How to Find the Right – and Legal – Image

It's important to find just the right image to capture what you're saying and to use it in a way that won't get you in trouble.

If you build a website or write a blog post or even share something cool on social media, it's often true that you need to find just the right image to tie everything together. Finding images can be difficult though and it can even get expensive. So how can you find the right image and use it in a legal way? These are the super important questions we'll talk about today.

If we're honest, we are forever indebted to the photographers of the world who do such a great job – not just capturing objects, they really have a way of capturing ideas. When I'm working with a therapist who may be looking to create a new website, we walk though a lot of ideas. One of the most important though is the idea of a unifying concept. This is the thought or metaphor that ties everything together.

There are a lot of great metaphors for counseling and these serve as fantastic unifying concepts. The idea of growth for example is a common way of sharing ideas related to counseling. Others include light, balance, or wholeness. When we write content, these serve as a theme to tie everything together.

When you have a theme, it's also easier to start to select the imagery that really conveys what it is that you believe about the process of change. Your clients will get it too. If you take light for example. You might think about images that involve a candle, or a flashlight, or a sunrise over a meadow. If you see the counseling process as a way of bringing light into someone's life, then it's considerably easier to begin to find images that match your metaphor.

Finding images starts with knowing what you want to convey about the change process!

Using Images Legally

The problem is that it's about more than just finding the right image. You also want to make sure that you're using the image in a legal way. But that can be confusing. There are a couple of things that you want to keep in mind.

Pictures that Other People Take

If someone other than yourself has taken a photo that you want to use, you have to make sure that you license the photo. This means you enter into an agreement where the photographer allows you to use the photo. There are a couple of ways to do this. If you find and purchase the photo through a reputable stock-image website (e.g.,,, etc) this is already done for you. The process of buying one of these photos grants you the license to use it. Each license is different but 99.9% of them will be more than adequate to let you use these images on the website for your practice or any other promotional materials that you may be producing. Purchasing from these sites can get expensive, but the photos are generally of exceptional quality and all of the legal issues are taken care of.

There is another, lesser-known way to approach this problem, though. It's true that you can't just randomly do a Google Image search and expect that any photo you find can be used on your website. But what about Fickr?

There are tons of photos on that you actually CAN use free of charge. There are some conditions but as long as you adhere to them there are thousands and thousands of photos that you can use from Flickr to spruce up your website.

The secret is in something called Creative Commons. Creative commons is a set of licensing standards that makes it easy for people to offer their own creative material to others to use free of charge. It's part of what's called the open source community. When you visit, you can choose to search only images whose photographers have chosen to make them available via Creative Commons licensing. In most cases, as long as you're not making substantial changes to the image and you include a photo credit, you can use the image on your site without any worries!

In fact, if you look in the footer of this website you'll see the photo credit for the image that is used on the top of the page! Just be sure to use the format in my footer: "Name of Photo" by Name of Author is licensed by CC XX-YY. Here's a site to help you figure out the proper way to give credit for Flickr photos.

Using sites like to find images is a great resource but it usually takes a lot more work to find just the right image. Unlike the pay sites, Flickr isn't curated so there are a lot of photos that are less than idea. But if you're willing to put in the work, you can usually find a gem of a photo. Almost all of the photos that we use here are from Flickr!

Pictures that You Take

Maybe you are an awesome photographer. You can feel free to use your images too! Just make sure that if there are any people in your images who are identifiable (i.e. can you see their face?), they sign a release allowing you to use their face on the web. It's best to get this in writing just in case.

There are plenty of sites that might be able to provide a photo release template. Here are two to get you started.

Using images on your site is so important. It's true what they say about an image being worth a thousand words. There is an integration that your site can achieve when you make sure that the things you say line up with the images you use!! Images help capture people's attention - to draw them in so they can begin to heal in new and powerful ways.