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Finding & using images

Three students sitting at table. One points to image in a book

This page signposts some useful open-access sources for images and provides guidance for their use. University of Brighton staff and students can also access a number of other subscription resources such as Artstor and Bridgeman Education, available through the institutional log-in – see  the Library Guide to Using Images .

These sources are almost always preferable to using Google Image search, however quick and convenient that may seem, as this can lead to carelessness around copyright, image quality and attribution. (At the very least, students can improve the way they use Google Image search by taking advantage of its built-in tools, including filtering by usage rights and reverse image search (more on this later).

It is better to encourage students to use available resources which carry clear information about attribution, usage rights, and image quality, and to help them understand why these issues are important.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licenses are widely used to enable legal sharing and re-use of images and other content, sometimes with conditions around attribution or commercial use, as in the example on the left. Click the image to go to Brian Mathers website, or go to the Creative Commons website to see what CC-BY-ND means.

Kerpow cartoon

KER POW by Brian Mathers is licensed CC-BY-ND4.0

It is important for students to understand the options for sharing their own work (whether text- or image-based) as well as for responsible use of that of other people. It can also be very helpful to incorporate these questions when discussing issues around plagiarism and attribution in their academic work, rather than focusing on the penalties for getting it wrong.

For more on Creative Commons and the full range of licenses see their website at

Websites that specialise in offering public domain or Creative Commons licensed high quality images currently include:


Although some of these sites and licenses do not require you to attribute the creator or the source when re-using, it is important that students always do so, just as they are expected to cite textual sources properly in all their work. Falmouth University have produced a useful guide to referencing images (but students should check their own institutional or departmental guidelines before following external advice.)

Teaching staff should also set a good example by including the sources of images used in powerpoint presentations as well as in published texts. As Alan Levine, a US academic and photographer who regularly publishes online about these issues, points out:

‘When we are writing with other people’s images, are you thinking about what it communicates to a reader? An image without any caption, without any credit, regardless of its copyright status more or less says, “Hey, it’s okay to use any photo you find on the internet. Why? because everyone else does it.”’  Instead, he argues, “any attribution is better than none. To me the most important are the link to the original source and naming the person who made it. If anything, just remember TASL… Title, Author, Source, License.

This is normally sufficient when a photograph is being used decoratively (as in this website header) or to illustrate a general point; however when an image is a fundamental part of the argument, then date and place/context of the original publication are also vital, just as they would be in any other citation. A recent Washington Post article by Jennifer Mendelsohn and Peter A. Shulman “How social media spread a historical lie” shows how misattribution and misuse of a historical image perpetuated a completely inaccurate story.

In another blogpost Levine takes us through the process by which he tracked down the original source of a particular image. Students should be shown how and why to do this rather than just cite the first place they found it.

See also Full Fact’s article on How to Spot Misleading Images Online

Alt Text

Students should also get into the habit of including alternative text (alt text)  description for any visual content, so that this description will be read aloud for partially sighted readers using a screen reader. (Some programmes will automatically  prompt for alt text whenever an image is inserted).   Alt text should describe the image or diagram as succinctly as possible to explain its content and make clear what purpose it serves.

FutureTeacher3.0 Working with Rich Media: Images This useful and comprehensive webinar resource covers many relevant issues as well as practical advice on available software for working with images. It is available online at and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Image Databases

  • ARTstor, a database of over one million images in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
  • VADS VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service) has a portfolio of visual art collections comprising over 140,000 images that are freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK. VADS is a service of the Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Library & Student Services department of the University for the Creative Arts.
  • Teaching GeoScience with Visualizations: Using Images, Animations, and Models Effectively This site has links to collections of visualisations, including animations, still images, movies, models, and simulations, and helpful advice on their use.
  • Graphics Gallery offers a series of labeled diagrams with explanations representing the important processes of biotechnology. Each diagram is followed by a summary of information, providing a context for the process illustrated. Part of the US National Health Museum ‘Access Excellence Resource Center which also contains links to animations and other visual resources.
  • The archives of the former JISC Digital Media/TASI (The Advisory Service on Images) are still generally useful  See in particular the section on Finding and Using Digital Images


  • Moving History This website is a research guide to the United Kingdom’s twelve public sector film archives and a showcase for their collections. Moving History’s role is to show, describe and provide links to these key collections located around the UK. Screen Archive South East is based at the University of Brighton.
  • British Film and Video Council (BUFVC) promotes the production, study and use of moving image, sound and related media in higher education and research. Includes specialist databases of audio-visual materials for use in higher and further education, the Researcher’s Guide Online, the Moving Image Gateway. Other services include Off-air Television Recording back-up service for educational institutions. BUFVC also run regular one day courses and workshops related to the use of moving image in learning, teaching and research including copyright, streaming and shooting with high definition video.
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