A Complete Guide to Finding and Using Incredible Flickr Images 162

I don’t think this blog would be half of what it is without Flickr. The images included with most posts magnetize the eye to the page and create an atmosphere for the rest of the piece. It’s also one of the most commented-on aspects of the blog — the images are something I think leaves an impression on a lot of people.

A question I get often is: how do you find such great images through Flickr? Most importantly, how do you find such great images that you can use freely?

In this post, I want to share everything I’ve learned about how you can quickly and easily find Flickr’s best images to suit your needs, whether it’s for a blog post, an eBook, a design, an artwork or anything else. Secondly, I want to explain how Creative Commons works for Flickr images — and what that means for you.

Why choose Flickr photos?

The most common alternate options are Google Images and various royalty free and stock photo websites. There are some pretty serious problems with both these options, however.

Google images
It’s hard to guard yourself against copyright infringement when using Google Images. A page does not have to list copyright information for an image to be considered copyrighted. It’s also very difficult to know the original source of an image.

I’ve heard a story about a blogger who used Google Images to fetch an image for one of his blog posts. Unbeknownst to him, the website he’d taken the image from had copied the image from Corbis. Corbis then found out and sued him. I’m not sure whether this is a true story or an internet myth, but it’s entirely possible. It’s just not worth the risk.

Stock photos
While stock photos don’t put you at risk of getting in trouble, there are two key drawbacks: they often cost money, secondly, they’re often bland and formulaic. They’re so well-matched to business-friendly keywords like ‘honesty’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ’success’ that most seem highly contrived.

Flickr, on the other hand, hosts millions of photos taken by amateur and professional photographers capturing photos of what interests them, not their stock photography bosses. The best of Flickr is vibrant, innovative and dynamic.

Finding images to suit your needs

The kind of photos you want to look for will depend on where you want to use them. Flickr images either fall under a traditional copyright or Creative Commons license.

You’re forbidden to use Flickr images marked as copyrighted (or ‘All rights reserved’) for your own purposes unless you get explicit permission from the author. Most of us don’t have the time or the patience to put up with the hassle. Here, I want to focus on Creative Commons licensed photos.

Statues at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance.
Photo by SplaTT.

Non-copyright images on Flickr come under a different kind of license called Creative Commons. Each image is available under one of six customized licenses built to influence where and how each image can be used.

The starting point of your search for Flickr’s best photos will be the Flickr: Creative Commons page. From there, you can enter search portals for each of the six CC licenses. Below, I’ll explain how you can select which license is appropriate for you.

 Attribution License

The images used at Skelliewag.org all come under this particular license. It allows you to modify the images (by cropping them, or writing on them, for example) and to use them in both commercial and non-commercial spaces. The only requirement is that you credit the author with a link back to their profile.

Link: the search page for Attribution Licensed photos.

  Attribution-NoDerivs License

This license allows you to use the photo freely in any context as long as you credit the photographer. It’s more restricted than a simple Attribution license because you’re forbidden to modify the work in any way (that includes cropping and writing on the image).

Link: the search page for Attribution-NoDerivs Licensed photos.

   Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

This license allows you to use photos in with a credit as long as they’re not modified and as long as you’re not profiting from the context of the image. Examples of such contexts would be: blogs displaying ads, inside products, online stores. In other words, anywhere it could be argued that the image helped increase your income.

If you’re not monetizing the space at the moment but want to leave your options open, it would be a good idea to stick with the more flexible licenses above.

Link: the search page for Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licensed photos.

  Attribution-NonCommercial License

This license allows you to display and modify the image in any non-commercial space with a link to the photographer’s profile. Once again, if you plan to profit from the space in future, you’re better off sticking with the more flexible Attribution License.

Link: the search page for Attribution-NonCommercial licensed photos.

   Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

This license allows you to use photos in non-commercial spaces with credit. There is one extra requirement, however: that you link to the license page with the image credit (alongside a link to the photographer’s profile). Share Alike means that you need to make clear the license of the image wherever you use it. Here’s a link to the Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license page, though you’d probably just link to it under (license)!

Link: the search page for Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licensed photos.

  Attribution-ShareAlike License

This license allows you to modify the photo and display it in any context as long as you link to the photographer’s profile and the distribution license for the photo. Here’s a link to the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

Link: the search page for Attribution-ShareAlike licensed photos.

Victoria's Twelve Apostles.
Photo by Absolutwade.

Finding the best images to suit your needs

Once you’ve navigated to the search page appropriate to where you want the photo appear it’s time to start sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Let’s use the search page for Attribution Licensed photos as a test case. Open the link in a new window or tab and search for the keyword ‘yellow’. This will search the tags and title of each image for matches. You’ll be returned with a bunch of ‘most relevant’ results, but nothing particularly interesting.

Now, click the ‘most interesting’ link above the thumbnails. The search algorithm changes and returns images for that keyword with the most buzz around them (comments and favorites, I suspect). As you can see, the images are of a much higher quality.

Within seconds, I have a gorgeous, targeted photo to use with a blog post — or wherever you’d like to use it.

Photo by nattu.

A bonus tip: above the images, click ‘Thumbnails’. This will return the images in a small cluster of thumbnails allowing you to get a much quicker overview of the page. It’s more light-weight too — something dial-up users will appreciate.