If you have a website, blog, or client project and want to use a photo, you need to find a photo that you have rights to use. For the most part, people tend to use stock photography sites like iStockPhoto or Envato’s GraphicRiver.net to find graphics. Those are great solutions for graphics for custom projects, but if you’re needing needing a lot of photos for a client project or you post blog posts regularly, the costs of buying photos through traditional stock photography websites can add up!
An alternative is to use websites that provide free stock photos, with rights to use them in commercial projects. The following are 5 websites that provide photos that are public domain, creative commons ‘zero’, or some sort of free license that allow you to use the photos for free without attribution back to the author. They can be used in both personal and commercial projects, which means you can use them in client projects or in mockups, etc.
Public Domain is as best as you can get when it comes to licenses for photos, it essentially means the author has graciously waived their rights to the photo and is letting you use it for anything you want. Once photos are released as public domain, the author can’t change their mind and switch it back to a different license, so you’re protected knowing that whatever you use the photo for you can keep it forever.
The Creative Commons Public Domain license explains:
The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.
Here are 5 of my best picks for public domain/free photos. Browse their collection of photos, download what you need, and enjoy!
1. Pic Jumbo
Pic Jumbo is by far my new fav source for free stock photos. It is a site run by web designer and photographer, Viktor Hanáček. The site has had over 330,000 downloads so far, and provides “totally free photos for your commercial & personal works”. The quality of the photos is outstanding, almost all of them use great depth of field focus techniques and look very professional. Great for use on website projects where you want the background of the image blurred out so you can add text or bring attention to the focal point in the image.
Most photos are taken by Viktor himself, so you will notice a similar style of photos throughout the entire site.
The site is very well organized, with many categories on the left you can choose from to find the type of photo you’re looking for. They also offer a premium membership for $6/month that lets you download full ‘sets’ of photos from the photo shoots. So if you like one image for example that they’ve provided for free, sometimes the site offers a package of all the photos from that photo shoot so you can get different angles, etc. if you’re a premium member.
You don’t need an account to download photos, just pick a photo and click the green download button! Simple.
A sample of some of the photos from Pic Jumbo:
Pixabay offers public domain photos. “To the extent possible under law, uploaders of Pixabay have waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to these Images. You are free to adapt and use the Images for commercial purposes without attributing the original author or source.”
The website has a powerful search feature, which is great if you have a certain type of photo in mind. However, they don’t break photos up into categories so it can be hard to find a certain type of photo if you aren’t sure exactly what you’re looking for.
You don’t need an account to download photos, just pick a photo and click download. Pixabay offers different sizes to download the photo as, which is a nice touch since you sometimes don’t need the highest resolution size for a website or blog.
Pixabay offers something that other free stock photo sites don’t, which is that they provide a section for free vectors and clipart. They also have an “Editor’s Choice” section that is curated by the site staff and shows the best photos in the collection. Pixabay also adds a bit of gamification to the site by offering ‘leaderboards’ that showcase photos with the most views, downloads, and photographers that have uploaded the most in the past 30 days. It also provides profiles for the photographers so you can read up on who took the photo and browse other photos they’ve taken if you like their particular style.
For example, here is the current leaderboard of most viewed photos this month:
MorgueFile offers high resolution stock photos for your illustration, comp or design needs. What exactly is a “MorgueFile” you ask? Great question. A “morgueFile” is a place to keep post production materials for use of reference, the term is popular in the newspaper business to describe the file that holds past issues flats. So the creators used that idea and created a site that contains free high resolution digital stock photography for either corporate or public use.
The site has a lot of photos, probably one of the biggest collections I’ve found.
The license isn’t public domain, but it is quite flexible and open to allow you to use the photos in projects. “You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit the work and to adapt the work. Attribution is not required. You are prohibited from using this work in a stand alone manner.” So don’t be selling the photo on it’s own, but you can use in in your web/graphic projects without attribution which is key.
The site doesn’t have categories, so you’ll need to have a good idea of what you’re looking for when visiting the site. It does, however, have a very good search function.
The site offers one-click downloads without needing to register an account, which is great. It also offers the ability to add/bookmark photos to your favs collection to come back to later which is useful when trying to decide which image to use for a project. There is also a handy ‘crop’ tool to crop the original image right on the website.
One differentiator with MorgueFile is that when you search for a photo, it has tabs along the top that let you also do a search across most of the popular paid stock photo sites. This is one way they make money by referring you to some of the big paid sites, but it does come in handy if you’re doing a free photo search and don’t find exactly what you’re looking for and want to take a peek at the paid photo sites to see if they have something better. You can do a search across iStock, GettyImages, Dreamstime, DepositPhotos, and Fotolia.
When you visit Gratisography you’re immediately greeted with a large Creative Commons graphic and the words “Free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects”. Love it! This site is a collection of photos from Ryan McGuire of Bells Design. They are completely free of copyright restrictions.
You don’t need an account to download photos, just pick a photo and the download starts immediately. Great!
The site navigation is very simple, there aren’t categories. Photos just appear on a single page with an infinite scroll so as you keep scrolling, more photos load.
Some example photos:
Public Domain Archive was started by a designer and photographer, Matt Hobbs. His goal is to have a site where you can come to explore and discover treasures by other great photographers, find inspiration, and explore photography that you can re-use in your creative projects. Photos are public domain, you can do anything you want with them which is awesome! New photos are added every week, and the images are really great quality. There aren’t categories like the other sites on this page, but he has divided the images into ‘modern’ and ‘vintage’ for finding styles of photos. You can also use the search box tool on the sidebar of his weekly photos page http://publicdomainarchive.com/public-domain-images/
Unsplash is a site made by a team called Crew that offers “free (do whatever you want) hi-resolution photos”. They add 10 new photos every 10 days, which is an interesting concept.
The site itself is very simple, no categorization of photos or search. You basically browse through the photos, pick the ones you want, and click download. They do have an ‘archive‘ view which I find to be much easier to browse thumbnails of the photos they’ve added.
BONUS! NEWLY ADDED SITES:
This is the motherload of free stock photos you can use in commercial projects. It is a website that has a list of all of the sites on the internet with stock photos that have creative commons (including the ones listed above) that you can click on and browse to quickly. A great starting point to quickly go through all the popular free stock sites.
“Best Stock Photo Free” is a collection of beautiful high quality photos. Creative Commons licensed photos are made available. The website was created as a hobby by the founder, Carl, a 20 year old from Warsaw, Poland. He posts new photos every week.
http://www.freeimages.com (used to be called Stock.Xchng – Until 2009 the site’s parent company, Jupiterimages, was purchased by Getty Images. Was renamed to ‘Free Images’ in 2014 and the site now heavily promotes iStockphoto)
http://www.stockvault.net (for non-commercial, personal work only)
Burst by Shopify (a collection of CC0 licensed images for entrepreneurs to use)
Have a site that you like to get free stock photos? Share it in the comments below!