When readers see your book cover, website, magazine ad, or post on social media, you need to capture their attention within a split-second. As an author, you’re used to using the power of words to hold an audience’s attention. But people usually think using pictures. The brain deciphers image elements simultaneously, whereas language is decoded linearly and takes more time to process. When you want to quickly appeal to people’s emotions, visuals trump text almost every time.
So it’s important for your book marketing assets to include images that will elicit an emotional response and get people to pay attention. Unless you’re a photographer or an artist, you’ll need to use someone else’s images. And if you’re on a budget, you’ll want to find these photos for free or at a low cost. In this guide, we’ll review how to find free images and attribute them correctly, as well as where you can find low-cost but very high-quality images.
Where to Find Free Images
You can find many free images under a Creative Commons License, meaning you can use the image for free as long as you give proper credit to the image creator. Each image will have different requirements for citing, so make sure to read the “How to Attribute Free Image Sources” section below before using an image.
There are a few sources for finding free images.
Wikimedia Commons: You’ll often see Wikimedia Commons photos used on Wikipedia entries, so there’s a wide array of images available. However, your options when searching for specific terms can be fairly limited.
Flickr Creative Commons: To find free images, be sure to search Flickr’s creative commons directory specifically, not their entire public directory. You can often find a wide variety of professional-grade photos, so it’s worth the time it takes to sift through the search results.
Pixabay: You can find many high-quality photos and graphics here, often requiring no attribution at all. When you do any search, simply ignore the top row of sponsored images.
Unrestricted Stock: Here you can find a mix of photos and graphics. If you’re looking for things like social media icons or buttons for your website, this could be a good option.
FreeImages by Getty Images: The selection of free photos is more limited here, but it’s good to know about in case you couldn’t find something you like at any of the previous sources.
Do not use Google Image search or Bing Image search as a resource for finding free photos. You’ll often find images on websites that were not the original source of the photo, and you’ll have no way of knowing if they attributed the source correctly. This means that even if you attribute them as your source, you might not be attributing the right person.
How to Attribute Free Images
When using a free photo, you must understand how to attribute the photo to make sure you’re not violating any copyright rules. However, the rules and instructions are very straightforward, so don’t be intimidated!
Once you find an image you’d like to use, scroll to the bottom of the picture to find the copyright information. If you don’t understand the copyright code, click on the link to read the description. This particular image on Wikimedia has no copyright, meaning you could use the photo however you’d like without attribution.
This image on Flickr has some rights reserved, and upon clicking the copyright hyperlink, the copyright details specify that you’re able to share and adapt the photo as long as you give appropriate credit to the author.
If you need to provide attribution on a web asset, such as a blog post, add this simple line of text to the asset in which you’re using the image (for example, at the bottom of your blog post or under the image itself):
Image [TITLE] by [AUTHOR] under [LICENSE].
Hyperlink the [TITLE] portion of this sentence to the image on that website, such as Wikimedia or Flickr, and hyperlink [LICENSE] to the correct license page on the Creative Commons website.
If you need to provide attribution on a print asset, such as on your book’s copyright page, add this line of text instead (since you can’t hyperlink print text):
Image [TITLE] by [AUTHOR] at [WEBSITE] under [LICENSE].
To read more on creative commons copyright rules, you can review the different types of Creative Commons licenses here.
Where You Can Buy Higher-Quality Images
If you would prefer to use high-quality images without attributing the source, you’ll probably need to pay. But sometimes it’s worth paying for an image. If you’re looking for a photo to use on a book cover, the header of your website, or other high-visibility marketing material, finding a high-quality image that is the perfect fit is usually worth the cost. If you’re just looking for an image for a single blog post or tweet, it’s probably not.
Here are some low-cost options for royalty-free photos. Royalty free means that once you pay for the image, it’s yours to use however many times and wherever you’d like, without having to pay license fees for each use.
iStock by Getty Images: Once you browse through the images, you’ll notice the quality difference between iStock and any of the free sources listed above. You can pay using à la carte credits or opt into a monthly subscription, but you’ll probably only need a few credits. You can download most photos for one credit, and one credit costs $12.
Canva: You can create a unique design using this drag-and-drop interface, which includes a library of images, backgrounds, layouts, and fun fonts. You can even design your own book covers in Canva. You can drag high-quality stock photos and graphics into your design for $1 each. Once you finish your design, Canva adds up how many $1 images you added and charges you accordingly.
Shutterstock: You can find amazing photos and graphics on Shutterstock at an affordable price. You pay per image rather than worrying about credits. It’s $29 for two images, $49 for five images, or $229 for 25 images.
123RF: Here you can obtain more high-quality images for low prices. Each image is available in various sizes, and you can often purchase the smallest size for just $1. You can purchase credits à la carte: $20 for 20 credits, and you can save money by purchasing credits in bulk.
What is your go-to source for finding free or low-cost images? Share your tips in the comments below!
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