Although some business owners and creatives may have the time and resources to snap original, highly engaging photos to go along with all of their social, blog, and website needs, that isn’t the reality for every creator.
Luckily, if you search in the right places, you find thousands of completely free, high-quality images that you can use to enhance your brand while saving you some money.
Contrary to belief, pulling imagery from a Google search doesn’t make it okay to use it on your business blog, social media platforms, or anywhere else, for that matter. Unless you’re searching Google Images and filtering for images with Creative Commons licensing (more on that to come), chances are using those images can break copyright laws.
Consider this your crash course in understanding photo licensing and finding photos you can use freely when you’re on a budget and trying to save money for your small business.
Understanding the lingo
Before sharing our favorite sites for free imagery, we want to share this quick breakdown of different photo licensing terminology and what they mean.
What are the different types of photo licenses?
Royalty-free: Individuals and businesses can license a royalty-free image once, then use that image however they want without needing to license it every time. It’s not free upfront—you just don’t have to pay royalties to the creator after paying the initial fee.
Creative Commons: This global not-for-profit organization allows designers and photographers to properly label their work to be used by others with varying levels of sharing and reuse depending on the specific type of Creative Commons license.
Public domain: Copyrights on these types of images have either expired (or never existed) and can be used by the public for personal or commercial use. It’s also referred to as a Creative Commons Zero license or CC0.
Creativity on a budget: 8 free imagery sites to try
If you’ve been in the world of content creation for some time now, you’re probably familiar with the OG stock imagery website, Flickr. Not only is Flickr an excellent source for stock imagery, but it’s also a great place to share and original work.
Flickr makes it pretty clear in their guidelines that linkbacks are required for any images or videos found on their site to provide visibility to the original creator. When browsing the site, you should filter by the type of licensed image you’re looking for to ensure you don’t run into any copyright issues further down the road.
On this platform, millions of photographers are spreading their craft (and creativity) by uploading imagery that other entrepreneurs and creators can use at their free will.
Whether you’re working on a presentation to pitch your latest business strategy to investors or are updating your online course, high-resolution images on Unsplash are 100% free to use. Although linkbacks aren’t required, it’s always advised to cite your source, even for imagery.
Founder Neosha Gardner created this unique stock imagery site after struggling to find stock imagery of Black women. This grassroots stock imagery site is excellent if you have trouble finding imagery inclusive of melanated women during your creative process. While the site doesn’t have thousands of images to choose from, the quality beats the quantity any day.
Pexels’ mission is to empower creators by giving them access to stunning images and designs to use for any of their creative endeavors. Another great feature about Pexels is that you have free rein to modify the videos and photos you download—this is not always allowed.
Pro-tip: If you know a great photographer that would be interested in paying it forward by contributing their original works to Pexels for creators to use, make sure to let them know they’re always welcome to do so. This can be a great way to get more exposure.
This platform may be known for its immaculate user-friendly templates for almost any graphic or project you can think of, but there’s also a ton of stock imagery loaded into the site. If you’re looking to create cool graphics or social media posts that include free stock imagery, you can do both right on Canva.
If your creative projects require a bit more than just images and sleek designs, you’ll be happy to hear that Pixabay also offers music and videos to suit your needs. Consider this as your one-stop-shop for all things to enhance your content for both digital and print assets.
Some people enjoy whimsical, quirky content, and luckily for you, there’s a stock imagery site that hosts a sizable collection of it. From distorted portraits to unique graphic designs, you’re sure to find something eye catching on Gratisography. If “out of the ordinary” falls in line with your brand, move this resource to the top of your list.
One pretty amazing feature that Negative Space offers, besides 100% free CC0 imagery, is the ability to search images by color scheme. If you’re a stickler for staying “on brand” or just on theme, you’ll love exploring the imagery on this photo platform.
At the end of the day, original photography and custom designs will always be more impactful for your business. But when you’re looking to save a little on marketing and advertising and create a budget you can stick to, don’t be afraid to explore these options.