Images help tell stories, drive engagement, and convey meaning. They also improve the user experience, and keep readers engaged. If you’re not using quality images on your blog, website, or social media accounts, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice.

In this article, we’ll show you how to find quality free stock photos to use on your website or blog. We’ll share with you our pick of the best high quality free stock photo sites, the best paid stock image sites, and explore Creative Commons licensing.

What images can you use on your blog or website?

Ok, so hopefully you see value in using quality images within your content. But before you start Googling for images, let’s take a quick look at the different types of image licenses.

There are a number of both free and paid image options. With paid options, you are effectively purchasing the rights to use the image for a specific application. This can coast as little as $1 – $10 per image with providers like Shutterstock and DepositPhotos. This option will give you access to the highest quality and most relevant images, and as such we have provided a list of our favourite providers later in this post.

However, for those of us on a budget, there are a number of high quality free options available too, where creators have either waived their rights to the images, or the rights have expired. The most common examples of this include the following scenarios:

  • Their copyright term has expired and they are now in the public domain.
  • They have been produced by the state and are therefore publicly available
  • Their owners have chosen to make them freely available for their own reasons.

The most common scenario is where the creator opts to waive their rights to the image, either entirely or partially. For this case, there is a global licensing framework that describes exactly what license an image is registered under, and what rights the owner and users have. The most common and widely used license at the moment is the Creative Commons set of licenses. Let’s explore the types of Creative Commons (CC) licences in a little more detail.

Introduction to the creative commons license

Creative commons is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to provide anyone who creates content (from individuals to institutions) an easy, standardized, and accessible way to license and grant permissions to their creative property.

This leads to what they like to call the “digital commons” – a giant collection of material that can be shares, modified, and used within the boundaries of copyright law. Instead of everything being flagged under one all encompassing copyright law, it allows creators to specify the extent to which their creations can be used and distributed. Here are some important distinctions that can be made:

Commercial or Non-commercial use

There is some gray area when it comes to blogging but generally if it earns you money it is classified as commercial use.

ShareAlike

This basically means that if you ‘remix’ someones work, you have to distribute your results under the same conditions as the original license

NoDerivs

Short for “no derivatives”, it restricts you from editing or remixing someone else’s work in anyway for redistribution. It can only be used in the original form.

Creative commons license you should know

With the above factors in mind, let’s look at Creative Common licenses from most to least restrictive:

CC BY

Attribution
CC BY

CC BY-SA

Attribution-ShareAlike
CC BY-SA

CC BY-ND

Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND

CC BY-NC

Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC

CC BY-NC-SA

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA

CC BY-NC-ND

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

To learn more about what Creative Commons do, and how to distinguish between the various licences read Creative Commons About the licenses.

    Creative commons implement their licenses with a three-pronged approach:

  1. It should be machine readable – This makes content easy to filter out and search for under search engines like Google.
  2. It should be human readable – There should be a visual way that makes it easy for us humans to distinguish between licences.
  3. Legal code – The actual legal description of each license that can be applied in law.

Best free stock photo sites for 2017 – 2018

Free stock images for commercial use without attribution – CC0 licence

Unsplash

From the onset you can see that Unsplash is filled with beautiful and high-quality images, more than 200,000! It makes it almost hard to believe how generous their licensing terms are. They just ask to credit the site and author out of appreciation. They have 41,000+ active photographers and provide daily updates on the best new submissions. In general their curation and organization of photo’s is really impressive, and their entire library is searchable.

View their license here

Pexels

Pexels is another site that has stunning images on offer. Although they are not so focused on organizing and curating as Unsplash. What they do focus on is popularity of photographers, and their creations over the last 30-days. They do this through photographer leaderboards where photographers are ranked according to the their total number of downloads, and categorizing based on popular searches. You can also search for images via keywords or tags.

View their license here

Pixabay

You might have heard of this one before, Pixabay is one of the most popular royalty free image sites online. It has probably one of the most extensive search and filter mechanisms, and you can even filter by the camera it was taken with! Other options include vertical or horizontal orientation, main colors, and dimensions.

View their license here

StockSnap

Stocksnap have a great range of high quality free stock images. You are able to search via image tags, as well as filter via trending, views, downloads, and favorites. They also have their on image editing and retouching software called Snappa, that you can download and use for free.

View their license here

Realistic Shot

Realistic shot doesn’t have as large a collection as some of the other sites on this list, but the quality is every bit as good. You are able to search for images, or filter via architecture, nature, people, travel, or technology. There is also the ability to sign up to receive 7 new images each week. They also stock vectors and other graphics.

View their license here

Life of Pix

Life of Pix is a great looking site that makes sure to display the best photo’s on a proper stage. Instead of the tiled layout of most sites the main page is more like a feed of fantastic photographs. They also have a ‘Photographer of the week award’ to make sure people who do excellent work get acknowledged on a regular basis. There is also a partner site, Life of Vids that distribute free videos.

View their license here

Gratisography

This is one quirky looking site. In keeping with that theme, many of the images seem to fit the same modern, hipster, quirky style. It is a pretty straightforward service, you can download images straight from the front page. You can either search for images, or filter via genres which include animals, nature, objects, people, urban, and whimsical.

View their license here

Jay Mantri

A one man show. Jay Mantri runs a free image and video repository all by himself. If you want to start producing your content to sell (or make available for free), this is the guy you wanna follow. He regularly posts on social media to help you get inspired on what to photograph. As you can expect from a solo venture the site is simplistic, and the images are incredible.

License details on homepage

Public Domain Archive

What makes this site so interesting, is that it not only provides new images produced by photographers but also archives images that have gone into the public domain as a result of their copyright term expiring. This means you can get authentic, really old photo’s that can give an interesting perspective on the past.

View their T&C’s here

Split Shire

Unfortunately for Split Shire, they chose to display their images in very low resolution on their homepage. This will inevitably lead many to just move on to the next site. But don’t be hasty, they have some really decent images on offer. They also have free videos and a huge amount of categories that can be used to filter the images. Their “Top Best” page looks much better.

View their license here

Freestocks.org

Not the biggest site, or the largest variety, but Freestocks has some really good images for use that cover a great range of niches, like fashion, food, and cities. To give you an idea of the size, they only have 56 pages of around 20 images each. But all the images can be searched, or viewed by using one of the category filters.

View their T&C’s here

Negative Space

Negative Space makes excellent use of categories, tags and searches functionality to make it extremely easy to use, especially considering the sheer amount of images available. You can even search a color and image results that feature that color as its main color will appear in your search results, magic!

View their license here

Libreshot

Again, not the best looking site but it has an impressive offering. You can also check popular images from the last 24 hours, as well as the most popular images of all-time. You can also edit the image straight from the site before downloading it thanks to Picozu. You also have the option to download smaller version of the image if required.

View their license here

Free niche stock image websites CC0 licence – Travel, food, startup, nature, feminine

Travel Coffee Book

It doesn’t get more simple than this. Travel Coffee Book is literally a feed of travel pics from the owners and willing submitters. Everything goes on a OneDrive folder which they freely give you and you can download photos at will. Not all the images are of the best quality, but there are surprisingly good submissions.

License details on homepage

Foodie’s Feed

Don’t look at this site if you’re peckish! You’re bound to get a serious case of the munchies. This site has some truly beautiful and hunger-inducing images. They really want professionals or aspiring professionals to use the free license platform to build a portfolio and reputation. You can sign up for more frequent image updates, and it features relevant food categories like top-down and close up.

View their license here

Startup Stock Photos

This site says exactly what it does. It is a straightforward list of modern, trendy and inspiring photos that are perfect for a startup blog, website, or for use in marketing collateral. Startup entrepreneurs will especially appreciate the free photos considering that conserving cash is the name of the game.

License details on homepage

Free Nature Stock

Another free image site run by a single, dedicated author, Adrian Pelletier. Handily, you can search for images according to hashtags. The feed is filled with multi-colored sunsets, starry skies, candid shots of animals, and plenty of greens. The long-exposure shots of stars are especially impressive, and not something you get for free every day.

View their license here

Style Stock (feminine)

Styled Stock is an elegant site, and features feminine stock photography. The images are graceful, delicate, and engaging, and consist mostly of pastels, black and white, and soft colors. If you are a fashion, beauty, or lifestyle blogger or operate a business in that space, this site will be your jam. With a handy search tool and the ability to filter via color, category, and date, this is sure to impress.

View their license here

Free stock images with Creative Commons License

Unlike the websites in the section above, these websites offer images on various CC licenses, meaning you may or may not be able to use these for commercial use and may need to provide attribution. Please review the license for each image you want to use to ensure you comply with the terms of use.

Flickr

Flickr started out as an image sharing site but after an explosion in popularity and the quality and quantity of the images growing it has become a go-to place to find images for re-use. If you contribute to the site it offers an easy interface for organizing your photos into albums or galleries. You can also join groups that are like circles dedicated to a specific niche.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

Kaboompics

This site definitely packs a punch. It makes the bold claim of describing itself as a “Visual Explosion”. It is an incredible site, and has an excellent, feature-rich search engine. It also provides the color palette for every image, and is then able to recommend ‘like’ photos based on complementary color palettes, or images from the same photoshoot, or photographer.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

ISO Republic

On top of a huge amount of free images, ISOrepublic also offers “Premium Photo Packs”. These packs are a collection of photographs about a similar topic or subject and there are usually between 20-40 images per pack. They cost around $15, which is reasonable for such a handy package. They also have a nifty “Textures” category, something most other sites overlook.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

Picjumbo

Picjumbo is also run by a single artistic and charitable fellow called Viktor Hanacek. Not only does he offer good images at a surprising rate for a lone contributor but he also wants to tell his story through his photos. With a premium account, you get access to never before released photo’s as well as an extra 30 new photos per month.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

New Old Stock

This is a site much like Public Domain Archive, except that it exclusively deals in old images that are free from any copyright (as far as they know). The site itself is a bit old school, and it doesn’t come with too many features or integrations (the main sharing option is tumblr) but it does have some amazingly interesting photos. Premium packs come with pre cropped and retouched photos and are worth checking out.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

Stokpic

Stokpic isn’t the most attractive site on this list, but it shouldn’t be judged by its cover. Its free and premium images have some great options and the images are usually touched up, and stylistic. You can reuse the free images in any way except for redistribution. Premium members get new pictures sent to them, and there is even a clock counting down the time until the next delivery.

Note: Remember to review the license for the images you want to use

Best paid stock photo sites for 2017 – 2018

Shutterstock

Now it’s time for the big boys. Shutterstock is arguably the biggest photo collection and definitely the most well-known. In total there are more than 125 million photos, graphics, videos, and music tracks. It is by far the best bang for your buck and strikes a balance between quality images and the right price. Average image cost is between $5 – 10 depending on your plan. There are even options for enterprise subscriptions and you can pay to have your license reach extended.

DepositPhoto

DepositPhotos is a cheaper alternative to some of the other paid sites. However, their curation and organization isn’t as stringent, which can make it a little harder to find the perfect photos or graphics you want. It has one of the better range of vector images available and should be one of the first sites you go to if that’s what you’re looking for. Most subscriptions work out to be a $1 or less per image, so it’s easy on your wallet.

iStock

iStock even trumps Deposit Photo when it comes to vector images, infographics, and illustrations. It also has a very intuitive collection of categories, and it should be very easy for you to find examples of what you want. On average it will cost you around $7 – 20 per image for their recommended plan, which is a little pricey.

Stocksy

Right off the bat, a fantastic aspect of Stocksy is that it has a ‘Mobile’ category which exclusively contains images perfect for mobile display. Although not extensive, their categories do cover the most important areas. The quality of images on here is impeccable and you will struggle to find a higher overall standard. They don’t offer any subscription packages and the average cost per image starts at $15 for small images, up to $125 for extra large. Making it the most expensive option.

Summary

As you can no doubt tell, there are a number of great quality image resources to help elevate your website, blog, or social media account to the next level. Our go-to free stock image sites are Pexels and Unsplash as the quality on these sites is impeccable, while the navigation and user experience is top-of-class.

When we need more specific images, we’ll first hit Shutterstock, which in 95% of scenarios will deliver what we need. If we can’t find what we’re after, we’ll then try Depositphotos, or if we’ve got some budget to play with and want something a little special, we’ll go to stocksy.

Another cool resource that we didn’t mention is Canva, which has great designs and images from $1, and is perfect for posts on Instagram, Facebook, or your blog. Hopefully, you are now more than equipped to go out and start creating your best work – so get to it!

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