If you are new to blogging or social media marketing and are looking for free stock images, you’re in the right place.
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The internet has given us so many free things, from free audiobooks and entertainment to massive sources of information, but images have largely been tied to copyright laws.
Not every photograph or image we see online is ours for the taking, and awareness of this is becoming increasingly widespread, but it may still be confusing.
Today, you’ll learn about stock photos, how to use them, what happens if you “steal” them, and a vetted list of websites where you can get free stock images.
Or, if you know what you’re looking for, you can jump to the list of free stock image websites to browse. Make sure you bookmark this page so you can refer back to it when you need to.
Stock Photos 101: What You Need to Know Before Downloading Free Stock Images
So, what are stock photos anyway?
Stock photos are photographs that have already been taken and created and then made available for license by the artist that created them.
This means that other people can get licenses to use these photographs while the artists retain ownership of their photos through copyright.
What Is Copyright?
Copyright is the legal right of a person over one’s intellectual property, such as music, writing, film, photography, graphics, and other works.
The owner of a copyright has six exclusive rights:
- To reproduce the work.
- To distribute the work.
- To create derivative works.
- To publicly perform the work.
- To publicly display the work.
- To publicly perform sound recordings by means of a digital audio transmission.
Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are protected under the copyright law until the copyright holder’s day of death (plus 70 years).
If you violate any of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights listed above, you can be legally punished in several ways, such as paying damages and profits, paying an additional $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed, paying for the other party’s lawyer fees and court costs.
If the infringed work was sold for more than $2,500 within a 6-month period, the copyright infringement falls under felony, which means you can be fined up to $250,000 and be served 5 years of prison time (for first-time offenders), and up to 10 years or more for repeat offenders.
Okay, this is not meant to scare you, but for you to take copyright law seriously and not just download photos and images you get from Google Images to use in your blog or social media.
So How Can I Use Stock Photos Legally?
Okay, so say you find stock images you want to use that you don’t have a copyright for. How can you use it?
You need to either get written permission from the author, which is touch and go.
Or you can do the more common route, which is to pay for a license to use them.
Commonly, artists work with stock photo agencies to advertise their stock photos and process payments for licenses on their behalf.
There are two kinds of licenses normally granted: royalty-free or rights-managed licenses.
A royalty-free license gives the buyer the basic right to use the image over and over again for a one-time payment.
So just because an image is posted as royalty-free does NOT always mean it’s free.
License agreements may vary, but these are commonly non-exclusive (meaning other people can pay for licensing of the photo) and non-transferable (meaning you can’t resell the license or gift it to anyone else).
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Royalty-free licenses can be personal, editorial, or commercial.
A personal license allows you to use a stock photo as your desktop wallpaper or print it and hang it on your home.
An editorial license is the one you want to get if you want to use a stock photo on your blog or social media posts.
A commercial license allows you to use a stock photo for advertising or marketing purposes, with the express intent of selling a product or service. Examples include social media ads, TV commercials, brochures, billboards, and other similar marketing materials.
Aside from royalty-free licenses, stock photo agencies can also offer a rights-managed license, of which the price is dependent on where, how often, how long, and how many will potentially see the image.
Are There Really Free Stock Images?
Yes, there are!
You can use photos that are in the public domain, which are images that are totally free to use for any purpose, including commercial use. These can be images created by the US government, images whose copyrights have expired, or images that have had their copyrights relinquished by the copyright owners.
You can also use photos under fair use, which allows you to use the image as long as it is used for non-profit or educational purposes, if the image is changed drastically, and if it is used “informatively for the public good.”
Finally, you can also use photos licensed under a Creative Commons license. This is the most common route for you to get free stock images.
Photographers can give other people the right to use their images for free under certain conditions. These conditions vary and can be as simple as crediting the copyright owner when you use their stock images.
When attributing photos to their authors, the best practice is to follow the TASL acronym:
- Title of the image (if there’s any)
- Author or owner of the material
- Source of the content, such as the URL/hyperlink where you downloaded the photo from
- License that the image is under, preferably linked to the Creative Commons website or to the specific license page of the website where you downloaded the photo
For more details on the different Creative Commons licenses, read up on the different Creative Commons licenses on the Creative Commons website.
If all this is still confusing to you, but you’ll be needing a ton of images for your blog or Instagram regularly, I recommend you check out this chart to understand the laws and ethics for using copyrighted images.
The go-to royalty-free stock image provider of many bloggers. Also has stock videos available.
Not as big as paid stock photo sites, but Unsplash still has a massive collection with more than a million high-resolution images provided by over 210,000 contributors.
One of the oldest sites with free stock images, they have over 2.5 million photos and videos you can download and use for anything without attribution necessary.
With thousands of hi-res images, finding free stock images on this site requires an advanced search feature. New images are added each week and are all released under Creative Commons License – CC0 license, so you don’t need to ask permission to use, copy, modify, or distribute the image for personal or commercial use.
5. Scatter Jar
Perfect for food bloggers, Scatter Jar provides hundreds of free stock images in the food and drink category. They’re high-resolution, so your blog would still look as presentable as other blogs that pay for pictures.
If you’re not a fan of free stock images that look too “stock-photo-ish,” (yeah, you know what I mean, with the awkward posing and super-organized group shots), then this quirky site would tickle your fancy.
The site is owned by Bells Design founder Ryan McGuire, who releases all images on the site under Creative Commons Zero. If you love his work, you can donate voluntarily to his coffee fund.
Shopify released this awesome resource to provide thousands of free stock images for its e-commerce users.
Note that most photos on Burst are licensed under Creative Commons CC0, but there are others under Shopify’s own photo license.
Thousands of professionally taken, high-quality royalty-free images, stock photos, illustrations, and vectors that anyone can download for personal and commercial use without licensing fees.
MorgueFile is home to artists sharing royalty-free images with each other. This community is active with daily photo challenges and continuously updated collections. All images are free to use under Creative Commons CC0, or its own free stock photo license.
Adorable name with content that is much more impressive. This stock site also has premium accounts, but the free version (just sign up for the newsletter) and be e-mailed free stock images every month.
This free stock photo site also has wallpapers, textures, and illustrations that are added on a daily basis.
Grallim Stock began with a major focus on free stock images in the fitness industry, but they have since branched out with other categories like food, animals, travel, nature, and people doing other things besides working out at the gym.
Images are 100% free to use under their own license.
Launched by a photographer whose photos used to be rejected by major stock sites, PicJumbo now has thousands of images, backgrounds, textures, and other visual content that are free of charge, with no watermarks, and can be used in both personal and commercial projects.
14. Life of Pix
Founded by Montreal-based LEEROY creative agency, Life of Pix provides a gallery filled with high-resolution public domain images, clips, videos, and loops. Subscribe to their newsletter and get sent free stock images every week.
The images inside PikWizard’s collection are quite unique. Most images with people as subjects look more natural than other stock photos. Free accounts are available and paid ones have added features such as an online image-editing tool.
Styled Stock Society offers one-of-a-kind stock photos and brand visuals specifically geared toward feminine-themed businesses. They offer a bundle with 25 free stock images just to give you an idea of what they have to offer. You can then become a member for a fee.
This site supports budding photographers who may need a platform to showcase their work in. The photographs here are unique, so it’s perfect if you want something uncommon. Available with no attribution required commercially or editorially.
Founded by Jeffrey Betts, who specializes in photography around nature and workspaces. You can download and use his high-resolution photos under Creative Commons CC0 license.
Similar to Scatter Jar, this site offers high-quality photos of food under CC0 license, so if you’re a food blogger, you should bookmark FoodiesFeed now.
20. New Old Stock
New Old Stock compiles public domain images. Many of the black-and-white vintage photographs are copyright-free and are fully available for you to download and use without restrictions.
Ideal for backgrounds and textures, the free stock images featured at Kaboompics are spread across a few categories like architecture, landscape, abstract, and more. The images are allowed to be used even in commercial requirements, but they are not allowed to be distributed or sold.
This site has a massive collection of public domain images, vectors, photographs, PSD mockups, and textures. rawpixel also has paid memberships allowing you to use more photos for personal and commercial use, 10% of which goes towards donations for Hope for Children.
Founded by Daniel Nanescu, his site is devoted to showcasing his photos for free. There are over 1,100 free stock images on SplitShire (with photos added daily) that you can use for both personal and commercial purposes.
Since its launch, Nanescu’s photos have been downloaded over 2,000,000 times.
24. Jay Mantri
Like Nanescu’s SplitShire, Jay Mantri also created his website to share impressive photographs to anyone who wants to use them. The photos are released every Thursday under the Creative Commons CC0 license.
Canva is popular as an online design and publishing tool, but they also have loads of free stock images you can use for your blog and social media in accordance with their Free Media License.
VistaCreate is an online graphic design tool similar to Canva. They have a library of royalty-free stock images available for you to use and download, as long as you attribute.
Flickr is home to tens of billions of photos, with a great percentage of them with a Creative Commons license. Utilize the advanced search facility to search for photos with a CC0 license.
28. Haute Stock
Similar to Styled Stock Society, Haute Stock specializes in stock photos styled especially for feminine-themed and women-led businesses. Sign up for their newsletter and get several free stock images in your email, as well as branding and marketing tips.
29. Social Squares
Social Squares has more than 6,000 images of lifestyle and flat lay images, with more than a hundred added every month.
Get 20 free stock images when you subscribe to their newsletter, and browse through their free resources to possibly get more.
As suggested by the name, the FreeImages website has over 300,0000 free images in plenty of categories available to use for personal and commercial purposes.
Freepik has thousands of free graphic resources available to download and use for free. Getting a premium subscription gives you access to millions more.
If you blog or post about startups and need free stock photos of entrepreneurs in startup settings, Startup Stock Photos has you covered. The niche is very specific, so don’t expect too many photos.
Picography has a good mix of high-resolution nature and urban photographs available under CC0 license.
Vecteezy is home to millions of high-quality photographs and videos continuously updated with fresh content.
The free stock photos on this site range from people to fashion to food, so there’s something for everyone. All photos are under CC0 license.
The Bottom Line
The Internet is a place that keeps on giving, but you shouldn’t just be accepting stuff because they’re seemingly free since images, songs, films, and other content are constantly available online and make a lot of people assume they’re up for grabs.
Now that you know that you can be in trouble simply by using someone else’s image, you better start using any of the sites I’ve listed above. And always, always remember to read license terms before use.