Finding the perfect free stock photo site is a pain. As a content marketer and designer, I’m constantly looking for high-quality images for my presentations. I have the exact vision in my head of what image I want, but too much of the time, the photo is hard to find. Half the time the results I get are that generic man-in-office photo or the super cheesy I’m-giving-a-great-presentation shot. Not so great when I’m trying to design a convincing presentation.
This got me thinking, if I feel this frustrated about finding high-quality, high-resolution free stock images, and I’m frequently on the image search, then you must be frustrated too.
So to say no more to low quality, generic photos, I’ve curated a list of the best free stock photo websites where you can find images for your presentations, online courses, social media posts, newsletters, the works.
Importantly, I’ve done all the hard work for you. I’ve checked to make sure that each photo site in this list falls under the Creative Commons Zero license, aka they are free to use for your commercial and personal needs. (Find a more detailed legal explanation at the end.)
Even though these sites are free and you aren’t required to give credit, it never hurts to give a little love back to these talented artists.
Free stock photo sites
3. Death to the Stock Photo
Rogue photographers, as Allie Lehman and David Sherry of Death to the Stock Photo call themselves, send you downloadable photos right to your inbox, and that’s the only way to get them. If you’re digging what they’re sending, you can pay $15/month to get full access to their library and a bonus image pack each month.
4. Negative Space
Each Monday, London-based photographer Luis Llerena adds 20 new photos to Negative Space. Can’t find the exact image you were looking for? Tweet him and you may receive.
Since Viktor Hanacek started picjumbo in Nov. 2013, his photos have been downloaded over 1.5M times. Why did he decide to start a free stock photo site? No one else would accept his photos. Lucky us!
6. Insta Stock
Dylan Simel has taken iPhone photography to the next level with Insta Stock. He’s created this stock site of photos all taken on his iPhone 6, which he updates by uploading one new picture almost daily.
Italian photographer and designer Daniel Nanescu’s stock site, SplitShire, is “Made with love in Italy.” For only $20/year, you can sign up to get all of his old and new photos uploaded directly to your Dropbox.
8. Life of Pix
Leeroy, an advertising agency in Montréal, built Life of Pix with their own images and through their network of photographers. They add new photos weekly. They also produce a free video site, Life of Vids, and even provide beautiful doses of inspiration.
9. Startup Stock Photos
Startup Stock Photos started with a simple purpose: to provide creatives and entrepreneurs a resource with beautiful and free images. Produced by social media marketing agency Sculpt and photographer Eric Bailey, the site focuses on the image needs of startup companies: technology, office shots, coffee shops, etc.
As the ever-awesome marketing blog, SideKick by HubSpot decided it was time again to help its readers stress less over creative license agreements and copyright laws. HubSpot hired a photographer, built their own stock photo arsenal, and give access away for free (in exchange for an email address).
3 free stock image repositories
1. The Stocks
The Stocks is an aggregated tumblr site that pulls free images from 14 different websites, like some of the ones I listed above.
Pexels is a stock photo aggregator that pulls its images from Unsplash, Gratisography, Little Visuals and other CC0 sites. Around 70 new free stock photos are added each week.
3. Stock Snap
Stock Snap is a CC0 photo repository that collects stock images from around the world and through daily submissions by photographers. A cool feature Stock Snap has, is that you can search by trending images and most viewed.
Bonus: Icon websites and image creator
1. Endless Icons
Endless Icons is a vector icon website created as a side project by designer and developer Min Kim. The icons still fall under the same CC0 license as all the photos. Min is also in the process of developing his own free image site: Endless Photos. It’s in a beta version now, but you can sign up to receive notifications when it’s live.
iconmonstr is a vector icon gallery made in Germany by Alexander Kahlkopf. You can download various PNG and SVG sizes.
Canva is a platform where you can design your own images for social media, presentations, posters, and photo collages.
Lastly, just in case you want to spend money on your images and upgrade your options from free stock image site, here are five paid options. You can either pay per image, buy an image pack, or purchase a monthly or annual subscription.
Shutterstock If you subscribe to ShutterStock, they offer a free weekly download of one random photo and vector. But as I said, random. You get no choice with what they give you.
When you download images from the sites above, the sizes are giant (some of the originals that I used are even 60MB). Using images that are this large in your projects can really jack up your file size. So to combat this, here are a few helpful tips on resizing your photos.
Drop your image into Photoshop
Go to Image-> Image size (in top bar)
First change the resolution to 72dpi (if you are using the image of the web. For print use 300dpi)
Then adjust the width (in pixels) based on the dimensions of your blog, presentation or social media site
Save your image for the web
2. On a Mac
Open the image in Preview
Tools-> Adjust Size (in top bar)
Change the resolution to 72 dpi and then adjust the image size (in pixels) to fit your desired width
File-> Export to save your image as a new file
*Hack Method: If Preview is being wonky, drag the photo from the bottom corner inward to the size you want and take a screenshot of the image, and use the screenshot instead
3. On a PC
Let’s get legal
As if finding free stock image sites isn’t hard enough, there is the Creative Commons licensing to worry about. There are seven regularly used licenses. Not correctly following these licensing requirements can lead to a very costly mistake.
To make it easy, my above list only includes sources that fall under the Creative Commons Zero license (CC0).
What does CC0 mean?
The original creator of the content has freely given up the rights to the work to the public domain, worldwide
You are free to copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for your commercial and personal needs
No need to ask for permission or give attribution to the photographer
The one thing you can’t do with these free images is redistribute or sell them to make a profit.
Even though I use many of these sites regularly, I still confirm the rights before using anything, just to be safe, and I do recommend that you try to do the same.
The other six commonly used Creative Commons licenses
Here’s a brief overview of the other six licenses in case you come across them:
Attribution: You can remix, distribute, tweak and build upon the work, even for commercial purposes, but you must credit the original creator, and say if changes were made
Attribution-ShareAlike: It’s just like the attribution license, but any work you create, must also be shared under the same terms as the original work
Attribution-NoDerivs: You can use the work for commercial and personal uses, as long as the work ist changed in any way, and you credit the original creator
Attribution-NonCommercial: You can remix, tweak and build upon the work for only non-commercial purposes only and you must give credit to the original creator
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: You can remix, tweak and build on the work for non-commercial purposes only. You must give credit to the original creator. If you remix the original, you must share your work under this same license
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: This is the most restrictive of the CC licenses. You can download and share the work, but you can’t change it in away or use it commercially. You must give credit to the original creator
One final thing to be aware of is when you are using images with a specific brand showing, for example Apple or Nike. Although the images are free to use, the logos in the photos are copyrights of the brand (and most likely are copyrighted), so just pay attention to where the logos fall when you are choosing an image.
A way around this is to try to pick an image that isn’t blatantly showing the logo or symbol that defines the brand.