This is answer was provided by Jules at Everyday Mommy. She has over 20 years experience in graphic design.
Yes and no. It depends on where you find the picture.
Lets say you’re surfing the web and you find an image (photographic or illustrative) which you love. Unless it is on a royalty-free image site, it is copyrighted. This means that to grab a photo off of a website is a violation of copyright law. In fact, any original creation, whether illustrative, photographic or written is automatically copyrighted to it’s creator. This means that all the original content on your blog is yours and yours alone, under copyright law.
From the artist’s perspective, a person who uses their work without permission or payment is “taking food off their table”. The artist produces work as a means of livelihood. It would be like stealing a car from a car dealership.
One time a friend asked me to create a logo for her business. It was simple and straightforward and I was able to put it together in about half an hour. She asked how much I would normally charge for a logo and I told her my fee. She said, “But, it only took you 30 minutes!” I replied, “No, it took me 25 years.” With 4 years of study and over 20 years in the freelance design field, my clients pay for my experience. Some designs take only minutes, some designs take hours but all of them have taken me 25 years.
For royalty-free images you can visit:
The images you find at these websites are not free, but they are reasonable and can be purchased inexpensively (Some are only $1.00).
If you find a copyrighted image you cannot live without, write the artist and ask their permission. Be sure to tell them that you’ll give them a nod (and a link). As an artist I appreciate free advertising and word-of-mouth.
Lastly, some of the images which you see on blogs have been created by the blog owner. If you have an artistic bent you may want to invest in a program like Photoshop. You can create your own art.
Chilihead (who has no years of design experience) adds: Looking for free-use images can be time-consuming if you have to look them up on various sites. That’s where Yotophoto comes in. You can look up pictures by type or by size or even by color! It searches the various picture sites and returns a list of links for you. How cool is that? Very cool, says I.