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A Crash Course on Proper Image Use
It is impossible for us to have the right image for everything we write about, so sometimes it is best to turn to an external source. This guide provides information on finding and using images from external sources in a manner that respects copyright law and specifically addresses the following:
- The Importance of Starting Your Article With an Image
- Choosing Full-Width Images
- How to Check the Pixel Width of an Image
- How to Attribute an Image
- Which Images Are Free to Use Online
- Images That Cannot Be Used on HubPages
- Images That Can Be Used on HubPages
- Examples of Proper Image Attribution on HubPages
- An Explanation of the Various Types of Creative Commons Licenses
- Tips on Finding Creative Commons-Licensed Images
- Choosing What to Link to When Citing Creative Commons Images
- Tips on Using Wikimedia Commons
- Tips on Using Flickr's Creative Commons
- How to Give Your Work a Creative Commons License
- Tips on Finding Public Domain and Royalty-Free Images
- Advice on Using Friends' Photos
- Advice on the Fair Use Argument
The Importance of Starting Your Article With an Image
It's important to start your article with an image for three reasons:
- First, a top image adds visual interest and sets the tone for your article.
- Second, your top image may appear as a thumbnail image link above your article title on Network Site homepages and category pages.
- Third, your top image prevents your title from sitting directly atop your first header (if applicable), which can cause confusion for readers.
So, for each article you create, be sure to find a large (more on image size below), high-quality, square or landscape-oriented image related to your topic that will set the tone for your article and catch your reader's eye. Tips for finding images on Unsplash, Pixabay, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, and other websites are included in this article later on.
Choosing Full-Width Images
In order for your article to look its best, engage readers, and meet publishing standards, the images you include—especially your top image—should be full width. In other words, they should be as wide as the rest of the content on the page so that they don't appear small, low-quality, and out of place. The height of the image does not matter, but the width makes a big difference in the overall appearance.
On HubPages' Network Sites, images that are 1400 pixels wide (or wider) are considered full width. Images that are 700 pixels wide (or wider) are considered acceptable, but it's best to shoot for 1400 px whenever possible.
It's important to note that while some smaller images may appear to be full width on mobile devices like smartphones, if they are less than 700 pixels wide, they will likely appear blurry or pixelated when stretched to fit the screen. On desktop and laptop monitors, any images under 700 pixels wide will actually appear thinner than the written content in your article. Images like this detract from the overall quality of your article, so there is a chance they might be removed by our editors.
Examples of Improperly and Properly Sized Images
Below are three photos:
- The first appears too small on desktop and laptop monitors. On mobile devices, the image is stretched to fit the screen, so it looks blurry and pixelated.
- The second also looks too small on desktop and laptop monitors. On mobile devices, the image is stretched to fit the screen, so it looks somewhat blurry and pixelated but not as noticeably as the first.
- The third is a large, high-quality image that appears full width on all devices, isn't blurry or pixelated on mobile, and would be suitable for use in an article.
How to Check the Pixel Width of an Image
Follow these illustrated step-by-step instructions to check the width of an image on your computer, depending on whether you use a PC or Mac.
- Right-click the image thumbnail or the image file name.
- Click on "Properties" at the bottom of the dropdown menu.
- A new menu will open. Click on the "Details" tab at the top. Under the "Image" header on the Details tab, you'll see the width of the image in pixels.
- Control-click the image thumbnail or the image file name.
- Click on "Get Info" on the dropdown menu.
- A new menu will open. Click on the arrow next to "More Info:" to expand that section. The "Dimensions" row will show the width x height of the image in pixels.
How to Attribute an Image
Check the License
Do not use others' images unless they have a Creative Commons (CC) or Public Domain license. See a breakdown of the license types below.
Cite the Source
When citing others' images, include the author name, license type, and source in the source bar of the Photo Capsule:
Bob Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr
Link to the Source
Also, be sure to link to the image's source page in the URL bar in the Photo Capsule.
Which Images Are Free to Use Online?
Though it is best to use one's own photos and images on HubPages (doing so can add extra authority, originality, usefulness, and flair to an article), there are times when we lack the time and resources to take photos or create images to cover all topics and subjects on which we write.
Luckily, HubPages makes it easy to import images from elsewhere online that have been created by other people. Though all you have to do is insert an image URL into the Photo Capsule to import an image, the process of LEGALLY using others' images online is more complicated than that.
To use a photo or image created by someone else on your own articles, you must have the right to do so. Not every image you see online is up for grabs. So let us take a look at what is not OK to use, and then we'll delve into various resources for images that are OK to use!
Images That Cannot Be Used on HubPages
The following types of images and conditions are not allowed on HubPages:
- Images with a watermark. Watermarks detract from an article's overall appearance. If you use an image editing program to create your image, please be aware that some elements (like backgrounds, graphics, and fonts) may come with a watermark unless you pay for them or have a paid subscription to the program. Make sure you only use elements that do not have watermarks.
- A randomly found image on Google Images. Many people search on Google Images and just credit "Google Images" for their photos. This is incorrect. Google Images did not create that image, nor does it host it. Google Images helps you find images, but it is not the best tool for finding images to use, as not all of those images are licensed to be used by other people.
- An image that you found on a random website. Unless it comes with a Creative Commons license that allows for commercial use (does not include "Non-Commercial" in the license stipulations), these images may not be used.
- An "Attribution" image without attributing the author. Many Creative Commons images come with an "Attribution" license, which means that you can use the image, but only if you credit the author. If you do not credit the author, you are not using the image legally. Crediting an author requires both a name and a URL, both of which can be entered into the Photo Capsule.
- A "Non-Commercial" image if you have ads turned on for your article. If you are earning money from your article, it is commercial, and you cannot use images that have been designated for only non-commercial use.
- “No known copyright restrictions." Images with this designation are best avoided unless a license type can be verified. Read more about the release of content into the Public Domain within the U.S.
There are some other scenarios in which it is not OK to use another person's image, but these are the most common mistakes authors make.
Can I Use My Own Watermark?
If you own the photo, we recommend attributing your photo to yourself in the attribution box rather than adding a watermark. All photos are legally copyrighted to the owner even if they are not watermarked or attributed.
If you would like to purchase digital watermarks for your images and track who uses your images, you can do so at digimarc.com. You can also use the free service tineye.com to find out if any of your images are being used around the web.
Images That Can Be Used on HubPages
Here are the primary ways to obtain images that you legally have the right to use:
- Use your own images
- Use Public Domain images
- Purchase images from stock images sites
- Use legally downloaded, royalty-free photos and follow their license guidelines
- Use images that are Attribution Only, Attribution, No Derivatives, or Attribution, Share-Alike so long as you conform with the stipulations set out in those licenses
You can purchase relatively inexpensive images from sites such as iStockphoto, which has a huge library of both photos and graphics. That said, there are many great sites online where you can find images that you can legally use for free.
What Correct Image Attribution Looks Like
We've made it pretty easy to correctly attribute images on HubPages by providing a space for you to list the author, license, and source of each image, as well as to put the source URL (in addition to, of course, your caption, should you choose to add one).
Here is how you should enter the information:
- First text box: author name, license, via "source site" (e.g. Betty Sue, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr)
- Second text box: In the second box, put the URL of the page where the image came from.
- Third text box: In the final box, put any caption you might want to add.
Check out the images below to get an idea of what proper attribution should look like.
What Do the Various Creative Commons Licenses Mean?
If you're wondering what the various Creative Commons licenses mean, here is the explanation from the Creative Commons website:
CC0 and Public Domain
These licenses let others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially. Crediting the source is not necessary, but it is highly recommended.
Attribution: CC BY
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
Attribution-NoDerivs: CC BY-ND
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in-whole, with credit to you.
Attribution-ShareAlike: CC BY-SA
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects. Numbers such as 2.0 and 3.0 designate a version of the license.
What about "Unported" images?
An unported license refers to a CC license that is not adapted to country-specific legislation. Source the image and follow the license guidelines under the identical conditions per the original CC license.
As you can see from the license descriptions above, not all Creative Commons images are free for you to use. Only Attribution, Attribution-ShareAlike, and Attribution-NoDerivs licenses are available for your use on HubPages (so long as your articles are considered commercial) as you stand to earn from your work.
Image License Types
Cosmos, CC BY, via flickr
Distribute and modify, even commercially
Cosmos, CC BY-ND 2.0, via flickr
Can use commercially but cannot modify
Must attribute; CANNOT MODIFY
Cosmos, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr
Distribute and modify even commercially
Must attribute and share under same license
[Optional] Cosmos, CC0, via Wikipedia
Distribute and modify even commercially; no attribution necessary
No attribution necessary, but good practice to do so
[Optional] Cosmos, Public Domain, via Wikipedia
Distribute and modify even commercially; no attribution necessary
No attribution necessary, but good practice to do so
[Follow license type] Cosmos, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported, via Wikipedia
[CC license not adapted to country-specific legislation] Adhere to license-type conditions
Attribute and share under the same conditions as the original CC license
Photos That Cannot Be Used Commercially
Images under the following license types may not be used commercially:
Attribution-NonCommercial: CC BY-NC
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: CC BY-NC-SA
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: CC BY-NC-ND
This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
Finding Creative Commons-Licensed Images
So long as images are in the public domain or have a Creative Commons license that permits your using them, you can get images from anywhere. Two of the most popular sources for photos with Creative Commons licenses and public domain images are Wikimedia Commons and Flickr.
Choosing What to Link to When Citing Creative Commons Images
With regard to citation, Creative Commons offers the following tips:
- If the work itself contains any copyright notices placed there by the copyright holder, you must leave those notices intact or reproduce them in a way that is reasonable to the medium in which you are re-publishing the work.
- Cite the author's name, screen name, user identification, etc. It is nice to link that name to the person's profile page if such a page exists.
- Cite the work's title or name, if such a thing exists. It is nice to link the name or title directly to the original work.
- Cite the specific CC license the work is under, and link to the specific CC license, ie. for CC Attribution you would link to.
- If you are making a derivative work or adaptation, in addition to the above, you need to identify that your work is a derivative work i.e., “This is a Finnish translation of the [original work] by [author].” or “Screenplay based on [original work] by [author].”
So technically, it's best if you link to:
- The author's profile
- The work's page
- The license page
When working with more flexible formats, we recommend including all those links, however, on HubPages, you can only link back to one thing, and we prefer that you link back to the photo's source.
Why? If other authors want to use that image, they can more easily find it. What's more, HubPages team members seeking to award you with contest prizes cannot easily verify that you have properly used your images if you do not link back to the source.
- Wikimedia Commons
A database of 53,770,070 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.
Wikimedia Commons is where you can find many of the public domain and Creative Commons images that are used in Wikipedia articles. This is a great resource for educational images, graphs, and diagrams, as well as all sorts of photos.
To find and use a photo on Wikimedia Commons:
- Type a keyword in the search bar.
- Browse the resulting images.
- When you've found one you like, click through to its page.
- Click on the "Use this file on the web" or "Download" to the right of the image.
- Navigate to your HubTool in another tab or window and add/open a Photo Capsule.
- Go back to the image's page, copy the File URL, and enter that into the box under the import section of the Photo Capsule in the HubTool, then import the image. If you intend to adapt the image, download it.
- Go back to the image's page, copy the Attribution information, and paste that into the Name of Source section.
- Go back to the image's page, copy the Page URL information, and paste that into the Source URL section.
- Write in any description you might like to add.
- Click "save"
Flickr Creative Commons
- Flickr Creative Commons
Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license, and you can browse or search through content under each type of license
Flickr Creative Commons
While not every image on flickr is there for you to use as you please, some images have been given Creative Commons licenses that you are free to utilize.
To find these images, go to Flickr Creative Commons and click the "see more" link associated with photos with an:
- Attribution License
- Attribution-NoDerivs License
- Attribution-ShareAlike License
Alternately, you can do an advanced search on flickr by going to the Advanced Search page and checking the "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" and "Find content to use commercially" boxes.
So long as you provide attribution and conform with the other stipulations of these licenses, you're free to use these images in your articles. Be sure to include both the username of the author and the author's URL in your attribution; ideally you would include the license information as well.
How to Give Your Photos a Creative Commons License
If you use others' images in your work, a great way to "give back" (and also get your name out there) is by giving some of your images Creative Commons licenses that enable others to use them.
To clearly mark content or images on your articles as having a certain Creative Commons license:
- Visit the Creative Commons license creation tool.
- Fill out the fields and check the radio buttons to customize your license.
- Copy the written text that appears in the bottom right box (not the HTML, not the image—we don't support those formats at this time).
- Paste the text (hyperlinks and all) into a Text Capsule in your article (probably near the end).
Most images that have a Creative Commons license are not only given the license visually (e.g. through a badge somewhere on the page, or written text as we recommend above), but also tagged with metadata making those images easier to find through special search engines designed to find Creative Commons-licensed content.
Because HubPages does not currently support the ability to add license metadata to original photos via the Photo Capsule, we recommend:
- Using the Creative Commons license creation tool to create a license for your image or content
- Posting that image and/or content on your own website where you can also include the special HTML the creation tool generates in response to your input
- Uploading your original images to Flickr
- Applying a Creative Commons license of your choosing to those images (e.g. CC-BY-SA, or CC-BY)
- Citing your images in your own articles just as you would cite CC images made by other people (you obviously don't need to, but this can be another means by which people discover your work)
Helpful Creative Commons Resources
- Before Licensing - CC Wiki
Important things to consider before giving your work a Creative Commons license.
- About The Licenses - Creative Commons
More information about Creative Commons licenses.
- Publish - CC Wiki
Major communities that have built-in Creative Commons licensing options.
Finding and Using Public Domain or Royalty-Free Images
Public Domain images, as well as those from many royalty-free image sites, do not require attribution, so you are free to use them in your articles without citing or linking back to your sources, although it is good practice to cite content regardless.
Note: Some royalty-free image sites do have special stipulations, so be sure to follow the requirements of any licenses they apply to their content.
There are many great resources where you can find and download images that are in the Public Domain or do not require attribution:
- Morgue file
- Public Domain Clip Art
Why Cite Royalty-Free and Public Domain Images
When participating in contests, you must cite back to any and all images from external sources (naming the image creator, license type, and source in your source box). This is the only way we can be sure that you have legally used all the images in your articles.
Making Use of US Government Photos
Photos taken by United States government employees (while on official duty) are part of the public domain. DotGovWatch offers a convenient means of searching sites that feature these photos.
Specific sites that host public domain images include:
- U.S. Government Photos and Images
- Free Public Domain Photo Database
- .Gov Watch
Even though public domain photos don't require that you name the author, we still encourage you to follow the same basic image citation format of author, license, via source, in the "source" box of the Photo Capsule, and to link to the image's source in the Photo Capsule's URL bar.
A Note on Using Friends' Photos
Sometimes photos you have on your computer that you consider to be yours were taken by other people (e.g. a wife, son, uncle, friend, etc.). Though often those photos have been given to you or taken with your camera, keep in mind that technically, whoever takes a photo, retains copyright to that photo.
Therefore, even when you use your own photos, you need to ask for permission whenever using images taken or created by someone else and establish how this person would like to be cited. Though many friends and family members will be happy to share their work, some may prefer that you make certain licensing notes (e.g. that the image is copyrighted, or CC BY-SA). It never hurts to check!
What Is the Fair Use Exception?
There are some instances in which people can justify their use of copyrighted material using the Fair Use exception of United States copyright law.
Cases that are typically eligible for this exception:
- Only use copyrighted work to contribute something important and original to the world, typically in the form of art, criticism, reviews, education, or reporting
- Are not monetized (e.g. are not selling something, featuring ads, etc.)
- Use a very small amount of copyrighted work (in proportion to the entire work created)
- Do not use copyrighted work in a manner that would compromise the copyright holder's ability to earn from it
Because most articles have ads on them, they do not make very good candidates for this exception. Nevertheless, you can learn more about it in these helpful United States Government, Wikipedia, and Social Media Examiner overviews.
- Only use copyrighted content for reviews, criticism, education, or reporting that is intended to advance knowledge or to contribute something truly original to the art world.
- Do not use copyrighted material in monetized content (e.g. content that has ads on it) or content intended for personal gain.
- Keep the proportion of copyrighted content used in one’s work to a bare minimum.
- Do not use copyrighted material in your work if doing so has the potential to hurt the ability of the copyright holder to continue to profit from his or her work.
The More You Know, the Better!
While the issue of legal image use may seem overwhelming at first, it is far better to be informed and legitimate than to inadvertently steal another person's work.
We take copyright seriously and respect the legal rights that all authors on HubPages have for their own work. We, therefore, encourage equal respect of the work—be it writing, photographs, images, or something else entirely—of those on other websites as well.
Ready to Test Yourself? Take This Photo Attribution Quiz!
Here are 7 different image links. How would attribution look for each of these? Please note that the links are sometimes wrong, and some of these images can not be used legally.
Photo Attribution Quiz Answers
- Barbara Samuel, CC-BY 2.0, via Flickr
- Cannot be used
- Pascalou petit, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- All rights reserved, so cannot be used
- Not a Creative Commons photo, so cannot be used
- Morguefile does not require attribution
- Cannot be used, since the owner specifies that the image cannot be used for commercial purposes