Why use online images?

Images can really enhance your teaching, learning or research materials, so it can help to develop skills in finding and using digital images.

As a student

  • create multimedia assignments
  • share your knowledge
  • support arguments, illustrate concepts and demonstrate processes
  • view different perspectives on a subject
  • tap into vast and diverse resources
  • acquire and demonstrate new skills
  • express yourself differently

As a teacher

  • illustrate difficult concepts/process/subjects
  • accommodate different learning styles - particularly the visual learner
  • prompt creative thinking and encourage analytical skills
  • make learning resources available 24/7
  • add interest to teaching resources
  • save time over creating your own images

As a member of the support staff

  • skills development
  • knowledge enhancement and sharing
  • generate and share ideas

As a member of research staff

  • reinforce key messages in your publications
  • enhance your own conference presentations
  • bring your websites to life

Tips for staff

  • only use images that support the concept or process that you are trying to demonstrate
  • set activities around the content of an image, or a collection of images to focus students' attention
  • set further activities using more images to further engage students in the content and to utilise other communication tools

Jisc Digital Media resources:

Jisc Digital Media: Practical ways to use digital images in teaching and learning

Jisc Digital Media: Review of Image Search Engines provides a comprehensive breakdown of the pros and cons of the various search engines for finding digital images.

Advanced search

Many search engines provide 'advanced search' features which can include 'operators' and other filters to narrow your searches and to remove irrelevant material.

If you look at your search term "edwardian hats" in Google ( you will see that the interface offers a number of options. Selecting 'search tools' reveals drop down menus which enables you to narrow your search further and allow you to select on size, colour, type of image and time uploaded.

you can narrow your search even further by adding 'operators' to your search term. An operator is an instruction you type alongside your search term that tells the search engine how you want it to deal with your search request. There are a number of operators available, but the most useful in our search for a specific image is the 'site' operator.

The site operator restricts your search to a specific domain (e.g. site: will search this site only. A specific top level domain (e.g. will search within UK education sites only) or a country (site:uk). Note that there is no space between site, colon and term as demonstrated above.

You may notice that your search term provides results that includes all the words you have used, but not necessarily in the order you are looking for. If you are searching for a specific phrase or name, place your words with quotation marks (e.g. “edwardian hats”).

You can further restrict your search by removing returns that include a specific word or phrase. In our example, the search term - “edwardian hats” site:uk - has returned a number of images from The Fancy Dressbox. If you want to exclude these videos then you can place a minus symbol (hyphen) in front of The Fancy Dressbox to create a 'minus term' (e.g. “edwardian hats” site:uk -thefancydressbox). Note that, again, there is no space between the minus symbol and the word or phase.

results of Google image search for images of Edwardian hats

If you are uncertain about using these operators and filters, once you have added your initial search term and selected More, you can access Google's Advanced Image Search tool ( by clicking the 'gear' symbol on the right of the page and selecting 'Advanced Search' from the drop down menu.

Google advanced search form

Pros and Cons

What are some of the pros and cons of using Google Image Search?


Google indexes images from websites around the world, and so you can find images on almost every topic under the sun.

Image searching on Google is quick and easy, however.....


The images you find via Google will have a large range of copyright associated with them and only a small percentage will be cleared and / or free to use.

It can take time and effort to investigate the copyright status of any images you are interested in using - you will have to visit the sites that the images come from and look for copyright information. If you can't find this, you will need to contact the site owner to ask about the copyright of the image and then see if permission can be granted to use it in your work.

There are other images held within databases (often based in academic sites) that Google is unable to index. Some of these may be more relevant and useful than those images found on Google.


Search engines such as Google may be a quick and easy way to find images, but a lot of time and effort would be needed to establish the relevance and copyright status of these images to enable you to use them in your work.

For this reason, it can be more efficient to use other specialist image sites to find copyright free images, and we will cover this in the 'Tour' section.

Universities and learning providers insist that their staff and students uphold copyright law. So you may get into trouble with your institution, as well as the owner of the image, if you use images illegally.

Last modified: Monday, 31 March 2014, 11:40 AM