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8 Free photo sources teachers can use for online courses

Including photos in learning materials is the first step towards offering students a more visual learning experience. I won’t go into why there should be more visual elements in school instruction, nor into the many options teachers have to organize learning materials in a visual manner. I already did that here and here.

The focus of this blog will be the photos.

While including photos in learning materials is a noble idea, including stolen photos in them is not. If you just copy and paste any photo you find on the web into your lesson, you might be a thief.

You might be using that photo to instill knowledge into the brains of your students — which is great — but you might be a thief nonetheless.

Don’t be a thief

There are rules to abide by, even on the internet. Retaining and protecting the rights of content owners is not only necessary for keeping the internet a safe and vibrant place for original content creation, but also for teaching students the importance of attribution. Plagiarism can be avoided.

In order to do that, you first need to know what qualifies as copyrighted material and what does not, and to understand the principle of fair use. I highly recommend reading What every teacher must know about copyright for online lessons, which explains both of the above subjects and presents the Creative Commons types of copyright licenses.

And now let’s move on to that part of the internet that is indeed free.

8 Free photo sources teachers can use

Browse one or browse them all, you can be sure the photos you’ll find in these sources won’t be a subject of copyright infringement. So here are ten options for teachers who want to include photos in learning materials but don’t want to be internet thieves:

  1. Google Images Advanced Search

    Quite a lot of Google Images are under copyright licenses. To find just the ones that can be used and altered for free, you must click a few times. Go to Google Images and type in your keyword in order to get some results. Then, go to the Settings button in the menu bar and select Advanced Search. Scroll all the way down to the last option, usage rights, which has the default of "not filtered by license". Select "Free to use, share and modify, even commercially", and finally click on the blue Advanced Search button. Ta daa! The new results are all free to use. Keep in mind that some topics might not return too many satisfying results.

  2. Pics4Learning

    Pics4Learning is a curated image library that is safe and free for education. Teachers and students can use the copyright-friendly photos and illustrations for classroom projects, web sites, videos, portfolios, or any other projects in an educational setting. You can browse photos in their already defined categories and you can contribute to its growth.

  3. Pixabay

    This site offers more than 700,000 free images, illustrations, vector graphics, and even videos. You can browse them by category, or use their complex search tool. You’ll find thousands of photos to include in your lessons, whether you teach Biology, Chemistry, History, Geography, Foreign Languages or any other subject.

  4. Unsplash

    While the search function here is way simpler than that of Pixabay, you can still find what you're looking for. Their collections are perfect if you need more than one picture on the same subject, or that are related. This site already has a big library of photos, and they add 10 more every 10 days. Just like Pics4Learning, you can upload your own photos if you want to share them with like-minded teachers.

  5. Picjumbo

    This site also offers a premium membership and it makes this clearly known. But the pictures without copyright licences are still free of charge and free to use. If you’re already looking for pictures related to the Holiday Season, this site won’t disappoint you. The best part about Picjumbo is that it's updated daily.

  6. Pexels

    This site is actually an aggregator, meaning that it curates images from other sites like Unsplash or Pixabay, to name just a few. It has a huge library, it's easy to search, and it's updated daily. What more can one ask? It’s one of my personal favorites, because it gathers in just one place photos from more sources, thus saving time.

  7. Freepik

    This one is like a community for graphic designers. It mostly offers vectors and Photoshop files, so you might need some technical instructional design knowledge to use them, but there are also plenty of photos for free use. Considering that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, you can create wonderful learning materials with the visuals from this site.

  8. Pikwizard

    There are over 100,000 free images and videos on this site, with 20,000 of those exclusive to them. New images and videos are added to their library daily and you'll find A LOT of pictures of people, which tend to be rare on free stock photo sites. All images are free to use without attribution. As an added bonus, you can also take each image or video and edit it on their graphic design tool!

Over to you

What other resources do you use when looking for free photos to add to your learning materials? Which one do you find most useful? Do share them in the comments section.