Pictures generally communicate ideas faster than speech or written words. Pictures with people in them are usually more appealing to online users, as these better convey emotions. But any picture can instill some feelings in a an onlooker, when put in the right context.

When creating online courses it can be hard to pick and choose the perfect image and put it in the perfect spot in your lesson. There are two reasons for this. 1) You don’t know your target audience very well. 2) You’re just overwhelmed by so many choices and rules to take into consideration.

While I could go on and on about not knowing your target audience when selecting images for your courses, this post will focus on the second reason only.

Before jumping into the sea of choices the internet offers in terms of pictures, let’s take care about the rules I mentioned.

The Creative Commons licensing

It used to be easy to steal someone else’s intellectual property online. Pictures, along with text, were the most common example of this kind of theft. Creative Commons makes sure this doesn’t happen anymore.

There are seven regularly used CC licences:

  1. Attribution
  2. Attribution-ShareAlike
  3. Attribution-NoDerivs
  4. Attribution-NonCommercial
  5. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Check out the rules for each of them on this dedicated Creative Commons page.

Maybe you were a rebel teenager and didn’t like to do what others told you to. Maybe you still enjoy bending a rule or two (or three, or more) now that you’re all grown-up. But if you choose to not follow the above licensing requirements, you do it on your own (or your company’s) risk. Things can lead to a very costly mistake.

You could totally avoid this hassle if you go to a stock images website, like iStock, Shutterstock, or Fotolia.

I don’t know who first said this, but it’s so true:

Why pay for something, when you can get it for free?

I mentioned that there were seven common CC licenses, but I only listed six. Get yourself a cookie if you noticed that 🙂

The seventh licence is Creative Commons Zero, or CC0. According to the CC website, the CC0 licence “enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law.”

In plain English, you can use, share, or modify pictures with CC0 license as you please. The only thing you can’t do with these free images though is to redistribute or sell them to make a profit. But most probably this doesn’t apply to your online courses.

Now that the rules are set, I present to you

My favorite free images resources for online courses

My first stop is almost always Google Images. But there’s a trick. A lot of Google Images are under CC1 to CC6 licenses. To find just the ones under CC0, you must do a few clicks. It doesn’t matter what browser you’re using. Go to Google Images and type in your keyword in order to get some results. Then, go to the little gear in the top right corner and select Advanced Search. Scroll down to the last option, usage rights, which has the default of not filtered by license. Select Free to use, share and modify, even commercially, and finally click on the blue Advanced Search button.

Some topics are covered pretty well; others, not so. If you’re not satisfied with the results, move on to the next free images websites:

Pixabay. This site offers more than 700,000 free images, illustrations, vector graphics, and even videos.You can browse them by category, or use their complex search tool. If your course is related to health or medicine, you’ll find more than 7,000 pictures on this subject only.

Death to the Stock Photo. You can browse the recent photo projects and download the ones that catch your eye. You can always sign up for this site, and you’ll get free photos by email every month.

Unsplash. While the search function here is way simpler than that of Pixabay, you can still find what you’re looking for. Their collections are perfect if you need more than one picture on the same subject, or that are related. This site already has a big library of photos, and they add 10 more every 10 days.

Gratisography. This site screams the personal style of its creator, so you’ll either love the pictures or hate them. I for one love them. It’s updated every week.

Minimography. As the name implies, you’ll find here a lot of minimalistic photos. Sometimes, simple can send a stronger message to your audience.

Negative Space. Another weekly updating website, but this one is on Mondays. It groups pictures in more than 10 categories, and the business one might turn out to be useful for one of your courses.

Picjumbo. This site also offers a premium membership and it makes this clearly known. But the CC0 pictures are still free of charge and free to use. The best part about Picjumbo is that it’s updated daily.

Life of Pix. At the moment of writing, this site has a bug in the search function that doesn’t remember to keep the grid layout option that’s previously selected. But besides the awesome logo and lively pictures, Life of Pix also offers quite a collection of free videos.

Startup Stock Photos. This site is missing a grid layout, which can be frustrating when browsing a lot of pictures, but the actual pictures can easily blend well with the business theme of one of your courses.

Pexels. I’ve saved the best for last. This is actually an aggregator, meaning that it curates images from sites like Gratisography and Unsplash, to name just a few. It has a huge library, it’s easy to search, and it’s updated daily. If this isn’t a time-saviour, I don’t know what is. Give it a try. You’ll thank me later.

 
And those were my favorite free images resources for online courses. Do you know other websites that could be added to this list? So share them in the comments section. I might make those my favorites too.

 
PS: Guess what kind of CC licence the cover photo of thi post has! If you can tell me where I found it, I’ll give you a personalized “Congratulations!” card. A hint: I got it from one of the above-mentioned sites.

Author: Livia M

Livia is the main online voice of MATRIX by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about workplace learning and L&D strategies for businesses, as well as other training and e-learning related subjects.