How to use Creative Commons images safely on blogs

Sites like Flickr offer a wealth of images for commercial use, but there’s more to using Creative Commons images than right-click and “Save-As”.


Content marketers maintaining a regular blog need arresting images to go with their posts. The right image to accompany a post can have a huge impact on whether a reader will click through to the article or ignore it.

At Outbrain we find that when we add thumbnail images as part of an article headline, we see a 27% increase in click engagement and content discovery.

– David Sasson, Chief Operating Officer, Outbrain, writing on Mashable in 2011

But what do you do when you need a quick, legit image and there’s no designers to hand or you can’t get your hands on a suitable stock photo?

Sometimes, my camera, graphics tablet, imagination and Adobe Creative Cloud aren’t enough to help me generate the best images for Radix’s blog posts. When this happens, I turn to one of two places: Hubspot’s huge library of royalty free images or Flickr.

In the case of Hubspot’s vast stack of images, they don’t ask or need you to give them any credit. With Flickr it’s an entirely, seemingly more complicated, situation. But although it’s more complex, don’t let that put you off finding the image that suits your blog post just right.

Step 1: Go to CC Search

Don’t go straight to Flickr, go to CC Search. Enter a word that’s related to your blog post topic, make sure the boxes for “use for commercial purposes” and “modify, adapt, or build upon” are ticked (you may not plan on turning the image into a crowbar mosaic like this one, but you may want to resize or crop it) and then click on “Flickr” from the list of site names under the search box.

I’m going to search for the word “cats”.

Step 2: Pick the image that best suits your post and make a note of its details

If the first search doesn’t bring up anything related to your post, head back to CC Search and try a different search term. When you find an image you like the look of, make a note of the following details associated with that image:

  • Name of the image
  • Creator’s name
  • Image URL
  • Image’s CC license type (found by clicking on “Some rights reserved”, double check that you can use it as fully as you need to)
  • The Full License URL (found via the link at “this is a human-readable summary of (and not a substitute for) the license.”)

This is the original image I’m using and the details I noted down:


“Street Cat”

Mike Knlec
[Can be used under a] Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Step 3: Download a copy of the image and rename it

Head to the download arrow icon and save the size that will best suit your purposes. Either when you download it or straight after, name the file with the image’s name and its creator’s name.

Step 4: Make alterations to the image as needed and save as a new file

I’ve adapted many of the Creative Commons images I’ve used over the years, and you may also find you need to crop and resize the image to fit with your blog. When you’ve made those changes, make sure to save the file with the name you gave it plus a word like “adapted”.

Step 5: Put that image in your blog post and add its details to the post

You’ll probably have too many details about the image to list them all neatly beside the image itself. Instead, put them at the end of your post: say if you adapted or modified it, hyperlink the name of the image to the original and the license type to the full license. (See an example at the end of this post.)

If you want more advice on how to use Creative Commons images correctly, then check out this Wiki on “Best Practices for Attribution”.

Not sure which image to pick? Then check out Copyblogger’s Lede podcast episode: “How to Choose Arresting Images for Your Blog Posts (And Why You Should)”.

Happy image hunting!

Header image adapted from “Street Cat” by Mike Knlec under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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