Where can you find free, quality images to use in blog posts or social media content?
It’s a question with a lot of answers and caveats. Nearly every image created in the last 30 years is still protected by copyright—a protection that gives every image creator the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work. But you can find a public domain photo, use a Creative Commons image that might need attribution, or even create your own image.
We’ll explore all of these and more. Here are things to know before we start:
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
There are various Creative Commons licenses that range from allowing any type of use with no attribution to allowing only certain uses and no changes.
What is public domain?
Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable. Finding something on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain.
These terms will come up often as we discuss free photo sources. Read over the terms and conditions of each site so you know exactly when it can be used and what type of attribution it requires.
Searchable photo databases
If you want a photo or image on a specific topic, you’ll want a searchable site. Here are a few:
1. Dreamstime: Dreamstime offers a free section that’s searchable and frequently updated. It requires you to create a free account.
2. Free Digital Photos: Free Digital Photos houses a wealth of images—categorized and searchable—for business, personal or educational use. The free photos are small, but larger versions are available to purchase. Using the free images often requires a credit to the photographer and the site, like this:
Image credit: khunaspix via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
3. Free Images: Free Images is a searchable and categorized gallery of more than 350,000 stock photos. Downloading a photo requires a longer sign-up, but the big selection might be worth it.
4. Free Range Stock: Free Range Stock offers access to quality, high-resolution stock photos. A free registration is required.
5. Free Photos Bank: Free Photos Bank has a nice collection of downloadable photos without a log-in. They’re extensively categorized and searchable in different ways.
6. ImageFree: ImageFree’s registered users can download both free and paid images to use for corporate and personal projects. The free selection is limited; my search for “coffee” didn’t turn up any free photos.
7. IM Free: IM Free offers a curated collection of free resources, all for commercial use. Search for a keyword or browse through the stylishly crafted categories.
8. Morguefile: Morguefile contains photographs freely contributed by artists. A short registration is required, and Morguefile asks that users credit the photographer.
9. Pixabay: Pixabay offers copyright-free images published under Creative Commons. You can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes. No registration is required.
10. Public Domain Pictures: Public Domain Pictures is a repository for a variety of free public domain images uploaded by amateur photographers. A brief sign-up is required, and you can use the premium download option if you need larger images.
11. Stockvault: Stockvault is a stock photo-sharing website where photographers, designers and students can share their photographs, graphics and image files for free, and use them for personal and non-commercial design work. No registration is required.
12. Rgbstock: Rgbstock is a stock-image site created by photographers and graphic artists. Registration is required, but it’s one click and the pool of photos is pretty deep.
Free-form photo collections
“Bloggers often look for specificity with the images they use on posts when they could see similar results from simply choosing high-quality photos,” says David Sherry of Death to the Stock Photo.
His service and others in this category offer a more freewheeling approach to images—there’s no search but lots of discovery.
13. Ancestry Images: Ancestry Images offers a free image archive of historical prints, maps and artifact photos, like this print of a New Zealand Maori Warrior from 1817:
14. BigFoto: BigFoto is a royalty-free photo gallery to which amateur photographers contribute most of the photos. No log-in is required, and it’s organized mainly by geographic area. For example, this photo is from the Copenhagen collection:
15. Gratisography: Gratisography is a collection of free high-resolution images for personal or commercial use. New photos are added weekly; simply click to download.
16. Death to the Stock Photo: Death to the Stock Photo sends you free high-resolution lifestyle photography every month.
17. FreeMediaGoo: FreeMediaGoo offers royalty-free media for print, film, TV, Internet or any other media both for commercial and personal use. It doesn’t require a log-in, but the inventory is limited and organized into unique categories like “beach backgrounds” and “concrete textures.”
19. iStock: iStock releases new free stock images every week. However, it requires you to sign up for a free membership, and the process is slightly confusing.
20. Little Visuals: Little Visuals delivers seven high-resolution images via email every seven days, and you can use them however you want. Subjects range from industrial parts to idyllic landscapes.
21. New Old Stock: New Old Stock is a collection of vintage photos from the public archives, free of known copyright restrictions.
22. PicJumbo: PicJumbo offers photos for any use. No registration is required. While there’s no search function, the categories help you find your way.
23. Pickupimage: Pickupimage is a large collection of free stock images mostly on nature and outdoor scenes. You can copy, modify and distribute the images—even for commercial purposes. You don’t have to register, but the image collection isn’t broad (there were no results for a search for “coffee”).
24. Superfamous: Superfamous houses the work of Folkert Gorter, a Dutch interaction designer whose photography is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. This means you can use the work for your own purposes—including commercial use—as long as you provide credit.
25. Unsplash: Unsplash offers 10 free high-resolution photos every 10 days. You can do whatever you want with them.
26. Wikimedia Commons: Wikimedia Commons is a database of 21,049,775 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute. The images are painstakingly organized, but the classifications may not be clear if you’re not a big Wikipedia user.
Photo search tools
These sites don’t offer free photos, but a way to easily search Flickr or public domain photos to find what you need quicker.
27. Can We Image: Can We Image searches and displays results from Wikimedia Commons. All search results link directly to the resource’s usage rights page.
28. Compfight: Compfight is a Flickr image search engine that locates images based on your license needs.
29. Creative Commons Search: Creative Commons Search is a photo search engine clearinghouse that offers access to search services provided by other organizations like Flickr and Google.
For example, searching for “kittens” in a Creative Commons Search and selecting “Google Images” brings me here. Note that I set up the search with special parameters:
30. Foter: Foter is a Flickr-focused search tool that helps you quickly unearth photos and identify their licenses.
31. Google Advanced Image Search: Google Advanced Image Search finds free images through Google’s search tools.
32. Every Stock Photo: Every Stock Photo is a search engine for free photos. The photos come from many sources and are license-specific. You can view a photo’s license by clicking on the license icon. Membership is free, and allows you to rate, tag, collect and comment on photos.
33. Image Finder: Image Finder allows users to search Creative Commons photos on Flickr with filters for commercial, non-commercial and other categories.
34. PhotoPin: PhotoPin’s interface allows users to search millions of Creative Commons photos from Flickr.
35. StockPhotos.io: StockPhotos.io is a Creative Commons-licensed photo community of about 25,000 images. You can use all the photos on this Pinterest-like site for commercial purposes with credit to the authors.
36. TinEye: TinEye is a reverse-image search engine. It discovers where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions exist or if there is a higher-resolution version.
37. Wylio: Wylio is an all-in-one picture finder, re-sizer and attribution builder for bloggers. Users can re-size up to five free images per month.
Create-your-own image tools
Want to make your own images? Consider the many tools that help the most design-challenged.
37. Canva: We turn to Canva often to create new images to accompany Buffer’s blog posts. Canva allows users to search for the best graphics, photos and fonts (or upload your own), then use Canva’s drag-and-drop tool to create a new design.
38. Getty Images: This site made news when it began to allow non-commercial sites to embed some of its photos for free. Downloading an image and uploading it to your website is still a no-no—you’ve got to embed it.
An embed is slightly more intrusive than adding a photo into your post—the embed keeps its own frame, share buttons and branding. Still, for many blogs it’s worth looking into.
Search for embeddable photos here. Read the instructions and then click on the “Search images available to embed” link.
39. Social media sites: You can also embed Twitter, Facebook or Google+ posts into your blog posts, as well as YouTube videos and Slideshare decks. Pinterest boards are a little trickier to embed, but it’s possible.
Viewers can engage with embedded posts more deeply than with static content by following users or liking and commenting on posts. Consider replacing screenshots with embedded posts so users can engage with your examples.
For even more options for making original art, check out Buffer’s “14 Great Tools to Create Engaging Infographics and Images for your Social Media Posts.”
What free photo sites did I miss? What tools do you like? Keep the list growing in the comments!
Courtney Seiter creates content at Buffer. A version of this article originally appeared on the Buffer blog.