The Power of Pictures, Flickr, and How to Nail Visual Images on the Web

The nightmare of every firm in e-commerce is to have their site go down at the peak of the December holidays. According to the VP of Customer Experience at Bonobos, an online men’s clothing store, that is exactly what happened to the ninjas toiling away to ship orders fast and furious at the busiest season of last year.

Nevertheless, they turned the fiasco to their advantage, using a smart visual image and a pinch of tongue-in-cheek humor.

visual image is stunning, try to find picture of similar quality

Did you create this visual image? If not, did you properly credit the photographer?

What was that image? For all its customers (whether or not they found the site down), Bonobos sent a direct email tickler stating, “We were caught with our pants down.… Get your rain check.” It featured a camera shot of the lower part of a guy’s legs with pants dropped, in a posture eerily like taking a piss.

This digital strategy generated a ton of good PR, and despite the root of the campaign in abject failure, business soared from the favorable publicity.

Keep it legal when using visual images to turn your customers into brand promoters

Are you using pictures wisely in your work? Any touch point with your customers can be a way to create more value. Indeed, if you are not turning neutral customers into brand promoters, you are getting behind.

Small businesses should surely keep this in mind. The ability to see a situation from a different perspective, and do great picture research to convey this, can be a differentiator.

Yet I frequently see folks make mistakes when they incorporate web images. Someone has a great visual image atop their post, web site, or marketing materials, but the source is nowhere to be found.

Maybe it’s an image their sister snapped that came to them from Instagram, but not likely. Or, they purchased it on iStockphoto. Perhaps.

Could it be that they are simply a whiz at Photoshop, aerial photography, and selecting RGB-friendly colors? (RGB refers to red-green-blue; for readers who are not trained in graphics, this is the conventional color palette for web-ready artwork.)

If authors of web content are not aware of copyright, license, and other protections meant to preserve the right to artwork and images, and if such authors are not citing and back linking properly, they are stealing.

Do not fall into that trap. Here I treat the subject of visual images with the respect it deserves, and the creator of such images with the white gloves that allow them to be fairly acknowledged AND compensated.

The rule: It is not a license-free and royalty-free image if it doesn’t say so.

That is the truth. There are sites where you can intentionally select pictures and videos that their creator has chosen to make freely available.

I suggest

Here’s how to grab a picture from Flickr, a photo- and image-sharing site, and use it properly in accordance with their copyright policy

1. Go to and if you have a Yahoo account, hit “Sign in” and follow the prompt to enter. If you are not a Yahoo user, then hit “Sign up” to make a new account.
2. Type your desired subject into the search bar on the upper right-hand side. Then hit the “Search” button.
3. Your search term now appears in the bar in the center. An additional button that says “Advanced Search” also appears below the term “Full text.” See below.


Picture search with the advanced search button.

4. Click on “Advanced Search” and go down to the bottom and check the box where you can restrict searches to those licensed under the Creative Commons attribution. See below.


Find picture under creative commons license for sharing.

5. Hit the “Search” button.
6. Browse the pictures.
7. When you see one you like, click on the image, and on the upper right-hand corner you will see the name of its creator. Note that, and ensure the creator is named when you use this “free to share for non-commercial work” license. It is called Creative Commons 2.0.
8. To grab the picture, pull down the menu triangle next to Actions → View All Sizes; select the size you desire and the line of text above changes to reflect your choice. Hit “Download the xxx size of this photo.” If you would like to read the entire license, hit “Some rights reserved” just above, and the full license terms appear in a new screen.
9. Open a new window in your Photoshop software. File–> Open; select your downloaded picture.

  • If it needs cropping then hit the rectangular marquee tool (2nd one down on the left)
  • Drop and drag to the desired dimensions
  • Image → Crop

If it doesn’t need cropping, File → Save for Web & Devices (for 72 dots per inch, which suffices for the web); or use File → Save As… for 300 dots per inch (which optimizes for print collateral). A new screen pops up. Hit the “Save” button on the lower right corner, name it, and “Save.”
10. When you upload the image to your post, at the bottom put the proper citation from step #7. In most cases, you can say “Photo courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0,” and then add the name of the creator. You can hyperlink back to their Photostream, for extra surety.

If you are using the picture for commercial purposes, however, you better go back to step #4 and add a check in the box that says “Find content to use commercially.”

Then you will only find those pictures the creator has offered for your business use. The rest of the steps remain the same.

Also, I recommend you hyperlink the creator’s name at the bottom of your post to the page on where you downloaded the work. Attribute it properly by back linking to the URL (the long string that starts…/photostream.) This is required by the commercial license.

If you consider too pervasive, another (less popular) site called Dreamstime also has images that are either free or downright affordable.

What to do if you don’t have Photoshop: Gimp is a free program for visual editing on any PC or Mac — a mini-Photoshop for the freebie-lover in all of us.

Download it from here.

Now I’ve covered free photo sites and free photo-editing tools, but what should you do when you need a celebrity’s image?

People love celebrities. By creating content with the “hook” of the name or photo of a hot media person, you can drive more traffic to a website.

find picture of katy perry by fan

Lucky to find a fan's picture of Katy Perry on flickr.

The problem is that most of these images are copyrighted, and you break the law when you publish them without permission.

(There are sites where you can pay big bucks for permission to use photos, but I wouldn’t hold my breath telling you it is the best use of scarce funds.)

Try to find a picture that a fan took at a concert and then uploaded to Flickr. If they added it under a Creative Commons license, you can use it.

If that doesn’t work, alternatively grab a picture off a Wikipedia page since by definition it is in the public domain. The proper citation then becomes “Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.” (This is what a journalist may do when writing news articles to compete with

Finally, lots of folks are glad for the bling of getting their work out there, and offer it freely. In fact, it seems that artists from Down Under are particularly drawn to publishing freely. I am not sure why, but I love those prolific Aussies.

As a best practice, be sure to include the words “royalty-free” in your search terms whenever you are looking for pictures, cartoons, or video. Or, I just might have to douse you with grasshoppers.

Post script: Why did I choose the photo of the Blue Green Ball to illustrate the post? Because there are copycats who infringe upon other’s rights everywhere.

See one thief here: This was “taken” on April 11th by Earthdaynetworkpics. Looks just the same as this picture taken by ecstaticist on March 5, 2008, with the copyright name and year contained within. See what I mean by stealing?

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0, ecstaticist and Jose Goulao.

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Did you enjoy this post?
  • Michele Tremblay

    There is no question, it is limiting, but I use only my own photos. Thanks for the great post.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      I admire you for using your own photos, you really have the artistic streak in you!

  • Rhondaesq

    Very thorough and informative………you presented the legal issues clearly.  Thanks for the post! 

  • Sara D.

    Very helpful. Thanks

  • Susan

    very good, practical, specific information. I will have to tell my 15 yr old about Gimp, free program for visual editing. Always learn something new from these blogs.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Glad to be useful, Susan!

  • Amartini

    So straightforward! Thanks for laying it all out.

  • Jennifer

    This is extremely helpful – both the step-by-step how to instructions and the guidance on copywright and attribution.  I will be sharing with several people at work today.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Yes, I oftentimes find that people know the concept of attribution but not the nuts and bolts, hence the step-by-step.

  • DebJ

    Great job Diane. Keep up the great work on the articles and the website. So great to help others realize that life is just beginning at 40…

  • Katie Palencsar

    Thanks for breaking it down! Definitely useful – especially as small businesses need some guidance when using photos in presentations, promotional materials, and newsletters! 

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      I agree. And by attributing properly, it shows that as a professional, you respect the hard work of others. 

  • SharonODay

    Diane, if I’m not using my own photos in my blog, I purchase them all from iStockphoto or Fotolia.  I just realized from this article that I might still need to be citing the source.  Is that true?  (If so, shame on me!)

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Sharon, you are okay. If you have purchased the photo from iStockphoto, you don’t need to be citing the creator or the source. In fact, that is what our team used for web and print images, when I was part of a corporate marketing department.

  • Robyne Camp

    Very useful.  This is
    something I know next to nothing about but an area where we all need to get up
    to speed.  And thanks for making the
    instructions so simple.  

  • Eno Nsima-Obot Hill

    Thanks for the wealth of information in this article. The take home message I’m getting from it, is that as long as pictures are obtained from a source like istockphoto, depositphoto etc, there is no need to cite the source? I’m also interested in featuring some of my photos as I develop that hobby. Any idea on copyright protection should I decide to do this? 

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Yw. I know iStockphoto well, and if you buy photos from there you dont need to cite author and source. I just took a look at depositphoto, and it looks to be similar in that some photos are offered freely in a trial, but then you have to become a paid member. Once you pay for photos with credits, you don’t need to cite author and source, but there is a huge legal agreement delineating what are permitted and prohibited uses of the 35 photos you can get for free. As I suspected, it boils down to for-profit uses like printing on T-shirts or other merchandise for sale, is prohibited for free photos. More not-for-profit uses are permitted. Please see the language, but when in doubt, paying a few bucks for photos seems reasonable.

      When you want to upload or share photos you take yourself, if you care to offer them freely, I would recommend Flickr. If you want to earn income, use any site where they put a watermark on a downloaded photo, so that way, only paying customers can grab it.

  • Lori Thayer

    Very helpful – I saved it to Evernote for future reference!

  • Anastasiya Day

    Diane, brilliant article and a lot of useful info. I purchase my images from iStockphoto too. 

  • Craig Batchker


  • Claudia Looi

    Diane, useful information. I’ve always used my own travel photos (for travel articles) or istockphoto. Always wondered about Flickr. Thanks for the info, now I have another source.

  • Sondra

    Diane thank you so much for this bit of helpful information. So many bloggers are unaware of the pitfall of using images that you snatch off Google. It may not always be clear that the image belongs to someone else, but it’s up to you to do your homework or risk getting slapped on the hand for copyright infringement.

  • Maryl

    Hi Diane, This was very helpful and I am going to follow some of your suggestions.  Next I need some instruction on taking gorgeous pictures myself.  Got a new camera and still playing with it.  Any wisdom to offer there?

  • Bizytravelmom

    This was very helpful!  Thank you.

  • Charlotte B.

    Can’t thank you enough. This was beyond helpful!

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