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Beyond Google Image Search

by Howard Trace

Google Image Search (GIS), or just Google, might be your first stop for finding images on the Internet.  Over the years changes to GIS (like linking to the webpage containing the image and not the image itself) have made it less attractive when looking for images that are easy to repurpose for presentations, websites, newsletters, or in other ways that do not infringe on copyright. There are plenty alternative sites to find images. Here are just a few of the general collections that may offer a different first stop the next time you are looking for that perfect picture.

Library of Congress

If you are looking for historical materials from the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century you're going to find a significant amount of material in the the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog at the Library of Congress. In the collections offered here you will find material ranging from the Civil War, to World War I, architecture, fine art, and cartoons to a collection of 80,000  miscellaneous items that were used in various projects that increased demand for the images.

Information on rights and restrictions on this material can be found at:

Wikimedia Commons

If you're looking for a wider variety of material that includes more contemporary images look no further than Wikimedia Commons with its collection of over 61 million files. In addition to images, video and audio files are also available. Those familiar with Wikipedia will find the organization of the site familiar with the ability to both browse a wide variety of subjects and utilize powerful search features to narrow down your results to those most relevant for your needs. Usage of material in Wikimedia Comons can be found at:


With a mere 1.5 million photos Unsplash does not have the depth of Wikimedia Commons, but images on the site can be used in almost any imaginable scenario. Search results can also be narrowed by orientation and color to match the needs of the project.  The very broad license for usage of material on Unsplash can be found at: 


Pixabay has relatively the same size of a collection as Unsplash at 1.7 million items, but this collection includes video, music, and vector graphics (better known as clip art).  The 11,000 included videos are mostly very short duration (less than one minute) and the music is divided up into a few dozen categories with relatively few selections available in each.  However it wouldn't hurt to check if you're looking for royalty-free music for a video clip. The license for usage of material in Pixabay can be found at:


At first glance Pexels looks very similar to Unsplash and Pixabay, and although it has a smaller collection it does have a couple of unique features. Pexels offers challenges to contributors which are often themed to  holidays or events (Life at Home and Portraits at Home being some of the more recent challenges). In addition to providing cash prizes, these challenges provide new photos that may be relevant at just the time they are needed.  Pexels also includes a leaderboard which could either guide you toward the most popular collections or allow you to look for more obscure images that may not have been used in other projects. A license very similar to the other services can be found at:

Getty Images

For non-commercial online projects it's possible to embed Getty images if there's a image in their collection that you feel is exactly right for your needs. These images are all going to include rights information at the bottom of the image. Because you will have no control on how long they will be available the images will need to be checked regularly to ensure they are still active and they are probably best used for short-term projects and not resources that could be active for years. The extensive terms of use for the Getty Images website can be found at: 

There are a variety of places to find imagery for your website, newsletter, or other projects. Keep track of where you procured images, and when in doubt on use consult your legal adviser.  Google Image Search may be your first stop and can show image usage rights.  After you have your search results you should see a Tools link under the search box. After clicking on Tools you will see a link for Usage Rights that will provide results under a variety of different rights. 

Images can make a huge impact on the effectiveness of your presentations. Don't underestimate the value of the right image in getting your message out. When in doubt, consider the power of kittens and puppies.

Copyright 2020 by Howard Trace.

About the author:

Howard Trace serves as director of the American Legion National Headquarters Library & Museum Division, a position he has held since 2008. His library experience spans three decades in public, academic, and special libraries. He holds a bachelor’s in history and religious studies from Purdue University, master of science in space studies from the University of North Dakota, and a master in library science from Indiana University.