How To Find Royalty Free Photographs For Your Church

Copyright.  Yeah.  That wonderfully secure, pesky little symbol and assumption that both protects us and is the bain of our creative existence. 

Copyright.  It’s a love/hate relationship.

As church creatives, we have no interest in selling the stuff we’re making do we?  No, not really, not unless we’re helping the pastor with his book or selling a DVD series or something.   Basically, we’re making slides, flyers, posters etc and we want to have amazing imagery.  BUT dang!  Some of that stuff gets REALLY expensive.  

And to top it off, when someone creates something, like say, this blog post, without even stating it, copyright to the author is attached and assumed.   So basically, every photo I’ve ever taken is automatically ascribed to me via copyright.   Which means if someone came and saw a photo on my Facebook stream, grabbed it and put it in their book and then sold a million copies – I’d have a case to sue them for copyright infringement.  I could point to the photo being on my Facebook page for X years, and I could show the judge the original in the file on my hard drive, along with the other similar ones taken that day.  

That means too, that someone could do that to you and your church.  

Which is why we all have our iPhones and go shoot our own pics right?  And why we’ve put in the church budget for a nice Canon DSLR* or a kik’n little Sony A7* mirrorless camera… right?   Because we’re all AMAZING photographers…..  uh….  yeah…… 

So if you’re like me, you’ve subscribed to pay-as-you-go photo archive site, or you use free sites like Pixabay or 500px or something like that.

OR, if you’re like me, you’ve hit google for a topic, hit the “image” button and then found one there….  which is pretty dicy folks.  It ‘could’ be ok to use, it could not be ok to use.  You’re rolling the dice. 

CC Image Search to the rescue

One thing you CAN and should do is use the Creative Commons Image Search engine to find pics that have been specifically licensed for you to use, some with a stipulation or two, that are rather minor…  mainly, the author would like his name linked so the world knows it’s his work.   That’s completely understandable!  – more on that in a bit.

What is Creative Commons?

GREAT question.  I’m not going to go in to a ton of detail on this, but basically, because the default assumption when any work is created is that the author retains the copyright, EVERYTHING IS COPYRIGHTED.  Like, everything.  Including the crayon picture of your daughter’s hand she made you…  she hold’s the copyright. 

Yeah!  Seriously.

What that means is that even if I WANT everyone to use my stuff for free, and I don’t want anyone to know it’s mine – I’m just happy to make and give – I can’t.  You have to request permission from me, or risk that I may change my mind and sue you for using my stuff without my permission.   

It’s kind of a conundrum. 

So, these folks came up with a way to license our creative works and proscribe the types of use we will expressly permit.  As in, a way to automatically give your permission to use your works, under certain circumstances. 

So, I can license my show, CTA LIVE for example under Creative Commons and give you permission to share it, or download and play it elsewhere, but not claim credit for it…. and…. if you use it in any derivative work, like a presentation, you have to…. attribute it to me, and you can’t sell that presentation.   

See what I did there?  I’m allowing you to use my work, but I don’t want you selling it and if you publish it, I need you to link back to me, so the world knows I made it.

So, now, by putting this on my videos, or in the caption of my pictures, or metadata of my pictures, I can tell people how I’ll let them use my stuff.  They don’t have to pay, just follow a rule or two I have.    

So, you as a church, can start licensing your stuff via CC (Creative Commons) and start protecting AND allowing usage of your creative works – so think about it.

Now, back to the CC Image Search

Now that you’ve got a basic idea of what CC is, you can use the CC image search and find a treasure trove of images that people have licensed for you to use, alter, remix, adapt etc for your work.  Most of the time, they simply require attribution… which means that if you use an image in a blog post, give them credit in the caption… like this.

“Porsche” by Jason Goulding is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s a pretty simple concept and it works very easily and well.  Let me show you a few steps.   

  1. Start off by visiting
  2. There are two ways to search


3.  Enter the search term

4.  Save the image and copy the attribution text.


That’s pretty much it!  Easy right?!?!  

Adding this little tool to your creative quiver should help you find some of those elusive images that… well…  elude us.  

Consider licensing your works via creative commons, it’s a great way for you to specify how your work can be used, protects you and your work, and gives others access to the amazing stuff you make. 


Note: * some links may be affiliate links. If you choose to use that product or service, via our link, CTA will make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thumbnail Courtesy: Kristina Alexanderson | Flickr

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