Google Images search is a commonly used feature for finding pictures across the web, but how does it work, and are there legal risks to using it?
We’ve got the step-by-step guide you need to find real, usable stock photos through Google Images search.
From the very basics to the more advanced tips – including an overview of what’s legal to do with the images you find – here’s everything you need to know about Google Images search.
How to use the Google Images search feature
Before we dive into the details, let’s lay the groundwork for how to conduct a basic Google Image search.
Go to Google Images and use the search bar to type in what you want to see a picture of. Then, click the magnifying glass icon or press “Enter” on your keyboard:
There will almost certainly be thousands of results. You can click on an image to enlarge it and see more details, like the website it is connected to and an icon to share it:
Pay special attention to the notice below the enlarged photo that reads, “Images may be subject to copyright.” Recently, Google started adding information about author, credit and copyright of an image where available (through IPTC metadata from the image file), which is super useful to easily learn who owns a picture that you found and loved.
This brings us to the next section.
How to avoid legal risks of downloading free pictures from Google Images Search
A simple search on Google Images shows tens of thousands of pictures many consider to be high-quality photos that are “up for grabs” – but are they really?
Legally, that’s not the case. Just because you found a picture after searching Google Images doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use.
This can be confusing, as the way images appear here to make it seem like you can pull anything you want. However, Google just pulls from the content of the web and shows you what it finds. Google doesn’t own anything it displays, and because of that, you could face legal issues if you download and use any images from the Google Image search. And these issues are no joke, as you can learn in our article on the 5 dangers of using photos from Google in your work.
In addition to that, there’s no guarantee you’re getting high-resolution photos for your project when you simply pull content from Google Images online.
What are the legal risks of downloading pictures from Google Images search?
In addition to that, you could face problems because you don’t have a model release from the individuals shown in the image. Using their likeness in your projects without permission or a proper commercial use license is illegal, and therefore, a poor business practice.
You can avoid these legal risks by refraining from downloading pictures from the Google Image search feature. Instead, consider these tips to more appropriately using this tool:
- Pin images from it. You can create a board on Pinterest to save photos or images you like as inspiration for your own projects. Later, we’ll teach you how to conduct a reverse image search so you can trace the original source of a Pin you love or find images similar to it. To Pin images you want to reference later from the Google Images search, download the Pinterest browser button.
- Assume images are always under copyright. It’s better for business and for original creators everywhere if we all begin treating copyright infringement as seriously as we do shoplifting – because it is. Always assume an image on Google Images is protected, and you’ll have a better awareness of what you can legally do with it.
- Approach imagery from a place of support. Artists, photographers, and others make their livings from their craft. Instead of asking what you can get for free, ask what you can do to support other creatives as you work on your own projects.
- Learn about affordable stock photography options. You may feel pressure to pull free photos from the Google Images search because you believe stock photography is too expensive, but that’s simply not the case. There are premium stock photography options for every budget.
Utilize Google Images search tools to find stock photos
While it is often illegal to download photos directly from the Google Image search, because it does not only show just public domain photos, you can use the search engine to find images to then purchase from stock photo agencies.
Google Images offers an advanced visual search tool to make this possible. To access it, click “Tools” after you’ve made your initial Google Images search:
Several options will then appear for you to narrow down the pool of images you see:
- Size: Select from “Large,” “Medium,” “Icon,” or choose to only show images “Larger than” a specified size, or select “Exactly…” to type in a custom, ultra-specific size you want to see.
- Colour: Choose to only see images in full colour, black and white, transparent designs, or images that contain a certain colour.
- Usage rights: Narrow down your search to only images labeled for a specific use. Remember, if an image doesn’t specify usage, that doesn’t mean you can use it for free.
- Type: Allows you to only see images of “Faces,” “Clip art,” “Illustrations,” “Line drawings” or “Animated.”
- Time: Only see images that were posted within a specific time frame, like “Past week.”
- More tools: Displays the option to “Show Sizes,” which makes each image size appear in its respective lower left-handed corner.
- Clear: Select this option to remove all tool features from your search.
- Search by file type: If you only want to see JPG, PNG, GIF, or another image file type, you can enter filetype: and then the type of file you want to see. For example, if you only want to see PNG files, enter filetype: png in the search bar. As you can see, entering this causes “filetype: png” to disappear and adds a new “filetype” section to the toolbar:
Filter out free, low-quality stock images
There are stock photo sources available that offer free images you can use, but beware that the quality and size options of them are limited. You also have to be very careful to use them under the free license they are provided under, which doesn’t always include commercial use.
To filter out the free, low-quality stock photo options from appearing in your Google Images Search, copy and paste the following sequence after your search term in the search bar:
-pixabay -unsplash -pexels
If there’s any other term you want to exclude from your search, simply add the minus (-) symbol in front of it.
For example, if you want to see images of baseball players who are not pitching, you might enter a baseball player -pitching into the Google Images search engine.
How to use Advanced Search to find stock photos from affordable, reputable sources
If you only want to see images from reputable stock photo sites, you can use the features of Google’s Advanced search to make that happen.
Before we get into the details of how that works, let’s talk about reputable stock photo sources to use when you’re on a budget.
What are the most affordable, reputable stock photo sources?
There are a lot of stock photo sources on the web, and yes, some of them are expensive. But if you know where to look, you can get all the high-quality stock photos you need at a great price.
Here are some of the best sources for affordable stock photography:
If you want an affordable yearly subscription to a collection of millions of high-resolution, quality stock photos, look no further than the 99Club from the Stock Photo Secrets Shop. For just $99, you get 200 XXL downloads every year, which comes out to less than 50 cents an image – a price you won’t find anywhere else.
There are also monthly plans and image packs available if you only need stock images for a one-off project, or if 200 isn’t enough.
Finding great images to use in your designs is a walk in the park thanks to the Stock Photo Secrets search feature which you can try right here, right now:
Learn more about this agency in our full review of Stock Photo Secrets.
And don't miss the exclusive 99club plan to get the best value for your money!
Photocase – Unique Photos on a Budget
Photocase is a German stock photography agency that prides itself on its collection of real, natural and candid photography, as opposed to traditional, posed stock photos. These are highly creative, original photographs you won’t find anywhere else – a great option if you want stock photos that are different and unique.
The best deal for photos comes if you purchase a credit package, which starts at $55 USD. You can also check out this deal for 5FREE credits, and 10 percent off your first Photocase purchase.
Discover unique stock images ready to download and use safely, with the Photocase search bar right below:
Want to learn more about Photocase before you purchase? Check out our in-depth Photocase review.
And remember to grab the special Photocase Coupon Code with 5 free images + 10% off in your purchase!
Shutterstock – Well-Known Agency with Affordable Options
Shutterstock’s reputation for top-quality images and low prices makes them one of the most trusted sources for stock photos in the industry. They have a collection of almost 100 million royalty-free images to choose from, so whatever images you’re looking for, it’d be hard not to find it at Shutterstock.
Prepaid image packs start at $29 for two images, but if you want something more affordable, you can subscribe to an annual plan beginning at $29 a month for 10 images.
See exactly how varied and rich Shutterstock's catalogue is, by searching for your desired images right now with the Shutterstock search engine:
Plus, you can save an additional 15 percent with our exclusive discount code and learn more about Shutterstock in this detailed review.
iStock – Impressive Variety and Price Point
You can purchase just a few credits if you only need a few images for a one-off project, which begin at $11 an image for three image credits. For a more affordable option, you can subscribe, starting at $29 a month for ten essential images or $70 a month to download ten images from their full library.
Waste no time in finding the perfect photos for your project on iStock, just use the search tool right below:
You can save even more from this stock photos site with this exclusive discount code.
Discover more about iStock in our in-depth review.
Using Advanced Search to only see stock photos from reputable sources
Instead of going to every stock photo agency website to search for images, you can use Google Images search to see images from all of the aforementioned agencies – all at once.
To get to the Advanced search feature, go to Google Images, and type your query into the search bar. Select “Settings” and then click “Advanced search:”
Locate the field that says, “any of these words:”
Copy and paste the following sequence into this field to only see images from reputable stock photography agencies: StockPhotoSecrets Photocase iStock Shutterstock
Then, scroll down and select “Advanced Search.” Your results will show only images from stock photo agencies you can trust:
Don’t forget to use our exclusive discount codes when purchasing a stock image you found through the Google Images search feature.
Using Reverse image search to find an image’s source
If there’s an image you love that you found on the web, through Pinterest, in a blog or article, or somewhere else, you can use the reverse image search feature to trace its origin.
Here’s how it works:
Download the image you want to search for by right-clicking with your mouse or mousepad and selecting “Save image:”
(Remember, the purpose of downloading the image is to find its source and to purchase it – or a similar image – from a reputable stock photography agency, and not to use it for free).
Next, go to Google Images, and select the camera icon:
Then, choose “Upload an image,” and select “Choose file” to upload the image you want to reverse search:
Google will automatically populate a gallery of visually similar images and all web pages with that exact image. You can browse these to find the original stock website the image came from if that’s where it was first posted.
How to use Google Images search on mobile
You can also use the Google Image search feature from your mobile device to easily find stock images on the go. Simply open the search engine of your choice and type in “Google images” and click on the first options that appear:
After your initial query, add the following sequence to only see images from reputable stock photo sources:
+ StockPhotoSecrets OR Photocase OR iStock OR Shutterstock
Now, your search will only show images available for purchase from stock photo agencies you can trust:
Use Google Images Search to Find Quality Stock Photos
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how the Google Images search works and how you can use it to find great stock photos to use for your projects.
While you can use it as a tool to search multiple stock photo sources at a time, remember that Google doesn’t actually own any of the content it shows you. So, if you download something and use it in a commercial project, you could get into a lot of legal trouble for it.
You’re safest if you always assume images found through the Google Images search are under copyright, and if you haven’t paid for a commercial license, then you don’t have the rights to use that image.
Stock Photo Secrets, Photocase, Shutterstock and iStock are all reputable sources for affordable stock photography – and don’t forget to enjoy exclusive discounts when purchasing image credits, monthly or annual plans.