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A Marketer’s Guide to Free Photography: Creative Commons and Beyond

Scott Helms

By Scott Helms

Everyone has a few heroes in their life. As of recently, anyone who creates Creative Commons artwork has become a hero in my book. Seriously, they’re heroes. All of them.

While everyone can take a picture and upload it to Flickr, it takes a special someone to say, “I love this photo so much, I’m not going to copyright it. I’ll let others use it as they please.” It’s a selfless act, and it’s one that is great for marketers, photographers and artists alike.

Every article online needs some artwork to give it a bit of splash and prevent it from looking like an impossibly large mountain of text. However, it isn’t always free photography or artwork. Companies like iStock and Thinkstock offer impressive, yet costly, photography for bloggers, designers and other professionals.

But for an everyday blog post, you just need something. Not a 100,000 DPI high-definition image, just something that adds to your article that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That’s where Creative Commons comes in.

What is Creative Commons?

Simply put, Creative Commons is a system of free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work — on the conditions of their choosing.

Let’s say you shoot a picture and upload it to Flickr. You have the right to copyright it entirely (where no one can use your image), or add a variety of Creative Commons copyright “layers” on it. These include:

• Requiring attribution (“Photo taken by Jon Arbuckle”)photography1

• Not allowing for “remixing” or alteration of the photo

• Not allowing for commercial use of the photo

Obviously, marketers should steer clear of Creative Commons photos that don’t allow commercial use. But other than that, including some sort of photo attribution at the bottom of the post is sufficient for most photographs. (There’s even one of those at the bottom of this article!)

So, where can you find these photos?

Flickr Creative Commons

Flickr is a goldmine for Creative Commons photographs, and is the first place I look for photos every time.

With an incredible amount of pictures on all topics from all corners of the globe, you’re bound to find something that fits your article, from conceivably useful pictures of offices to useless pictures of LEGO figurines and everything in between.

Wikimedia Commons

I’ve found that Wikimedia Commons is the best place to look for photos when you’re looking for something tangible rather than something to stir an emotion. Photos of a specific place, such as Birmingham, Alabama, are more prevalent on this site than esoteric topics.

Most photographs use Creative Commons licensing, but others are public domain, which don’t require any attribution.


If you’re looking for something small that doesn’t require all the splash and artistry of a photograph, OpenClipArt is for you. There’s an incredible amount of small drawings and illustrations that can compliment your work.

OpenClipArt uploads each piece of artwork as public domain with unlimited commercial use. No attribution is necessary.

Take it Yourself

You probably have a camera on you right now: your smartphone. Put your creative hat on and go take a picture of something yourself. Even if it’s something around the office or just outside your front door, shooting your own unique artwork for your articles is a great way to prove your investment in your work. And, after you’re done, upload it to Flickr or Wikimedia Commons to share the love!

Find out how Flying Hippo and inbound marketing can rock your brand!

Do you have any other photography tips for marketers? Leave us a comment.

Photo courtesy nalejandro

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