How Do I Find Free Images for My Manuscript? by Nancy I. Sanders

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay.

Good news! A couple years ago I was offered a new book contract. More news—I was required to find and acquire the photographs. Bad news? I used to think so. But with over 100 published books under my belt for publishers big and small, I had faced this challenge before. At first it felt confusing. Unmanageable. Overwhelming. But now it feels like a normal part of the process. Here are some tricks of the trade that have helped this seemingly gargantuan task shrink down to bite-sized do-ability.


One of the earliest things I did was set up a separate, free e-mail account to handle all my photograph enquiries. I gave it an official sounding address and added a signature. As a result, every e-mail I send out to connect with potential photograph contacts automatically includes my full name, street address, unique e-mail address, website URL, and a confidentiality notice at the bottom that says: 

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail is intended only for the use of the individual to whom it is addressed. It may contain confidential information. Please do not share this information with anyone unless you have the permission of Nancy I. Sanders. Thank you. 

I’ve also learned to ask my publisher for the print run information for my book. For example, when I wrote my book, Frederick Douglass for Kids, the print run information was this:

Name of Book (working title): Frederick Douglass for Kids

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Initial print run: 5,000 copies

Price: $14.95

Edition: Paper

Rights: World

Language: English

Expected publication date: June 2012

This is standard information required on many invoices before places can calculate how much to charge per image. If your manuscript is not yet under contract, don’t worry about the print run information and don’t pay for any images yet. Instead, ask places for a price quote and let them know you’ll get back to them when a contract is signed and if you will be required to obtain the images yourself.

Another item you’ll need to get started is a permission form. Some publishers have their own permission form they will require you to send to the owner of the image’s copyright to sign and return. If so, use the one they provide. Some historic sites and other establishments have their own permission forms they require you to sign and use instead. 

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.


How do you find images that you want to use in your book? A good place to start is to gather children’s books and adult reference books on your topic. Usually in the very front or at the very back they list image credits. Other times they include a credit line with each picture of the name of the place they acquired it. 

Search online for the names they provide and click on the sites that come up. Some sites have a link in their menu bar for permission requests but if not, look for a phone number or e-mail on their contact page and contact them. Ask how an author gets permission to use their images in a new book.

Okay, I’ve got more news to share. I’m a cheapskate. Some places charge thousands of dollars to use their images. I’ve never paid the big bucks like that. Instead, I look for free ways to acquire photographs. Here are some great avenues to explore:

Flickr Creative Commons is a place people love to post photographs, often high quality, of historic sites or unique places around the world they’ve traveled to. I’ve gotten some amazing photographs to include in my books of hidden spots in faraway countries that I couldn’t travel to or get myself…for free!

Wikimedia Commons has amazing artwork in the public domain that you can download and use. Other images require giving credit to the photographer, but still display a copyright notice that the images are free to use.

Sites like Pixabay and other free photo repositories list oodles of photographs that photographers want to share with the public. Many require no credits and some share their work for free if you just agree to cite them as the photographer. Check out the images in this article. They’re all from Pixabay!

Some museums and historic sites allow you to take your own photographs and use them for free. Some require an appointment and a fee. Call before your visit to determine the requirements. I’m not a professional photographer and I just use a point-and-shoot camera, but many of my own photographs have made it into my books.

There are numerous sites on the web that offer images to download and use for free as long as you respect copyright and follow their instructions and protocol. Great resources to explore include places such as the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress and NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration.

A number of university libraries now scan books from their collections that are in the public domain. Many offer high quality digital images from these scans for use in new published books. A small handling fee is often charged. This can range from a one-time fee as low as $15 to perhaps $10 charge per image.


I found that if I am up front with people, they are much more willing to provide images for free or at a discount. In my initial contact e-mail I explain a little bit about the children’s book I am working on and include a link to my website where they can see some of my work. Then I state:

I am currently contacting a variety of historical societies and private collectors and photographers to ask if they would be interested in supplying free digital images to me that would be published in my book. Each image in my book will be cited and given full credit to the individual or organization who provided the image.

Some organizations reply to tell me their policy involves a non-negotiable fee. Others reply that they are not interested. Many people, however, graciously respond with permission to use their images for free.

No matter if you download photos from the Internet, scan them yourself, or take them with your own camera, always check with your publisher to affirm that the quality of each image is high enough to be printed in a published book. Double check that the source you acquire your photograph has the right to give you the right to publish it. And when you do get your new book published, photographs included, be sure to spread the word and let us all share in your good news!

What are your favorite go-to sites to grab images that are copyright and royalty free? Please share in the comments below!

Nancy I. Sanders is the children’s author of over 100 books including the how-to book for writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published and Build a Successful Writing Career. Visit her website at

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