As someone who makes elearning materials, runs a blog, creates a monthly newsletter and presents regularly at conferences, I have a constant need for free-to-use images.  A striking image can illustrate a point in a way that is far more memorable than the written word.

I describe the images I use as “free-to-use” because they are almost all cost-free, but most importantly they are used with permission of the creator or copyright owner.

There are an enormous number of free-to-use images available for download on the internet and they generally fall into two broad categories:

Regardless of which image you choose to use, you must check the conditions for use and/or licensing agreement.  In almost all cases you must at least attribute the creator of the image.

So how does one find these striking images?  Here are the search tools I most frequently use:

1. Compfight

The Flickr photo-sharing website is one of my favourite source of images and it even has a useful Creative Commons category,however, there are a couple of other search tools that do a more effective job of finding what you need.  One of the best ways to search Flickr is to use the Compfight website. It allows you to type in a keyword, and then limit your search to Creative Commons photos by selecting that filter on the left of the screen.

2. Behold

Behold is another Flickr search engine which has an added search function.  You can type in a tag – such as “dog” – to bring up all the pictures tagged with dog, but you can also refine your search further by adding a “looks like” category.  Narrowing my search for dogs by adding the looks like “face” category results in close-up pictures of dogs’ faces.  You can also apply one of the Creative Commons license options to your search results.

3. Google Images – advanced search

Google Images is a good way to search the internet for all sorts of images used on websites around the world.  However, in order to refine your search to Creative Commons images, you’l need to use the Advanced Image search function.  Under “Usage rights” near the bottom, choose an option from the drop-down menu – such as “labelled for reuse” before you click on the Google Search button.

4. Pics4Learning

The site contains copyright friendly images especially for teachers and students.

5.PD Photo

PD Photo is a free public domain photo database.  The site also includes a few photos which are not in the public domain, so make sure you check the license that accompanies each photo before you use it.

6.Free Foto

Free Foto is made up of just over 128,000 free images.

7. Photos 8

Photos 8 is a collection of public domain photos and wallpaper.

8.Big Foto

Big Foto mostly contains travel and geography photos by amateur photographers.


Everystockphoto is a search engine for free photos which come from a wide variety of sources.  The site searches Flickr, Morguefile, Wiki Commons, photoXpress, stock.xchng and others.  It has a useful advanced search function where you can select the source of the photo, the type of license and even shape of image.

Creative Commons for Educators

If you’re an educator and you’d like to know more about Creative Commons, take a look at this excellent Slideshare presentation titled Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs To Know by Rodd Lucier.

Image courtesy of brettocop on Flickr

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