If a picture is worth 1,000 words then the right picture is worth more. Choosing the right picture to use in your blog posts can be the difference between a user reading your post and really getting it. It can also supplement the meaning of your ideas with an etherial image that expands a reader’s understanding of the topic or sets their mind down an even better, unexplored path.

While there are certainly no shortage of photo sharing and image websites available to find good images for your blog, here are five sure-fire resources I use for compelling blog photography:

Shutterstock.com

Service by Wolfgang Amri on Shutterstock.comI’ll admit, when Shutterstock first asked me if I’d like to try their service free of charge I thought I would, but only if it were free. Now that I’m used to using it, I’d be hard pressed to not use Shutterstock, even though it is a subscription-based site. For $49 per month, you can download 12 images at medium or low resolution. While I generally consider that price to be a bit on the high side, the images are royalty free and the Shutterstock quality and quantity is outstanding. I type in the search term “service” and come up with great stock images or even graphics that make my posts on customer service sing. Shutterstock has video, too.

Image by Wolfgang Amri on Shutterstock.com

iStockPhoto.com

Service by Yuri Arcurs on iStockPhotoIf you’re looking to purchase one photo, even if for a web project, presentation or blog post, iStockPhoto is a great resource. You can buy web-ready, royalty-free images there for as low as a buck. (Though you do have to pony up $20 or so and buy 12 credits to start off with.) It offers the pay-as-you-go model which makes it less of a pocket-book hit than Shutterstock, but still gives you great stock photography, video and graphics for a minimal investment.

Image by Yuri Arcurs on iStockPhoto.

Stock Exchange

Service from Stock ExchangeYou can still get strong quality images for use on your blog with zero budget by visiting any of the free stock photo sites out there. Stock Exchange offers a decent selection of stock photography that you can download for free. They also offer up the iStockPhoto paid images as choices in their searches as well, which is convenient if you must have the right photo. The selection isn’t the greatest and the searches I’ve conducted there come back with some odd matches. You’ll spend more time trying to find the right image, but if you find it, it’s free. Just sign up for an account and you’ve got access.

Image by stylesr1 on Stock Exchange.

Flickr.com

Service by Alan Cleaver on FlickrEveryone’s favorite photo sharing site is also a great resource for good photography. While the images on Flickr are crowdsourced from photographers of all skill levels (most of them on the amateur end), you can still find a great shot or two if you look long and hard enough. Also, Flickr images tend to be real world images, not staged, stock photography, which can be more compelling imagery. But you have to be very careful using Flickr images. “Public” images doesn’t necessarily imply you’re free to use them. To be sure you’re using images you have permission to, use the Advanced Search features and search for images that are set for commercial use under Creative Commons licensing, as seen in the image below.

While you may not be using your blog specifically to make money, there’s always a chance your business or some monetary benefit could come your way as a result of your blog, either now or in the future. To be safe, and legal, just use images that give commercial permissions.

Flickr Creative Commons Suggestion

Image by Alan Cleaver on Flickr.

Zemanta Plug-In

Jason Falls and Boss Spetic
Image by Jason Falls via Flickr

I’ve written before about the Zemanta plug-in, which is used with your web browser, blog platform or email software to suggest images, links, related articles and tags to the content you’re producing (even emails to others). Using Zemanta for your blog offers you images from Flickr and other public image sources as one-click options in your content. Click the image you want and it’s automatically embedded. The copyright information an attribution is already there, so you do nothing more. It’s so easy, it makes hunting for images on other services seem foolish. However, Zemanta uses your content to pull images it deems relevant. Because it’s a machine analyzing your text, you won’t always get a great selection, or even images that make sense to your topic. It’s awfully useful, especially for pulling logos of companies you might mention. But it can often leave you to search the other services as well.

Image from Zemanta, credited as the plugin provides. (Hover to see.) The image is of me and Zemanta CEO and founder Boštjan Špetič and is pulled from my Flickr account, another Zemanta perk.

And while we’re talking about images, there are two pretty important topics to understand:

Royalty-Free Is Not Always Free

There’s a difference between free images and royalty-free images. Royalty-free images mean you don’t have to pay additional royalties to the photographer (or sometimes models) to publish the images. These would be fees you pay on top of any subscription service to access the image in the first place. Some photographers want to be paid for the right to own the image, plus the right to publish or distribute. Thus, you’d have to pay royalties as well. Royalty-free images mean you only have to pay to own the photo. With the sites listed above, your subscription fee (if any) would cover that cost.

Respect Those Rights

Most new bloggers will just do a Google Image search and use the best image that comes up. It’s easy to right-click and download, right? The problem with this method is that you don’t know for certain that you have rights or permissions to use that image. If you use an image without knowing you can, you could be violating intellectual property laws. That goes for logos and clip art as well as photography, too.

To know for sure if you can use an image, go straight to the source — the company, brand or photo site where the image originated. We offer the above sites because they either provide copyright information or offer only images you’re allowed to use. If you can’t determine where the image originally came from, the best practice is to not use the image at all. Using it may violate someone’s copyright and put you at unnecessary legal risk.

And even though you’re not always required to do so (best to check the requirements on each photo, though), I’ve always tried hard to include the name of the photographer when I credit image use on my blog. If for no other reason, it’s just a sign of respect to their work, craft and artistry. They produced something I find useful. There’s a good chance they’re not making any money for me using it. It’s the least I can do. I recommend you do the same.

Let’s Turn The Camera On You

What other photo sites do you find useful? Do you have other tips or tricks about using photography on your blog you’d like to share? The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    I don't know that I have any other resources to recommend. I actually think you've knocked it outta the park with a great list here. I use Flickr often and always in the manner which you describe (and of course I give photo credit at the end of each post). Sometimes I don't always find the right image so I opt to either use no image at all or turn to iStockPhoto for something I can use.

    Thanks for the list of resources!

  • http://TrafficCafe.TV Jonathan Gunson

    Hi Jason

    Yes, iStockphoto is the BOMB!

    SOOOO cheap, yet the photographs that I have found there are often sensational … hard to believe that they are sold at the price really. I'm using an increasing number of images on my blog. Another point is that Google likes them too.

    Jonathan Gunson

  • http://deanholmes.me deanholmes

    I use iStockPhoto all the time. When you start getting serious about blogging, images can certainly make the difference as you have stated.

    A picture is worth a thousand words is the point here.

    Great post my man.

    Dean

  • edrowlee

    I'm all for Stock Exchange. I've been using it like forever in my old blogs. Despite the fact that they are royalty-free, I always keep it a practice to accord a small copyright attribution to the actual name of the photographer if I can find it. Otherwise, I will just pin it to their username in Stock Exchange.

    Flickr is a little tricky though. Sometimes when we can't wait to publish a post, asking for permission and waiting for a respond can be quite a drag. I usually use the pictures right away while continuing to send a note with the respective URL. If a negative respond comes back days later, I'll replace the photographs with others. The cycle goes on and on, very much a hassle. Thankfully, nobody has ever rejected me in Flickr.

    One thing that I find useful though, bloggers using photographs from Flickr should spend a little effort to explain to the photographer on the choice of the photograph. How is the photograph relevant to the blog post? How does the photograph bring out the texture of the story? And like what I said above, even when they say yes… insert that copyright line at a small corner as long as it can be read. Someone else may not pull the photo from Flickr but from your blog instead. Right to publish is not right to distribute as well. At least in legal technicality, that's the way.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Another great plug-in is PhotoDropper – http://www.photodropper.com/

    This sources Creative Commons images on Flickr, attributes the link and just makes life easier all-round. Use it on my blog and love it.

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  • http://spotlightportfolios.com/ Allen – Personalbrander

    I think the above things are far enough! Certainly all the above sources are great resources! A blog with nice illustration attracts visitors/readers a lot than a normal text because the nature of present readers have changed a lot! I appreciate your sharing!

  • http://mytwittertoolbox.com David Perdew

    While a picture can speak a 1,000 words, I agree with Allen: there are other things that give a visual as well. For me, I do lots and lots of video tutorials for web site, MyTwitterToolbox.com. I make sure to cover both types of readers: those who like text and those who like visual/graphical.

    I also have my writer create reviews and such of applications that includes screen captures for a combined instructional/tutorial/educational feel. Just another way to hit all variables for the types of readers I have.

    Thanks for the great read – as always!

  • http://artbystevejohnson.com Steve Johnson

    Generally I am in full agreement, relevant images really add value but…

    Aren't there enough irrelevant identically lit ethnically balanced images of attractive people on the interwebs. Seriously, for many of us there is no quicker turn off than images of people with the “microstock look” who bear no relationship to the article in question.

    I say this as someone with work on all three of the sites that you highlight.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      If that's what you're looking for, you can find it. I also look for
      non-human images that express words or emotions as well. There's plenty of
      that, too. Ultimately, I'm not an artist or an art director. I write a post
      about customer service and I want the smiling operator because that's the
      image that makes the most sense to me about the article. For the artists in
      the room, certainly there are probably other sites to consider. Please share
      the ones you know of.

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  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    PicApp is my photography source of choice these days — http://picapp.com full of royalty-free creative and editorial stock, most of which are shot by Getty Images and similar groups and sold to the AP. Bloggers get to use the photos for free by registering for an account and copying the applicable code.

    An evergreen topic about rights, you can see what I wrote a year ago at http://ariwriter.com/use-blog-photos-with-creat

  • athensgreecehotels

    I always use Shutterstock.com for images but here many other option also Thanks for sharing .

  • http://twitter.com/danielschwartz Daniel Schwartz

    I would recommend Morguefile.com. It has some great stock photos and its public domain, for the most part.

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    Since for all these great resources, you either have to pay or you are required to pay attribution,I’d suggest Pixabay.com as an alternative: that’s an impressive database of quality public domain photos and cliparts. Neither attribution nor backlink or registration is required.

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