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It's always a good idea to start with the databases that have been designed for academic use, since you are fairly likely to be able to use these images in your work without problems.
This page also suggests some other tools and resources for finding free images
Library resources for Images
Some specialist databases to explore:
VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service) is an online resource for visual arts. It has built up a considerable portfolio of visual art collections comprising over 100,000 images that are freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK. VADS is run by the Library & Student Services department of the University for the Creative Arts.
Scran is a charitable online learning service with over 370,000 images and media from museums, galleries, and archives. Its charitable purpose is "the advancement of education by enabling public access to Scottish cultural resources and related material.
Free Images - selected general sources
- Unsplash - over 2 million images gifted by their creators and free to do-whatever-you-want with.
- Capital Collections- a choice of images from the collections of Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Services
- Bridgeman Images - Thousands of images from museums and galleries around the world. All images on this site are copyright protected and displayed for reference only. Images are available for reference only.
- Scholars' Resource - Images for the teaching of art history and related subjects. Thumbnail images can be viewed on the site for many artists.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection - more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use, including in scholarly publications in any media. Works included are identified by the acronym OASC.
- Internet Archive Book Images - hosted on Flickr - historical photos and drawings sourced from more than 600 million library book pages scanned in by the Internet Archive organisation.
- OpenGLAM Open Collections - OpenGLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museum) is an initiative coordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. Provides a list of openly licensed datasets from several cultural institutionsthat can be freely used without any restrictions.
- Wellcome Collection - artworks and photographs mainly relating to the cultural and historical contexts of health and medicine, collected over several decades.
Huge collection of usable media files
Anyone can contribute.
Search by keywords,
or explore the categories listed,.
Pictures here are licensed under Creative Commons conditions.
WikiMedia Commons also helps you choose images by assigning some to special categories
- Featured pictures Images from highly skilled photographers and illustrators chosen as some of the highest quality on the site.
- Quality images Diagrams or photographs that meet certain quality standards
- A valued image is considered to be the most valued illustration of its kind by the Commons community.
Scientific Images - free resources
- Biodiversity Heritage Library - The Biodiversity Heritage Library contains text and image records on a wide range of topics in the life sciences. The Biodiversity Heritage Library Flickr pages includes some excellent images, most in the public domain or available under Creative Commons licenses.
- World Register of Marine Species - As well as an authoritative and comprehensive list of names of marine organisms, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) provides images of marine life. Images are by default open-access under the terms of the CC BY-NC-SA license, unless stated otherwise.
- Geograph Britain and Ireland - The Geograph Britain and Ireland project aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland under Creative Commons licence.
- U.S. Government Image Collections - This list compiled by the Library of Congress links through to many of the online scientific image collections from different United States government organisations, many of which are in the public domain and free from copyright.
- BioImages - A wonderful resource for identifying British wildlife. Offering a generous collection of photographs of wild species covering most groups of organisms with the exception of birds and other vertebrates, most of which are published under Creative Commons. Contains links to suggested reading.
Reverse Image Search Engines
Using TinEye, you can search by image or perform what we call a reverse image search. You can do that by uploading an image, or searching by URL. You can also simply drag and drop your images to start your search. TinEye constantly crawls the web and adds images to its index. Today, the TinEye index is over 28.0 billion images.
Google Images - Search by Image
Drag in an image or enter a URL for Google to attempt to match your picture.
Flickr: The Commons
Flickr: The Commons
sharing hidden treasures from the world's public photography archives.
Note that you have to scroll down the page to find the box to search The Commons. This will guide you to photographs licensed under Creative Commons.
You can also use the main Flickr search box to find photos, but be aware that these are not all free to use.
Once you see your results, click the dropdown box that says "Any license" and change it to one that meets your needs: for example, "modifications allowed" if you want to alter the photo.
Each photo will display any copyright restrictions underneath it, and you should check these carefully to make sure they suit your purpose.