If you’ve ever tried searching for free stock photos on the Internet, you probably know what a ridiculous hassle it can be. Lucky for you, there are a few ways to access high-quality stock photos without any hassle or significant cost.
As a general rule, free stock photos are extremely difficult to find. A huge portion of the stock photo market is owned by professional companies like Shutterstock and 123RF, who charge $20 or more for a single photo. Even when you can find free stock photos, most are low resolution, watermarked, blurry and, at best, uninspired.
Here’s a lovingly curated list of the world’s best free stock photo websites for designers, business owners and anyone else:
Unsplash adds 10 new royalty-free photos every 10 days and they’re almost always of breathtakingly attractive beautiful landscapes. Just scroll down the home page to see foggy rivers, faraway mountain ranges or even battered signs in all their high-resolution glory.
Dutch artist Folkert Gorter and his graphic-design peers at SuperFamous curate this collection of incredibly high-resolution images, perfect for use in website design or as desktop backgrounds.
Picjumbo is a personal favorite of mine due to its easy navigation and extremely high-resolution photos (with no attribution required). This site also happens to sport a great collection of food shots, so if you’re running a restaurant or nutrition-themed startup, you might find it worth your while to take a browse.
Pixabay is a web designer’s dream. Not only does this site offer an easy-to-use search feature, the images are absolutely brilliant. And most don’t require any attribution at all.
5. IM Free
IM Creator, which also offers an online website building tool, put together this small library of premium-quality free photos. Attribution is required but it’s well worth it: These pictures are of the same, if not better, quality as those of paid sites.
Gratisography‘s collection is, in a word, incredible. Built by the talented Ryan McGuire, an artist and web designer, this site features some of the most evocative images on the web and they requires no attribution whatsoever.
One of the simplest sites on this list, MorgueFile has a streamlined layout and carefully curated list of photos. Its selection isn’t as large as that of some of the other sites on this list, but the photos included cover a wide range of topics. You can find images of everything from wildlife to antiques.
One of the most exhaustive directories of open-source images,FreeImages is my go-to resource when I’m working on new web projects. While most stock-photo sites focus on a small niche (usually landscape photography), FreeImages offers thousands of pictures from a diverse set of categories. Most important, it’s searchable, which is an incredible time-saver when you’re working on a project.
9. Little Visuals
LittleVisuals is a unique site, run according to more of small-scale, handpicked approach than most stock-photo sites. Sign up for its email list and you’ll receive seven high-resolution pictures via a zip file every week.
10. New Old Stock
New Old Stock is a collection of antique photos, many taken by government agencies or discovered in estate sales. You can scroll for hours without growing bored.
The simplest site on this list, Picography is a scroll-through gallery of random shots offered by a handful of professional photographers. You can’t search it but this site is perfect for designers looking for evocative photos.
If you need architectural or landscape photos fast, GetRefe is ideal. There are no frills, no categories on this site, just beautiful, natural images taken by a series of photographers traveling throughout Europe.
13. Jay Mantri
One of Southern California’s finest designers, Jay Mantri offers this eponymous collection, Jay Mantri, with free, inspiring photos that’s updated every Thursday.
14. Public Domain Archive
Eclectic vintage pictures join uber modern scenes at Public Domain Archive, an expansive online collection of images, many with striking symmetry and muted colors.
15. Every Stock Photo
Every Stock Photo Perfect to get access to over 16 million free photos, coming from places like NASA and the Library of Congress. If you need a photo, try this place first. There are different license options so pay attention to the one you end up with.
16. Stock Exchange
Stock.xchng is one of the most popular places on the internet to download royalty-free images. There are almost 400,000 images to choose from. Pay close attention when you surf for pictures, as some of the results may come from other sites where you have to pay for the images. If you want to pay for a photo, go ahead! Just don’t accidentally steal one.
17. Historical Stock Photos
Historical Stock Photos, if you need a historical picture for your personal website or an email, this is the place to find everything from Rosie the Riveter to war-time posters of Uncle Sam. If you write historical fiction, especially American-centric historical fiction, this site can be an excellent resource in your search for appropriate images.
18. Free Pixels
Free Pixels, this isn’t a large site, not by a long shot, but it does have quality images that you can use. If you need a legal photo of nature, there are over 1,000 beautiful shots waiting to be discovered. Don’t get fined for stealing a photo of Yosemite when you can get a legal one easily.
19. Public Domain Photos
Public Domain Photos, with 5,000 free photos, this site has a nice selection to choose from. The nature section is worth checking out as it has many images of the National Parks and other places around the world. Again, make sure you stay on the site as some links lead to images you must pay for.
20. Stock Vault
Stock Vault, if you want an aesthetically-pleasing legal photo, the chances are you will be able to find one that suits your purpose on this site. This is another site that does advertise content that you must pay for, so click carefully!
21. Image After
Image * After, unlike other sites, this image site focuses on textures and images of common household items. If you have any sort of photo editing skills, or are simply looking for a background for your website, this site will not disappoint. Browse through thousands of images and then download the one (or ten) you love, for free!
22. Ancestry Images
Ancestry Images, this site is full of old maps, images, and prints waiting to be rediscovered by the world. If you write anything with a historical base, you will want to browse the maps to add a sense of authenticity to your work. Instead of just describing a country in the 1800s, show your readers what it looked like with a map.
23. Free Digital Photos
Free Digital Photos, if you are looking for legal photos of people, this site is an excellent resource. There are thousands of high-quality photos of people in settings ranging from weddings to business situations.
24. Photo Pin
Photo Pin have you struggled to find the right picture on Creative Commons? Your search is almost over. Photo Pin acts like a search engine for Creative Commons, harvesting the best shots available.
25. Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr has a huge selection of photos many of which are protected under the Creative Commons, which means you can use them legally as long as you attribute the photographer.
26. Every Stock Photo
Every Stock Photo searches several other stock image sites for you. It does not filter offensive images, so use with caution.
27. Free Stock Photos
Not only does Free Stock Photos have some great nature photos it also has a list of over a dozen other free stock photo sources.
28. Icons Pedia
IconsPedia has the best selection of free icons. If you want to add a cool Twitter Bird to your website this is the first place to look.
29. Bible Places
If you need biblical photos BiblePlaces.com is a great place to start.
I’m not sure how this happened but if the U.S. government takes a photo they often release it into the public domain. If you want high quality technology or space photos you can’t do much better than NASA.
StockVault has 13,000+ high quality stock photos. The photos are high quality but low selection. The site does not offer safe search so use at your own risk.
32. Free Digital Photos
33. Historical Stock Photos
If you want vintage photos Historical Stock Photos is the site for you. Don’t expect much color here.
Albumarium is another great resource for high-resolution stock images. This site tends to have more close-up images of animals, nature, and people with a mixture of modern and vintage styles. Instead of a Tumblr-like user experience, you search by album and get a full collection of images for each subject. Currently there are about 30 albums, and with titles like Converse, Babies, Elephants, and Redheads, you can see there is a fun range of topics for a variety of projects. Also, I really love their website design.
35. Start Up Stock Photos
Start-up Stock Photos is an amazing website is a newer source for free stock images, with a library of pictures starting from May of this year. Created by Sculpt, the website features a lot of images of people working in coffee shops, along with the requisite mobile phones and laptops. It’s perfect for websites that regularly cover the free-lance or startup lifestyle.
36. Little Visuals
Little Visuals very much like Unsplash, Little Visuals is a source of high-resolution images in the public domain and provided under a Creative Commons license. They send you a zipped folder of 7 images every 7 days straight to your inbox. I’ve found Unsplash’s images a bit more intriguing and practical, while Little Visual’s site offers more images in the abstract and conceptual category.
37. Life of Pix
Life of Pix is a website that was created by an advertising agency in Montreal called LEEROY Creative Agency and all images are free for any personal or commercial use. With multiple themes throughout each page, you’ll find a lot of really great close-ups in nature including heads of lettuce, bees collecting pollen, and even a polar bear under water. I find these images very useful for backgrounds and patterns.
38. Death to the Stock Photo
Death to the Stock Photo Although this site is probably the most popular and their images are showing up everywhere, it’s still number one on my list. Each month, subscribers get a package of about 10 new images from a DTS employee to use for anything they want. Subjects range from a relaxing lake vacation to a day of working in a coffee shop, and almost always tend to have a few gadget shots. Among all of the great resources for free stock images, this one ranks at the top because of the quality, creativity and utility of each photograph.
Attribution and licenses explained
When you do a Google Images search, the resulting photos are not necessarily ones that you’re free to immediately use. In most cases, the photos are still covered by photographers’ copyrights.
If you’re looking for photos to use for a design and want to keep yourself out of copyright trouble, you need to locate websites that explicitly define the copyright license of each image. For all the sites listed above, the license is generally pretty easy to find. There’s typically a description of the license on every page or at least a link to a description. Here are two license types you’re likely to find on these sites:
Creative Commons zero means that you can use the photos in any way you’d like, without asking permission.
Creative Commons with attribution means that you can use the photo in any way you want, as long as you credit the creator of the photo.
Attribution is simple: If you include a photo on one of a web page, add text that cites the photographer (“Photo by John Smith”) and be sure to include a link to his or her site, if there’s one.
Be sure to check each website’s license page for specific details.
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