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(Really) Free Photos from Flickr
By Paul Krantz

Photos sell stories, both to editors and readers. Unfortunately, even so-called "free" stock images often require payment for commercial use. Flickr, on the other hand, offers a database of millions of images that are truly free. All that's required is that you credit the photographer. Here's how to find the photos you need and some tips for making the results really pay off.

Finding free Flickr photos

The quality of the images in the free database vary widely, so expect to invest about 30 minutes per image (or more) to find one you can use. Here's the process step by step:

1. Click to the Flickr Creative Commons  page.

2. At the top of the page, you'll see Attribution License. Click on the "See More" link.

3. When the new page loads, use the search box at the top of your screen to find photos.

4. If you aren't having any luck, return to the Creative Commons home page  and select one other commercial license collections. By reading the descriptions on the right side of the page, you'll see which licenses will work for your project.

5. Whichever license you choose, read -- and follow -- the rules for legal use.

Search tips

  • Start specific. However, plan to back off your target search term try approaches that are more general. You may need to think more conceptual rather than literal.
  • Size matters. Only a handful of images are large enough for print work, where a bare minimum is 1200 pixels wide by 1500 high (after needed cropping). On the other hand, for web content, anything above 300 pixels square (after needed cropping) is probably workable.
  • Quality counts. The longer you search, the lower your standards are likely to be. Don't do it! You risk your reputation when you try to pass off an image that isn't tack shape and evenly exposed.
  • Consider a montage. If you need something for print, and have a willing and able designer, you might be able to create a photo illustration by combining several smaller images to create an image that will work.
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