Thanks to talented and generous photographers, you have thousands of amazing free stock photos that you can use on your websites and projects - many of them without attribution.
We've compiled our selection of the best free stock photo sites to help you find the photos you need. All of the images on these sites are free to use for personal, editorial, or commercial purposes (and pair perfectly with our pick of the best free photo editors), but there are still a few limitations to keep in mind.
The main restrictions apply to photographs of identifiable people, trademarked products, and private property (not just people's homes, but some places of interest). Getty Images has an excellent guide to intellectual property that you should read before you get started.
Also be aware that many of these sites are hosted by amateur photographers who may not be fully aware of the regulations regarding releasing models for photographs of people and may not have asked their subjects to sign a waiver. If you're not sure, it's best to go directly to the site.
1. Free Adobe Stock Collection
In October 2020, Adobe provided over 70000 free stock photos, videos, illustrations, and templates for personal, business, and creative use. According to a blog post, its goal is to "make creative tools available to everyone."
The photographs are of consistently high quality, and the artists are paid for their contributions. There is a great selection of filters you can use to find exactly the photo you want, and you can even upload an existing image to find similar images.
Most photographs are subject to Adobe's standard license terms, which are highly permissive and prevent you from redistributing the files themselves, creating products that value the photo itself (such as a stock photo printed on a poster), or transferring the license. more than one employer or client. However, it's always worth checking before uploading a photo as there may be exceptions.
Unsplash is a curated collection of beautiful photos donated by experienced photographers and used to create incredible work. There are fewer images than on Pixabay (see below), but the quality is more consistent.
Unsplash's search tool is the quickest way to find an image, but if you have some time, check out Collections - groups of photos sorted by other users into topics such as Light and Shadow, Street Life, and Wilderness. You can create your own collections after registering an account. They are perfect for inspiration or gathering resources for a project.
Unsplash even has an iOS app that helps you find creative stock images on your iPad or iPhone.
As with all stock photography sites here, it's not necessary to list the photographer, but Unsplash notes that it's a good idea to add a simple credit with a link to their profile as a courtesy. The picture shown here is by Carl Flor.
Pixabay contains over a million public domain images—not just photos, but also illustrations, vectors, and even a few videos. His selection of landscape photography is particularly strong, and an Editors' Choice worth a look if you don't have something in particular.
Once you find a suitable free photo, select the appropriate resolution (print projects will require a much higher resolution than online projects) and enter the Captcha code to upload the file. You can cut Captcha by registering a free account.
The vast majority of images on Pixabay are safe for work, but to avoid appearing explicitly in search results, be sure to check the Enable safe search box before viewing.
The quality of the photos isn't as consistent as Unsplash's, but if you can't find the free photo you're looking for, Pixabay can help.
If you're looking for something different, Gratisography, a collection of images by talented photographer and graphic designer Ryan McGuire, is perfect. Ryan's photographs often have a surreal undertone and look great if you're tired of boring stock photo clichés; there are no women laughing alone with a salad.
Gratisography doesn't offer as much content as some other free stock photography sites, but Ryan's creative eye makes up for it and he adds new photos every week. You can subscribe to his newsletter to be notified of updates, or follow his Twitter account.
You don't have to give credit to McGuire when you use his work, but he appreciates it if you do.
Anyone can upload photos to Pexels, and the site's curators will select the best shots to add to their searchable collection of public domain images. You can search for something specific, or browse topics including entertainment, emotions, and places.
Pexels is a particularly good choice for web or app designers, with a great set of device images that are perfect for displaying interface mockups. A couple of images come close to the silliness of stock photography (think hard-to-illustrate ideas with scraper tiles, for example), but the vast majority are creative and original.
Pexels has a category dedicated to space photography, which looks amazing, but be aware that some of the material belongs to NASA, one of the organizations whose images should only be used in certain contexts.
PikWizard offers thousands of free stock photos on a wide variety of topics. The quality is impressive and - unusual for a free stock photo site - there are many photos of people in natural poses. Nothing vulgar here.
The selection of city photography is also impressive. If you're after a stunning cityscape, PikWizard is the place to go.
If you want to get creative without leaving your browser, PikWizard provides links to an online photo editor. Most of the tools and templates here are premium, but none of them cost more than a couple of dollars.
Photos on PikWizard are offered under two licenses: Free and CC0. A CC0 license means the photographer has waived their copyright, and a free license means they retain the copyright but have given permission to use their work without payment. The full license is explained in more detail. It is not necessary to point to the photographer, but it is encouraged if possible.
7. Negative Space
Anyone with a camera is welcome to post stock photos for free on Negative Space, which aims to give amateur photographers a platform to share their work with the world and support their peers.
As with Gratisography, you can subscribe to the Negative Space newsletter for updates as new images are added, and since the content is updated so often, it's worth revisiting it to find new images if you've been working on the project for so far.
What makes a great stock photo
For print jobs, resolution is key. Standard photos require a resolution of at least 640 x 480 pixels, but your printer and designer may need something higher. Photos should be as sharp as possible, without any artifacts or noise visible when zoomed in. Avoid shots that are even slightly out of focus.
Creativity is also very important. Stock photography has a bad rap because much of it (even on premium sites) relies on clichés and awkward metaphors to convey complex concepts, but experienced photographers tend to look for interesting details and scenes that can convey a message in a more subtle way. form. or figuratively.
It's ultimately up to you to decide which image is most appropriate for the context, but some sites (like Unsplash) allow users to tag images themselves, which can make it easier to find something that fits the message you want to convey.