Taking the Icky Out of Image Sourcing

by Mayi Carles from heartmade

mayi carles, heartmade, taking the icky out of image sourcing, blogging etiquette, blogging ethics

I’m not the image police, nor do I intend to be. As a matter of fact, not so long ago I was convicted of a felony for mistakenly using an image. So there you have it, I’m not perfect! But due to my recent “shame” with image sourcing, man have I studied this case thoroughly. Because who likes tripping over the same stone twice, know what I mean? Plus, if I can save you the pain + embarrassment of going through it yourself, then I will have paid my dues to society + probably won a few steps to heaven too.

Let me start by saying I’m a very visually oriented person.  So when conceiving my blog heartmade I knew I wanted to use lots + lots of images + well-designed layouts + beautiful collage + breath-taking graphics to tell my stories + share my ideas + celebrate creativity + post inspirations. So you can see why the issue of image sourcing, particularly when it comes to blogging, is so crucial for me to nail.

After months of research – asking around the blogosphere + inquiring artists in my community who I trust + making a few mistakes along the way too – I’ve come to accept that there is no such thing as a universal controversy-free image sourcing policy. But then again I’ve never appreciated fixed manuals of operation + stone-written dogmas, so you’ll soon find out today’s post is not about preaching or teaching; it’s about thinking + reflecting. I won’t tell you what to do, but I’ll sure make you ponder + revisit + if I’m successful even re-valuate your image sourcing etiquette.

let’s play a little jiminy cricket game

mayi carles, heartmade, taking the icky out of image sourcing, blogging etiquette, blogging ethics

nuts + bolts of permission letters

mayi carles, heartmade, taking the icky out of image sourcing, blogging etiquette, blogging ethics

When writing the permission note you should consider:

  1. Making it personal.
  2. Being specific.
  3. Making it short + sweet.
  4. Telling them a little bit about your blog.
  5. Including a URL to your blog.
  6. Telling them when the feature is scheduled to go up.
  7. Giving thanks for their consideration.

It’s important because…

  1. It shows you care.
  2. It set’s you apart from other bloggers.
  3. It helps spread the word about your blog + message.
  4. It has the potential to make someone smile, because come on who doesn’t love a cool feature?
  5. It invites people whom you admire to love your blog + join your tribe.
  6. It creates the platform for a wonderful friendship.

wait! there’s more

  1. Make an honest effort to create your own images.
  2. When utilizing images from others, credit everything + everyone – the maker + the source + the moderator (in that order).

a. Use “by” when you are referencing who created the image. When you can’t find the photographer who created the image reference the publication + shop + blog who it was originally created for.

b. Use “via” when referencing where you got the image from (i.e blogs + magazines + personal websites). Ohh + please be aware Pinterest + Flickr + Etsy + We Love Indie + such sites are not sources.

c. Use “found” when acknowledging who guided you to a particular image (i.e a friend + a fellow blogger).

3. Go out of your way to track down all that you can about the image you’re utilizing. Use tineye.com to help you look up the source of the image you are using. I need to thank Jess from Epheriell Designs for this awesome tip.

4. If you can’t find much information about the image you want to use, don’t use it.

5. Your image credits should be active links, not just text.

6. Credits shouldn’t be displayed in size 2 font. Please make your credits visible + worth the effort.

7. The image itself should be an active link too. This will allow visitors to track the original source easily. This is especially awesome when utilizing product photos + people can actually buy the item at hand. Talk about good karma – to aid a sale instead of cutting corners, right?

8. It’s especially nice if you can also make mention of the images you are using in the post itself, so it doesn’t look like you just have it there to fill space.

9. Never use images from newspapers + publications + big companies + without written permission. You never know when legal restrictions apply + you can be placing yourself in a hot big mess.

10. Never ever remove a watermark from an image or modify an image without permission.

11. Only post singular images, never a collage + layout or an entire step by step DIY or recipe that has been made by another designer without written authorization.

12. Whenever in doubt, I always ask first.

It all boils down to giving people enough information for them to be able to go back + track all your steps. If you’re in the business of building communities + promoting originality + celebrating kindness, then you definitively want to take extra caution when sourcing.

yeah, so why should I care?

Aside from the obvious, because doing what’s right + ethical feel so darn good, proper image sourcing is important because one misstep could really hinder your reputation or even worse, you could be perceived as someone who steals other people’s work + that’s no fun! I know most people aren’t trying to be disrespectful, but not being aware just isn’t a good excuse in this day + age.

Today you can choose to be known as someone who generates unique + creative content that celebrates loves + kindness, or you can choose to promote a culture of laziness + mindless copy-pasting + careless free for all. The choice if yours. What will you choose?

Achieving excellence in image sourcing is certainly extra work, but it’s worth the effort. It certainly helps me sleep at night, which is all I want after a long day of work!

fantastic resources

Below is a list of some of the most amazing articles I’ve read while researching this topic.

Frolic: Blog Talk: Crediting Photos

Natalie Jost: A Word About Sourcing

Epheriell Designs: Taking it up a Notch: Image + Photograph + Source Credits

Design*Sponge: Copying + Stealing + Crediting

Design*Sponge: How to Credit

Jessika Hepburn: for inspiring me to put myself together + write this thing!

your turn please

Now, I would love to hear all you lovelies out there. What are your comments + ideas + tips about image sourcing? Anything you would like to add or suggest? Let’s continue this sensitive conversation in the comment section below, shall we?


Mayi Carles

Mayi Carles is a super passionate artist + avid eco-friendly designer + creative coach + editor of heartmade with big dreams + messy ideas + a severe cupcake addiction + a funny Panamanian accent. Mayi’s on a mission to empower creative hearts to dream bigger + imagine better + achieve more + embrace all the beautiful messiness in-between. To connect with Mayi, follow her tweets at @mayicarles.


  1. Jessika says:

    I just want to be the first to say thank you Mayi! Thank you for being so honest & sharing your experience and how you have learned from it. You tackled this huge sensitive topic & in my opinion nailed it without being dogmatic at all.
    Plus I love, love, love the original content & flowchart you created for this post. I am so happy to be able to share this great resource with Oh My!

  2. Beka says:

    Thank you posting this, and more importantly not burying your embarrassing episode – so many do 🙂

    I used to work in research, so am all too familiar in sourcing where information was found – it was a must! Unfortunately I think most blogging folks fall into the trap of not taking the time to source their photos correctly because they do not schedule their posts in advance and think about the kind of images they need. Images are the last to be added at the last minute before publishing, and therefore no time to go about contacting sources for permission to use.

    I used to either always use my own images or go without. It was only in the last year that the idea of sourcing anyone elses images even crossed my mind. Whilst I have not always been exactly perfect, as I have gone along I have tried to improve this. Now I am moving into a new phase of gong back to just using my own images once more. Those images I do share of others creation, go direct to source via the images themselves and text links below each.

    Anyways, thank you again for this kindly reminder to all (including me). It is such a grey area for most – nice to have someone draw it out so plainly 🙂

  3. I used to use “via”. I don’t anymore. I use “copyright and courtesy of __________”. I want it to be known and obvious that I work hard to get permissions and I want other people to know they can’t just take my stuff either…which they do anyway.

    There is nothing weirder than seeing my watermarked image on someone else’s site – I mean how obvious does it have to be that I work hard to create my images and want at least the courtesy of a request? Sorry. Rant.

  4. lakshmi says:

    wow ! I am blown away …Mayi, this is clearly a dissertation on Image Sourcing…Thank you for putting it all together .Its amazing…lot of hardwork.. from experience, research and your soul !

    I think I should stop using via too.. that actually is a really good idea. Thank you , Tricia.

    Normally, I let the folks know that I am using their images and if they have an objection, I will take it down – no questions asked. So far, I haven’t had anyone object. ….but now…I am going to have a much more streamlined approach when I use others’ images on my blog.

    Thanks, Jessika, for encouraging Mayi to write this 🙂

  5. Great post! Thank you so much for working hard to start the conversation on the topics that aren’t all fuzzy wuzzy.

    I used to use photos from others on FB now and then. I would give credit in comments but felt that was not clear enough so I stopped that practice.

    I try to use mostly my own images, and if I do feature posts the images are always credited and the person is informed. A lof of food for thought in this article…

    Tricia, I absolutely agree with your sentiment. I love the line “copyright and courtesy of …” – would to start using it if that is ok?

  6. Sarah says:

    Wow! Guilty as charged!! As a relatively new blogger, I have been unconsciously violating all kinds of unwritten rules. I’ve always done the “via” thing, but rarely ever sought the original source… ignorance sure is bliss! My blog just got a whole lot uglier- I read this and the accompanying articles and promptly deleted all images of questionable origin from my site. From now on I will use (1) my own images, (2) images with permission, (3) images with a clear original source (creator) along with a “via”…

    I must say- I never gave this issue much thought as I would be pleased as punch to see one of my images floating around the blogosphere, regardless of whether they sought permission (although a credit would be nice.) 😉

    My name is Sarah & I am a photo thieving addict! The first step is realizing you have a problem… thanks for sharing!!

    • Jessika says:

      Hi Sarah! Your comment is so brilliant I give you a standing ovation. Thank you for not only reading this post & taking such awesome action but for coming back here and being so honest. I just love that!!!! I know that most times people are coming from a place of sharing, they see something beautiful & love it then want to share it on their own blog, I totally get that. But not everyone is coming from that place and that means there is a whole lot of people not getting credit for the hard work they have put into creating it. By sending a little note asking for permission & then carefully crediting their work you tell the artist and everyone reading your blog that you are polite & respectful. And by creating original work you get to show off your fabulousness to the world and build a following who is interested in what you have to offer.
      Thank you again for your great comment!

  7. Thankyou for this post. its so important this is highlighted… from a designer and artist i know i would love for someone to use my stuff on their blog..but i would be wary unless the person approached me appropriately to say yes.. and it never hurts to ask 🙂

  8. Tina S says:

    Very helpful!

    I was confused by this, though: “b. Use “via” when referencing where you got the image from (i.e blogs + magazines + personal websites). Ohh + please be aware Pinterest + Flickr + Etsy + We Love Indie + such sites are not sources.”

    What do you mean they aren’t sources? I understand that Pinterest is kind of a collection of images found elsewhere, but some photographers only out their pics on flickr, and I’m not sure why Etsy is not a source. Did you just mean that in those particular cases you should contact the person who uploaded or saved the image, not the website owner?

    Also, don’t forget that you can use images with Creative Commons licenses! You can even search for them on Google and on Flickr using those sites’ advanced search option. That allows you to find images that the photographer has decided are OK to be reused elsewhere. When i wanted a picture of skiing at Tahoe for my blog, that’s what I did. You should also be aware that there are different levels of creative commons licenses, too, some of which allow you to do anything you want with the image, and some of which don’t even allow for resizing.

  9. Hi Tina!

    Thanks for your questions. I’ll respond them right here on the comments so everyone can see 🙂 I hope that’s alright with you. Etsy + Pinterest + Flickr + etc. are platforms but they aren’t a finite source of the image, the name of the shop + the creator of the pin + the owner of the Flickr account + etc. those are the sources. See the difference? It’s very subtle, so I can see how this can get a little confusing. But know what helps out a lot? To ask myself, is this as far as I can dig to find the creator or can I dig deeper. I find that the closer I get to the real human being + skin + bones + heart + hands who created the images the better I feel + the more special the creator will too.

    Thanks again for your question Tina. Hope this was helpful. If you have any more doubts feel free to drop them here + I will do my best to answer them 🙂

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