Every time you write a post, it’s the same thing.
Hours spent writing, revising, and editing.
You write multiple drafts, craft the perfect headline, write a great opening, and then… after all that…
you still have to find a killer image to compliment the story.
Fortunately, there are some well-known, and some not-so-well-known places to get images for your site that don’t cost a dime.
All give you an array of images to use legally, though some conditions may apply like giving proper credit, so you can stop committing copyright infringement by using whatever image you found on Google. If you want to learn more on copyright, I recommend listening to Brian Clark’s Unemployable episode “A Crash Course in Copyright for Creators.”
9 Free Resources for High-Quality Images
Unsplash has become a favorite because their images are large, high-quality, and free to use however you wish (attribution not required but is recommended). Unsplash now has a vast library and excellent search to make it easy to find the images you need. Unsplash images tend to have a more artistic, curated feel, but they have a huge variety.
Pro Tip: Create an account and create collections that you can save. It will make it easier to find images for later use that once grabbed your attention.
You already know Canva for how easy they make it to create beautiful graphics for your site and social media. But did you know they also have a free stock photo library with millions of images? Use them in the Canva tools or as standalone images. You’ll need a free account to download the images.
For the record, I’m a heavy Photoshop user, but I still use Canva because it is so fast and easy to create the right graphics and they have a wide variety of images ready to use.
Pro Tip: Peruse the templates they have and find a few that you can easily modify to fit your brand guidelines. You’ll be knocking out professional looking graphics in no time that are consistent with your branding.
At last count, Pixabay is boasting more than 1.4 million images in their library. I’ve used Pixabay heavily the last few years and find high-quality images with ease. On occasion, I struggle to find images there when I’m looking for something to represent an abstract concept. You’ll also stumble across a few images that feel like more cliche’ traditional stock photos, but by and large, Pixabay is an excellent resource and they have some truly beautiful images.
Pro Tip: When you do a search, watch out for the photos that appear on the top row, or when you drill down in the sidebar. Those are often sponsored by another paid stock photo site. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s easy to see one you like and click only to find it’s not available on Pixabay.
Pikwizard is new to me and I’ve only had a chance to peruse it a little bit. I performed several searches and consistently found good images. Search is quick and the variety of images is robust.
Pro Tip: Pikwizard is integrated with DesignWizard. Find an image you like and click the “Edit Image” button and you’ll be taken to the Design Wizard app with that image already populated. This is a great way to modify a suitable image to fit your specific needs. Note: you will need to create a Design Wizard account to save the image.
If space images are your thing look no further. Nasa has a vast searchable library of images and media that span from 1920 to today. And you can use them all for free, though I do recommend reading their guidelines.
Pro Tip: The search is a little wonky. You can select filter the media type you’re searching for by unchecking the boxes you don’t want (they’re pinned below the search box). After your initial search, a box with the same filter options will appear on the left after you perform a search. The timeline filter will also appear at the bottom of that box but will reset after each new search.
Pexels is a great source of free images and is one I routinely use. One of the standout features of Pexels is they do a good job of highlighting top photographers. If you find a photographer whose style you like, it makes it easy to find other work they’ve done that might also be suitable for your project. For the record, most of the sites listed on this post have photographer pages, I just happen to like the way Pexels presents their top photographers.
Pexels images tend to be consistently high-quality.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself using Pexels images a lot grab their Mac or Windows desktop app to make searching and using images even faster.
The sheer number of users on Flickr means you’ll find a good variety to choose from. And while you will find high-quality images, you may have to sift through many that are not. I’ve used the Flickr Creative Commons as a back up when I’m struggling to find images elsewhere, or when I want something that is a little more gritty and “real.” Not all images in Flickr are licensed under the Creative Commons so be sure you don’t use just any image you find there.
ProTip: When you’re searching the Flickr Creative Commons, be sure you search in the Creative Commons search box (which you’ll see once you choose the license type you want to search under). The regular search is still there (at the top right) and will take you out of the Creative Commons search if you use it, and that means you may end up picking an image that isn’t in the Creative Commons by accident!
The 500px Creative Commons has a large number of professional and high-quality amateur photos. The variety isn’t as large as Flickr, but the per-image quality is top-notch. There are a number of international photographers on 500px, so you’ll find a lot of images that have a European flavor. There are also a lot of fashion/model pictures to choose from.
Pro Tip: Once you perform a search, be sure to select the Creative Commons license you want to search under. Not all licenses are created equal and if you violate the license, you’ll be committing copyright infringement. A breakdown of the various creative commons licenses is below and many of the options on 500px use a combination of licenses.
If you want to search across the Internet for just about any Creative Commons image available, then use Google’s Image Search. Once you perform a search, select the license you want by clicking “Tools” then selecting the option you want under “Usage Rights.” Note: Just because an image shows up here is not a guarantee that it’s ok to use it so use your best judgment.
ProTip: Even after you find an image, you should verify the license with the site hosting the image or the image owner. I only use images I find in Google Image Search if I can verify they are Creative Commons.
What is the Creative Commons?
The Creative Commons is a set of licenses by which an original content creator grants end users copyright permissions to their creative work. When using Creative Commons licensed images, it’s important to understand the basic license types to make sure you adhere to the law.
The least restrictive license requires only attribution. If people are giving you their images to use for free, the least you can do is credit them appropriately.
The Creative Commons licenses are (license language is taken directly from the Creative Commons website for version 3.0):
- Attribution: You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
- Non-Commercial: You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
- No-Derivatives: If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.
There are other Creative Commons licenses that may also apply:
- CC 0 (No Rights Reserved):
- CC PD (a.k.a. Public Domain): This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.\
- CC BY: Attribution required per CC version 2.0. You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
Learn more about the Creative Commons the licensing options.
You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.
It’s important to note that some people may specify how they want credit. Whether or not it is strictly required, it is in your best interest to adhere to the request. If you don’t like the way the image owner has requested attribution, don’t use the image. Always check the image description, you can see how an example of how I request attribution on my Flickr account.
Even if the photographer doesn’t ask for a link, I still strive to provide one.
Learn more about how to get great images that are not stock photography.
Images And SEO
Once you find the proper image, don’t forget to name it and optimize it accordingly. Despite rumors to the contrary, Image SEO is still alive and well.
Learn more about optimizing your images for SEO.