Need an attention-getting image to go with your social media post? Or a striking supporting image for a blog post or article? Or great images to use in an ad, newsletter, or brochure? There are plenty of stock image libraries out there, but if your budget is tight, or non-existent, it’s tempting just to grab something from a web search and not think about the consequences of breaking copyright laws – until perhaps you’re caught and then issued with a ‘take down’ notice.

The image I chose to feature at the top of my article is from a general image search of “magnifying glass”. I then selected ‘Tools’ and then ‘Usage Rights’, then scrolled down and selected the third option being ‘Labelled for reuse’. I found an image I liked and it was through Pexels – then I checked the usage license to make sure that it is as free to use as it looks. It is, with a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) classification, which means that the picture is free to be used for any legal purpose.

Most people are not aware that even a Google ‘labelled for reuse’ image search can often yield results that are not actually free for commercial usage at all. Yet don’t fret, there’s an almost endless supply of free images out there which are free for commercial use with no attribution required as part of a CC0 Creative Commons license.

So where do you get it?

There are literally millions of great free images that are not only free to download but free to use without any usage constraints. But you do have to check before you use. My top four sources are:

Good old Google

Go to Google and then key in the type of image that you are after, and then select ‘Images’. Next, select ‘Tools’ and then choose ‘Usage Rights’. Then scroll down three choices for ‘Labelled for reuse’. Click one that you like and when it comes up to view it will have the file name and the source. Let’s say the file name is ‘Magnifying glass search to find’ and the source is Pixabay. Click the file name and you will be taken directly to where it’s hosted on the Pixabay site. In this case it turns out to be a CC0 licensed image so we’re good to use it for whatever purpose we like, for free, no restrictions.

Yet it’s worth checking, as from the same Google search you could have clicked on ‘Magnifying glass free stock photo’ which is hosted at Public Domain Pictures. Sounds all right, but you’d be wrong. When you click the image title you’re taken to where the file resides, and it turns out that you need to pay a small fee to get a decent size of the file to download and go through “three easy steps” to do so, including getting a file converter from their site. Or you can choose a free download at a far smaller pixel size. What’s more, their CC0 license states that “Note: If you intend to use an image you find here for commercial use, please be aware that some photos do require a model or property release. Pictures featuring products should be used with care.” So it pays to read the ‘fine print’.

The ever-reliable Pixabay

Go to Pixabay which has over 1.4 million images on file and then key in your search. If you choose ‘magnifying glass’ you’ll get three pages of options for you to check out. Ignore the top row sponsored images and then hover over each image to see who is hosting it. Click to check out the ones you like. I clicked a woman holding a magnifying glass over one eye, which was hosted by Public Domain Pictures. In this case, however, the image has a CC0 Creative Commons license that is free for commercial use with no attribution required.

Wikimedia Commons

With over 47 million media files, Wikimedia Commons has a staggering range of images and file types from which to search. The Wikimedia Foundation owns almost none of the content on the site — with content owned by the individual creators of it.

Almost all content hosted on Wikimedia Commons may be freely reused, under an open content license without any need to contact the licensor/s. However, bear in mind that some licenses require that the original creator be attributed, or that a specific license be identified when re-using (stating or linking to terms of license), and some licenses require that if you modify the work, your modifications must also be similarly freely licensed for use by others.

Amazing Pexels

I’ve saved the best for last. Pexels is an aggregator of great visual content and almost all of it is CC0 Creative Commons Zero licensed – by now you know that this a very good thing. What’s more, in most cases it defaults to ‘Original Size’ (which is usually a very decent pixel size) for download, and it also offers you Large / Medium / Small / Custom choices as well. You can check out license information to confirm the parameters of images listed within Pexels.


Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.