- High quality, free stock image sources are available, if you know where to look
- Some sources are general, while others have photo in a specific niche
- Free stock image sources provide high-quality images. but you should always double check that the permission allows for commercial use
The modern internet is teeming with potential sources of free stock images. Sometimes these are libraries maintained by specific photographers or collectives of photographers who use free images to promote their own work. In other cases, they’re platforms created to provide business resources for general marketing or for specific niches of blogging and content creation.
What’s certainly true is that they aren’t all created equal. Some source libraries outperform the rest. Here, we’ve collected 10 of the best, identifying clearly what earns their places in this list.
What Are Stock Images?
When photos have been captured, edited, and made available for general use, they’re called stock images. They tend not to involve identifiable people, trademarked products, or landmarks. Instead, they usually represent specific topics, messages, or concepts.
Stock image libraries online fall into two general categories. Premium stock images require specific crediting and licensing fees to use but offer more selection. Royalty-free stock images are those you can use for free without providing credit.1
What Are Free Stock Images?
If you’re on a tight budget and want to avoid unnecessary expenses, free stock images help grow your business through marketing campaigns that don’t break the bank. Free stock images typically come under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license which means they can be copied, adapted, and distributed without requiring the creator’s specific consent for each use.
Many free sites accept amateur photographer contributions. These photographers often aren’t aware that model waivers are desirable for photos of people. You may need to contact the site to clarify this question before using some images.
What Makes High-Quality Stock Images?
A high-quality stock image has a print resolution of a minimum of 640 by 480 pixels. These images need to be sharp, focused, and free of “noise.” The very best stock photos stand out because they employ creativity and subtlety and don’t rely on putting people in awkward poses or using cliches to get their point across. We looked for sites that struck a balance between versatility, usability, and quality curation.
Best Places for Free Stock Images
These are our picks for the 10 leading source libraries for free stock images. We chose them because of the versatility of their collections, the extent to which they provide genuinely high-quality images, or in some cases because they focus effectively on a specific niche that makes them valuable to certain businesses or types of projects. Being easy to search is also important, with the best having intuitive tags and categories for users to interact with.
One of the most widely acknowledged leaders in the space, Unsplash has an expertly curated library that sports some standout work. It has a reasonably powerful search tool, sports site- and user-created collections focused on topics and provides an iOS app for users on the go. The overall collection isn’t as large as some other sites but makes up for this with consistent quality.2
2. Adobe Stock Free Collection
Adobe recently opened up tens of thousands of photos and other creative assets for free creative, personal and business use. The photos are extremely high quality, typically provided under Adobe’s flexible standard license terms, which restrict distribution of the photo’s source file or sale of items that use the photo as their primary value source. The site’s filtering system makes it easy to find the specific subject you’re looking for.3
A major source of public domain images – including vector illustrations and even videos alongside the photo library – Pixabay lets you choose downloads at a range of resolutions. The selection is versatile even if overall quality is a little more uneven than a source such as Unsplash. It’s especially noted for its landscape image library, a great source of background images for blogs and websites. The site contains some NSFW images, avoidable by engaging its SafeSearch function.4
Pexels hosts uploaded images from the general public and curates the best of them for its searchable collection, as well as providing themed browsing for certain broad types of photos. Popular with web and app designers for its collection of device-themed images, Pexels hosts creative and imaginative free stock photos. Some of its images are limited use, so it’s important to be attentive when downloading.5
Vecteezy’s search engine makes it easy to filter its large library of free photos by multiple criteria including color, style, and orientation. Notably, the site also requires signed model and property releases from its contributors, a detail often not covered on free stock photo sites and one that makes its library among the safest to use from a liability standpoint. Vecteezy’s content team provides expert curation for each uploaded item, making its collection a standout for consistent quality overall.6
FreeImages is a little more basic in its site design and search functionality than some of the other choices here, but it still hosts thousands of high-quality stock images, both photos and illustrations, divided into more than 80 categories for ease of browsing. It’s generally possible to find something of use for most projects in common marketing categories such as fitness and food, money and travel, fashion and family, and business overall.7
7. Burst by Shopify
A Shopify feature that provides e-commerce entrepreneurs with easy access to promotional images, Burst offers a mixture of Creative Commons-licensed photos and images under Shopify’s photo license. Most of these images were created in-house by Shopify instead of being publicly sourced. As such, the collection isn’t as versatile as some but is excellent for focusing on trending niches.8
The last three spots on this list belong to collections that are more niche in scope. Freestocks.org is run by a small team of three photographers who are dedicated to supplying cliche-free stock images, and it shows. While fairly rudimentary in its search capacity, its collections offer extremely high-quality images for fashion, nature and pet photos in particular. Despite its limitations, this is one of those sites that goes the extra mile for specific needs.9
Created by a young Czech food photographer, Foodiesfeed began as a promotional outlet for a single freelancer’s work but has grown into a food photography juggernaut with multiple contributors. It is a must for food bloggers, hosting an extraordinary image selection for common food and beverage items. Don’t expect exotic foods such as durian fruit, but for standard food blogging purposes, the site offers a wealth of high-quality stock images. Foodiesfeed also offers a versatile search function.10
10. New Old Stock
Finally, there’s New Old Stock. It may be closer to a photo blog than a searchable library, but it also occupies a truly unique niche, providing a striking selection of vintage stock photos. What’s most distinctive about this collection is that you won’t find a hint of “stock photo” cliches anywhere in it. These images are as much living witnesses to forgotten history as they are stock photos, and they’re worth the while for that alone.11