No-budget visual marketing resources – 45 free stock image sites
We’ve written before about whether you should commission photography or use stock images in your marketing. While there is certainly value in paying a professional to showcase what is different and special about your product, or seeking out a premium stock image for your website, sometimes it may not be necessary to do either.
Marketing, particularly on social media, is becoming increasingly visual – fueling a need for a steady supply of images for blogs and social media – but what if you don’t have the budget to purchase images? Welcome to (drumroll)…. free stock image libraries.
Why use free stock image libraries?
Being able to access a large amount of high quality images in one place, at no cost is the main advantage of using free stock image libraries. However, there is another important reason to use these sites to source images for your blogs and social media marketing.
Free stock image libraries will list the licence and/or terms and conditions that apply to the images they feature. This makes it crystal clear what you are allowed to use the image for (e.g. personal or commercial use), whether you need to credit the photographer and if you can use the image in products that you resell in some way. By having access to this licence information, you can be sure that you aren’t contravening copyright.
Licence types for images
Sometimes it feels like you need a law degree to understand the different licence types that apply to photographs and images. In a nutshell, paid stock image libraries will generally feature a mix of royalty free and rights managed images. The licence types specify for what purpose and duration the images can be used.
Free stock image libraries largely feature public domain images. The photographer or image creator donates their images to the public domain and waives their copyright and related rights in their works to the fullest extent allowed by law. Images donated in this way have a specific licence applied to them – the Creative Commons ‘CC0’ or ‘no rights reserved licence’, also known as public domain dedication.
So if the creator of the photograph or other intellectual property is prepared to donate it, why does it need a licence? The reason is that copyright is automatically assigned to creators, and waiving it is difficult or even prohibited in many jurisdictions. By applying a specific licence to images they want to donate, creators are able to universally waive all their copyright and related rights (obviously important when images can be downloaded anywhere in the world).
CCo free stock image libraries
The simplest free stock images sites to use are those where all the images have CC0 or similar licences, and don’t require you to credit the photographer or website or provide a backlink to it when you use an image. We find the attribution free condition to be useful, not because we don’t think photographers deserve credit for their work, but because it can be difficult to give attribution in an elegant way on websites and social media. Removing attribution as a condition leaves it up to you to decide if you’d like to thank the photographer by mentioning or linking to them.
We’ve created a list of 45 free, no attribution required stock image libraries below, with a short synopsis of the types and quality of images the sites feature. Please keep in mind that licence conditions can change and it is up to you to check the terms and conditions of use of any stock images that you source.
45 free stock image libraries
All The Free Stock is a collection of different libraries full of free stock photos, video, sound effects, mockups, fonts and icons. Plenty of categories to search in if you are happy to drill down. There doesn’t seem to be a way to search all the image libraries within this mega library at once which would be a time saver, but you do get access to lots of lesser known image libraries through this portal.
Bara Art’s photos are taken by a graphic and product designer living in Brno, Czech Republic. As you’d expect from its provenance, the site has an Eastern European flavour and plenty of snow scenes, but there are also a few different ‘people’ shots. It’s not a huge library, but there are some useful images in here.
Barn Images was launched in March 2015 by Igor Trepeshchenok and Roman Drits, two Latvian photographers who wanted to create fresh stock imagery (they refer to it as “non-stock”).
The landscapes on Barn Images are for the most part Northern European rustic images, but there are plenty of other categories including people and industry and an interesting selection of music images such as instruments and mixing boards. Premium (paid) image packs are also available for download in themes such as matcha tea.
Barn Images do not require attribution but appreciate it via a link back to their website.
Cupcake features the images of Jonas Wimmerström (formerly known as Nilsson Lee), a photographer living in Malmö, Sweden. As well as having a professional portfolio, Jonas is also a contributor to Unsplash (included in this list). True to its Unsplash connection, there are plenty of landscapes in this collection but also some interesting detailed shots. There isn’t a search function so you need to browse through the continuous scroll to find a suitable image for your needs.
If you are looking for sharp, clean, bright and modern images, Designer Pics is a great source. Plenty of pops of colour and interesting composition in this free stock image library. Photos are arranged in categories including business, concepts, food & drinks, technology and more.
Designer Pics is the work of Jeshu John, a web designer and developer from Kochi, in southern India. Frustrated by the lack of quality free photos available for his work, Jeshu created his own source for everyone to use. Attribution and sharing of the site is appreciated but not required.
Fancy Crave offers up free high resolution photos from professional photographers and add two new images every day. The site has a very jolly moustache logo too. Creator Igor Ovsyannykov, a designer and photographer, was sick of seeing cheesy stock photos so created his own library of images that are authentic, emotionally driven, and tell a story.
The site is relatively new (established February 2015) and covers a variety of subject matter. You can also download ‘photo packs’, some of which are free, on subjects such as Valentines Day, Flowers, Clouds and Coffee which would be extremely useful and time saving if you work in these themes.
Finda.photo is a respository site featuring photos from a number of image libraries mentioned in this list. It allows you to search multiple sites using findaphoto’s own categorisations including aerial, close-ups, laptop, long-exposure etc. The site was created by David Barker, a designer/developer of websites and iphone apps who works at a start-up in London.
One of the most interesting things about this library is that you can search according to ten colour groupings, which could be very handy if you are looking for images that complement a particular colour scheme.
Since we wrote this post, Findaphoto has moved to the Chamber of Commerce site (link updated) and is found under a tab alongside a number of other paid and free image libraries. Some of the functionality of the original site such as colour groupings seems to have been removed.
Nom nom nom…yes, Foodies Feed does what it says on the tin and is all about food. The site created by Jakub is dedicated to offering up non-stockish, realistic and natural looking images of food. There is certainly a need for this as food and cooking is one of the most popular categories on many social media platforms.
The site contains over 1,000 food images, some taken in cafes and markets while others are more staged. There are a variety of categories to search within including different orientations (very handily for instagram users there is a readymade square category). Premium packs are also available for paid download.
Free Food Photos is similar to the above, but with more photos of raw produce e.g. eggs, milk, cheese, fish, fruit etc and a simpler style than Foodies Feed. The site was launched in 2013 when two food lovers saw a complete lack of ‘good taste’ free food photography sites. The photos are mainly of simple and descriptive food subjects.
Free images red is a German repository site that features photos from a range of different libraries as well as allowing photographers to upload their images. There are over 20 categories including Fashion and Religion in addition more common categories such as People and Nature. Something may have been lost in translation though as the Religion category contains illustrations of happy snowmen (not that we’re judging if this is part of your religion). The quality is variable.
Founded by Adrian Pelletier, a web and mobile designer and developer, this site just shows…pictures from nature. So if you are in the market for waves washing upon a shore or changing autumn leaves along a winding country road, Free Nature Stock could be just the ticket.
Free photos online has a very forgettable name but features a decent small collection of both photos and illustrations. It could be a good resource for something a bit different, such as their quirky lego photos, but won’t fulfill a large number of image requirements.
By the site owner’s own admission, not all the photos available on Free Range Stock are great, but you can find some real winners. A hint is to use the ‘most popular’ category on the drop down menu to pick out some of the best images. Images on the site are either shot by the site’s owners, drawn from their archives, or contributed to the site by other photographers.
Freeepy is a library that photographers may contribute to directly by uploading to the site. You can search via photographer if you find a style you like (we thought Yahor had a good eye). Most of the photographers seem to hail from Belarus and the English version of the site is slightly google-translatey, but that shouldn’t stop you finding good images.
The download mechanism for this site is a bit different. To download a picture, you need to post the photo to Facebook using the link on the page as ‘payment’ for the photo. After that the download button is activated. Tricky Facebook users will be able to set the post’s audience to ‘only me’ if you don’t want to reveal your image choices to all your Facebook BFFs.
Where do you head if you need a stock image from Canada, Taiwan or Wales? Good free photos is the place. All photos are taken by the site owner, a travel photographer and webmaster, and are categorised by location for travel photos, species for animal and plant photos, and types of objects for other photos.
Created by a web designer from LA, Good Stock Photos has a very useable menu structure with main categories broken down into sub-categories, allowing you to easily search for subject matter photos. The photos are OK – they seem more like snapshots than highly composed professional photos, but there are some interesting options if you look hard enough.
This is a simply awesome free stock image site created by Ryan McGuire who describes himself as a multifaceted whimsically creative visual artist (he makes a living as a graphic and web designer). Gratisography’s quirky images are created with so much effort and care, it’s hard to believe they are free. The images are super high resolution, so can take a little while to download.
ISO republic offers both free and premium images and is a good site for urban scenes, big cities and crowd shots as well as some nice smaller compositions. The photos are high quality and professionally composed as you would expect – the site is run by English photographer and designer Tom Eversley.
Jay Mantri has ‘inspired by Unsplash’ in the credits and uses the same continuous scrolling layout with not search function or categories. The images are largely beautiful landscapes, but there are a number of interesting textural compositions. All photos are high resolution.
Created by Jan Vašek from the Czech Republic, J’e Shoots has the usual categories (nature, people etc) with a lot of choice within them. Many of the people shots are hip and urban, with the composition showing bodies rather than faces. Lots of food shots too, featuring many healthy breakfast bowls and pastries.
There is a little premium content on this site, mainly in the form of photoshop mockups.
This is a nice collection with a feminine twist, which could be perfect for lifestyle businesses and bloggers. Created by Karolina, a photographer from Poland, categories include fashion, food and landscapes. Credit is requested, but not required, by providing a link back to the image URL on the Kaboom Pics site.
Libre shot is a collection of hundreds of high quality free stock images taken by Martin Vorel. Aside from a decent range of people and landscape photos, there are some workplace images that would be useful for many small businesses.
Created by the Leeroy advertising agency of Montreal along with its network of photographers, Life of Pix hosts a high quality range of photographic images. Categories include Black & White, Industrial, Texture and Object. The site also links out to a free stock video library by the same creators.
Little Visuals features interesting textures and background images of scenery created by Nic, a young photographer who sadly passed away suddenly at the age of 26. There is now a donation option on the website set up by his family, to help fund research into sudden adult deaths.
Jeffrey Betts has created MMT Stock. There is plenty of nature-focussed stock including many shots of flowers, and interesting stylised arrangements of ‘workplace’ objects such as pens, desks and writing pads that could be good for a service-based small business theme.
Negative Space has some decent selective focus images particularly of people, within a larger collection of fairly mediocre high resolution photos. Some of the nature shots such as fields of grass and daisies are also nice and could be useful for backgrounds.
Pexels is a repository site featuring over 10,000 free stock photos, with at least 1,500 new high resolution photos added every month. All photos are hand-picked from those uploaded by users or sourced from free image websites and the quality is evident. There are some very interesting compositions on here that we haven’t seen on other repository sites.
The user interface on Photogen is a little old fashioned, but the small amount of images here could come in handy if you are looking for rustic scenes, particularly farm animals. The site initially started up as a commercial stock photo site in October 2004, then relaunched as a free stock photo site in 2006 which would explain the old-fashioned interface.
Photorack is another very old-fashioned site, with lots of images hidden withing folder structures. The main advantage of this site is that images are low res, so if you need a small image for online use there would be limited needs to edit the files down. There are thousands of images if you are prepared to hunt through the folders.
Some really beautiful images are available on PicJumbo, a site created by Viktor Hanacek, a 22-year-old photographer and online entrepreneur from the Czech Republic. In addition to the free images, the site also has a premium membership option that gives access to bulk downloads of all collections and new images each month.
Picography offers beautiful high resolution photos. Although the images are not organised into categories, there is a search box and a nice large display of images to select from.
Pixabay contains thousands of searchable high resolution photos of varying quality. Some treasures are hidden among some quite ordinary offerings. The search engine is very good but will also bring up (usually nicer) results from Shutterstock, a commercial stock image library, which is obviously how they monetise the website. So if you don’t want to pay for your image, investigate where in the search results an image shows up.
This site is a public domain image repository managed by designer and photographer Matt where you can explore and discover treasures by other great photographers. The impetus for Public Domain Archive came when Matt realised it was hard to find all public domain available photos so he set about archiving them on the site. If you scroll quite far down the pages you will find plenty of categories listed in the right hand sidebar to make searching through images easier.
A side project of design blog Commit 2 Design, Realistic Shots is a small collection of high resolution images. There are some nice people and device photos here, and plenty of coffee shots if you need those in your life!
Lots of lovely high res images in Get Refe, a library created by three Lithuanian photographers. You need to go through their shopping cart to download your free images. They also sell premium packs or collections so that you can download a range of similarly themed photos at once.
Shutteroo is a collection of travel photos taken by Klaye Morrison, a web designer from Melbourne. It’s very useful to have some ‘Aussie’ looking images among all the Eastern European libraries! There are also some premium collections for sale.
Most of Skitterphoto’s images are taken by three photographers from Groningen in The Netherlands, but there is also capacity for contributors to upload images to the site. There are currently about 800 high quality photos, arranged in categories such as flora, fauna, urban and HDR (High Dynamic Range Photos).
This library features some really lovely and out of the ordinary compositions, and is quite artistic in its general approach.
The free image section of Snapwire Snaps hosted on Tumblr is just one side to this business that connects photographers with brands that need photos taken (a paid service).
Photographers are invited to submit their most beautiful photos to the site, which appears to curate them and be fairly selective. The quality and diversity of images on offer is very high as a result. There are no categories so you will need to scroll and page through the offerings to find an image you like.
Startup Stock describes its offering as free photos for startups, bloggers, publishers, websites, designers, developers, creators and everyone else.
The library features plenty of trendy workspaces, desktop layouts and cool young workers – picture a cool mobile app design business located in a warehouse where every day is free dress Friday and you’ll get the drift. A good resource for service-driven businesses to add some trend to their imagery.
Stocksnap is a high quality free image repository that is aligned with drag and drop graphic design tool Snappa. They curate images from other public domain sources as well as uploading those from their own photographer network.
There are some great photos (although you may have seen them before in other libraries) and useful features such as sorting images by the number of downloads so you can check out the most popular images. If you use Snappa the image library is connected to the drag and drop builder so you don’t need to upload high quality images, which gives it a point of difference from competitor Canva.
Streetwill’s description is ‘free vintage images to use any way you want to’ which is slightly confusing as not all the images are vintage ones, however there are lots of nice images. Some of the interesting shots including textural photos of overlocker machinery and another of drying cobs of corn. There are a few ‘start up’ type images as well featuring technology including Macs and cameras. The minimalist scrolling layout has no search function so it’s a case of seeing what appeals.
Photographer, designer, blogger Sabrina has created a resource of high quality free stock photos for bloggers and creative business at The Light Painter’s Loft. Nice, bright and different photos with a range of themes and a distinctive feminine feel. Premium photo packs are available for purchase.
Sharing beautiful travel moments in a continuous scrolling display of high resolution, user submitted travel photography from around the world. Travel Coffee Book contains no obvious search function which would be handy if you were looking for images from a particular destination – but hey, it’s free!
Unsplash is a renowned free stock image library which features hundred of stunning, high resolution images, mainly of beautiful landscapes (think snow capped mountains or shimmering frosty lakes). Unsplash is a project of Crew, a design agency based in Montreal.
UpicM features a range of small images and is particularly useful for posed photos of people, which can be hard to come by on free stock image sites. There is a category for male and female models plus some unusual collections such as theatre and lighthouses.
What can you use free stock images for?
So now you have access to thousands of images, how should you used them?
According to this article, articles with image get 94% total views and Facebook posts with images get 37% more engagement than text only posts. You can use free stock images across your marketing including in:
- blog posts
- Facebook and Instagram
- client reports and proposals
- email and print newsletter
Keep in mind, if you need to showcase the uniqueness of your product or allow customers to get to know your team and work culture, it is worth the investment to commission your own photos from a local photographer.
You can lose hours, if not days, pouring over all of these free image libraries. It’s a great idea to refine this long list to a smaller selection of ‘go to’ image libraries that suit your business needs, for example:
- If you often need specific subject matter images, a large repository site with a decent search function such as Pixabay or Pexels could work for you.
- Do you need images that appeal to a particular market, such as women’s lifestyle products? Check out more feminine collections such as The Light Painter’s Loft and Kaboom Pics
- Want eye catching images that don’t look like your typical stock photo? Gratisography, Designer Pics or PicJumbo could be the one for you.
- Aspirational images as backgrounds for social media quotes or memes more your speed? Try Unsplash, Jay Mantri or Travel Coffee Book
And remember, image licences and stock libraries’ directions can change. The onus is on you to ensure you are abiding by copyright when using stock imagery – so always check the fine print!
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