We’ve all been there: a deadline looms, and you need a knockout image to top off your masterpiece. But where to turn in the madding crowd of stock photo sites? And when iStock costs $11 a picture, how do you find a photo that won’t break the bank?
The good news for weary image seekers is that there’s a wealth of free stock photos out there—some require no credit, while others do, so first let’s walk you through how the licensing requirements work and then we’ll get to the free part.
A word about licensing for photos
All of the image sites featured here offer free stock photos, however, the license may vary. Many of the photos available through these sites are “Creative Commons Zero” or “CC0,” which means they’re free to use for any purpose, including commercial, with no attribution required.
If you come across an image that’s labeled “CC2.0,” that means it’s free to use commercially but requires attribution. And you need to be sure that the subject of the image (people, logos, private property, etc.) is clear of rights infringement. When in doubt, contact the photographer for clarification.
Free stock photo sites with humongous libraries
When you’ve got the perfect image in your head and just need to find it, these sites are here to help with huge and varied collections.
Flickr is the granddaddy of free photo sharing sites, and with “billions of photos” the sheer volume can feel overwhelming. (Searching “canoe” will get you over a million returns!). You’ll find what you need here, most likely, especially if you have specifics in mind. When searching, you can select keyword, color(s), shape, minimum size, license type, and more to help pare down your search returns.
License: Varies—be sure to check each image
With over 1,000,000 photos available for free, Unsplash breaks down the volume with well-curated collections and category tags to narrow your search to exactly what you need.
Owned by Shopify, Burst serves an e-commerce crowd with photos relevant to selling online. The site offers folders of pics curated by type of business, and many other broad categories, all available to download as either high or low resolution.
License: Varies—be sure to check each image.
4. Barn Images
Started by a couple photographer friends as an alternative to cheesy stock photos, this site features a lot more than just pics of barns. You’re free to use their royalty-free stock images without attribution for any purpose, but the site creators would appreciate a shoutout if you like their work. Plus, they have a pretty helpful blog about makin’ stuff with their pics.
Quality over quantity free stock photo sites
These sites don’t have as many options as some of the ones listed above, but they make up for it in nice quality and thought-provoking composition. If you’re looking for inspiration more than a set image, these may be for you.
Albumarium is, as the title suggests, a collection of photo albums. When you search for a photo, you’ll instead be presented with an entire album, which sometimes is stuffed with pics, while other times has just a couple.
License: Varies—be sure to check each image
Negative Space is modest in size, but that just makes browsing a more positive experience. Check out their flat lay pics and smartphone mocks.
Free stock photo sites focused on specific topics
Most of these sites have at least a few images of nature, food and drink, fashion, and animals, but a few free photo resources focus specifically on one type of image.
Free Food Photos is an easy go-to for recipe mavens and kitchenistas of all kinds. The images are free to use for any purpose, commercial or noncommercial, as long as you credit them.
License: Creative Commons; you can read more here
Beautiful pics with a decidedly feminine vibe, site owner and photographer Karolina shares her lovely images specifically for bloggers, small business owners, freelancers, and other digital natives.
License: Kaboompics wrote a custom license which is similar to CC0. Read it here
Free stock photo sites that are kinda weird
Sometime you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don’t need a normal stock photo, and these are the times to get wacky. Need a pic of an elephant walking through an art gallery, a grandpa dabbing, or a freaky doll head? Check out these sites to feed your fetish, or simply to find a pic that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.
Although Ryan McGuire’s Gratisography site offers plenty of mainstream images, his sense of humor shines through in the “weird stock photos” category. Do you need an image of a man with sticky note eyeballs? You never know.
Wacky photos, Stockvault’s got ’em, and some not-so-wacky ones, too.
License: Commercial, non-commercial, and CC0
Use your free stock photos with PicMonkey templates
If you’re not sure what to do with your newfound visual bounty, did you know PicMonkey has oodles of gorgeous design templates? We’ve got a library of designer-crafted templates for everything from wedding invitations to business cards to social media posts to motivational quote images. All you have to do is pick a free stock photo you love, pick a template you love, and put ’em together.
A PicMonkey subscription puts creative excellence at your fingertips.