I’ve recently had a couple of clients ask me, what are the best places to get free, high-quality stock photos to use on their website. In this post, I’ll cover some of the do’s and don’ts of using stock imagery and the best stock photo resources for high-quality royalty-free images, vectors and videos that you can use on your site, social accounts and marketing without worrying about any copyright issues.
Using eye-catching visual content is a great way to keep visitors attention and encourage engagement on your blog or social account, in fact, a study by BuzzSumo showed that Facebook posts with images see 2.3X more engagement than those without images.
In an endless jungle of websites with text-based content, a beautiful image with a lot of space and colour can be like walking into a clearing. It’s a relief. – David McCandless
While a beautiful image can do wonders for improving social engagement or establishing your business’s credibility, too many images or off-brand images can undo all of that work just as quickly. Before you run off and upload a bunch of images to your website, there are a few do’s and don’ts you should keep in mind.
- Do: Use high-quality images. This is not only important for the user experience across all devices but also for maintaining a consistent professional standard across your site. High-quality images are perfect for responsive design as they ensure the images look great not only on large screens like a desktop or a smart TV but also mobile and tablet devices, especially those with retina or HD displays.
- Do: Keep the images relevant to your brand and audience. If your audience can’t relate to the pictures or they aren’t in keeping with your message and brand, not many of your audience will take the time to read what you have to say.
- Do: Use unique imagery. Probably a no-brainer, but I’m sure you’ve seen the happy lady with the headset waiting to take your support call enough times to last a lifetime. You also want to avoid stock photos that your competitors may be using, if everyone used the same photos it would be hard to tell you apart.
- Do: Obey any copyright and attribution restrictions. Some stock photos may have restrictions on the type of use (personal vs. commercial) while others require you to pay for the right to use them. Always review before using, especially if you’re going to be using them in a commercial project.
- Don’t: Overdo it. When it comes to using stock photos on your website simpler is almost always better, especially if you want it to look & work great on mobile devices too (which you do). Filling a page with several stock photos when a single large, high-quality one would do the same job is never a good idea. Not only will it look messy but it will also result in slower page loading times — which other than annoying your site visitors it could also have a negative impact on your search engine rankings.
- Don’t: Use images saved directly from a Google search. I think because so many people now automatically “Google it” that they forget to pay attention to the copyrights or where an image originates from, others just assume that because a picture is on Google that they must be allowed to use it because Google does, right? No, this isn’t the case, and while I’d advise just to avoid downloading images directly from a Google image search. However, if you really must use a picture you found through Google always check the originating source and ensure you have permission to use the image.
- Don’t: Use photos from social networks without the owner’s permission. Even if one of your customers posted the photo to your page, it doesn’t mean you can take it and start using it yourself without any problems. They might not own the image, and it may be copyrighted. Even if they are the owner, it is still best practice to ask for permission. Asking will show professionalism on your part, and more often than not the customer may have other great photos they’d be happy for you to use, they may even contact you in the future with new photos they’ve taken for you to use — saving you the leg work, bonus!
- Don’t: Use other people’s watermarked images. Most of the time it will look unprofessional and messy on your website. If you haven’t got permission to use a picture, you could land yourself in hot water by using it, especially if it’s copyrighted.
- Don’t: Try to cheat the system. Another way to land yourself in hot water is modifying a copyrighted image to remove watermarks, copyright information, image metadata or illegally obtaining copyrighted images without paying or getting permission. You might think you can get away with it and maybe already have (you’d be surprised how often I’ve seen this sort of thing happening), but this will certainly lead to an eventual copyright claim made against you, potential court proceedings and substantial fines. Not only that but it could completely destroy any credibility you have built for yourself. Copyright owners can always ask you to prove you’ve got permission or paid for the correct license to use their material and if you can’t provide that, then it won’t be good news for you.
With the do’s and don’ts out of the way, let’s get onto the list.
Free Stock Photo, Vector & Video Resources
1. Unsplash (Free for personal & commercial use)
Unsplash is one of my favourite go-to resources for high-quality stock photos, it’s become a popular resource for creatives, bloggers and businesses alike, and it’s not hard to see why. The site features thousands of beautiful high-resolution photos uploaded daily, covering a variety of styles and subjects, from landscapes and lifestyle shots to product images.
By subscribing to the Unsplash newsletter, you’ll receive ten new high-resolution photos straight to your inbox every ten days. All images on Unsplash are released under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license and are free for personal and commercial use, meaning you can use or modify them for any purpose without breaching any copyright laws.
Made with Unsplash has many examples of creative ways designers and others have utilised Unsplash photos in their projects.
2. Pexels (Free for personal & commercial use)
Pexels is another great resource for finding high-resolution images for your blog or business’s needs. The same rules that apply on Unsplash also apply for images on Pexels; download an image and it’s yours.
Again all images are released under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license so you’re free to modify or use them however you want.
3. Pixabay (Free for personal & commercial use)
Pixabay is one of the largest and most comprehensive sites on the list and is one often recommended by marketers. They have almost one million images covering all sorts of subjects.
They have more than just photos though, they also have a large selection of vectors, illustrations and videos available too. All photos, illustrations, vectors and videos are released under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license so you’re free to do whatever you want with them.
4. Skitterphoto (Free for personal & commercial use)
From the cutest newborn puppies to beautiful vast landscapes, with a mix of professional photographs and illustrations, Skitterphoto offers a great variety of public domain images.
Like the websites above all images on Skitterphoto are also released under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license so you’re free to do whatever you want with them, for both personal and commercial projects.
5. Gratisography (Free for personal & commercial use)
Gratisography is a great resource if you’re looking for free high-resolution quirky images. All of the images are by Ryan McGuire and are free of copyright restrictions.
The site has a great collection of unique, comical and quirky photos which you can use on your personal and commercial projects. If you’re looking for something a little different this may be the perfect place to go. I’m a big fan of Ryan’s work and with new photos added weekly, I’d highly recommend you take a look.
7. StockSnap (Free for personal & commercial use)
StockSnap has a great range of professional high-resolution stock imagery available, with hundreds of new images added weekly.
All photos on StockSnap fall under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. That means you can copy, modify, distribute any photo on the site, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission!
6. Freepik (Free for personal & commercial use with accreditation)
Freepik is a great place to look when you’re in need of free vector art, whether it’s to create an infographic or promotional banner for a seasonal sale Freepik has an extensive collection of vectors, PSDs, icons and stock photos that you can use for both personal and commercial projects.
However, unlike the other sites in this list, Freepik is a freemium service which means, the majority of the resources offered can be used for free, only having to credit the author of the illustration to Freepik. They do offer a subscription based premium plan though which allows the use of all images without any accreditation.
8. Flickr (Some free for personal & commercial use)
Flickr is the final site on my list, they have a jaw-dropping quantity of photos, over 13 billion to be more specific. Not all of these are under the Creative Commons license though.
To find the free, no attribution photos you’ll need to either use their search facility and filter by license or head over to the Flickr Creative Commons page to view the photos free of any copyright restrictions. There are several different Creative Commons license sections listed on their Creative Commons page; it’s important you understand what each license means before you use any of the images.
At the time of writing this article, there is 1,372,631 photos under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license also called “Public Domain Dedication” on their website. That’s still an impressive amount of images that you can use for both personal and commercial projects without any copyright restrictions.
So that’s my list of the eight best free, high-quality stock photo & vector resources that you can use both on personal and commercial projects. I hope this has been helpful and if you know of a decent site that didn’t make the list, be sure to leave a comment below.