The number of online resources for stock photography keeps growing, making free stock photos easier to source than ever. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to determine which sites provide beautiful, unique photos and which offer the same tacky stock photos you’ve seen across dozens of websites and blogs.
Luckily for you, there’s no need to rely on cheesy stock photos anymore because we’ve compiled a list of the best stock photography websites offering high-quality, totally free images.
The free photo sites on our list offer collections of high-resolution photos that include everything from landscape and business to vintage and food. Some even offer other forms of copyright-free media.
What is the Difference Between a Copyright Free Image and a Royalty-Free Image?
Before we get to our list, let’s review some important terms you should know regarding free image sources.
The most important thing you can do is read over the terms and conditions of each site you choose so that you’ll know exactly what type of attribution is required.
Copyright Free Images
A copyright-free image is any photo provided by a photographer to be used by another person. The owner of the picture may still own a copyright on the image but has provided authorization for it to be used by other people.
Sometimes you may have to pay a fee to use a copyright-free image, but you’ll be able to use it unrestricted nevertheless. Other times the copyright on a photo has expired or a second party has acquired the right to use that work.
Royalty-free images typically come with a unique license. The license allows you to use an image as many times as you want, for as long as you want, without having to renew the license.
Royalty-free images are not free to use. The license comes at a price and is determined by whoever is selling the photo, either the photographer or the stock agency. The copyright for these images is retained by the owner of the photo.
Creative Commons License and Creative Commons Zero
Creative Commons (CC) images have been licensed by their creators to be used by anyone for a variety of purposes, free of charge. The creator retains copyright ownership of their image but enables the free distribution of their work. Creative Commons works within copyright law.
Creative Commons Zero (CC0 or CC Zero) gives creators a way to waive their copyright, and other related rights, to their works, essentially dedicating them to the public domain.
Public domain photos are available to anyone and can be used for any purpose. These images can be adapted, modified, and distributed without restriction.
Photos in the public domain have copyrights that have been forfeited, expired, or are no longer applicable. An image is also considered public domain if it is not eligible for copyright, such as work created by a US government authority.
Now that you have a better understanding of the terms regarding stock photos, let’s take a look at the best online sources for free stock photos.
Pexels got its start in 2015 and has since grown into a popular source for stock photography. Their collection of totally free stock photos is licensed under CC Zero.
Every photo has been tagged, which means searching for exactly what you want just got a whole lot easier. Pexels also provides images from other reputable websites, giving you access to even more high-quality photos.
Pexels screens every image to ensure only the highest quality images are available to you. If you need copyright-free videos, Pexels can help with that, too. Make sure to read their license information so you’re aware of what you can and cannot do with the images you find on Pexels.
#2 Freerange Stock
Thousands of copyright-free, high-resolution stock images are available from Freerange for their membership community (membership is free). Over 20,000 Creative Commons Zero (CC0) photos are also included in their free membership.
Freerange does a pretty good job of tagging their photos with accurate keywords and descriptions, saving you time when you know exactly what you need. Every image found on Freerange can be used for personal and commercial projects.
Founded in 2007, Freerange now offers a vast collection of photos, textures, and illustrations to over 750,000 registered users.
#3 Vintage Stock Photos
A spin-off of Freerange, Vintage Stock Photos houses thousands of old 35mm slides. They own the original transparencies for all the images they acquire and post to the website. These grainy, scratched, analog images depict life, voyages, and experiences from around the world.
The VSP collection features exclusive retro and mid-century photos spanning decades. Only the best of the best are scanned before undergoing light restoration. Once the images have been processed, they are tagged with relevant keywords, and a resized jpg file is posted for distribution.
If an image is too small or too processed you can reach out to VSP and let them know. Since they own the original transparencies, they may be able to rescan or resize or reprocess the photo for you.
If you’re searching for abstract photos as well as traditional architecture, landscapes, and more, Kaboompics is the place to look. The collection is curated by one photographer, but don’t let that scare you off – Kaboompics has over 20,000 images to choose from.
Not only does Kaboompics offer thousands of high-quality images, but they make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can narrow down your search by choosing a color motif, vertical or horizontal image, and more. A color palette with free graphics accompanies each photo you download as well.
Food bloggers rejoice – FoodiesFeed has thousands of realistic, high-resolution food pictures for free. There’s no better site for food bloggers looking for free mouthwatering food photos.
FoodiesFeed was started by a photographer who wanted to give their food photos to people who don’t have the budget to purchase high-quality, high-resolution photos from stock photo sites.
Since it started in 2014, users have downloaded hundreds of thousands of food photos for use in their projects. The collection has also grown to include Creative Commons Zero licensed images from other food photographers, though each photo is reviewed for quality before being shared.
Claiming to be the “internet’s source of freely usable images,” Unsplash offers over 2 million free hand-selected, high-resolution images.
All photos on the site are released under the Unsplash license, which means you can use them for free in whatever way you want – as long as you don’t create a competing site.
Unsplash also has something called “Collections”, which narrows your focus based on specific themes such as pizza, holidays, health, weather, outdoors, and more.
Pixabay is an image repository that searches and provides images hosted on other sites for your own personal or commercial use.
All images on Pixabay are licensed under CC Zero, so you don’t need to request permission from or credit the artist.
A unique feature of their search function is the ability to filter for images based on the camera that was used to take them.
#8 Wikimedia Commons
Part of a much larger organization dedicated to free images, education, and information, Wikimedia Commons boasts over 81 million pieces of media (photos, videos, and sounds) to use for free.
Content on Wikimedia Commons falls under either open content (or Creative Commons) licenses or public domain. The collection offers a stunning array of photos that are owned by the individual creators but may be freely reused so long as you adhere to any restrictions the owner indicates.
Unlike traditional media repositories, everyone is allowed to copy, use, or modify any files in Wikimedia Commons for free. It’s important to remember to check for terms specified by the owner of whatever media you use.
#9 Getty Images
Not many people are aware that you can use Getty Images on your non-commercial websites and blogs for free, as long as you embed them. Embedding images maintain their branding, share buttons, and frame.
If you simply want to incorporate quality, professional images on your site – this may be an easy solution. If you want to download photos to use in offline materials, you’ll still have to pay for that, however.
Choosing the Best Source for Your Free Stock Photos Online
The reality is there are thousands of copyright free stock photos available online. To avoid getting overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to know what kind of image you need and how you want to use it.
Knowing these two things will focus your search and reduce the amount of time you spend combing through collections. Maybe you’re a small business owner looking for professional photos to include on your website. Or a blogger looking for visually appealing pics to include in your posts.
Whatever your reason for needing them, finding high-quality, high-resolution, copyright-free images will be much easier now that you know about these amazing (and free!) stock photo websites.
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