Finding the perfect images for your website can be a real challenge. While a professional photographer could take the perfect shots for your business, you may not have the time or budget for that extra cost. Or, depending on how and where the images will be placed on the website, you may not need that custom shot. That’s where stock photography is the best option, and if you can get quality images for free, that’s even better!
There are a lot of sources for free stock photography but these are our favorites based on their selection, image quality, and licensing:
While I’ll go into more detail for each of these free options below, each of these sites offer a great selection and provide high quality images that you can use on your website, in your social media campaigns, or ads. That allows you to focus on finding the perfect image.
Don’t Grab Images From a Google Search
What you should do though, is just find images from a Google Search. Although searching Google Images is super quick, many of the images found there won’t have the right licensing; it may be copyrighted and unavailable for commercial use.
This is a good time to talk licensing. Most images on the internet are not freely available to grab and use. They probably are copyrighted and are licensed by the photographer or the company selling the photography. This means that they have the rights to that image or photo and they may go after you legally if you use their image at all, if you don’t pay for it, or if you don’t give credit to them (attribution). That’s right, if you use their image without permission, they may ask you to remove the image, or you could get fined for using it.
To avoid that unnecessary headache, simply look for images that are royalty free. There are other types of licensing but “royalty free” means that you can use the image however you want to. You may also run across the Creative Commons license – these royalty free images keep their copyright but the contributors are fine with you using the images as you want to. Keep in mind that not all royalty free images are free – many will cost to purchase but you won’t have pay ongoing licensing fees.
And let me clarify, you can search for images on Google but you have to be really careful that you don’t grab a licensed image that could get you in trouble. Instead, go to one of these free stock photography sites below where all the images are OK to use!
Free High Quality Images
Below, you’ll get a summary on each of our picks and my overall rating based on 5 different factors (Quality, Uniqueness, Ease of Use, Selection, and Search Result Relevance). I’ve included links so you can visit each. You can view the summary of my research in this Google Doc.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on Unsplash.
- Rating: 4.7 out of 5
Unsplash has a beautiful site where all images are free to download and use on your website or promotions. You can easily create image collections or like photos, so you can keep track of image candidates. You’ll need to create an account but that’s easy to do and you can sign up through Facebook.
They have a robust search with intuitive filters to search through their over 2 million images, which includes a visual search option, orientation, color profile, and more. Search results also include member collections which can lead to finding other photos that may work great for your project too. Similarly, search results also include contributors so you can follow a photographer’s work that you enjoy. They give you 3 download sizes plus the original upload size.
My only complaint is that the first search results are from iStock, a paid stock photography site, and has ads placed within the results. This actually isn’t bad though since that’s how they are able to keep their service free, and it provides paid stock image alternatives that may work better for your project. While free is great, it can be worth a few dollars for the perfect image.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on Pixabay.
- Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pixabay has over 2.4 million free photos along with vector graphics, illustrations and videos. Pixabay is a little more community friendly and includes the ability to comment on photos, good sharing options, and a “coffee button” to tip the photographer. You can join with Facebook to add your favorite images to your collections.
Their search includes plenty of great filters including a safesearch so you don’t accidentally see unexpected images in your search. While all images are free for personal and commercial usage, some images that include people are for editorial use only. To download, there are 4 different sizes to choose from.
Pixabay will show iStock photos in the search results as well to monetize their free stock media. This gives a nice option for paid stock photos that match your search.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on Pexels.
- Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pexels also offers free stock photography along with free stock videos. In fact, they have over 3 million stock images that you can like or create collections with after you create an account (can sign up with Facebook). Collections can be set to public or private. They also put on regular challenges where photographers and videographers can win prizes for their submissions.
To help find the perfect image for your project, Pexels has orientation, size and color filters and you can search for video and user results too. Images continuously load as you scroll down the page to encourage browsing their selection.
You’ll still find iStock photos with Pexels but they’re less intrusive, usually tucked under the main search results.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are required unless you sign up for their premium subscription. View licensing on Freepik.
- Rating: 4.4 out of 5
Freepik has a hybrid model that includes a free and a premium option to search over 8 million photos, illustrations, and Photoshop files. With the free option, all media is free but you need to include attribution when using, so the photographer gets credit. The premium subscription waives this requirement so you can use all media freely. All versions allow you to easily create collections, share media, or comment.
With such a vast library of stock media, it’s a good thing that they include advanced filtering options. Search results are split into pages but you have to be careful to not click on an ad as you try to view the next page. They include ads to sign up for their premium subscription, for Adobe Stock, and for some other ads as well. Signing up for their subscription will remove the ads though but Freepik has such a good selection, it’s worth a few extra ads.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on Burst.
- Rating: 4.1 out of 5
With so many websites using Shopify, it’s no wonder that they started their own free stock photography service, called Burst. You don’t need a Shopify site though to use their free high resolution photos. While they don’t have as large of a selection or have as many options as the previous free stock sources, the images are high quality and easy to download and use.
Burst doesn’t have any ads but they also make it obvious that it’s Shopify and include an option to create a Shopify website with that photo when you go to download it. With that being said, it’s a great collection they’ve put together and worth looking at.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View Creative Commons licensing.
- Rating: 3.8 out of 5
One of the oldest sources for free photos, the community-driven Wiki Commons boasts over 45 million media files. With the Creative Common license, you can use media for personal or commercial use but they strongly encourage attribution.
While you can filter by file type, size, license, and community assessment, the search results can include some completely random images since it’s up to the contributor to tag it correctly. You can find some images on Wiki Commons though that you’ll not find anywhere else.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on Gratisography.
- Rating: 3.4 out of 5
Although Gratisography has few photos, they make up for it with quirkiness and quality. Their images are fun and work great to grab attention or make a statement. You’ll notice their unique flair instantly when you visit their site.
Gratisography has search but it’s pretty basic and they only show 11 photos per page. They include photo results from Shutterstock and ads.
is all about, as the site says, vintage photos from the public archives and free of known copyright restrictions. This site carries a lot of variety and interest.
- Image licensing: royalty-free images freely available for personal and commercial use, however you can’t resell the images. Attributions are encouraged. View licensing on New Old Stock.
- Rating: 3.3 out of 5
If you like vintage photos, check out New Old Stock. They recapture history through a curated collection from the public archive that is free of known copyright restrictions, meaning you can use for personal or commercial use.
You can share and like photos but the search is limited. They do offer paid collections that you can download as one zip for convenience. Even though they only offer a small selection, the images are engaging and an interesting trip back in time.
Paid Stock Photography Options
Getty Images and Shutterstock are the more established paid stock photography sources, and their photos are generally of better quality, more procured and better suited for professional use. However, many of their images are not royalty fee or have license restrictions.
At Thrive, while we have used all three of these image sources before, we tend to use these following cheaper alternatives when using paid stock photography. They also have high quality selections but don’t break the bank.
Thrive’s Picks For Paid Stock Photography
Happy image hunting!
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