60+ Places to Find Free Quality Stock Photos [Updated January 2019]
If you're on social media and you aren't a photographer (either by profession or by hobby), chances are you've wondered where everyone gets the images they post. You know: the beautiful sunset, the super crisp flower close-up, the bright desktop flatlay. Below I've linked to a whole bunch of websites where you can get great photos. In addition, I've also provided some explanations on copyright and why you shouldn't use Google image search to get your photos.
Note: new additions are bolded.
Google Image Search
I'm tackling this first because it's one of the most common mistakes I see people making. Before I started my business and did my research, I too, innocently assumed that any image I found on Google was free for me to use as I saw fit.
What Not To Do
Don't do an image search for your keyword or topic and download any quality photo that pops up - chances are that the copyright holder (aka the original creator) has not given people permission to use the photo. Remember, Google is just a search engine. Luckily, they do have some filters. Keep reading.
What To Do Instead
When you do your image search on Google, select Tools > Usage Rights > Labeled for reuse or Labeled for reuse with modification. This will filter the photos to show only those where the copyright holder has specifically said it's OK for anyone to use.
Generally, this filters out all of the good stuff and you are left with icons and low quality images. That's why I stopped using for anything but icons or logos.
Free Stock Photo Sites
There are lots of free stock photo sites out there. In general, these websites are covered in ads because it's that ad income that allows the website owner to provide the photos to you for free! Below I've listed some of my favourites in no particular order. These made it onto my list because they meet at least two of the following criteria:
ability to filter by image size/orientation/colour
niche photos not found anywhere else
everything is licensed under CC0 or has a super lenient licence
*These websites also have premium photos available for purchase.
+These websites are completely CC0
Freebies From Paid Stock Photo Sites
If you're willing to part with your email, there are tons of amazing stock photographers who give away free photos as an email opt-in. Some of these will continue to give you a monthly freebie, or discounts and first looks at their premium photos. I highlighted 5 awesome ones over on my Facebook page, but here is a more complete list:
=These websites have no sign-up required
BONUS: Best Practices for Using Stock Photos
You see them all over the place
If you're on social media or spend a lot of time on the internet, you've probably noticed a few stock photos in multiple places - this is the curse of free quality stock photos: the great ones get used a lot. Overused, even. It's hard to make your brand stand out when 100 of your closest competitors are using the exact same photo.
You have 2 choices at this point:
use photos that are less popular (meaning they might not be as attractive)
make your photos unique in some way - see below
Getting the Most Out of Your Stock Photos
If you have an app on your phone, use a free graphic editing program like Canva or Crello, or can work your way around Photoshop, there are a few simple ways that you can take a stock photo and make it your own:
using your brand font, add your branding to the image: business name, website address, social username, or tagline
add your logo on the image
crop or rotate the image
add a color overlay or shape in your brand color
On the internet, everything is copyrighted unless it is public domain (like 'Happy Birthday' - imagine if we had to pay a quarter every time we sang it) or the creator explicitly opts out of their copyright.
I referenced CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) above. This means that there are no rights reserved on the images and you can use them however you want. Straight from creativecommons.org:
"CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law."
Many of the stock photo sites above offer their images under CC0 - those that don't, have licenses very similar to CC0 (generally you can use however you want except for distribution on other stock photo sites or use in any images promoting inappropriate content like discrimination or intolerance). The freebies creators also give you written permission to use the photos however you like without attribution (but attribution is always appreciated!).
You might have heard about Fair Use which allows the public to use images without obtaining permission under certain circumstances, like education, review, parody. Fair Use does not apply to any business or for-profit activity, so you can often assume that it doesn't apply to you.
If you know anyone else who could use these resources, please share!