17 amazing sites for free stock photos
Quality images make all the difference
(TLDR: For links, skip to the bottom!)
Here on the blog we talk a lot about the value of incredible imagery, and how simply using it can increase engagement with your content by 650%. That’s a huge boost to the written words that we writers and marketers treasure so dearly.
And yet, companies continue to abstain from using them, or use them poorly. How come?
A primary factor is the availability of perfect images. Images are more powerful when they’re relevant and they’re most impactful when you can weave in some kind of a visual analogy. Yet finding the right ones quickly? You can pretty much forget about it.
Unless you’re some kind of media publication and have a photographer on staff, it’s unlikely that you have your own repository, which means that you have two options: pay for a stock photo subscription or find them online for free. There are upsides and downsides to both.
Choosing between free and paid
Paid subscriptions can be entirely worth it if you value your time, or if you’re looking for specific visual metaphors. You can assume that the best of the best images will generally gravitate to paid sites, as top photographers and photoshoppers want to be paid for their work just like everyone else. Paid sites are typically also large corporations with robust revenue streams which means that they can invest in tagging, curating, and filtering the content so that it’s actually searchable and useful. When I think about the Shutterstock (no affiliation) subscription we pay for, I think of it as a one-stop shop.
Now, there are of course downsides. A lot of these stock photos, well, they look like sock photos. Some are so atrocious that they seem the drag down the quality of the entire site - like these ones. That politically-correct, clean-cut, intentionally diverse cast of characters is already tiresome and certainly doesn’t check the box on being beautiful or emotionally evocative.
Free stock photo sites on the other hand require much more work, but free is often better than not free. These range in quality and typically, I find myself having to search through several sites to find what I’m looking for, which makes it time consuming. Free sites are usually devoid of business-related themes (don’t freak out, they still have your precious desk-from-above notebook, computer, and phone arrangements) and when I recently tried searching these sites for the term “legal” nearly all of them came back with zero results.
That being said, free photos are the ones that actually qualify as beautiful. They’re less likely to be heavily edited, and more likely to include broad, global, outdoorsy, and lifestyle themes.
So, there it all is. You’ll have to make the call yourself as to which one you want. Probably, you'll choose a mix of both as often, after searching through free stock photo sites, I’ll find myself either pleasantly surprised with what I've found or turning to pay for something on Shutterstock.
The Upsides and downsides of free versus paid image sites
If you’re going to go the paid route, try these. I recommend them in this order:
- Shutterstock - Almost always has what I'm looking for.
- iStock (by Getty Images) A great second-bet.
- Adobe Stock - You may get a discount for a trial period.
- BigStock - Your best option if all the others have seriously offended you.
If you’re going to go the free route, try these in this order:
- Google Image search - Didn’t think of this one, huh? Search for an image and then hit “Search tools > usage rights > labeled for reuse.” You’ll probably want to adjust the size filter as well.
- Pexels - Known for beautiful black and white photography, they’re the closest to the quality of a paid site.
- Good Free Photos - Has state parks, national monuments, and historical sites.
- Makerbook - Good business and technology photos.
- Depositphotos - Has illustrations, some are paid.
- Negative Space
- Little Visuals - Mostly texture photography.
- Death to Stock
- SuperFamous - Mostly textures and backgrounds, forgive them for their homepage.
- New Old Stock