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Photos you can use on your blog without breaking the law…

taking photo

Image by Digital Sophia

What kind of photos can  you use on your blog?

Having great images is an important part of creating a successful fashion blog, and even if we're lacking in the photo skills department there are ways to get great photos without stepping on copyrighted toes.

Sure there are loads of bloggers who lift images from other sites, but due to copyright infringement laws, they may be breaking the law, and vulnerable to lawsuits. Yuck. So which images can you use?

Referencing the source, isn't always enough. Some websites will allow  you to use their images for a fee, as I heard this morning from a blogger who was notified by a well-known fashion website that she had to pay to use their images… Now, I love copyright law as much as the next gal, but this particular website asks bloggers all the time for free images, and they certainly benefit from the traffic bloggers drive to their site. I had half the mind to write an angry letter to them, then I realized that maybe it's us bloggers who should band together and start charging them to use our photos, they certainly have more money than us. ❤

Before I digress… while you may not be able to use images from some of the big fashion sites on your own blog, that doesn't mean that you're at a loss. There are plenty of images out there that are free to use, you just familiarize yourself with the different kinds of licensing, and different sourcing procedures.

Here are some ways you can blog on the photographic straight and narrow:

Take your own photos

When I was in design school, our teachers encouraged us to take our own photos. Why? Not because they just liked giving us additional work, but because they said that designers who use stock photography all looked the same.

I think it's also true with blogs.

Most of the best fashion blogs out there take their own photos, because you're really seeing things from the authors unique perspective. Learning about photography is also fun, and you're site will benefit from having a distinct look and feel from it that will stand out from the rest. And no one can sue you unless you publish a picture of someone without a model release.

Taking your own photos will help you create an aesthetic voice to your written word. If you're not good with the camera now? Take a class. Practice, you might find you love it.

3 reasons taking own blog

1. Taking Your Own Photos Allows More Contemplative Time with the Product

When you take time to look at something through a lens, it can aid you in seeing the beauty of the item, either through noticing a hard-to-catch detail, the way it becomes illuminated under different light options, and even it's tactile quality, sine taking a photo of the object will most likely require you to touch it and move it.  I definitely think that taking pause to look at something for a few extra minutes, or even seconds, gives the opportunity to instill an understanding and enthusiasm for the product that you may not have recognized before.

2. Anyone Can Pull or Upload Photos of a Collection

It's the way that you interpret the item, and what you see as wanting to bring into the spotlight that lends the item a more curated point of view. Your perspective is the reason why readers come to your site, so why not translate that into every aspect of your content that you possibly can? Sometimes, it's just not possible to take photos of a product first-hand, or your images may not have turned out as clear or perfect as you would have hoped; in that case, using images sent from a publicist or the brand is the best route, but if you have other options, definitely exploit them! Plus, if you took the time out of your schedule to attend an event, why not convey your personal interaction with the new products and experience through your own photos?

3. Photos Taken By You Can Convey Professionalism, Preparedness, and Efficiency

I can't tell you how many times I've showed up at events to take photos and the press person walking me through the collection has been impressed with my camera around my neck (which, by the way, cost under $300), and iPhone in hand, while balancing a notebook and rotating back and forth between the camera phone and my ‘real' camera. Just the fact that you bring a camera to an event can be impressive, expressing an earnestness, and that you had prepared in advance for the event and want to cover this is in a way that works for you. There's something about a camera in-hand that just feels (at least for me) and appears professional, plus if you've taken your own pics, that means that you can get working on a post as soon, or as late as you choose to, not having to wait around for lookbooks to be sent out.

Ask for press photos

I've had pretty good luck with this, designers and boutiques want to get the word out about their products, and they will most likely have press photos for you to use. Though this usually works with smaller designers and businesses… I'm sure that will change in the next few years. Also, many times in a PR pitch, if something looks interesting, you can ask the PR rep for press images. A lot of times I'll get better images from the press office than from the website, so it's worth it contact them. And a lot of times they'll put  you on their newsletter, so you'll get an update with any new developments… which could be good for future posts.

If you're talking about a specific product or event, one smart way to get your hands on images is to contact the press office of the brand and request them. This would be a good way to build relationships with PRs as well as get the scoop with brands you are interested in writing about. Most press releases come with images these days, so if anything the brands who send these would be happy for you to post them. Also, if you want to talk about magazine editorial spreads, some magazines, Vogue, is one who sends out press releases when a new issue comes out.

editorial spread vogue

My favorite editorial spread from July's Vogue Magazine, just happened to be among the press photos available for posting. Of course the press release came with terms of use, such as, don't post more than three images and don't copy more than one hundred words. But it's still a great way to generate great content.

Public domain

Public Domain images are so old, their copyright has expired, or they have no copyright, no restrictions on use and are owned by the public. Flickr is working on a great project called ‘The Commons‘ which is a collection of public domain images from some of the best sources, Library of Congress, NY Public Library, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Scotland are just a few. You'd be surprised how many great images are under the public domain. Oh, and also one of my favorite sites, Karen's Whimsy has great free clipart to use.

Creative Commons

Neither of my websites would be the same without Creative Commons. I have it bookmarked in my tool bar, and I use it almost every day, particularly for my more abstract posts (like this one!). You must take note, that not all photos on Flickr are free to use. Some of them are marked ‘All Rights Reserved' and you need to get permission to use them. The ones marked ‘Some Rights Reserved' are more than likely under the Creative Commons license. Under the Creative Commons license there are a few things you have to familiarize  yourself with…

Attribution 2.0 Generic Means you can share (use) remix, alter, crop the images, and you MUST credit the photographer. I tend to use photos with this license, becuase I like cropping, and writing on images.

Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic – Means you can share (use) remix, alter, crop the images, and you MUST credit the photographer, but you may not use these for commercial purposes.

Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic – Means you can share (use) the photos but you can not alter, crop or write on them. You MUST credit the photographer.

Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic – you can share (use) the photos but you can not alter, crop or write on them. You MUST credit the photographer. You may not use these for commercial purposes.

I know it looks like a lot to learn, however Flickr makes it easy, just look on the side navigation with all the tag and group information, it's listed in that area with a link to what kind of license it is.

Stock Images

These sites also offer free stock photography, here you'll be able to get some relatively good quality photos, and many of them offer them in press quality, shall you decide you need to make printed matter. See “Best Free Stock Image Sources For Bloggers” for a few examples of such websites.

Fair Use

One of the biggest excuses forces behind the proliferation of reblogging photos is the “Fair Use” doctrine. According to Wikipedia:

“…[Fair Use] permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test.”

In plain English it means you can use images without permission if it is for purposes of commentary (ie. I like that blue skirt), criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. This doctrine is murky however, and shouldn't be used as a free ride to take images all over the place. It also is only valid in the United States, our German readers have pointed out that no such thing exists in Germany, so check with your local laws to see if there is a similar clause. Ultimately, with Fair Use, the best way to stay out of trouble is to get permission, give credit, and if push comes to shove, if the copyright holder asks to take it down, take it down.

Give Credit

These days finding the source of an image can seem impossible. You found something off Pinterest, it links to Tumblr, that credits that was some how sourced to FFFFound!, and that was linked to a blog post from way back in 2010 that linked back to Tumblr. Sound familiar? You can run an image search in Google, by dragging and dropping an image to Google Image Search, and it will pull every time it was used. You'll still have to do a little digging to see what the oldest entry was, but it's a good way to verify where the original source is. After running a search, and you're not certain as to where the image came from, you can always give credit to the place where you found it, but specify that it's not the original source. But always, always, always give credit where it is due, even when you have permission to use.

Disclaimer: I may be related to some lawyers, and I even  have some lawyer friends… but I'm not a lawyer.  This post it suggestive only and not to be taken for legal advice.


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One Response

  1. Steve Groom

    Good information on finding and using “legal” photos for your blog, website or social media.