If you blog, you probably know that most online images are copyrighted and off-limits for your site. Where is an enterprising science writer to turn for artwork that is free, beautiful, and legally bloggable?

1. Ask the artist

Want to use this image on your site? Just ask and I'll let you know. (credit: Alex Wild)

Artists own their copyrights, but that doesn't mean many aren't happy to share! Often, permission for non-commercial or personal blog use costs a mere link back to the artist's website. While taking 30 seconds to compose a brief email may seem like extra work, consider that symbioses between writers and artists often benefit both (exhibit A: Primate Diaries blog and Nathaniel Gold). Don't be shy!


STS-1 Pre-Launch (image: NASA)

Government agencies place most of their images in the public domain. As they should- the public paid for them! NASA maintains a wondrous database of space-related imagery usable for most purposes so long as you do not imply government endorsement of a commercial product.

NASA image portal


Aftermath of the 1976 Guatemala Earthquake (credit: A.F. Espinosa/USGS)

The U.S. Geological Survey curates a sizeable collection of public domain photographs covering not just rocks, volcanos, national parks, and earthquakes, but fascinating early images of native cultures, political figures, historical events, and more. Like NASA's archive, USGS photographs are free to use without prior permission.

USGS Photographic Library

4. NIH Images from the History of Medicine

Fight the Peril! (credit: United States Government Printing Office)

The National Institute of Health's historical archives contain 70,000 images, including photographs, cartoons, paintings, public health posters, and other miscellanea.

Images from the History of Medicine

5. Public Health Image Library

A Giardia muris protozoan adhering to the microvillous border of an intestinal epithelial cell. (credit: CDC/ Dr. Stan Erlandsen)

The Centers for Disease Control hosts PHIL, the Public Health Image Library. Most of the content is an unusual combination of being both modern and in the public domain, but check the details before use, as a few of PHIL's treasures are copyrighted.

Public Health Image Library

6. Wikimedia Commons

Crystal structure of parallel quadruplexes from human telomeric DNA (credit: Tim Vickers via Wikimedia)

The Wikimedia Commons is a giant repository covering quite literally millions of items of varying copyright status, including public domain and an assortment of Creative Commons-licensed copyrighted work. Creative Commons material may or may not be safe to copy depending on the particulars of your intended use and the rights-holders' interpretation of "non-commercial", so I recommend sticking to the public domain.

Wikimedia Commons