To create the very best visuals for social media marketing, you need images. Don’t just pull those images off other companies’ social feeds or Google Image Search. The ethical and legal consequences aren’t worth it, especially when you can get images that are 100 percent free so easily. Here’s how.
Copyright is a blunt instrument. Once it’s in place, a creator has to jump through hoops to allow others to use their work. This can stifle creativity and the free exchange of ideas. That’s where Creative Commons comes in. With it, creators can offer licensing terms to everyone who wants to use their copyrighted work for free.
But not all Creative Commons licenses are alike. Most come with conditions. Some prevent commercial use, some require attribution for the creator and some bar modifications. When designing visuals for social media, modifications come with the territory and attribution can be difficult to achieve. So the license to look out for is Creative Commons Zero, or CC0. Unlike every other license, CC0 is completely, 100 percent free. For works licensed with CC0, you don’t need to credit the creator, you can do whatever you want, and commercial use is totally acceptable.
These five sites have wonderful CC0 or copyright-free collections:
If you want trendy travel photos, Unsplash is the place to be. Of course, its collection doesn’t just cover travel — you can find cute animals, delicious-looking food, whole armies of hipsters, and an endless supply of photos of serious business people using their phones — but its travel credentials are great. Photos are generally tagged with the area they’re taken, too. Otherwise, Unsplash’s search results can be lacking. A browse through the site can turn up gems that other tour companies won’t have touched.
Pixabay is the anything-goes free stock photo site. You’ll find images from other collections, over-the-top stock photos, digital illustrations and more, covering every topic you can think of. The quality of the photos can be mixed, but it’s a great site for finding pictures that fit a specific theme, particularly if that theme isn’t popular on trendier sites.
Created by Shopify, Burst is a free photo collection designed for entrepreneurs. In practice, that means you’ll find far more cute shops, artisanal goods and people practicing yoga than you might at other sites. Thankfully, there are some gorgeous vistas mixed in.
Want to stand out from other tour companies? Source images from the NYPL digital collections. Most of the image in the collection are public domain, which means they’re free of any copyright restrictions. You can find old maps, travel photos, fashion plates — whatever your creative mind desires. If you like what you see, branch out to other libraries and museums. Digital collections often contain gorgeous pieces that are too old for copyright to apply.
Most photos on Flickr aren’t licensed as CC0, but thousands are. The link above goes to Flickr’s CC0 search, which will only provide results that are free to use. Because Flickr is open to everyone, people often use it as a repository for personal photos. A lot of less-than-professional images can be found on the service. There are also beautiful gems that you won’t find anywhere else, if you put in the time to look.
FoodiesFeed doesn’t license its photos under Creative Commons, unfortunately. All its food photos are available for free for any use except resale.
Raumrot’s photographs are gorgeous and have a distinct and interesting look. They’re licensed under CC-BY, which requires attribution.
Life of Pix offers images that are free of copyright, but its website is ad-laden and somewhat confusing to navigate. If you get past that, there’s a great collection waiting.