If you’ve ever tried searching for free stock photos on the Internet, you probably know what a ridiculous hassle it can be. Some websites offer a free option before asking you to purchase, or the quality of the photos that you receive won’t match what you need for your marketing efforts.
As a general rule, free stock photos are extremely difficult to find. A huge portion of the stock photo market is owned by professional companies like Shutterstock and 123RF, who charge $20 or more for a single photo. Even when you can find free stock photos, most are low resolution, watermarked, blurry and, at best, uninspired.
Lucky for you, there are a few ways to access high-quality stock photos without any hassle or significant cost to you- because when you’re first starting out, any help you can get makes a difference!
Here’s a lovingly curated list of the world’s best free stock photo websites for designers, business owners and anyone else:
“Free (do whatever you want) hi-resolution photos.“ That’s the onus for Unsplash, a blog-style photo site that allows you to submit your own images for public use. The site refreshes with 10 new photos every 10 days, so there’s almost always something new to choose from.
The photos on this site include a lot of landscapes, many with exceptional lighting and almost Instagram-style effects. The site is also just fun to look at. Every photo also includes a link to the photographer if you want to learn more about a certain photo.
Stock Snap is a personal favorite of mine due to its easy navigation and extremely high-resolution photos (with no attribution required). This site also happens to sport a great collection of food shots, so if you’re running a restaurant or nutrition-themed startup, you might find it worth your while to take a browse.
Dutch artist Folkert Gorter and his graphic-design peers at SuperFamous curate this collection of incredibly high-resolution images, perfect for use in website design or as desktop backgrounds.
Pixabay is a web designer’s dream. Not only does this site offer an easy-to-use search feature, the images are absolutely brilliant…and most don’t require any attribution at all.
One of the simplest sites on this list, MorgueFile has a streamlined layout and carefully curated list of photos. Its selection isn’t as large as that of some of the other sites on this list, but the photos included cover a wide range of topics. You can find images of everything from wildlife to antiques.
One of the most exhaustive directories of open-source images, FreeImages is my go-to resource when I’m working on new web projects. While most stock-photo sites focus on a small niche (usually landscape photography), FreeImages offers thousands of pictures from a diverse set of categories. Most importantly, it’s searchable, which is an incredible time-saver when you’re working on a project.
One of Southern California’s finest designers, Jay Mantri offers this eponymous collection, Jay Mantri, with free, inspiring photos that’s updated every Thursday.
Ryan McGuire of Belle Design has a fun site where he uploads new, free-to-use photos every week. The images can be used for personal or commercial projects and every image includes a high-resolution version.
When you perform Google Images search, the resulting photos are not necessarily ones that you’re free to immediately use. In most cases, the photos are still covered by photographers’ copyrights.
If you’re looking for photos to use for a design and want to keep yourself out of copyright trouble, you need to locate websites that explicitly define the copyright license of each image. For all the sites listed above, the license is generally pretty easy to find. There’s typically a description of the license on every page or at least a link to a description. Here are two license types you’re likely to find on these sites:
Attribution is simple: If you include a photo on one of a web page, add text that cites the photographer (“Photo by John Smith”) and be sure to include a link to his or her site, if there’s one. Be sure to check each website’s license page for specific details!