FREE! A word that catches most people’s interest — especially when it’s attached to a service or product that’s typically (and shockingly) pretty costly. So, it’s no surprise that more often than not, most people head to the web to search for free images so they can avoid having to take their own photos or pay out the rear-end for one measly blog post picture.
Once you hit up the online search, how do you know which platforms are the best to use and present the least amount of hoops to jump through to get your download? Which ones offer content that’s actually free for commercial use and which ones don’t really make it clear what’s free to use and what isn’t?
That’s what I’m covering here — places to go to get the best images with the least hassle using absolutely none of your marketing budget. Hopefully what you find here will get you out of your photo-finding-frenzy and into a tranquil state of picture-picking bliss.
I’m assuming one of two things about your online image-seeking process: you either….
If you fit #1’s description, you’ve likely seen the following platforms pop up a lot in your search results, especially if you’re filtering for “Labeled for Reuse”:
This tactic isn’t a bad one, it’s certainly ideal when you just need a quick pic that doesn’t have to be super fancy, or even good…it just has to work…
For those who need a bit more professionalism in your approach (no offense #1ers), you probably fit into the 2nd category and use a free online platform (or two) to find what you need. And for the record, by “a bit more professionalism,” I mean you’re looking for a certain quality as well as a certain guarantee that what you’re using is in fact available for you to use the way you’re using it. Kapeesh?
A quick word to the wise: don’t even bother with freestockphotos.com… (I won’t even link to it, it’s so bad). You’d think with a domain name like that, you’d be visiting the biggest, baddest, coolest free stock photo mama jama on the web….then you get there and see this:
Yikes. ABORT MISSION.
Outside of this atrocity of a website (☝️), many of the common platforms include a certain amount of standard features, which often includes:
The platforms I’m presenting in this group have all of the above:
Pixabay is a platform you’ll often find among Google’s search results. This one’s a personal favorite of mine, simply because, like Pexels (next on the list), I get immediate access to whatever images I want, but also because they have a great selection of transparent illustrations, the site includes a search filter, and users are prompted to buy the contributing photographer a cup of coffee as “payment” for the image. I love coffee. Hard to compete with that…
Pexels is pretty much just like Pixabay, except Pexels has no search filter, which is kind of a bummer. It does let you have the pictures with zero commitment, though. No signup required, no form to fill out…not even a reCaptcha pop up to prove you’re human… I’ll take it.
I have to be honest here and say I avoid this stock photo site like the plague. It’s always a popular result in Google Images’ “Labeled for Reuse” pictures, so I fall for the trap a lot. Every time I try to download an image, I’m pulled out of the website and shown an ad in a way that makes me first feel like I’m unwillingly being sucked into a 3-hour timeshare pitch, then like my machine is being hacked right in front of me ‘cause that ad is shady… All I want is a free picture, people! Needless to say, once I click out of the ad (once I’m finally able to), I’m prompted with one of these to verify I’m human in order to download a picture:
…which is fine and all and dandy, except I can never fully get through it! Like…am I taking crazy pills?! It just keeps giving me more pictures to click like the programming is busted or something! Yuck. Not a fan.
Here you’ll find instant downloads and great images without the hassle of signing up for an account or proving you’re not a robot, so feel free to add it to your go-to list.
My only beef with the search results is they’re presented UNDER the suggestions for what’s available to purchase from Shutterstock. Just confusing, ‘cause for a while I sat wondering if this site only resold Shutterstock images… Then I just kept scrolling and found the free pictures.
Otherwise, every image on this site is free for personal and commercial use outlined within the terms of the Creative Commons CC0 license, so download away!
Unsplash just gets in there and gets it done. With a pretty basic design, two search bars on the home page and a carousel of categories above the header section (plus everything outlined above), you have immediate access to any of their free photos in just two clicks. TWO.
When you’re dedicated to a mission, you go the extra mile and ideally find the effort is worth your while. Such is the case with free stock photo sites.
If you click beyond the first page of Google’s search results or read through the blog posts covering the top free stock photo sites out there peppered throughout, you’ll find a treasure or two and even more sites comparable to those above (and possibly more to your liking…but only you can discover that truth. To that, I say, read on…
I enjoy the simplicity of this site’s overall design and layout as well as the hover feature on the search results page that allows you to download the image directly from from the thumbnail. And I’m always a big fan of subtle advertising:
Like the sites we’ve already examined, you’ll find related images as well as suggested images for purchase from Adobe Stock (which is great when you’re an Adobe license holder). You can also look through images by photographer, one of whom is featured as a “Photographer of the Week” as a way to spread awareness about their contributors. Love to see you giving back to the art community, guys!
BUT, it is not super clear on the site that these photos are free for commercial use. You have to do some investigating on the About page and read the teeny tiny itty bitty fine print. It IS free for personal and commercial use, though, so go crazy!
Aside from how gorgeous the main page is and the presence of your standard free stock photo site features, this platform offers the option to download ALL of the pictures, albeit at a price, but it’s essentially just a donation to the sole photographer and site contributor, AND it’s at a price you suggest! That’s 2,000+ pictures in one download for whatever amount you want to give!
They also use really cute marketing to encourage you to spread the word about PicJumbo and do a great job of trying to get downloaders to visit other pages, something we can always get behind as a web design and online marketing company:
Note, however, 2,000+ isn’t a ton of images. I couldn’t find any images related to nonprofits, donating, or volunteering. Weird. So, nonprofits, keep on keepin’ on…. As for construction, good luck — you’ve only got a handful to choose from.
With a tagline like “Handpicked, non-stocky images. Yours to use as you wish,” how can romantics resist?
While there’s not a ton of variety of images on this site, I include it because it’s a humble attempt at bridging gaps in the art community and making a home for creativity on the web. The images on the site are very Instagram-y, for lack of a better real or non-word….artsy fartsy? Yeah, not much better. Possibly worse, in fact… Alright, let me give this a fair shot: raw. The images on this site are raw. They’re interesting, quirky, and different. I encourage you to go exploring next time you need an image for your online marketing.
Plus, and this must be said, they have the greatest gif from The Office that plays when you download an image. And the credit plea included is also humble:
There’s no Favorite or Like option, though, so bookmark images you like if you simply must have them to reference again.
Another platform that offers the quick download. Love it — love not having to be bombarded with ads and other photo suggestions that make downloading more complicated than it should be. Related images available for purchase link out to iStock, which is nice, because at MayeCreate, we use iStock for our paid imagery, so that’s kind of awesome for me.
There’s a reason why this site is last on the list. I figured it would be a good way to avoid sending too many people over there. With such an influx in traffic, they may start charging people for pictures. We wouldn’t want that. 😉 So, whoever made it this far, it’s just us now. You’re welcome.
And finally (as if I haven’t gushed enough), it’s just an overall beautiful site with a sleek modern design that makes me feel so fresh and so clean, clean.
DESIGNER BONUS: (Ha! You thought I was done…) Next to each image is a corresponding downloadable color palette of six colors. As someone who designs at work and interior-design’s (yes, that’s a made-up verb) at home, this is a gamechanger! It tickles the the most fanciest of my fancies when I unexpectedly receive instant, versatile artsy tools. Seriously, my creative spirit is doing backflips right now. Kaboompics: 1. Everyone else (so far): 0.
Alright, so, let me get real here. I’ve spent a handful of hours on research and writing for this piece, and at this point, I’m done, ya know? From a business perspective, it wouldn’t be wise to spend much more time on this…
I am, however, leaving you with a handful of resources I found useful in my research that explore many other free stock photo platforms. If you’ve got the appetite for more, I encourage you to click, click, click away!
If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, I’m not sure why you’re not out there writing articles like this one…
For everyone else, here are a few things for you to take with you:
Katie is a Designer & Content Developer at MayeCreate Design. Her responsibilities and experience include content development for websites and online marketing, blogging, general website maintenance, graphic design, ad campaign management, project management, office management, bookkeeping, and customer service. As a wife, mom, twin, seasoned karaoke singer and amateur rock climber, she’s seen the world from many perspectives and thrives to bring an open mind and clear vision to her position here at MayeCreate.
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