Skip to Main Content


Find and use images and other visual resources from the University Library. Email us at with questions about finding and using images.


Profile Photo
Rebecca Price
2396 Duderstadt Center

Art, Architecture & Engineering Library

Finding Images

Many times the hardest thing about finding an image is deciding where to start. Most people are familiar with Google image search but are disappointed by the unrelated or poor quality images that turn up. The most important thing is to decide a few things about your search before you start:

1. What type of image do I need?

Deciding exactly what kind of image you’re looking for is important. Is it a map, chart, a specific art work or a photograph of a historical event? Making this determination will help you decide which types of databases or search engines to use, but you should also consider using the type of image as part of your keyword search.

2. What subject area would include the image?

This is an important step because many image databases are subject specific. If you need an image of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis, you probably won’t find what you need in an art related database. There are image resource suggestions in many subject areas listed under the Image Resources tab. This might help you determine where to start your search.

3. What is the time period of the image?

If you’re searching for historical images, places like the Smithsonian Institute or New York Public Library are probably good places to start. However, it’s unlikely you’d find contemporary photographs or art work at one of these sites, so you might instead need to turn to gallery or artist websites or try the Associated Press Images.

4. Is the image specific or general?

Looking for pictures of a dog is much different from looking for Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. If you’re looking for a very specific image, you’ll want to use as much information about the image as possible and a subject oriented database. However, if you’re looking for a more general image, you’ll want to use the advanced search options to broaden your search or narrow your search. For example, if looking for an image of a brown dog, you might include a key word search: dog* OR canine* AND brown.

5. How am I going to use this image?

Most images are okay to use in reports, lectures, and presentations as long as you are not publishing the materials to the web or into a book. You’ll still need to cite the source of the images, however, even if you’re just using it for a class. If you need an image to use for a publication, you’ll have to get permission from the copyright holder or use stock imagery made for this purpose.

6. Do you want a free image or can you pay for the image?

This generally applies to stock imagery or publishing images. If you’re willing to pay a little bit, it won’t be difficult to find a stock image that you can use for the web or other publications. However, there are some free stock image sites with more limited collections. You can find a listing of these on the Image Databases listing on the AAE Library homepage.

Determining these things about an image before you start looking will help reduce the time it takes you to find the image. Choosing the right resource to search is a big piece of the puzzle. While AP images, UM Image services, and Creative Commons are all good for general searches, check subject and image database listings for more specific sources.