Stock images are handy resources for bloggers, news agencies, geeky tech review sites, and a lot more, with ready-to-use images spanning general topics and niche needs alike. The fact that many of them are free is just icing on the cake! Here’s a look at the best free stock image sites around today.
Stock Image License Types
It’s a common misconception that all stock photos are free to use and don’t require you to ever credit the artist, which isn’t always the case. There are several licensing options pertaining to stock images—each with their own restrictions and rules—and learning about them can help you steer clear of lawsuits and other legal trouble. Copyright laws vary by country, so we’ll just briefly discuss the stock image licensing within the United States.
- Public Domain: Images that are public domain are free to use and have no intellectual property law protection (think: trademarks, copyrights, or patents). Typically, these are either older images with expired rights, or images of any age with rights that have been forfeited by their owner. The Creative Commons license is a subset of public domain images, which may require photo attribution (i.e., crediting the artist) if you want to use them. Public domain images can be modified, copied, and distributed without creator permission. All of the sites listed in this article are public domain and free for you to use.
- Royalty Free: Images with a royalty-free license are those typically offered by paid stock photography agencies like Shutterstock. Royalty-free images require you to pay a one-time flat fee to be granted the right to use the photo (but not ownership rights to the photo itself). This type of license also gives you permission to use that image again in the future if you want. Some content creators or specific websites may also require attribution if you use an image.
- Rights Managed: Images with Rights Managed are under a limited-usage license, and are restricted to an exclusive aone-time use basis, with details like usage purpose, size, time in use, and others agreed upon beforehand between the customer and the owner. This purpose cannot be changed, and if you want to use one of these images a second (or third) time, you’ll have to pay for additional licensing. Rights Managed images typically cost more than those that are royalty free.
As stated earlier, we’re only focusing on sites with public domain images that are free to use.
Professional Photos on the Regular: Unsplash
Unsplash (Free) is a great place to find high-quality photos taken by both professional and semi-professional photographers. There’s a search bar right on the Home page where you can type in specific keywords, or you can opt to browse through over a million images covering a variety of topics, from technology and architecture to nature and mobile wallpapers.
If you hover over a photo, you’ll see a few basic options like favoriting, adding to a collection, or downloading the image. Clicking on it gives you more options like information about the image or options for sharing it, along with size options for downloading. Unsplash’s photos are beautiful, the website is easy to use, and new photos are added weekly.
Fresh and Popular Vibes: StockSnap.io
If you need bold photos that look fresh (and aren’t on everyone else’s websites), StockSnap.io (Free) is a great resource. From the homepage, you can search for photos, scroll through the entire gallery, or click on the Categories or Trending pages. Be aware that the top images in each category are often dog-eared with a star, meaning they’re actually sponsored pay-to-access photos from Shutterstock, but below those are images you can get free from StockSnap.
StockSnap also keeps track of individual image views and downloads, which makes it easy for you to see which images are currently the most popular. Hovering over a photo shows you its view, favorite, and download counts, and clicking on a photo shows a bit more information and lets you download the image.
A Vibrant Photo Community: Pexels
Pexels (Free) is a community-loving stock image site known for taking submissions from artists around the world. Its wide variety of beautiful photos each have relevant tags, so it’s easy to find similar photos or search new categories. You can look at all of Pexels’ image collections from the Discover tab, and even search through their massive collection of stock videos.
Hovering over the Explore tab lets you refine your image search by image popularity, color, and even community-centric choices like artist leaderboards. Pexel doesn’t give much information when hovering over a photo, but clicking on one shows you all of its relevant details, and even the option to follow a particular creator if you like their work. Pexels isn’t quite as easy to use as Unsplash, but its images are beautiful and fun (and it’s a great website if you’re interested in contributing photos and participating in regular artist challenges).
Quirky and Creative: Gratisography
Created by one guy, Ryan McGuire, Gratisography (Free) prides itself on being the home for quirky, creative, and un-boring stock images. You can find images by browsing large generic categories like animals, fashion, business, and urban; or get lost in curated collections about goofy grownups, funky food, or virtual backgrounds. The site does have a few sponsored third-party photos across it, however, so be aware as you browse.
Of course, Gratisography lets you search with more traditional keywords as well like nature and animals. If you’re fed up with seeing the same old stock images everywhere and you don’t want to perpetuate that cycle, let Gratisography help you connect with your inner weirdo.
Power to the People: Pikwizard
Sometimes, it’s nice to have resources that cater to your specific niche, and Pikwizard (Free) excels at this. Pikwizard has some of the most authentic-feeling stock images of people just being people—working out, getting their hair done, or hugging a family member. Of course, Pikwizard has tons of photos from other super-specific categories as well like Baby Cats, Street Lamps, Black and White Pics, and Stack of Books, so whatever your creative needs are, you can probably find the perfect image with Pikwizard.
Hovering over a photo shows you how many times it’s been favorited or downloaded, and clicking on it shows you options for downloading and sharing, and provides a link for crediting the artist. Pikwizard’s built-in editing tool is actually pretty robust, too. It lets you apply filters; adjust transparency; crop, resize, add text, or shapes; work with templates; and more.
A Smorgasbord of Food Photos: Foodiesfeed
Food is one of those topics that has always been and will always be talked about, so it’s a good thing that Foodiesfeed (Free) is stocked up on all kinds of food images. From the Home page, you can search for one of the site’s more than 1,500 photos, or browse by categories like cake, coffee, pizza, or even healthy foods.
You can get something as simple as a picture of tomatoes or a bowl of berries, to beautifully staged photos of summer barbeque feasts or produce at a vibrant Asian market. The images look bright and exciting, and are perfect for blogs and business websites alike. You can download an image simply by hovering over it and clicking the download button.
Vintage Images: New Old Stock
Sometimes, a super old photo works just as well as a snazzy new one. The guy running New Old Stock (Free) understands that, and has scoured Flickr Commons to find actual vintage public domain images he then curates on this site. Clicking on an image takes you to its Flickr page, which should show all of its pertinent information, like format, rights, what collection it’s part of, how many views it has and so forth. You should link back to an image’s Flickr page to mention the institution who’s hosting it by name if you use it.
Unique, Not Stocky: Reshot
Reshot (Free) embodies the saying “out with the old, in with the new” with its bold and unique collection of stock images. Its photos look more like a beautiful photo gallery or highly curated Instagram feed, not the same old dreary stock collection that’s smothering the rest of the internet. Typing in keywords to Reshot’s easy-to-use search bar brings up tons of fun photos that span a wide range of topics, so you can quickly and easily find one that’s perfect. Clicking on a photo shows you a photo’s info, like its resolution, title, download button, and a link to view its license agreement, plus you can scroll down to see related photos.