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Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Government Digital Service
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How to choose images, and copyright standards for GOV.UK.

How to choose an image

Use images only when they give useful additional context or information. A picture of a computer keyboard when talking about online services is probably not useful to users. A picture of a new state-of-the-art hospital when it’s opened probably is useful.

When choosing an image for a news story or home page feature slot, remember that images directly related to the story are the most effective.

Image quality and things to avoid

Use good quality imagery. This doesn’t mean images have to be professionally shot: smartphone images are acceptable if the quality is good enough.

Always preview the image and check the quality before you publish it.

If you don’t have access to a photo library, then the Flickr Creative Commons pages are a great place to start looking. (Go to the advanced search section and click ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.’)

Whatever image you use, it should not be blurry, grainy, stretched, pixelated or badly lit.

Avoid obvious stock photography which can look cheesy and false. Try not to say too much with the feature images. When in doubt keep the image simple and let the text tell the story.

Also avoid using images of marketing material containing a lot of text. Instead, use the main image from the marketing material and put the relevant text in the story title and description.

Image file names

When you save the image to your desktop, give it a meaningful file name. This helps it to show up in search engines.

For example, jeremy-hunt-health-secretary.jpg is a good file name for a portrait of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health.

Avoid meaningless file names like IMG00023.JPG.

Alt text

Alt text is used as an alternative to an image for people who use screen readers.

Use alt text where you need to help users understand the visual content. Don’t always make the alt text a literal description of the image: think about what point the image is making.

One excellent piece of advice is to imagine that you’re reading out the content of the page down a telephone. When you get to the image, what would you say about it to help the listener understand the point the page is making?

If an image isn’t essential to understanding the content, use empty quote marks: “” as the alt text. For example, don’t tell people there’s a logo on the page. But if there’s a picture of a minister in a tank, put in appropriate alt text describing what’s happening.


Use a caption to describe what’s happening in the image, not to summarise the story. Captions are optional. If you don’t need one, don’t include it.

How to format and upload an image

Find out how to format and upload an image to GOV.UK.


  1. 1. The following standards apply to all images used on GOV.UK, whether published on the site as part of an HTML page, or contained within a publication hosted on the site.

  2. 2. Whenever possible, use images which are either:

    1. i. crown copyright - These have been produced by, or on behalf of, government and so can be re-used by government as well as being free to re-use under the Open Government Licence (OGL) by non-government users
    2. ii. made available for re-use under an appropriate creative commons licence such as the CC-BY Licence
  1. 3. If there is no option other than to use images from third parties, there are 2 basic rules: buy the right type of licence (with particular attention given to archival usage), and make sure you accredit properly.

  2. 4. In particular, be aware that all content on government websites is captured and made permanently accessible online to the public on the UK Government Web Archive. This is maintained by The National Archives, as part of their duty to preserve the public record.

  3. 5. Government must therefore only buy images when it is possible to obtain the right for their use to be consistent with this archival usage. This means, for example, not:

    1. i. buying commercial image licences that expire after a set period of time
    2. ii. buying usage rates based on a certain number of page impressions
    3. iii. using embeds that remain under the control of the supplying agency
  4. 6. Instead, you must either:

    1. i. obtain rights to use commercial images in perpetuity
    2. ii. seek an assignment of copyright to the Crown
    3. iii. negotiate a special usage fee based on active usage for x months, plus retention in perpetuity in previously published forms within The National Archives

Make sure all images are properly attributed

7. All third-party copyright images on GOV.UK must be credited either in the metadata or on the destination page, and according to the terms of any agreement with the image owner. This includes images made available under creative commons.

8. You should also let the user know if any part of your content is protected in other ways or if re-use is prohibited (for example, is the material licensed differently under a Delegation of Authority).

9. All government content is available for re-use under the Open Government Licence, unless stated otherwise – so failure to properly attribute content which originates with a third party could also lead to multiple copyright violations.

Using images of people

10. When obtaining rights to use images of identifiable individuals you should check with the owner of the copyright what the position is regarding the clearance given by the individuals concerned. (Note: this applies equally to Crown copyright images – if using these, contact the departments that commissioned or arranged for the images to be produced).

If producing images yourself be aware that consent is required from people appearing in images. This consent should be obtained in written form.

11. If you’re buying images to use within an official government printed publication, make sure you have digital rights too – all publications are published online.

Version history

v1.0 approved by GOV.UK steering group, December 2013

v1.1 minor formatting and numbering changes, and addition of guidance on using images of people, April 2014 (Graham Francis)