Blog Images Made Easy: Tips From a Non-Graphic Artist

“I have made it a rule for a long time, not to part with the copyright of my drawings, for I have been so copied, my drawings reproduced and sold for advertisements and done in ways I hate.” — Kate Greenaway, artist and book illustrator

How would you feel if someone published one of your blog posts or stories without asking and called it their own? Using someone else’s photo in a blog post without permission is similar. Yet it’s become  so commonplace that many bloggers do so without a second thought. It’s easy to presume that crediting Google Images or other sources covers our rears, but it doesn’t.

Last week Roni Loren admirably shared her story of photo-use gone wrong—and expensive—on her blog, in hopes that others would learn from her experience. And Roni is far from alone. In 2007, a photo agency sued celebrity blogger Perez Hilton for $7.6 million for using 51 copyrighted images. In 2011, Brian Hill, a 20-year-old blogger with autism, was sued and asked to settle for $6,000 for posting a photo that belonged to the Denver Post. And the list…goes…on.

I’m no graphic artist, but I have learned some ways to create simple graphics. Doing so can prevent taking from and offending visual artists, safeguard us from lawsuits and make our posts Pinterest-friendly and fun.

5 Simple Steps:

1. Start simply, with what you know. You don’t need to be Picasso. If you’ve mastered your phone camera yet feel intimidated by self-concocting images, stick to phone pics for now. Or use royalty-free images from a free-to-use Flickr site or morgueFile. (See more below.) Then gradually take steps to tweak the images, add text and branch out into more complex programs. Ask a friend to help you, trade images or services with friends or take a workshop. Working within our comfort zones can help prevent frustration and giving up.

2. Keep royalty-free image sites bookmarked on your computer. Here are some good ones:

morgueFile: Free photos for creative professionals

Flickr: Here you can share and use free photos. Do an advanced search for photos upheld by Creative Commons, which are free to use. Then credit the owner properly, which requires giving the owner credit without endorsing yourself. For example, state this in the caption: Photo used under Creative Commons from MomandPopPhotos.

Creative Commons search: Here you can search 12 different web sites and services that utilize Creative Commons.

123Stock Photography: Photos and vectors for a low-fee (Images go for 21 cents and up.)

Deposit Photos: Photos and vectors for a low-free (The smaller the image, the less you pay. They have lots of basic background images you can easy doll up and add text to.)

3. Create text-only images. Use whatever graphic program you have on your computer to create simple boxes with eye-pleasing text. These images work great for blogs, especially if you want them shared on Pinterest. Pinners will know straight away what the post is about, and will be more likely to click and read it. Use the title of the post or a strong quote and easy-to-read text with a light or otherwise non-distracting background.

4. Use simple apps to create and edit photos. I use ArtBoard—a super easy Mac app available on iTunes. It’s one of the easiest ways to add text and create text-only images. It also provides a variety of free backgrounds and clip art. And I LOVE PicMonkey. Upload your images to the website and start playing. It’s almost too easy to explain. ;) For PCs, I’ve heard that Power Point rocks. With your phone, it’s tough to beat Instagram. It can make amateur photos look artsy with the click of a button.

5. Keep a camera nearby and keep life interesting. Flowers, animals, food, rainbows, funky buildings, ocean views, trees, bridges, sidewalks, carnival rides, hairdos, the sidewalk, dirt paths, sunsets, ourselves… Almost anything is material for a great blog image. If you don’t take pictures or feel your daily life isn’t photo-worthy, perhaps consider being more adventurous. As writers, many of our activity takes places in our minds. Taking breaks and working outside of our homes can add funk to our writing, our lives and our photos.

What blog images do you use most? What graphics do you find most appealing? Any awesome tricks I’ve missed? Or lessons you’ve learned the hard way? I’m sure y’all have brilliant ideas to add, so please, bring them on!

Speaking of photos, if you haven’t sent me your “I’m a writer” image and would like to, I’m accepting them until August 1st. By submitting your photo to me via email, you’re granting me permission to include it on one page of my site. Don’t worry. I won’t share or sell them! ;)

Leave a comment

58 Comments

  1. Hi, I blogged and re-blogged about this subject today also as it really is important to respect copyright. I think it is all way out of control!
    One of my sources for photos is Freefoto.com which are under Creatvie Commons – Lesley

    http://inspirationimport.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/854/

    Reply
  2. i took a look at morguefile and bookmarked it earlier. It is a shame that it is something which we have to be so careful about and I admit I have had to think twice about hitting share on fb a couple of times today having no idea where the images came from it would be so much easier if all copyrighted photos had a tag on them, pinterest I do find strange because it takes you to the site the picture was taken from so you would think they would enjoy the free publicity

    Reply
    • Once you get the hang of seeking post-friendly photos, it’s really not bad–and worth the effort, IMO. To be safe on Pinterest, look for the Pin It button on sites. More and more companies use them and love the promotion. ;)

      Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Hi August,

    I re-post photos from other design blogs or from photography websites but I always add a link to the source or I give credit to the site that I re-blogged from. Now I’m a little worried… is this the correct way to blog photos?

    I was shopping for a camera the other day – so I will be posting my own DIYs etc. soon! I am so picky about the photography I put up on my site, which is why I like posting professional photos.

    One of my pet peeves is people who stretch the images without constraining proportions – they look distorted and terrible!

    Reply
    • That’s a great question. The point of sharing other bloggers’ work (photos and words) IMO is to support the blogger by leading your readers to their blog and your readers by introducing them to cool material. Photos could make that tricky… I would ask permission first or share a link to their post instead of photos.

      Anyone else have thoughts on this?

      Reply
      • From what I understand, you need to have the photographer’s permission. Just linking back or attributing the picture to them isn’t enough. It doesn’t have to be in writing, but if you can get it in writing that will prevent any future problems.

      • Thanks for the great advice. I always share the link, but I’ll be more conscious about sharing their site link as well to better promote their blog!

        Excellent and informative post as usual!

  4. Kristen Lamb has also started up a WANA Commons on Flicker where we can all donate images that we’re willing to have others use without them having to worry about getting in trouble. Last check, there were 600 photos added in just the last two days. I think that’s a fantastic idea. The one problem I can see is that there aren’t many “people” photos, and so far it seems to be largely scenic. I’m hoping as it grows that will change.

    Reply
  5. Roni’s post has a lot of us rethinking the way we use pics on our blogs and this post is perfect. I’d never heard of Creative Commons until Roni’s post. Now I have a few more sources to check out. I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I should carry my camera with me ‘just in case’ I see something cool and now I definitely will. Not only will I be able to flex my creative muscles with writing, but in photography as well. Sounds like a win-win to me. Thanks for the new resources. I’ve been using 123RF Stock Photography and iStock Photos for a long time, but it’s nice to have some free sources as well.

    Reply
  6. Coleen Patrick

     /  July 23, 2012

    I’ve used a free image site before, but now use my own images–and rely on Picmonkey heavily!! :) But your post and Roni’s have reminded me I need to clean up some of my older posts that may still have some risky images. And I’m trying to figure out a better way to use Pinterest. I love making storyboards, but I don’t want to do anything illegal. Thanks August!

    Reply
  7. A good thing to remember is that photos are property, just like cars and jewelry. We wouldn’t take someone’s car or jewelry without asking permission, right? Using the photo is like taking the car for a spin or wearing the jewelry to a party. Once we’ve taken the joy ride or dazzled our friends with the sparkles, we can’t erase that moment in time or turn back the clock to our pre-spree. Always best to be sure we’ve got the owner’s permission, right?

    Reply
  8. Hi, August. Great post, and thanks for the links. I’ve used Flickr with moderate success finding what I want, but I usually go to StockXchng (www.sxc.hu) for stuff. So I’m headed now to check out the 12 cc sites that you have. And I’ll definitely be checking out Picmonkey–I’d like to be able to play my own pictures and I’m clueless!

    Reply
  9. Now if someone will just show me an app that will instantly remove photos from 18 months worth of blogs . . .

    Reply
    • That would probably be a popular app!

      Reply
    • When a friend gets hit with a lawsuit, people take action. I’ve deleted all pictures that aren’t mine or free use images from all of my archived blog posts. Initially, I’ve used Wikipedia Commons images and bought credits at http://www.canstockphoto.com. The images at canstockphoto are 2-3 credits, so for $20 you can get 7-10 images at decent sizes.
      I love your tips and there are a couple there I need to check out. Thanks, August!

      Reply
    • David, if you go to your media file in WordPress and delete all the images that you know you shouldn’t use, it automatically takes them out of your blog posts.

      Reply
  10. Good advice. I have to admit I’ve dropped a couple of photos into blogs that I probably shouldn’t have–a couple of old movie and TV stills from years past. But in future I’ll concentrate on creating my own or using a stock service.

    Reply
  11. I’ve never used photos that were marked as copyrighted, and in many cases, when I’m writing about an old movie or a book that I liked, I’m probably doing the author/publisher/filmmaker/whomever a favor by making people want to go out and buy whatever it is, so why would they want to bite a hand that feeds them by objecting to me using a shot from the movie, or the book cover, etc.? Do we just have to be wary of this ridiculously litigious society?

    Reply
    • I did a bit of research today and it seems as though many people deem book and movie cover posting “fair use” (meaning it’s not a violation). But not everyone agrees. I also read that nabbing them from Amazon is technically copyright infringement, and that it depends on the nature of the post. More on this: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

      I’m in the habit of asking authors for permission and to send me the images. When it doubt, I figure, leave it out. So far everyone’s happily obliged.

      Anyone have thoughts to add?

      Reply
  12. Good info, August. For some people unsure about photoshop/pixelmator etc, you can always use PowerPoint (pc and Mac) and Keynote (Mac) to create images then save the files as images such as jpeg and png for uploading to WordPress etc. this is useful for simple things like adding text, borders, or annotating an image.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  13. A good reminder. Great post with good practical advice!

    Reply
  14. From what I understand at a social media seminar I went to a few months ago, the legal department there said that you can’t use an image without permission. However, you can include a direct link to that image. So, to be safe, just use the URL or a direct link. I changed one of my posts to do this today (I should have done it that way in the first place).

    Reply
  15. thx August. I added a few new freebie sties to my list for blog pics.

    Reply
  16. Thanks for posting this August. I need to get an image to you :-)

    Reply
  17. I’m adding those sites to my bookmarks page! I also use photo bucket, which is another free photo site.

    Reply
  18. Cheers, Autumn, as a former journalist, it was *drummed* into me…. if it ain’t yours, ask for it, and ask nicely :)

    Reply
  19. EllieAnn

     /  July 24, 2012

    Thanks! Such practical tips here. It’s all been new to me, but now I’m aware of it I’m only using pictures with permission. There’s quite a lot of them, when you start to look around for them.

    Reply
  20. Stellar post August! I love the tips and tricks and am definitely going to check out ALL those amazing sites. Especially pumped to check out PicMonkey…squeee!
    I try to find photos that I’ve taken to coordinate with most of my posts or go without an image all together. I am pretty familiar with graphics programs so creating simple graphics is a GREAT suggestion and one I don’t do often enough. Especially incorporating free images or free clip art to jazz it up.
    For my Tuesday posts, I usually use a product photo since I am usually promoting something in a humor fashion. Hubby and I talked and I think I am going to have to start researching these posts well in advance and writing to get permission to use the photos or…simply link to the site sans photo. I think the pic adds a lot to the post so I am going to do my best to find a work around.
    Great tips and tricks and love that you make those so user friendly and easy!!

    Reply
    • Love your idea of contacting companies in advance, Natalie. You might get free samples out of the deal. That’s happened to me. Talk about awesome frosting! ;)

      Reply
  21. Hi August. This post is really helpful – especially the list you put together of royalty-free sites. I read Roni’s post on her copyright issues, which in turn made me comb through my own blog for questionable images. More and more I’ve been utilizing my photography skills for my blog images, but I also plan to implement your suggestion on creating text-only images. Following you on Pinterest now. Good stuff!

    Reply
  22. Great post here August. Because of my legal background, friends keep asking me for advice on how to make Facebook posters. I keep telling them that all of the issues go away if they take their own photos. With programs like Photoshop, even our cell phone pics can look pretty good. And we, as writers, don’t even have to double-check to make sure that pics downloaded from the Internet bear the creative commons license.

    Reply
  23. I needed this post. Thanks, August.
    It’s important that the bloggers that know better educate and share their findings with others. Thanks to you, Roni, and a few other generous people, bloggers are better informed and photographers better protected.

    Reply
  24. Wonderfully informative post, August. Since Roni’s message went out, I’ve made a note to review the images I’ve used. I’ve got a mixture so will be correcting that shortly. Thanks!

    Reply
  25. Terrific info August! I’ve always been a shutter bug on vacations so those 32,000 images in iphoto are coming in mighty handy on the blog! I don’t do much to tweak the photos, but at least they are all my own. :)

    Reply
  26. charitykountz

     /  July 24, 2012

    All great suggestions! I love PowerPoint but to date haven’t used it to create any images for my blog. I have however used it for creating proposals to prospects and other longer items that need to look good. I’m going to try that next time I blog!

    Reply
  27. This is great stuff, August. A lot of food for thought.

    As I’ve posted about – I’m tech-challenged. How does one add drawing to photos, or text, and then upload them to WP?

    Reply
  28. Having worked in graphic design for years, I was already pretty sensitive to this issue and had very few photos on my blog of questionable rights. Most of my photos are either 1) mine, 2) from US government sites and declared public domain, 3) from royalty-free sites like WikiMedia or Microsoft Office Clipart, or 4) historical and therefore public domain. I had new author photos taken this past weekend, and made sure my photographer was willing to give me the rights to use them how I wanted!

    Reply
  29. I’m so coming back to this post to get ideas for safe image use on my blog!! Thanks for sharing August! I’ll have to practice those last computer programs you talked about. Are you sure it’s so easy you don’t need to blog about it???

    Reply
  30. This is a hot topic around the bloggy-world. Thank for the great info on free/created images.

    Reply
  31. As usual, you’ve provided a wonderful public service, young lady!

    Reply
  32. Great advice! Off to tweet!

    Reply
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