What are the best photographs in the public domain?
August 11, 2013 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I am decorating a new apartment and would like to put some nice pieces of art on the walls. I love some of the photographs in the Library of Congress collection and have thought about having them blown up and printed high-res. Which brings me to my question: What are the best high-res images (in the public domain) floating around the Internet? Or collections of public domain high-res images that I can turn into posters?
posted by melodykramer to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 92 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're going to have to narrow this down a little: are you looking for architectural photos (buildings, bridges, etc.), nature (woods, mountains, weather), animals (domestic or wild), people, what?
posted by easily confused at 5:14 PM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not sure if everything on this site is high-resolution enough for your needs, but the Art Renewal Center has a nice selection of art in the realist style. Mostly from the late nineteenth century.
posted by lharmon at 5:17 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: I'm just looking for image collections at this point -- I really like images of streets (aka overshots of expressways) and just random LoC pictures -- but I really just like browsing and seeing what hits me, and I'm not sure what's out there.
posted by melodykramer at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2013

USDA Pomological watercolors.
posted by notyou at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Try www.shorpy.com
posted by Raybun at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Many libraries have been digitising their pictures collections, not just the Library of Congress. You can search Australian ones through Trove. Follow the pictures back to their source library for copyright info, but many are free of restrictions.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:48 PM on August 11, 2013

Astronomy Picture of the Day routinely posts really beautiful high resolution astronomy pictures (as you might guess from the name). Usually clicking the main picture brings up a much larger version.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:22 PM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can search through a lot of libraries through flickr here:

Also, if you do an advanced search on flickr, you can restrict the results to works that have a creative commons license attached to them:
posted by release the hardwoods! at 6:52 PM on August 11, 2013

You could always check out Wikipedia's Featured Pictures, which are generally of a very high quality and resolution, with a diverse selection and some sort of free licence (that link contains only the first 200 of them, there are 3,000+ images, click the link on the bottom for more). A good thing about them is that they've already been vetted for being good images, so not a single one of them will be a "bad image", they're all gems.

If you want them sorted into categories, check out this page, and for the truly excellent, check out their Picture of the Day archive.
posted by gkhan at 6:53 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If by "public domain" you mean free from copyright restrictions that would prohibit your intended use, then you can search creative commons materials. (on preview, as release the hardwoods! suggests).

posted by GPF at 6:54 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, they run a gamut of not great to pretty damn good
posted by IndigoJones at 7:01 PM on August 11, 2013

Yeah, Shorpy.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2013

The photos on Shorpy may or may not be in the public domain. They mostly originate from the Library of Congress collection but he cleans them up quite a bit and, IIRC, has claimed copyright on the altered versions. Note that all the Shorpy photos include a watermark, and many have cleverly hidden text identifying them as Shorpy images.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:28 PM on August 11, 2013

Biodiversity Heritage Library
posted by biscuits at 10:12 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sitting at Frankfurt airport or I'd provide a link, but we have art from the Works Progress Administration on our wall. There was, in fact, a post on the blue about it. The LoC has an online collection of some of the best work, including photography searchable by subject and tag.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:58 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Care to own a priceless work of art? It doesn't get better than the Farm Security Administration's prints of Walker Evans, Doreatha Lange, and Berenice Abbot's work. These are prints from the negatives, the same thing you see in the MOMA, not reproductions.

posted by xammerboy at 8:51 AM on August 13, 2013

A relevant FPP
posted by XMLicious at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2013

As xammerboy noted, you can actually order original prints from the Library of Congress. I was looking online through some LoC collections of Ansel Adams prints a while ago, and there were links to order photographic prints from the original negatives, which the LoC has in its collection. You could order various sizes and qualities of prints, on real photographic paper, made by a real human being in a darkroom. These works are all Public Domain since by law, all works commissioned by the Federal Government are Public Domain.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:02 PM on August 17, 2013

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