Here you go again, scouring the interwebs to find a stock photo for your business.
And, yeah, you’re on a bit of a budget, so you’re really hoping to find something that costs, well, nothing.
As it turns out, there are a lot of free photos out there. It’s just that there aren’t a lot of good free photos. Which means you’ve got to sort through 5,000 images that won’t work before you find one that does.
The other big problem is that you’ve got to find a photo that’s not just free but also one you can use legally.
Well, we want to help you on both counts.
First, a bit about copyright
Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you can use it. In fact, even if it can be downloaded for free that doesn’t mean you can use it any which way you want, either. That’s where the Creative Commons comes in.
The Creative Commons is a nonprofit champion for ensuring that there is a vibrant commons for intellectual property that’s free and accessible to the public. Essentially, they help ensure that free content stays free and legal to use.
Ideally, you’ll want to look for photos licensed as CC0 (that’s a zero, by the way, not an “o”). They are free to be used or modified without attribution to the photographer. The only thing you can’t do with CC0 is sell the images themselves.
If it’s not CC0, look closely at the licenses before you download. Many times you can use the photo for free, but you may need to give credit to the photographer. If the stock photo provider doesn’t mention copyright terms, move on to a website that does.
Second, here’s a list of 13 great stock photo sites
One word of warning: while the sites below are generally CC0, some may require or request attribution, which means they’re free, but you have to attribute the source when using the image. For each one we list, we’ll let you know the terms so you don’t have to search the site to understand them.
Foter is one of the best sites out there for free stock photos. With 220 million-plus photos to dig through, you’re going to need some good search functionality, which they’ve got in spades. You can search by keyword or by category, which is standard. What sets them apart is that you can refine your search by color, license type, and even “interestingness” (show me the photos that are high on the interestingness scale, amiright?).
Pexels raises the bar in the free stock photo game. They’ve hand-picked over 30,000 photos in an effort to ensure you have more beautiful options without having to weed through mountains of yuck.
Every downloadable image on Pexels is CC0, which means you can browse and download without worrying about licensing or attribution. As they state on their legal page, “All photos on Pexels are free for any personal and commercial purpose.” There you have it. Feel free to search and use whatever you like.
3. Burst by Shopify
Burst provides a cool way to browse photos: by category. The main thrust of the site is to provide inspiration, and the user experience follows suit. While there isn’t a huge selection of photos, all the photos are high quality, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something that can work.
Of course, if you don’t like the browsing method, you can search by keyword, too. And yes, all the images on Burst are CC0, so you can download without a second thought.
Like Burst, Unsplash offers a browse-by-category feature, but theirs is geared toward your personal search journey.
Their angle is to develop a customized image feed based on your preferences. When you sign up for an account and enter some details about your interests, they’ll customize your feed to suggest photographers to follow. And you can create your own image collections, so as you browse, you can tag photos and come back to them later. This is an uber handy feature.
The images on Unsplash are licensed as CC0, which means you’re free to use the images in your collections however you’d like.
Pixabay—one of the largest collections of free stock images—has more than 950,000 photos ready to go. By far the best way to find what you’re looking for in Pixabay is to search by keyword. The search function allows you to refine your search by media type, orientation, category, size, and color.
With such a huge slush pile of images at your fingertips, and given that all the photos on Pixabay are CC0, you’ll have a good chance of finding exactly what you’re looking for.
Dreamstime sells most of its stock photos for a fee, but they do have a section of their site dedicated to free CC0 images. While the interface is not the smoothest, they have some great stock images, which makes it worthwhile.
Death to Stock originated because (and let’s be honest here) so many, many stock photos are...terrible. And if you have a bit of an artistic sensibility, even the good ones can seem terrible. Death to Stock is a subscription stock photo source for those who want something much less “stock photo-y,” so to speak.
Each month, you’ll receive a curated photo collection via email, and some of the collections are also posted to their website. While the license (pdf) isn’t exactly CC0 by label, it does provide you rights to use and modify the images without an attribution requirement. While the images may not necessarily be ones that fit your business, they will certainly serve as inspiration for what to look for in your own projects.
Kaboompics is the handiwork of Karolina, a designer based in Poland. She’s put together a great source for high quality, gorgeous stock photos. On top of that, the site is geared for design. It includes a complimentary colors palate, showing colors that work well with each photo. This feature is an excellent aid when searching for photos that compliment your brand colors.
Though not a CC0 license, the site grants generous use of the photos but does request that you attribute them to Kaboompics.
Looking to cast a little retro look and feel to your design? New Old Stock is the place to go. They’ve curated tons of photos from public archives via the Flickr Commons, leaving a treasure trove of retro gems to choose from.
Just be aware: New Old Stock is careful to mention that these photos are “to the best of [their] knowledge” in the public domain and free from copyright. It’s not the CC0 license you are looking for, but their photos are more than likely safe to use—for blog posts, hero images, etc. Best practices would be to look at the source of the image and do your best to determine how it can be used.
Here’s how Stocksnap describes themselves: “We curate the best stock photos from around the web and we also upload photos from select photographers within our network. The end result is a bad ass repository of beautiful stock photography.”
OK—this site has a lot of pictures...but it’s no Stocksnap. Here’s the thing, though: If you’re scrambling for holiday stock photos, this is the place to go. A lot of stock photo sites have a smattering of holiday stock images, but Public Domain Pictures has a plethora of them. It’s a good reason to keep them in your back pocket.
The unavoidable problem with stock photos is finding them. This is true whether you’re paying for them or they’re free—but with free photos, you’ve got to sift through a lot more junk to get to the gold.
So we thought we’d do our part to help alleviate some of the work.
We curated over 150 stock photos with CC0 licenses that you can download and start using right away. Initially, we wanted to help folks with their landing page design, but the fact is, these photos can be used anywhere, so we thought we’d share them here.
Take a quick gander, and use them at will. It just may spare you from digging through literally millions of terrible stock photos. OK. Not literally millions, but definitely a lot.