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Caution When Using Google Images

chick pea dish is not peppermint bon bon ice creamI’ve re-organized our photo resources page to make it easier to search images to use in websites and social media. Any time you post something online, there should be a corresponding visual to compliment the post, Tweet, story, etc. Online posts with an image are much more interesting and can hook your reader into reading more (many studies confirm this). If you’re going to Fall Conference, be sure to check out Bob Bertsch’s breakout session on Nov. 7: The Art of Being Seen: The Visual Web.

I bet that for most of us, we first go to Google Images to find a photo. It will certainly return the most results and it’s pretty inherit, having used Google to find other information. But did you know that you are not free to use just any images from Google images? In fact, re-using an image can be illegal without consent of the owner. To ensure you have permission to re-use an image, go to Advanced Search and narrow your results by those “free to use and share”. This will probably decrease your results drastically, which illustrates that most images are NOT free to use and share. Check out this quick screen cast of how to do it.

Another problem with Google Images is that sometimes you don’t get relevant results. Why is it that when you Google “peppermint bon bon ice cream”, you get some images returned for rocker Jon Bon Jovi? It’s because both were tagged with “bon”. It can be time consuming to sift through all the images when they aren’t relevant. A way around this is to search on exact terms by placing them within quotation marks.

I recently worked with Ron Smith on a Facebook post for transplanting perennials in fall. I was surprised that we visited numerous sites on the photo resources page but weren’t coming up with any decent images. Most images that were returned were of beautiful fall flowers, but we were looking for an action shot of someone actually digging up perennials. We finally did find a relevant photo, but only by searching on “garden gloves” and “dirt”. Successful searching is an art – how you think something should be tagged is not necessarily what the sharer tags a photo as.

We spent well over a half hour trying to find the right image. Here’s some tips I have for getting your image faster.

1. Build your own library of images. Get out and take photos, tips here. You know your subject matter best and can build your own relevant library. Organization is key of course. And you don’t need to worry about permission to use.

2. Use and contribute to the NDSU Ag Comm Flickr collection. There’s a lot of great photos to use, and sharing yours helps out others.

3. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the above to example, next try the Agriculture Photo Resources. Here’s where like-minded Ag people can contribute and use Ag-related photos.
4. The last section on the page references general image sites to choose from. Here’s where you still want to narrow your search by “free to use” and may spend some time figuring out search terms.

5. Last but not least, be sure to cite the source of the image not only as a courtesy, but because most of sources require it. A free image doesn’t really come free without citation.

It sounds like an exhaustive effort just to find an accompanying photo, and it can be. But with practice, you’ll probably develop a preference for a certain site and become a pro at for finding legal, relevant images. 

What’s up with the image of the savory dish for this blog post you ask? What does it have to do with peppermint bon bon ice cream? I found it by Googling “peppermint bon bon ice cream" and narrowing it with “free to use and share”. Only three images were returned and this was the most relevant. And by relevant I mean none of them were relevant. Just trying to illustrate that Google Images is not always the best resource for finding legal, relevant images.  Photo source:

Sonja Fuchs
Web Technology Specialist
Agriculture Communication/North Dakota State University


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