Real Estate Marketing Academy

7 Ways to Get Amazing Local Photos for Your Real Estate Website

By Matthew Bushery


Amazing photos

Nothing makes a real estate website design stand out like great photographs. In particular, having photos of your town or city — its streets, parks, landmarks, and distinctive architecture — enforces your connection to the local market. But, finding the right photos to use is one of the biggest challenges facing real estate agents.

Stock image sites with high-quality photos are expensive, and hiring a professional (or even amateur) photographer to get photos of listings and shots of other real estate-related imagery can run agents a pretty penny, too. Luckily, there’s a solution to this dilemma — several of them, in fact.

When It’s Okay to Use Photos Found Online

Before going into where to find the best local photo resources to use in your real estate marketing, you first need to understand when photos can and can’t be used for commercial purposes. Never “borrow” an image from another website if you aren’t certain that it can be used on your website. Doing so is not only bad for your karma, it can land you in a sticky legal mess.

Sometimes, it’s very clearly explained on a website that its photos can be used for commercial and/or personal use. Oftentimes, it’s difficult (or even impossible) to determine whether an image can be used. There’s a runaround for this issue, however: Just ask if a photo’s okay to use.

Many professionals don’t realize that if they simply request to use someone else’s photo for business purposes, the owner of the photo may be okay with it. You may offer (or the image owner may request) that you credit them for the photo. Usually, this just means including some small text that says something like “photo courtesy of John Doe” with a link to John Doe’s site. Sometimes, the photo owner will refuse, but if you don’t ask, you won’t know. If you end up using an amazing photo for your real estate website that someone has copyright protected, though, you could end up in lots of trouble.

The most common method for finding copyright-free or limited-restriction photos online is to look for images in “the public domain.” This means that the creator of the photo does not place any restrictions on its use by others. There are photos posted online by municipalities, local organizations, and other groups that are often part of the public domain. They are free to use for nearly any and every purpose. While you may need to attribute images to their respective owners, there are plenty of sites that allow professionals such as yourself to use them however you see fit.

The bottom line is, if you’re in doubt, don’t use it on your real estate website. Even big agencies and brokerages can get hurt financially by someone who decides to sue over copyright infringement.

7 Online Resources for Local Market Photos

Now that you have a rough idea of when it’s okay to use certain photos for your site, let’s get on to the show: Here are seven resources where you’ll find images you can legally use on your real estate website.

1) Wikipedia

This resource is frowned upon by teachers and professionals across the land, but when it comes to using images published on its pages, it’s nearly entirely fair game. As noted on Wikipedia’s copyright FAQ page, all photos except those with watermarks from the site can be used and altered for any use. And even with permission from the Wikimedia Foundation, some of those watermarked images can be used. Here are a few example photos taken from the Wiki pages of Miami Beach, Boston, and San Francisco that give you a glimpse of what the site has to offer:

Miami Beach Boston San Francisco city photos

No matter where you live, your market is featured on Wikipedia, which means there may be at least a few images you can use from your local community page for your real estate website. If there aren’t any, check the resources list at the bottom of your market’s page: There are generally links to various similar online resources that could also have public domain imagery. Start by looking up the Wikipedia page for your town. Also try looking up pages for major local landmarks. Is there a famous bridge, monument, or building in your area? It’s almost certain to have its own Wikipedia page with an image you can use.

2) Local government websites

Tiny village, small town, big city, expansive county — the size of your market doesn’t matter, as these days they all tend to have a website dedicated to providing local information. On these sites, you can typically find photos of popular locales across your community, including libraries, administration buildings, schools, parks, and other amenities. Since buyers want to get a clear picture of local markets when checking out homes, it’s ideal to include photos of some of these parts of town on your website. Nowadays, many municipalities will also have their own Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest pages, so look through those too for good images.

3) Tourism boards and chambers of commerce

Similarly, each state and many major cities have their own designated tourism boards. These groups’ sole purpose is to promote their communities and regions by highlighting all of the best attractions — from small things like movie theaters and restaurants to major destinations like theme parks and national monuments. Discover the closest tourism board in your area to discover what photos their sites have. If some photos are of specific businesses, contact those companies to determine if you can use their images for free; many of them want the publicity anyway, so chances are high you’ll get their seal of approval.

4) Instagram

That’s right: The social media platform notorious for foodies snapping shots of their brunch is actually a prime place to find photos for your real estate website. Use a website like Gramfeed to search for relevant photos on Instagram to post on your website. You can search by topic, user (individuals and brands), and location.

“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

— Alfred Eisenstaedt

If you want to get photos of people enjoying a local bowling alley, for instance, search for that company on Instagram. If you find great-looking shots of happy bowlers, ask the business or customer who posted it if you can use it for your website. Since Instagram has 200 million monthly active users, you shouldn’t have issues getting at least some people and companies to allow you to use their images.

5) Flickr’s Creative Commons

One of the most widely used resources marketers go to for free commercial photos is Flickr’s Creative Commons page. Here, thousands of users upload photos daily, all of which have clearly labeled licenses. Ones that read “No Rights Reserved” mean they are eligible for use in any commercial or personal project. Those with the “Some Rights Reserved” tag are often good to use for business purposes, but you need to read the fine print for the license to ensure that’s the case.

Here’s a photo of Central Park in New York City that has some rights reserved. Note the attribution after the photo for an example of how Creative Commons wants users to cite images they download from its database:

New York City Central Park sunset

“Sunset in Central Park, New York City” by quintanomedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Any photo that reads “All Rights Reserved” is one you need to steer clear of. Even when using the advanced search feature to filter out images and photos that can’t be used for commercial projects, many of them still get through. What’s more is some photos on the site claim to have commercial usability, but are taken from other sources and claimed as a Creative Commons user’s work, so read carefully. Even with these exceptions, the site is a rich source of wonderful photos.

6) Local blogs and publications

Countless communities have bloggers who write about all of the latest goings-on in their markets. As with many blogs, these websites tend to have photos or other images included in each post. Experienced bloggers tend to know the best places to find appropriate photos for their sites, so contact notable bloggers in your area to learn how they obtain their images and ask for specific ones to use for your site.

Additionally, local publications, like town magazines, newspapers, and news stations are great sources for photos. Usually, these resources hire full-time, part-time, or freelance photographers to snap shots for them. If you find photos that would fit well on your real estate website, go to the editor of publications and ask about using them. If their policy prevents outside use of their photos, contact their photographers to see what they charge for work or if they can recommend another photographer. Often, the photographer will be willing to sell you the shots for just a few dollars, or let you use them for free if you include a link to their website.

7) Local interest groups and organizations

In addition to well-known sites and publications, investigate the websites of small interest groups and organizations. Local associations and clubs, like outdoor-themed groups and recreational sports teams, often promote their gatherings online. Discover the most popular ones nearby and email them to find out what photos they might allow you to use. Again, browse their social media pages to see what you can find there too.

Also, homeowners’ associations commonly have photos of their neighborhoods and residents. If you want to paint a picture of what it’s like living in your market, this is one of the better ways than to secure photos like these for your real estate website.

Learn to craft enticing and informative blog posts to pair with real estate photos by checking out The Essential Guide to Blogging for Non-Writers.

How do you get images and photos for your real estate blog? Share your process with us in the comments below.

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