Best practices for image use

Select the best images

Images can tell a story and bring content to life.

See finding images for an annotated list of search tools handpicked by our fine arts librarian.

If you're selecting images of people to include in your courses, be sure to represent diversity of gender, ethnicity, and culture.

Purdue's Online Writing Lab explains other issues to consider when choosing images.

Recognize and comply with copyright

For maximum flexibility, look for images that are in the public domain (not restricted by copyright). Wikipedia lists a number of public-domain image sources, including Pixabay and SnappyGoat. The British Library has released more than one million images into the public domain. You can freely use, copy, modify, and share public-domain images, even commercially. While attribution is not legally required, it's good practice.

Images with a Creative Commons (CC) license are another good option. The specific CC license explains what you're allowed to do with the image. At a minimum, you must credit the image's creator. Wikimedia Commons features more than 32 million CC-licensed and public-domain images. You can also use Google, Flickr, and Bing to search for Creative Commons and public-domain images. The UA's open educational resource site lists additional resources.

If you need to use a copyrighted image, track down the copyright owner and get permission. If you can't find contact information or licensing information for an image, avoid using it outside your course site. 

Use images in the classroom

Be sure to make images accessible by adding alternative text.

You may display copyrighted images in face-to-face instruction without permission from the copyright owner. For online instruction, following fair use guidelines, you can display legally acquired copyrighted images without permission when only people in your course can see them (for example on your D2L course site). This includes slide decks, assignments, and other content. Just make sure your content isn't open to the world in something like Slideshare or Google Drive.

Instructors, include a notice in your syllabus that "the images should not be downloaded, copied, retained, printed, shared, modified, or otherwise used beyond the permitted educational uses."

Cite images

It's best practice to credit your images (list the source). Students, ask your instructors if they have a preferred citation style.

Attribution is required for nearly all Creative Commons images. When using Creative Commons images, use best practices for attribution. Include:

  • Title – the name of the material (if available)
  • Author – the owner of the material (this could be a person's name, a company name, or a user name on a site such as Flickr)
  • Source – where the image can be found (usually a URL or hyperlink)
  • License – which Creative Commons license the image has (e.g., CC BY 2.0)

Here's an example of a complete citation for a Creative Commons image:
"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Open Washington provides a handy Open Attribution Builder tool that makes it easy to generate citations.

Identify existing images

TinEye Reverse Image Search
You can submit an image to TinEye to find out where it came from (and how it should be attributed), how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or to find higher resolution versions.

Google Reverse Image Search
Like TinEye, Google Images allows you to search by image. Select the camera icon in the search box and follow the directions. Tips for using Google Images.

Editing images

Adobe Photoshop and other graphics software programs are installed on computers in the Main, Science-Engineering, and Fine Arts libraries.

A number of free photo editing tools are available online, including:

See tips on image editing ethics from the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Get help

If you have any usage questions, get in touch with copyright librarian Dan Lee.

If you have trouble finding images, contact your librarian – we're happy to help.