Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain

Trio of pictures by Michelangelo, Munch, and Geralt Public Domain

Many writers are afraid to use pictures for topics they write about because they do not have an appropriate photo from their own digital collection. Of course it is best to use your own pictures. I take many photos myself, but know there are many subjects which I write about where I don’t have an appropriate photograph or image to use. This is where public domain images become useful.

What do the Following Images have in Common?

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo 1511
Creation of Adam by Michelangelo circa 1511.
The Scream by Edvard Munch
Digital Girl by Geralt CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay
Digital Girl by Geralt CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay

Each is an interesting image, but that is not the answer. The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo, completed in 1511, is a part of a fresco painted in the Sistine Chapel. The second is The Scream by Edvard Munch in 1893. The last image is by Gerd Altmann, (who goes by the handle Geralt on Pixabay) created in 2017. All of these images have entered the public domain and are available for you to freely use. In Altmann’s case this was a choice made by the creator and many modern photographers and artists support free provision of their work.

What is public domain?


Public domain applies in two instances. Firstly where the creator of something gives use of it over to the public for their use. Secondly where the person who created the picture died more than seventy years ago.

Any picture by Michelangelo, including the powerful Creation of Adam (circa 1511), are public domain works of art. Something this old was never subject to copyright at any time in history. In the Case of Edvard Munch he died on January 23, 1944, making all his artwork public domain since January 24th 2014.

Photographs of famous works of art, do in some countries, carry their own term of copyright. In the USA however “exact reproductions of the originals, cannot be copyrighted and are therefore in the public domain.” This is law after a court decision in The Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corporation (1999), likely the law for future cases in most western jurisdictions. You will find it almost impossible to take photographs in art galleries because they wish patrons to purchase postcards or books from their gift shop.

When a living artist or photographer has put a piece into the public domain, you must remember they are still the copyright owner. It is considered common decency to recognise the creator.

The Need for Images


When I started writing I knew that posts with images were more popular than ones created purely of text. It is not a case of words being incapable of completely describing something. Humans use all of their senses to understand how things works. Many writers use images to create white-space around the text to allow the eye to momentarily rest. The diversion can give a point of reflection for the mind. Images also make works more interesting.

You may see images used and re-used in newspapers and by TV reporters. New organisations recognise the power of a picture and will re-use pictures. You will notice such pictures will say something like “Picture by Fred Smith, courtesy The Daily Report.” Fred Smith could be the only news photographer for miles around. In some instances it is simply not possible to send new people to the area. Newspapers purchase photos from competing publications all the time. There is, however, a monetary transaction that happens to use these photos. Do not ‘borrow’ from new organisations – they are likely to demand a fee.

Images On-Line

There are millions of images on-line. enter any subject you like into a Google search and you will find an images tab on the search results, as shown here:

Google Images

Most of these images should NEVER be used. The reason is clear, they have copyright attached to them (even if there is no copyright symbol displayed on the page).

All across the Internet there are many picture libraries ready to sell you images for anywhere between a few cents and a few hundred dollars. Getty Images and iStockphoto are examples of stock photo libraries. They are not free public domain image providers, despite showing up in searches for public domain images. Stock images are of great value and I have often used them for commercial projects (where clients have a budget for artwork usage).

Flickr has some public domain images, but most have attributed copyright and state “all rights reserved” which means you cannot freely use them.

Most bloggers, however, do not have a budget to purchase pictures. Every picture used on this site is either my own, or was sourced from public domain libraries where there is no cost for usage.

Public Domain Sources

President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 by Michael Vadon from Flickr via Wylio
© 2017 Michael Vadon, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

There are many public domain sources you can use to obtain images, some include photos relating to recent newsworthy events. like the picture here by Michael Vadon, of President Trump, sourced from Wylio. Let’s face it many people wish to comment about President Trump and his policies – perhaps the most popular topic of late. This way it is possible to find relevant material.

Photos about recent newsworthy events has often been a problem, but not all photographers are looking to maximise their incomes. Give Wylio a try.

Other picture sources include: Wikimedia commons which has many historical pictures; PixbayPexels; Public Domain Pictures; Unsplash.

The sites that provide public domain images change every day, many sites start their life providing free images, but then demand a subscription or payment. You should regularly check the sites you use to source images to ensure that those provided are still freely available. Most sites are either funded by advertising or allow you the opportunity to donate to the artists and photographers who supply the images.


Relevant Material

The following pages may be of interest




Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee to thank him for discussing use of public domain artwork, images and pictures. The images included here are from royalty free public domain sites, Pixabay, Wylio, and other locations.

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2 Replies to “Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain”

  1. […] Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain […]

  2. […] was no copyright when painted or the copyright has since expired) there is no copyright. See “Sourcing Pictures: Using the Power of Public Domain” for more information about the rules about […]

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