How to Search and Attribute Open Source Images the Right Way

by | Mar 16, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of our most popular article on how to find and attribute open source images.

If you’re a content creator, you already know that high-quality images make posts more enticing to readers. You’ll find plenty of open source images if you know where to look. The Internet is chock-full of digital images, but which ones are free to use? You can start with looking at the 15 Best Sites for Open Source Images. However, finding them is only the first step. You also need to know how to properly attribute them, and give credit to the image’s copyright holder. Let’s take a look at some of the best places to find open source images, and how to attribute them appropriately.

Searching for Open Source Images

Start by going to Next, click on the “Settings” link in the lower right-hand corner and choose “Advanced Search” from the pop-up menu. You may have to sign into your Google account to get this to work.

google images

In the top four fields of the Advanced Search options, you can enter specific parameters for the kind of images you want. For the purposes of image sourcing, it’s the very last field to concern yourself with.

advanced search license

This field is labeled “usage rights.” If you click on the drop-down menu, it will give you several options:

  • Not filtered by license
  • Free to use or share
  • Free to use or share, even commercially
  • Free to use, share, or modify
  • Free to use, share, or modify, even commercially

You’ll want to choose one of the “free to use or share” options. This will tell Google Images to send you those pictures you can use royalty-free. However, if you don’t find any images you like on Google, don’t despair. Turn to one of the Internet’s many photo-sharing sites instead. Three of the best sites for open source images include Pixabay, MorgueFile, and Unsplash.

Pixabay and MorgueFile have a search feature that can help you find images. On Unsplash, the photos aren’t tagged, so you can only search by scrolling through. Alternatively, you can subscribe to their email newsletter and get 10 photos every 10 days.

TSAL for Proper Image Attribution

So, you’ve found some open source images you like. Now you just have to learn to properly attribute them. It’s not hard. Just remember the acronym TSAL:

  • Title
  • Source
  • Author
  • Location

For example, let’s say you decide to use this beautiful image from Wikimedia Commons:

The image’s title is Echinacea purpureaBotanical GardenMunich, German.” Its author is Diego Delso.

Attribute the source by hyperlinking the title back to the page on which the image resides. It’s licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, which is abbreviated as CC BY-SA 3.0. If you don’t know the proper abbreviation, simply click through to the human-readable license information in the image’s original attribution.

So, the proper image attribution for this reads:

Echinacea purpurea, Botanical GardenMunich, German” by Diego Delso, used under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The hyperlinks here are important. This image has a title, but not all open source images do. If yours doesn’t, simply say “Image by” instead. You can put the attribution in a photo caption, or in a footnote at the bottom of your post or page. If you put attributions for multiple photos in a footnote, list them in the order they appear. Now you’re ready to seek out your own open source images, and use them on your blog or webpage with proper attribution. Happy hunting!

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