Finding great creative commons pictures for visually appealing presentations and blog posts


The OpenTechSchool is an OpenSource Community. We do publish all our materials under Creative Commons and want others to build upon them. But that also means all our source material needs to be under an appropriate licence. And that can be quite hard, especially if you are trying to create a visually appealing presentation (like this hackership one) or just look for a really nice picture for the blog post.

This is a short overview of tips and tricks to make your life easier finding those.


Think of good representations for what you want to visualise. Unfortunately verbs and too specific wording is nothing you’ll find good pictures for. Thinks of associations and relative things that people do take pictures of. Example: instead of schedule think of how to represent time; instead of courses or learning material think of an amazing looking blackboard in a university.

Also, no matter the licence, make sure to refer back and give credit for the work.

Lastly, publishing a picture (on a blog or presentation or website) is understood as “journalistic work”. That means, if a clearly identifiable person is the main attraction of the picture, you also need to make sure they are okay with a picture of them used in this context. This does not apply if they are just part of a bigger composition or not clearly to identify. Generally keep your hands off celebrities, who didn’t release the pictures themselves for that use.


The number one source for amazing images in high quality is still flickr. In their new redesign they now have a handy way to select only creative common results when searching. On the result screen just take a look right above the first row of pictures and you’ll find these great filters:

Just select “Commercial use allowed” and off you go. And also switch “relevant” to “interesting” to have them sorted in a better way.

There you go.

Wiki commons

Wikipedia has one of the largest collections of free-licence pictures, to be found on Wikicommons. Navigating through it might not be super easy with all the categories and stuff, but you get there eventually.

Once you found a picture, you still need to make sure they are under an appropriated licence by scrolling down on the image page to the Licence section:

If it says free to share and remix, attribution and share alike, you are fine. Again, attention, when it excludes commercial usage as – legally – what we do is commercial.

Google Images

One of the best resources for finding images is the google image search. And same as flickr, they do have an option to only show those images which are clearly marked as having a free licence. Unfortunately that is even more hidden than in flickr. After you searched in google images, click on the cog-icon on the top right and in the menu select “Advanced search”.

Again at the bottom of the options you’ll find the drop down for “usage rights”. Switch it to free to use, share or modify, even commercially (the last option in the list):

Click “Advanced Search” and enjoy your results.

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More Sources

  • OpenClipart: more cliparts. Not always the most interesting. But free as in open, worth a look if you want a clipart-y thing.

  • Public Domain Pictures: dedicated to pictures under public domain licence, giving the opportunity to donate money to the authors.

  • some people share some of their material here under creative commons, too. There is no advanced search option though and you need to make sure for each specific item yourself

I used for some of my presentations. It’s a combination of above services and a couple more.

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A much smaller resource, but high quality photos that work well for many purposes, with a CC0 1.0 license:

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More relevant links are in this quora discussion:

My favorite out of those is definitely this collection of vintage photos:

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On content, here’s a really good presentation on how to make useful visualisations for data as well, by a guy that does that for the NYT

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It probably needs to be pointed out that using material posted on Flickr, Wikimedia or any of these sites assumes that the person uploading the material has copyright to that image or media. That often isn’t the case. Unfortunately “I found it on Flickr” isn’t an excuse to a claim from a copyright owner if you end up using someone’s images and you will still need to be prepared to pay for a license fee.

Further, if you’re attributing work, you need to take care to provide appropriate credit for the work - the requirements will be sometimes different across jurisdictions. For example in Germany, the most recent decision means that attribution needs to be visible in the image itself if you’re posting it online: - a link back isn’t enough, and if you get it wrong, it could again mean expensive license fees or a court case.

Also there is nothing about posting an image on a website that makes it inherently “journalistic”. In fact many blogs and websites aren’t journalistic at all - they’re ultimately commercial in nature. The rules on depicting people vary widely from country to country - but the “as part of a crowd” exception doesn’t apply in many of them for commercial uses.