Image Use Guide for Social Media

One of the topics I have been most wanting to write about for some time is a pretty contentious issue — especially among graphic designers, photographers and artists to name a few; yet some social media publishers are completely unaware! That’s right — we want to talk about image use on social media.

Everyone knows great posts need great content — and great content needs great images. It’s a simple fact that people are more inclined to notice your blog post, article or any other type of message if it has an eye-catching image associated. But where do these images come from?

Well — that can be the tricky part. Great images are not generally free to use! If you’re just starting out on your social media journey you may not know that there are rules associated with using images, and just Googling isn’t really going to cut it.

First, let’s go back to the beginning, why would using someone’s image not be ok? There’s more at stake here than just “that photo is mine — not yours” like possessive primary schoolers. Photographers, designers and artists make their living from creating beautiful imagery. If everyone took it for free how would they get paid? If they weren’t being paid how long would they continue making beautiful imagery?


Images are subject to copyright — which protect the creator of the image from having it used without their permission. Seems pretty fair, right?

Obviously you can go about contacting the original creator of the image to ask if you can use it, many copyright holders will agree (depending on your intended use) and all they want in return is to be tagged in your post by way of attribution, easy!

Obtaining permission can become more difficult when ownership of the image is hard to ascertain and can also be too time consuming for the constructs of social media, especially in the case of a small businesses.

Fair Use has an excellent definition:

Fair use is a legal concept that allows the reproduction of copyrighted material for certain purposes without obtaining permission and without paying a fee or royalty. Purposes permitting the application of fair use generally include review, news reporting, teaching, or scholarly research. The idea of fair use originally arose for written works. But with the advent of digital technology and the Internet, fair use has sometimes been applied to the redistribution of musical works, photographs, videos, and computer programs.

So you CAN use images under Fair Use — but be careful, you will want to be sure the image is being used to demonstrate something for the public purpose — not your own agenda.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a way the creator of the image can allow its use under certain conditions. These conditions are generally to do with attribution (declaring the creator of the image), modification (whether you use the image in its original form or alter it), and whether the use is commercial or non-commercial.

Just a quick note — your business Facebook page should generally be considered commercial use.

There are loads of great ways to find Creative Commons images:

CC Search
Google Images — sorted to reflect usage rights*

Also photography sites such a flickr etc contain CC images.

*these still need to be checked for individual requirements

Select “Labeled for reuse”

Images found under Creative Commons will not always be of good quality and attribution may not always be desirable.

Top Tip for CC Image Use: Check and re-check your attribution and use conditions. Make sure you are compliant. If you have any doubt, don’t post it. Even if you are sure you may want to save a note or bookmark where you got the image from in case you need to refer to it in the future.

Public Domain

Images may fall into the Public Domain; meaning they have been released to be used by the creator, the copyright holder has died or copyright is unable to be established.

This is often the case with historical photos. Hat tip to Throwback Thursday!

All content curators have their favourite Public Domain sites to find these images and my current favourite is Pixabay simply for the searchability and range of images available including photos, vectors and graphics.

I’ll give you a nice long list at the bottom of this post that I’ve been curating for some time with a lot of excellent options, because basically I really like you and want to help!

Create Your Own

Of course, sometimes no matter how hard you search you will need to create your own images, or at the very least — enhance the ones you have been provided. Plus creating your own content just makes good social media sense!

Don’t worry! You do NOT have to be a designer to create images. There are a few really great image creation tools if, like me, you are not fluent in Photoshop.

My absolute favourite is Canva and I’ll tell you why — it’s super easy to use, has loads of free icons, backgrounds, fonts etc and can really enhance your content so quickly! Simply watermarking an image takes a mere second and creating an infographic won’t take valuable days — PLUS they have templates so you don’t have to remember all the specific sizes for each social media platform, very handy. There’s a free and paid version.

I am not paid to recommend them, it’s just my opinion.

There are also loads of others that can make creating your own signature images a breeze!


Obviously if your budget allows it you can buy stock images. There are a few places but the most popular are Shutterstock, iStock and Getty Images.


If you have your heart set on an image and you know you aren’t going to be able to use it in your works — consider sharing it from the original source. Many websites have images sharing functionality for you to share images to your social platforms, allowing you to add your own comment. If this is not the case try the creators’ social media accounts. If they have posted the image to say, Facebook, you can share that to your own page with your own comment. Bear in mind that their original text will also appear under the image too.

Sharing is a great way to be social with your community and we recommend sharing content from other accounts anyway — plus you get to use the image without fear!

To recap — check out where your images come from and be mindful of the need to attribute the original creator. Here’s an awesome flow chart from the legends at Lifehacker to help you!

We hope we have given some clarity to the use of images for social media. We never want you to have to take down your content because you were ordered to do so by the original creator, or upset any artists by accidentally using their work without their permission.

This piece was written as a guide only and refers to organic social media use. It is not substitute for legal advice, seek you own information.

Our List of Public Domain or Image Creation/Alteration Sites

We recommend finding your favourites and bookmarking them in a folder for easy use!


Free Digital Photos

Free Images

Free Range Stock

Free Photos Bank

Image Free

Im Free

Morgue FIle

Public Domain Pictures

Stock Vault

RGB Stock

Ancestry Images

Big Photo


Free Media Goo

New Old Stock

Pic Jumbo

Pickup Image

Super Famous




Every Stock Photo

Image Finder

Photo Pin

TinEye (a reverse image search)




Recite This




Get Refe