Top Free Stock Photo Websites
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As part of web design or graphic design, you’ll need regular access to good-quality stock photos.
The problem is, good stock photos can be either hard to find or prohibitively expensive.
Finding a good-quality free stock photo website is a challenge.
When I first started my web agency years ago, I scoured the far reaches of the Internet for free stock photo websites.
It was time-intensive, and there were not many great resources out there to help me find free stock photos.
Since my agency started, many new free stock photo websites have thankfully popped up, making it easier for web and graphic designers to access great-quality, free stock photos and build amazing websites and graphics.
To help you out in your quest to find the perfect stock photos for your projects, we created this post.
This post is meant to be a resource for you in your design adventures.
Bookmark this page.
Refer back to this page in the future. It will always be here for you. Over time, we will update it with newer and better free stock photo libraries you should check out.
In addition to sharing the best stock photo websites around, this article also features a brief primer on the different types of stock photo image licenses you’ll encounter. This is meant to help you use these free images only in ways that they are permitted, so you don’t end up in any legal trouble.
Also, at the bottom of this post, you will find a handy infographic that lays out the best features of the top free stock photo websites.
Feel free to save it and share it with other graphic and web designers who could use it.
Download Our Top Free Stock Photo Websites Chart
The Legal Stuff: A Few Words on Image Licenses
Before we dive in, stop here for some quick knowledge on image licenses.
Real quick disclosure: though I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. With stock images, you are dealing with copyright law and should make sure that you are using images within the acceptable parameters of their license permissions. Now, here is some general knowledge about image licenses.
In the United States, every piece of content, upon its creation, inherently has a copyright owned by the creator of the piece of content. The creator can choose how they want to exploit that content, whether through licensing restrictions like a royalty-free license agreement or Creative Commons, or by offering the content completely restriction-free as part of the “public domain.”
Public domain is the broadest category, allowing you to use an image however you want without any attribution. Other license structures can be more restrictive. But, before you use any image in your work, it is important to know what license it has.
Any image that is in the public domain can be used however you want. Public domain images do not require you give any attribution to the creator. You do not need permission to alter public domain images. You do not need to pay for public domain images.
Images are either under the public domain when their copyrights have expired (in the U.S. the standard copyright term is life of the creator + 70 years) or if the creator has given a public domain license to their image, a la Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication, which is also called “CC0”.
Creative Commons Licenses
Creative Commons (aka CC) is a non-profit organization that provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses for creators to enable them allow other people to share and use their creative work on the conditions of the creator’s choice.
Basically, CC lets you dictate how others can use your work without you having to hire a lawyer to draft a license.
For example, the CC0 license is a public domain license, requiring no attribution for the creator and letting the user remix the creator’s work as they see fit.
The CC website lets you choose what kind of license you want to use for your content. There are different types of the CC license, based on what you want to allow for.
For example, you can allow people to adapt or modify your original image, but not use these remixes for their own profit. Or, you could allow for adaptations so long as they share their work also under the same CC license as you.
For the most part, excluding CC0 licenses, all Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute to the creator, meaning that you must, in your content, give a credit mention to the image creator.
Paid Stock Photo Website Licenses
Just to get a little more context, I wanted to take a second to discuss paid stock photo website licenses.
Most every paid stock photo website has their own custom licenses that dictate how you can and cannot use their images. Some elements are common to all of their licenses though.
For paid stock image websites, the image licenses are mostly offered “royalty-free”, meaning that if you pay for the images, you can use them in any medium you want without having to pay the owner of the images. Also, the images from paid stock photo websites do not require attribution for the image creator, meaning that you do not have to have a caption saying, “Image by [creator-name]” or have a link to the image creator’s website.
Overall – Top Free Stock Photo Websites
One more thing before we get into the top free stock photo websites, I wanted to quickly set the right expectations for you.
Overall, having access to free stock photos is amazing. It allows us web designers and graphic designers to create beautiful projects without having to incur big additional expenses. So, it’s important to give thanks to resources like free stock photo websites.
That being said, the images on free stock photo websites can vary widely in quality. The best free stock photo websites are ones that carefully curate their images to ensure their libraries are filled only with high-quality photos.
Some free stock photo websites can be great, and others can be great for particular needs. For example, one site that is in our top free stock photo website list is great specifically for vintage photos, but not much else.
In my experience, most free stock photo websites have small libraries of images to choose from. So, that can mean sometimes you’ll need to check out a second or third stock photo website to find the appropriate image.
Lastly, across the free stock image websites, I found that most of them had poor search engines. That means it can take you some time to sift through and find the perfect photos for your needs.
Now, here are a few of my favorite free stock photo websites for web designers and graphic designers.
To this day, I regularly use Pexels’ stock image library.
The images at Pexels are modern and beautiful. No overtly-cheesy imagery like some of the stock photo websites out there.
One big complaint I’ve had about many stock image websites, both free and paid, is that some of the images are either so ridiculously set up, or so poor quality, that I could not imagine anyone using them.
The free stock images at Pexels are gorgeous. They are well-composed, high-quality, and look great.
The only drawback I’d say that Pexels has is that I’ve found the library a bit limited. Sometimes I have searched, unable to find the type of image I have been looking for. Also, sometimes their search results have been narrower than what I have been looking for.
Overall, I have been very happy with Pexels, and would only go to Pexels for my stock image needs if they were to have a larger library.
Pexels images are offered under the CC0 license, meaning that you can use these images however you want, without having to give credit to the image’s original creator.
Pixabay has a library of over 1.5 million free images for you to use.
It’s a huge selection.
A lot of the Pixabay images are high-quality, and you should be able to find most every graphic you might need.
I have a few things about Pixabay I don’t love. Unlike Pexels, comparatively, the Pixabay search results are a bit broader than what I have been looking for. Because of this, it can take time to find the perfect image for your needs.
Also, the images are of varying quality. I know that when you are dealing with free stock photos you should not be so picky (after all, the images are free), but having some lower-quality or less-relevant images showing up in your searches can take up a lot of your time trying to find the right image for your need.
All Pixabay images are offered under the CC0 license.
Unsplash is a free stock image website with beautiful, high-quality images.
Unsplash has a decent-sized library of images, and all of their images look great.
The only drawback I find with Unsplash is that it can sometimes give you too broad results from its searches.
Unsplash has its own license, which lets you do basically whatever you want with the images. The only restriction is that you cannot compile Unsplash photos to replicate and start your own competing service against Unsplash.
Stocksnap has great-quality images across many different categories.
Going through the different Stocksnap image categories can be a great way to find different images for your needs.
There are a few drawbacks for Stocksnap.
First, their search engine results are pretty broad, giving a lot of irrelevant photos for your searches. I know. As you can see by now, search engine result relevance is a constant concern I have.
The Stocksnap library is small, so you may find that if you don’t see a quite-right image here, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Lastly, one minor annoyance is that for any Stocksnap search, the first thing that shows up at the top are premium, paid stock photos. And, of course those images always look the best. So, you end up having to decide, “Am I going to settle for a not-perfect image or pay money for an image that is exactly what I am looking for?”
Stocksnap images are offered under the CC0 license.
New Old Stock
If you are looking for quirky, old stock photos, you can find them here.
New Old Stock has tons of vintage public domain images that have expired copyrights.
The images here are interesting, for sure.
You may find yourself browsing through curiously, even though you don’t have a particular type of image you are looking for. It’s really just fascinating some of the images in this library.
The big drawback though is that these images are not searchable. The site is basically a big Tumblr blog with images posted on many pages. Trying to search for the right image would be impossible. Also, if you want anything other than vintage photos, this is not your one-stop shop.
All New Old Stock images are in the public domain.
Another great stock image library. The images here are very unique. You will not find them on other stock photo libraries. If you are tired of the typical stock photos you are finding on other websites, I’d recommend giving Morguefile a try.
One feature I like is the “Request an image” option, which lets you request Morguefile find a particular image for you.
Morguefile images are available under their own license, which has a few minor conditions. First, if you use their images as-is without alteration, you must attribute the photographer (e.g. “Photo by [name] at morguefile.com”). Second, you cannot sell or license their images as-is. And, you cannot claim that you own their images in their original, unmodified state. This does mean though that you can remix or alter the images. You can also use them commercially, so long as you are not merely selling the images as-is.
Another beautiful image library.
Gratisography images look great, and they’re free for you to use.
One drawback I found is that there was not a huge library of images to choose from.
Gratisography images are available under their own license, which has a few restrictions. You can use images how you would like, also for commercial purposes, but you cannot use the images in any pornographic, degrading, defamatory, hateful, unlawful, or immoral purposes or to promote that kind of content.
I love the images at Picjumbo.
They have a great selection of beautiful images, and they are all terrific quality.
Every image on this site is by Viktor Hanacek, who built this site after getting fed up with the lack of freely available high-resolution, high-quality images.
The images on Picjumbo are available to use under the Picjumbo license, which lets you do anything with the images, without attribution. The only thing you cannot do is resell the photos or use them in your application for your users, unless you purchase a premium license from Picjumbo.
Creative Commons Search – A CC Image Search Engine
One resource I have used a lot over the years is the Creative Commons Search. This website is a search engine that lets you look through images that have been attributed under one of the various Creative Commons licenses. Now, there are a bunch of Creative Commons (“CC”) license types that can restrict your use of their images in different ways. Everything from “no commercial use” to “author attribution required” to “free to use however you want without attribution”.
The CC Search lets you search through CC images on different websites, including Google, Flickr, and Wikimedia.
The good part about CC Search is that you have a lot of images to search through.
The bad part about CC Search is that there is a lot of bad-quality images to sift through. There is zero curation at work. After you look through images on CC Search, you’ll have newfound appreciation for the heroes at these other top free stock photo websites.
In my experience, the search through Google Images’ CC images are the best results you can find.
One warning – though images may technically be available as Creative Commons by the person who uploaded the image, there is no real 100% guarantee that they did not steal their uploaded images that had restricted copyright licenses on them.
Top Free Stock Image Website Chart
So you can take all this information with you, here’s a helpful chart breaking down the different free stock photo websites:
These free stock photo websites should have all the images you’ll need for your next project.
If there are any free stock photo websites that we did not include that you think deserve a mention, please feel free to comment below.
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