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Free images to use, thanks to the USA

Free images to use, thanks to the USA 4.80/5 (96.00%) 5 votes

by Nancy J Price

Stock photos are fun to look at, awesome to use… but often expensive to buy. If your camera or photography skills are less-than-stellar (like your budget), it’s nice to know that the US Government is here to help you out.


Below are four government sites that offer images that you can use in commercial projects for free. (If you somehow feel bad, take heart: You actually did pay for them… using your 1040 form.)

1) Get blinded with science

If you need an image of something creepy, crawly, cool or even downright cold, check out the The National Science Foundation’s archive of more than 4000 images. A quick browse immediately returned three fantabulous photos: a lunar eclipse seen from Latvia, some nematode hosts meeting a bacterial pathogen, and several shots of polar bears (originally used to illustrate a study about how their ancestry was recently traced back to Ireland).

You may freely use NSF-credited images and, if you’re so willing, they say a little hat tip to NSF with a “Courtesy: National Science Foundation” or similar would be mighty appreciated.

>> Analyze some scientific photos from

2) Vintage imagery from the LOC

If you’re looking for images of yesteryear — whether photographs of turn-of-the century buildings or those old-timey Currier & Ives lithographs — the Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Online Catalog is the treasure trove you’re looking for. The majority of the pictures and graphics available are from before 1923, when the US copyright restrictions changed. (To see some of these images in action, check out my Dream of Time character’s blog here.)

Tip: Above the photo listings on the search results pages, be sure to check the box for “Larger image available anywhere.” If you don’t, you will probably be shown many pictures that are no bigger than a postage stamp.

>> See thousands of old-fashioned photos & artwork at

3) Great Images in NASA

Have a need for a stunning photo of Saturn — or maybe you’re looking for a satellite view of the weather patterns over the planet? You’ll want to browse through the Great Images in NASA (aka GRIN) library of images.

Here’s how they describe themselves: “GRIN is a collection of over a thousand images of significant historical interest scanned at high-resolution in several sizes. This collection is intended for the media, publishers, and the general public looking for high-quality photographs.”

>> Start your GRIN search: Great Images in NASA

4) A healthy selection of pictures

If the photos you seek involve doctors, diseases or natural disasters, you should meet PHIL — the CDC’s Public Health Image Library, that is.

untreated-water-specimenThe Centers for Disease Control offer several interesting collections, from “various images associated with your daily to-do list” to one of our favorites: electron micrographic imagery. (If you’re looking for some unusual or abstract images — such as the one shown at the right — definitely check that section out.)

>> See the good, bad and the ugly over at

As is always the case with anything you didn’t create yourself: Confirm rights usage before you use anything you download online (especially if it’s for something as important and permanent as, say, a book cover).


Nancy co-founded in 1999, and helped turn it into one of the top lifestyle websites for women. While serving as the site’s Executive Editor for twelve years, Nancy also helped launch five national newsstand magazines. A fourth-generation San Francisco Bay Area native, Nancy now lives in Arizona with her four kids and their menagerie. Dream of Time – her first novel – is available now, and you can see more from her online at

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