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Image Collections for CCNY Users: Free Images

This guide points to images and image collections, some available to CCNY users only, that may be useful for your research.

The Megas - Google and Flickr

GIS is easy but has problems.  Because it uses a combination of image-name and words-in-context to find images, results are uneven.  Images from websites frequently are too small or too poorly scanned to be useful.  Worse yet, many web images are in volation of copyright or have been altered (proportions, color, content). Advanced Image Search is preferable.

- images are ranked by size.  Biggest images appear first.
- use a combination of quotes (phrase searching) and key word, example: "glass blowing" and India 

- initial research "see what's out there"


Yahoo's "photo-sharing site" has become the number 1 tool of scholars and students.  It's easy and free (you don't have to join to use).  Many images found are: 
- Creative Commons framework for many images
-  large-format
- world-wide in scope
- unmodified (or pretty clearly marked when they are)
- easy to download

Many scholarly and professional institutions (including CCNY, Duke University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Science Foundation) maintain accounts.

- Use simple language in searching flickr.  "Cathedral Siena" will pull up more hits than "Duomo Santa Maria dell'Assunta".
- Use "tags" for more specific searches.
- When one image is found, browse within that photographer's site, there may be more images not using the words you searched under.
- Feel free to email the photographer.  

- architecture
- popular culture
- recent events
- people in context (social anthropology) 

Compfight - This Flickr search engine allows you to choose a filter to only show Creative Commons licensed images.

Wikimedia Commons attempts to collect what are considered copyright-free images found by their members on the web for inclusion in their articles and for separate searching.  Remember that most Wikimedia images are, like Google Image Search, pulled from other websources.

- use multiple terms when searching; images frequently have many names

- initial research "see what's out there"

Museums - Free Copyright

Museums post the best pictures of their collections because they want good images of their collection out there for people to use.  Remember that just because a museum posts an image doesn't mean its copyright-free.  Images from U.S. federal museums are the exception (National Gallery of Art, National Air and Space Museum).

Smithsonian Institution Research Images - The Smithsonian's image and research catalog.

See Museums page under "Museums & Int'l" tab.


Most government (state, international governments) intend for their images to be used.  Generally, they are accurate though not always of high quality.

Google - use Google Advanced Image Search and limit to domain to ".gov"

Government agencies also are beginning to put their images into sites such as Flickr. Ex.: 

DOCUMERICA Project by the Environmental Protection Agency

Foreign countries may support official images through their ministries of culture.  Usually searching in the language of the country [images] and [collections] brings results. Example "Bild" and "Sammlungen" (German).

Joconde - French national ministry of Culture's centralized database of art museum images

Associate Dean & Chief Librarian (Emeritus)

Chip Stewart's picture
Chip Stewart
Chip Stewart
Associate Dean & Chief Librarian
City College Libraries/CUNY
160 Convent Avenue
New York, NY 10031


Special thanks to Lee Sorensen of Duke University for permitting the use of his Image Collections for Duke Users guide as a template for this guide.

Public Domain Sites