Finding Free Photos for Your Creative Projects: Part 2

Whether you’re a creative professional in need of stock photography or a student who simply needs images for a slideshow, the search for high-quality, royalty-free photography can be lengthy and challenging. The good news is that finding royalty-free photos is not as hard as it might seem at first, you just need to know where to look. This three-part blog post series will offer some suggestions of where to find these photos and, going a step further, will break down some of the ways images are offered online for free. 

Last week, we looked at websites that offer “free” images. This week, we’ll look at Creative Commons licenses. 

But first, a quick disclaimer: This blog post gets into some specifics of copyright law. While we hope the guide below is useful, this post in no way constitutes formal legal advice. It is simply an informational jumping-off point. 

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit organization that creates copyright licenses for anyone to apply to their creative work. In their own words, “we make it easier for people to share their creative and academic work, as well as to access and build upon the work of others. By helping people and organizations share knowledge and creativity, we aim to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world.” CC licenses are a bit different than the examples last week, but the good thing about them is, once you understand them, the rules are clear -- CC licenses take any copyright guesswork out of the equation. 

There are a few different types of CC licenses, so when you come across one, you want to be sure to read its name carefully. Each type of license will explain what kind of use is allowed. The most accommodating license is called “Attribution 4.0 International,” or “CC BY 4.0” for short. All this license requires is that the user -- that’s you -- gives attribution to the original creator. So, if you download a photo that has a CC BY 4.0 license, you are welcome to share it with whoever you wish and edit it however you like, but you must give credit to the original photographer. 

CC licenses may be a bit more complex when compared to the licenses mentioned in last week’s post, but there are many photos available under CC licenses that you won’t find anywhere else. And it’s not only photos -- music, movies, artwork, code, websites, books, and any other creative work you can think of may have a CC license as well. 


  • CC Search - The official search tool of Creative Commons. It allows you to filter by license, so you can choose the least restrictive photos. 
  • The Flickr Commons - This is a place where many libraries, archives, and museums upload photos and other images from their collections. Their search lets you filter by license type. 

If you’re interested in learning more about copyright, don’t forget to check out SLPL’s many resources on the subject. Click here to browse the catalog. 

Next week, we’ll look at the public domain, a copyright concept that includes images that are truly free to use without restriction. 

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