Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Finding images online easy, if not free

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 1, 2001

(Issue 1922, Picture Perfect Computing)

If you're looking to find artwork online – drawings, graphics, paintings, photography, even sculpture (photos of, of course) – there's more than ever to be had. But unlike even just a few years ago, you're likely to have to pay to get it.

And if you get caught cheating – using copyrighted materials without paying – you're more likely to find yourself in the sights of a lawyer or two. All these professional archives don't take lightly to having their bread and butter absconded with. (Of course, with some experts saying we're adding up to a million new web pages to the Internet every day, the odds of your being caught using stolen artwork might not be real long.)

Still, if you're going to use an image for a private, noncommercial web page, you ought to do the honest thing and pay for the privelege – after all, that's someone else's handiwork.

AltaVista image search

AltaVista may no longer be the most popular search engine, what with Google's huge advertising budget and innovative toolbar for Internet Explorer, but for finding images online AltaVista can't be beat.

Either type in the above URL or click on the "Images" link on the main AltaVista page to get to the graphics search engine. There, you have a choice of searching for graphics (.gif files), photos (.jpg files) or buttons and banners (not sure how they sort that one). You can also select black and white or color to limit the number of search results.

This being AltaVista (i.e., a real search engine), you can use boolean search parameters to help narrow your search. If you're looking for a photo of Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, for instance, just typing in Sinatra Basie will bring up every photo with either of them – as well as any photos of Nancy Sinatra or any other Basie or Sinatra out there. By using boolean search criteria, such as quote marks to indicate a phrase and the plus sign (+) to indicate that the next item must also be included, you can ensure that only photos of Frank and the Count are found: Just enter "Frank Sinatra" +Basie, and only those photos that are labeled with the phrase "Frank Sinatra" and have the word Basie in there will be flagged for your attention.


Just about every image search I've run on AltaVista has brought up multiple hits from the Corbis photographic archive. One of Bill Gates' side projects, Corbis has acquired several outstanding collections of negatives and prints, including the famous Bettman archive (which for years was where newspapers and magazines went for photos of celebrities), and the UPI collection (once the largest news wire service on Earth, now a mere shadow of itself). Gates and Corbis have come under fire for making arrangements to put hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of negatives into a storage facility deep underground. Most of those photos have not yet been digitized and put online, and by putting them underground, most will be inaccessible. At least, however, they'll be preserved.

And there are already tons that are scanned in – go to Corbis and do a search for President John Kennedy, and you'll find 355.

The prices at Corbis are fairly reasonable, at least for personal use – the pictures I looked at (Babe Ruth at the bat, a beach in Corsica, Sinatra and Basie) ran $3. That's about the same price as a decent greeting card anymore, which is what I used the Corsican beach shot for.

I did find the photo retrieval process a bit confusing. After paying for the picture, my browser crashed on me. When I logged back in, I had tough time figuring out how to get back to the download section – finally had to send an e-mail to their help desk to get it done.

Parents might want to use a little discretion before sending their kids here to find photos to use for homework assignments, though – the second category listed in the menu is "Nudes," just below Landscapes and above Dogs. Now, it isn't exactly Playboy here – Gaugin is more the pace, with most fine art and ancient Greek/Roman frescoes and statuary. But, still, lumping them all together like that is cheap marketing and not exactly family friends. Why not just leave them in there under "fine art," or have a nudes section under a fine art section? Why the appeal to teen pruriency?


The photo archive of Time Magazine may not be as extensive as that of Corbis, but for historical impact it's hard to beat. For most of the Twentieth Century, Time chronicled the American experience. From the Wright Brothers to the recent standoff over a U.S. Navy plane crash-landing in China, TimePix has tens of thousands or more photos online. They don't prices online; you have to submit an order with your intended use and then a sales rep will get back to you.

Yahoo Picture Gallery

Normally, Yahoo is the best place to go to find links to sites with actual content. And while Yahoo does have a good list of stock photography and clip-art sites, it also has its own online archive. Most of its photos are taken from Corbis, with some also from the NBA. It's not the greatest collection, but it can be a good starting point.