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.
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.
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.”
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.
The 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.)
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).