ASA, ESA and H.-Y. Chu (Academia Sinica, Taipei)

People often ask me if they can use the images from my presentations in their own talk, church service, newsletter, etc. Some of the images I use have been given to me with special permission to use them for a particular project, but many come from free online image galleries. So the easiest way to share these beautiful images that I use is to send you straight to the source!

Two great free libraries for scientific images are:

  • The Wellcome Collection, for biological or medical images (but do be careful what search terms you use, as you some of the medical images can be a little gruesome). Try typing in words like cell, neurone or cell division, to see some beautiful coloured pictures.
  • NASA Images. Images released in this way by US government agencies are generally free for non-commercial use worldwide, but it’s polite to acknowledge the photographer.

Other sites where you will find a wide range of images include:

  • Flickr
  • Wikimedia commons
  • Freeimages (for high quality images of the natural world)
  • RGBstock (for high quality images of the natural world)
  • Google: run a search, click the images tab above the search results, then click ‘settings’ on the right-hand side. Choose ‘advanced search’, then select ‘creative commons licenses’ in the ‘usage rights’ dropdown menu.

It is important to avoid stealing images. Every online image gallery should include information about how you may use the images, and how to acknowledge the photographers. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the less well-regulated free image library sites may well contain images that people have taken from other websites and submitted as their own work, or that have been submitted without considering copyright law fully for each country where they may be used. For scientific images, it should be obvious if the person who uploaded it is actually the person who took the image – they will include details of the organisation where the photo was taken, the project they were working on or the subject of the photograph.

If you want to be completely sure about usage rights, contact the individual photographers, whose details should be included alongside the image.[1] If you are using the image on something you are selling, that changes everything and you need to check the image license very carefully. I should also say that the advice given here is not formal legal advice and I can’t take responsibility for any copyright infringements based on the advice given here!

So – try to use reputable sites, enjoy the beautiful pictures, and do let me know if you know of any good royalty-free scientific image galleries that should be listed here.


[1] Do also bear in mind that a photo of a piece of work by someone else, an artwork for example, does not come under US copyright law. Wikimedia, for example, contain some images taken from other people’s websites that you shouldn’t use in the UK.