Images. You know your blog posts need them. But they’re sure a pain to whip up, aren’t they?

You can craft things by hand with various levels of effort, using anything from Canva (excellent for non-designers, if you want to take time) to GIMP (powerful and free but a steep learning curve) to Adobe Spark (easy to use but limited options).

But really, the easiest thing would be to download a nice, pretty image from a stock photo site. It’s quick, reasonably painless, and it gets the job done, right?

So. Where do you go for such a thing?

If you’ve spent any time looking for images and found something you like at, say, Shutterstock, you may have pulled up the pricing page, figuring you’d pop for a good enough image. And if this is the case, you know the shock of seeing how much those images cost.

Back in the day, those outfits could charge a premium because of one thing: sorting. They had excellent tagging, and it was easy to find tons of high-quality images that—and this is the key—were relevant to your search. Nowadays, I think you’re going to be just fine with the free options I speak about here.

Unsplash

As far as I’m concerned, Unsplash is the place to go for free images. If you do a search for “tech,” you’ll see a ton of non-cheesy images of computers and code. You’ll also see they have auto-suggested tabs where you can search for a related idea without thinking too hard, like “computer,” “source code,” “programming”—even “PHP” shows up as a suggested search!

Not all the images that show will be relevant, but most of them will be. And the images there are all totally free. That’s for commercial or non-commercial use. No attribution is ever required (though you should build up that good karma and credit the artist).

Frozen bubble on ice crystals

One of the many gorgeous images on Unsplash. This one’s by Aaron Burden

Try Unsplash. I’m not convinced you’ll even need to go to any of the other sites on this list. But if you do…

 Pexels

Pexels is a pretty good option as well. Like Unsplash, it’s free to use for any purpose, and no attribution is required. Searches for “tech,” “computer,” and “code” bring up appealing images. But I think you’ll exhaust their resources faster than you would at Unsplash.

Startup Stock Photos

If you’re looking for general photos of office spaces or of hip people working at tech-centered small businesses, Startup Stock Photos is an excellent option. And you can also feel good about supporting them. It’s a project founded by two guys who generously wanted to share the photos they were taking for their own business. The photographer himself has encouraged us all to make use of the library, so it’s the freest you’ll ever be of the worry that someone will come after you—unless you pick up the camera yourself, of course.

There’s no search function, and you’ll hit the end of the line rather quickly if you start doing the (hypnotic) endless scroll dance. But if you have some time and are looking for inspiration, they’ve got some good stuff that lacks that “fake” feeling many stock images have.

Office with workers in backgroun

Here’s the style of image you can expect from Startup Stock Photos

You can read more about the Startup Stock Photos project here.

Google Images (Filtered)

As a last resort, you can always check Google Images. But—and this is very important—you must use their “reuse” filters, located in the options under the search bar.

If your blog is monetized or if you’re trying to sell anything through the blog, filter by “Labeled for Reuse.” If your blog isn’t there to make money quite yet, you can filter for “Labeled for Noncommercial Reuse” and you’ll have more options.

I do suggest this as a last resort because not everything that winds up in a Google Image search is from the original source. That means is someone, whether it’s the creator or not, has tagged it as a creative commons image. I think you’re still pretty safe to use it, but not as safe as these other sites.

What Not to Do

In a former life (my last job), I dealt a good deal with getting permission to use other people’s words and images. I’ll tell you right now–you don’t want to mess this up. Even if you think your blog is small potatoes, a copyright troll can get ahold of you and make your life miserable.

Keep yourself safe:

  • Do not just go to Google Images and insert something you find there.
  • Do not assume that attribution makes everything okay. You need permission.
  • Don’t alter the image (crop, recolor, etc.) unless you know you have permission to do so.
  • You should be careful with the use of companies’ logos. Research their policies on how to use them.
  • Know that, even if you have permission to use the image from a stock photo provider, there might be additional complexities around using images with people’s faces. Models sign away their rights to some things, but they do sometimes have reciprocity if their face is used in ways that can be considered harmful to their reputation. This is even more so the case if the model isn’t actually a model but instead an unknowing subject of an image captured without their permission. All very fringe-case threats, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
  • And finally, do not use the faceless business suit guy breaking the fourth wall by using the inside of your monitor as a touchscreen.

    This won’t keep you safe from copyright claims. In fact, this has nothing to do with licensing at all. But it will keep you safe from looking like a total cheeseball.

Some Sites That Aren’t Great for Tech

There are tons of sites out there, and you may find some gems if you go off looking for yourself. But let me pre-weed a few of these options for you.

Here are some sites that I feel aren’t even worth searching, from a tech blogging perspective. (They might be nice if you just want an image of a Paris bakery or a gerbera daisy or something, though.)

  • Pixabay (a good site—just not for tech)
  • Wikimedia Commons (no useful images, wretched user experience)
  • Flickr (too many potential licensing problems)
  • Freeimages (no tech selection)
  • RGBStock (no tech selection)
  • Freephotos.cc (no tech selection)
  • Freestocks.org (no tech selection)
Search Out of the Box

In closing, I want to give you one last piece of advice. There’s a balance to be struck on the time you spend on images. I know some people who spend hours combing through stock images, looking for the one that perfectly captures the essence of their post. That’s a bad use of your time.

But on the other hand, don’t be scared to use that search box and go beyond just “tech” or “code.” You may be looking for an image for a post on security and find that a nice padlock and chain on a fence is a refreshing change from all the images of keyboards and black screens with rainbow text in Courier font. Or maybe you mention not being able to see the forest for the trees in your post. A featured image of a pine tree might cause people to be curious how such a thing ties in with a seemingly unrelated blog title. And curiosity = clicks.

Sometimes, a casual scroll through stock photo lane can be inspiring rather than frustrating. So pop open Unsplash, check out their “one color” or their “neon” collection! You never know when you’ll make an unexpected connection to something in your post beyond just code.