In this article, I’m sharing my favorite free stock photo websites.
Over the years, we’ve become quite comfortable with borrowing and sharing photos from the web. It’s so tempting, so easy, and yet… so dangerous. A quick Google Image search yields a breathtaking oasis of imagery to choose from. But, unbeknownst to most people, Copyright Law protects a vast majority of those images. That means, if you use them without permission, you’re on the hook.
What does that mean?
Here’s the thing:
No matter what the reason or rationale, you cannot use Copyrighted images on your website or blog without explicit permission under any circumstances, or you are financially liable.
Even if you:
- provide a direct link back to the original source
- have a disclaimer on your site or blog
- use it non-commercially
- crop, resize, or otherwise alter the image
- found the image being used somewhere else online (i.e. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, or on someone else’s site. You don’t know if they had special permission, if they purchased it, or if they are in jeopardy of infringement themselves.)
- and, even if you had absolutely no idea
So, what can you do?
1. Take your own pictures
As is often the case, the most obvious choice is the best choice. However, there are a few issues with this option. Not everyone is adept at taking quality photos, others just don’t have the time, and still others need so many it just wouldn’t make sense, productively, to spend time snapping the day away.
PRO: You can choose your own subject matter and bring your vision to life with no worries of someone else having the same image.
CON: Time, prop, and equipment shortages.
2. Buy usage rights
There are plenty of stock sites out there where you can find delicious images that are just perfect for your project. Designers frequent these sites all the time because, other than taking your own shots, this is your best bet. Shutterstock and iStock Photo are a couple of popular pay-per-use choices.
CON: It costs money.
3. Forego using pictures altogether
When it comes to creating for your site of blog, you might forget about using photos altogether, instead opting for graphics alone. Sites like Canva and Creative Market offer beautiful fonts and imagery you can use either free or for a nominal fee.
PRO: No worries about getting pinched for using someone else’s photography improperly (even if you did so innocently).
CON: If you’ve got your heart set on using photography, this isn’t your ideal solution.
4. Use royalty-free images
PRO: Plenty of free imagery to choose from.
CON: A lot of people source images from these sites, and as a result you may see the photo you used hawking someone else’s items online. This can be confusing for people as they may potentially confuse your ‘thing’ with someone else’s ‘thing’.
Here’s some more on those ‘free stock image’ sites and how to navigate them with care:
What to look for
Without further ado, here’s a list of free stock photos that currently share CC0 licensed imagery. It’s imperative to note that NOT all of the images you find on these sites fall under the CC0 license. Remember to always check the terms on each and every single image before using. A lot of these sites are curated by different photographers, some of whom may have special caveats about using their work. And, even though you may have gotten the green light on a site’s content in the past, check again. Some of the terms may have changed since you last visited. Better safe than sorry (and a whole lot poorer).
- Ivory Mix
- CC0 Photo
- Public Domain Archive
- Photos Public Domain
- Pickup Image
- Old Book Illustrations
- Negative Space
- ISO Republic
- 1 Million Free Pictures
- Startup Stockphotos
- New Old Stock
- Visual Hunt
Styled Stock Society has some freebies every now and then that we love! (Check out their membership. It’s not free but it’s totally worth it!)
UPDATE: The New York Public Library just uploaded nearly 200,000 images you can use for free. All of the out-of-copyright items are free to use without restriction. For more on usage guidelines for all of their Digital Collections, please visit this link.
Over to you
While I’ve done my due diligence to share sites offering truly free photos, you’re still cautioned to do your own research to ensure that you’re using the individual images properly and legally. I cannot be held liable for the illicit or improper use of any of the images you find through these sites. You’re on your own with that.
I’m a Brand Therapist® providing psychology-based branding, copywriting, and consulting to individuals and micro-businesses in the creative arena. My signature services will help you discover and articulate your most authentic self so you can tell better stories, make more meaningful connections, and do more profound work.