using stock photos

My Favorite Free Stock Photo Websites (And Why You Need Them)

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?

Potentially, a lot. Copyright infringement fees can be staggering, even for first-time offenders. True story. It happened to this blogger. Her story inspired this article. 

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. 

PRO: You’re safe from legal issues, provided you follow the Terms Of Use to the letter. 

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

Read the Terms Of Use on each and every image before using it, even on the so-called ‘100% free’ sites. Look for The Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license and/or the term ‘public domain’. What this means is that you can copy, modify, or distribute the image (even for commercial purposes), all without asking permission. You can get super savvy and read the CC0 FAQs, here.  


The list

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).   

  1. Pexels 
  2. Pixabay 
  3. Unsplash 
  4. Ivory Mix 
  5. Unsplash
  6. Kaboom
  7. Gratisography 
  8. CC0 Photo 
  9. SplitShire 
  10. Public Domain Archive 
  11. PublicDomainPictures 
  12. Photos Public Domain 
  13. Pickup Image 
  14. PDpics 
  15. Old Book Illustrations 
  16. Negative Space 
  17. PicJumbo 
  18. ISO Republic 
  19. 1 Million Free Pictures 
  20. Startup Stockphotos 
  21. Skitterphoto 
  22. New Old Stock 
  23. Visual Hunt
  24. Morguefile 
  25. Burst 

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!)  

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.