Free Photo Resources for Your Ebooks

Free Photos for Use in Your Projects

These photos are mainly either public domain or Creative Commons. Please be sure to check on the details of the license of any image you use, as it might require you to link to the original or credit the photographer. I am including only sources that offer exclusively or at least a high proportion of works available free for commercial use, since this roundup is intended mainly for writers looking for images for books or other commercial products.



Type in your search terms and click on the magnifying glass. Then, under License (in the toolbar), select Creative Commons Only, Commercial Use Allowed, and Modifications Allowed. That way you can crop, improve contrast if necessary, and use the photo in your books. Flickr has lots of museum’s collections, so you might click on Photos From under People, and then search for images from, say, the Boston Public Library. The BPL has uploaded more than 95,000 images, and you can look at the albums they’ve created to search for photos related to your topic.


Creative Commons Search Tool:

Choose the boxes that apply:

I want something that I can…

use for commercial purposes;

modify, adapt, or build upon.

Then choose where you want to search (Google Images, Flickr, Pixaby, Fotopedia, and Open Clip Art Library are the options as of 10/17/14). Enter your search keywords in the box. Hit Enter, and check out your results. Note that you’ll need to search each place (Google Images, Flickr, etc.) individually. You can’t choose all of them at once, unfortunately. I find this tool especially useful for Google Images, since there are so many Google Images that are NOT Creative Commons, this sorts through them for me.


Wikipedia Roundup of Public Domain Photo Sources: (check out the government sources, especially):

Wikimedia Roundup of Free Photo Sources:

Pixabay: The top row of search results usually consists of Shutterstock images. IGNORE those if you are looking for free images. Basically, affiliate fees from Shutterstock pay for Pixabay to stay in business. Hover your cursor over an image to see if the Shutterstock watermark appears. If so, it is NOT a free image. I tried several search terms, and it was always just the top row of images that were Shutterstock.


Unsplash: A fairly small collection of lovely images. Great for image quotes. Not searchable. Just browse the grid to see if something catches your eye. Great for image quotes.


Library of Congress:

Great images, but note that the LOC does not own rights to many of its images. So make sure to check out the image information to learn whether the photo is in the public domain, how old it is, what the source of the photo is, etc.

U.S. Government Photos and Images:

Links to collections of images on many topics. Lots (but not all) are government photos and in the public domain.



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides mostly public domain photos of all things related to weather, storms, the oceans, and more.

Defense Imagery:

Photos and video related to military topics. This portal is being redone, and after October 27, 2014, it should be accessed at

U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Photos related to agriculture, natural resources, food, and county courthouses (yep, county courthouses).


National Renewable Energy Library:

The Image Gallery, provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is a collection of photographs, scientific images, and videos related to renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Project Gutenberg:

These public domain books are often illustrated. You can get some interesting things for use online or in ebooks, but the quality is probably not hi-res enough for print books.

NYPL Digital Gallery:

Images are free for digital/online use, but there’s a fee for hi-res versions.

Open Clip Art:

Free clip art, all public domain.

Wellcome Collection:

Collections “ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science.” Historical images are Creative Commons and free, but newer images (including most science ones) are rights-managed. You can easily tell which are which by the Rights-managed rectangle under some photos.

Wikimedia Commons:

Digital Public Library of America: –

Check the Rights field on individual photos to see the rights available. Many are public domain, but not all!

Image Base:

Some lovely general-interest images, completely free for commercial use.

CSIRO ScienceImage:

Images from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Getty Museum:

Search the Getty Museum’s Open Content images, all free for use. Currently, there are more than 87,000 images from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute available through the Open Content Program, including more than 72,000 from the Research Institute’s Foto Arte Minore archive, which features photographs of the art and architecture of Italy over 30 years by German photographer and scholar Max Hutzel (1913–1988). Other images include paintings, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, artists’ sketchbooks, watercolors, rare prints from the 16th through the 18th century, and 19th-century architectural drawings of cultural landmarks.

Other Resources:

Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Propery, by Susan M. Bielstein (U of Chicago Press)


This is a reverse photo search tool. If you have an image and are trying to track its source to get permission to use it, you can drag and drop the image, upload it, or enter the url, and it will show you where else that image is online. Very cool tool.

You can print out a .pdf copy of this document here!

Thanks to Sarah Albee, Diane Mayr, Betty Pfeiffer, and Chris Eboch for sharing info and resources


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Writer Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

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