Finding Images

Search Engines for Creative Commons and Public Domain Materials

  • PhotoPin: A comprehensive search of Creative Commons licensed images. The site also has a built-in attribution creator for each image.
  • The Public Domain Review: Curated collections of images, books, audio and film, shining a light on curiosities and wonders from a wide range of online archives.
  • Creative Commons Search: This is a good place to start looking for images. There are two checkboxes at the top, for the purposes of this project, you can uncheck use for commercial purposes. If you are not planning on editing an image, you can also uncheck modify, adapt, or build upon. Enter your search terms in the box, and click on the service you want to search (Flickr, Google Images, etc.).
  • Google Image Search: When searching, click Tools, then click Usage Rights, then check Creative Commons licenses (this will likely produce the most results). Be aware that just because an image shows up as licensed doesn’t necessarily mean that the image has been appropriately licensed in such a way. Google is using the metadata for the image that it has available to it, and if someone assigned it a license inappropriately, then it may be infringing on someone’s rights inadvertently. 
  • Flickr: After searching for images, click where it says Any License and change to All Creative Commons. You can also change to No Copyright Restrictions but that may result in fewer usable images. The Flickr Commons page also aggregates reusable content.
  • Getty Open Content: Getty makes some of their images freely available as open content.
  • United States Goverment Images: Generally, images created by the United States government are in the public domain, meaning they can be reused with no restrictions.
  • Wikimedia Commons: After searching for an image, click on Multimedia to only show image files. This one can be a bit confusing.
  • YouTube: After searching, click on Filters, then click on Creative Commons.
  • Calisphere: Calisphere is a gateway to digital collections from California’s great libraries, archives, and museums.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Digital Collections: Enjoy more than 406,000 hi-res images of public-domain works from the collection that can be downloaded, shared, and remixed without restriction.
  • Freer Sackler (Smithsonian)The Freer Sackler focuses on collecting Asian art. Their collection is available digitally. We can use the images for our non-commercial use, with appropriate credit.
  • New York Public Library – Digital CollectionsNYPL has digitized nearly 1 million items from their collection and made them available to download.
  • Cleveland Museum of Art: The Cleveland Museum of Art has thousands of images that are either available in the Public Domain or have a Creative Commons license. You can see what licenses are available for an object after clicking on it.

Image Types and Resolution

Usually, you will want to find images that are higher resolution. Resolution refers to the number of pixels per side. For example, a 800×600 resolution photo is 800 pixels wide, and 600 pixels high. A common PC laptop screen is 1440 pixels wide and 900 pixels high.

When you do a Google image search, you can see how large an image is by clicking on its thumbnail, and mousing over the large image on the right. Larger images will look better, but also take up more space.

Google image search of penguin with instructions on how to view the resolution.
An image of a penguin that is 1200 pixels wide and 1800 pixels tall. Mouse over the large image in Google Image Search to see the size.
Credit: Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica), Deception Island, South Shetland Islands by Andrew Shiva. CC BY-SA 4.0

In digital projects, you will usually want to find images in JPEG, PNG, or GIF format. These are indicated by the end of the filename, which will typically end in .jpg, .jpeg, .png, or .gif. Other image formats such as SVG and BMP also exist. Some websites intentionally obscure the image types, however, because they don’t want the images directly linked or saved.

When viewing an image online in your browser, look for the image type at the end of the link. This is a JPEG image file, indicated by .jpg.

Hotlinking vs. Downloading Images

When creating something that is online, there are two options to add images to a website: adding a link to an image, or uploading an image. If you add a link to an image, you are usually taking a link you found via a search and copying and pasting the link; this is called hotlinking. This method has the advantage of letting users click on the image, and be taken to where the image was originally found, so the original creator of the image is connected to it. However, if the website takes down that image, you have a broken link, and it will no longer show up on your website. Hotlinking is generally frowned upon unless the creator of the media has given permission, and some websites are programmed to prevent this behavior. It is probably not a copyright violation, but it can be considered rude.

If you download an image from one site and upload it to your own, you have the advantage of making sure it stays up on your website; however, doing so implies that you have the right to use that image because it is in the public domain, it is a fair use, or it is licensed in such a way that you can use it.

Google Image Search

Google Images will let you limit your results to images you should be allowed to use in your work. Just do a search, look for the tools option beneath the search bar and click it, look for a dropdown menu that says usage rights, and select Creative Commons licenses.

Google image search directions on how to find Creative Commons licensed images
In Google images, click Tools, then Usage Rights to limit results to Creative Commons licensed images.

Google explains the differences between the Creative Commons licenses filter and the Commercial or other licenses filter:

  • Creative Commons licenses: These images are usually free to use, but require credit. They may also have limitations on how, or in what context, you can use them. For example, an image’s license might state that you can’t modify it or use it for commercial purposes.
  • Commercial or other licenses: These images have non-Creative Commons licenses and can be from either free sites or commercial sites that require payment.

So it is possible that some images under the Commercial or other licenses filter may be free to use, such as Public Domain images, but others will be licensed in such a way that you must pay for their use.

Getting Links to Images via Google

Never do a Google image search, click on an image, and then save the image or link to it that way. Always click the link to get to the webpage with the image, and find it that way. Otherwise you may end up with a link that doesn’t work, or an image that is too small.


Flickr gives you the option to search for pictures and images with specific Creative Commons licenses. After you’ve done a search, look for a dropdown menu labeled any license and use it to ensure you’re finding material you’re allowed to reuse. If you leave it as any license then it will include images that have copyright restrictions. The University of Melbourne has a useful guide for searching Flickr for Creative Commons Images.

Click the Any license dropdown in Flickr to limit by different license types.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons allows you to search an enormous amount of content you’re allowed to reuse. Once you find something, just make sure you scroll down to the license section and see exactly how you are allowed to reuse the material.

The Licensing section of Wikimedia Commons will provide you with information on how images can be used.