mark them as your copyright. (I don’t do that, normally, but in this instance, I have. Note to self: I probably should claim copyright routinely though I’m already partly covered by Tip #2 below.)

Murdoch's Tower at Caerlaverock Castle Scotland

Murdoch Tower, Caerlaverock © Joanna Maitland

The other thing you should do routinely is:
Tip #2 Assert copyright on blogs you publish. That way, if anyone republishes your blog material without permission, you have a claim. If you scroll down to the bottom of the sidebar here, you’ll see the following (colour and emphasis added):
All pages & posts
© Libertà Books 2015-21
unless specified otherwise
and that copyright notice has been on this blog since the start.

As writers, we would be outraged if anyone used our glorious words without attribution and/or without paying. So it’s only fair that we take the same attitude to image-creators, whether photographers, graphic designers, or whatever. But there are places where you can get images to use for free.

Appropriate images can come free… without conditions is one that I use often. Here’s their welcome welcome screen a source of appropriate images for free

And, unlike some other sites that offer “royalty-free images”, this one really doesn’t want payment. There is no charge and no subscription fee. For example, if you wanted a picture of an ancient temple, you could download this one:

Joanna Maitland's image of Paestum on Pixabay.comYes, it’s one of mine. I’m a Pixabay member. By joining, you get to upload your own images and, if they’re good enough, they may go into their library. You also get to download images without going through the hoops of Captcha etc.

But when you do download an image, you’ll be asked (not required) to attribute the author. Even to buy them a cup of coffee? So, for my Paestum image above, you’d get attribution request screenPixabay even give you a simple text to add to the image once you’ve downloaded it. If you clicked on the Copy button above, you’d get this:
Image by Joanna Maitland from Pixabay
which you can put in the Alt Text of your image and/or add as a caption. And yes, I do think you should do that. It takes seconds and it’s what we, as authors, would want for our work, isn’t it?

Tip #3: When you use free images from sites like, take the time to credit the author.

You may be able to suggest other website which offer free images in the same kind of way.
If so, please do share.

Appropriate images can come free… but with conditions

Many of us will get information and images from Wikipedia or its sister sites. Some of the images are public domain and don’t come with conditions. Even there, it’s polite to attribute the author if you know who that is. A typical example would be an image of a painting, such as this one of the Duke of Wellington by Lawrence. Wikipedia public domain image download screen

You’ll see that it says, very bottom right, that the image is Public Domain. But it also invites the downloader to attribute the author. Take a few seconds to click the Show me how button and then copy the link info. Adding it to your copy of the image takes no time at all. In this case, the credit is:
By Thomas Lawrence – English Heritage Images image, Public Domain,

Other Wiki images come with licence conditions. Take this image of re-enactors that is also on the main Wiki page for the Duke of Wellington. When you try to download it, this is what you will see.  Note that it says you MUST attribute the author.Wikipedia image requiring attribution By, CC BY-SA 3.0,

And when you click on Show me how you will get a choice of plain text or html to credit the photographer. And this is the author credit for the picture above:
By, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There are several kinds of Creative Commons licences used on Wiki and elsewhere.
Tip #4: You do need to check the conditions for the Creative Commons image you are downloading and you need to abide by them.
If you don’t, someone might come after you. And it will be your own fault, won’t it?

Limitations on use of appropriate images

Those who follow my costume blogs will know that, when I don’t have images of my own, I often use images from the V&A Museum’s collections in London. The V&A have recently changed the way downloads are authorised. Non-commercial use on a blog like this one is allowed without payment; commercial uses such as book jackets have to be paid for. The latest permission screen is shown below:

V&A Museum, London, download conditionsAnd when you read the full terms and conditions — you would be well advised to do so, not just to tick that box without reading — you will find that you are required to add a copyright marker to every V&A image you use as I’ve done in the one below. So:
Tip #5: If the copyright owner applies terms and conditions to the use of the image, make sure you read and understand them before you download. It can save you trouble later.

1807 wedding dress © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1807 wedding dress © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The old V&A permission screen used to ask what you were going to use the image for and one of the options was for a blog. It also used to tell you, on that screen, that you had to include the copyright notice © Victoria and Albert Museum, London  Personally, I think they should have kept it that way since so few people actually read Terms and Conditions before ticking the box.

You should apply Tip #5 to any similar site whose images you want to download and use. Many are happy to share but they DO want the acknowledgement. And it’s fair to provide it.

You can PAY for appropriate images

Sophie and I have had various paid subscriptions to image libraries over the years in order to have good and appropriate images for the Libertà blog. When I started creating my own book covers, I signed up for a 10-images-per-month subscription with Adobe because I found a model there that I wanted to use for one of my covers. The image libraries have hundreds of thousands of images and many, perhaps most, of them are to be found in several libraries (though the model I wanted to use wasn’t in other libraries).

Cambridge University in winter Adobe library imageAdobe library image, eyes in rearview mirror

I used these two images from the Adobe library to illustrate Sophie’s Christmas serial. And because I’d paid for a licence, I didn’t need to provide a credit on a blog like this.

Tip #6: If you use a lot of images and want to avoid the hassle, a photo library subscription can be a good solution. (And it’s a tax-deductible expense.)

Put “photo libraries” into a search engine and you’ll find there are loads of them, like iStock, or BigStock, or Shutterstock.  Almost all of them charge, though there are sometimes good deals to be had. You don’t have to take out a subscription; you can buy a licence for a single image.

I don’t normally add credits to paid-for images on this blog. Though, as I said in my blog about formatting front matter for ebooks, I think it is proper to include a credit on your copyright page for any images you use on book covers.

Beware using images without appropriate permission

A final work of warning. Some photo libraries, especially the ones generally used by newspapers and TV stations, are very hot on pursuing people who use their images without paying. If you do it, you could end up being sued. Better to adopt the tips I’ve set out above, don’t you think?

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland

Joanna © Joanna Maitland

Yes, the pic above is a self-portrait. I’m sticking to my own Tip #1.

10 thoughts on “Finding appropriate images to use legally and fairly

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    This is so useful, thank you. I know it’s a minefield and have used paid images, and free ones too, not always correctly. These specifics really nail it. And did not know the first free library you mention so thanks for that too.

  2. Sophie

    Extremely helpful, Joanna. Thank you. I have followed your guidance on everything I have done for this blog and it has been invaluable. Great to have it all in one place now!

  3. Liz Fielding

    Very useful, Joanna. I’ve used most of the picture libraries mentioned at one time or another for covers and blogs. I’ve sometimes bought a month’s subscription to 5 images a day, which allows you to stock up on the kind of seasonal image you’re likely to use. I have also bought a five image deal when looking for something specific – which is a good buy. And thanks to you, I do occasionally use Pixabay – always acknowledging the picture’s owner.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Sounds like you’ve reached the right solution for what you need, Liz. I think most of us can find a good outcome without spending too much to get there.

    1. Joanna Post author

      You’re very welcome, Christina. I just hope that those who read the blog will take the time to add credits. It’s common courtesy even when it’s not a legal requirement. Oiling the wheels, and all that…

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