17 amazing sites for free stock photos
By Chris Gillespie, writer and founder of Find A Way Media
Quality images make a difference
(For links to stock photo sites, skip to the bottom)
Can you place a value on the imagery you include in your marketing? Absolutely. Simply using visuals at all in your marketing content can increase reader engagement by 650 percent. The photo you choose for your ad may determine 70-90 percent of its value.
Yet finding the right images is often a challenge. Unless you have photographers and designers on staff, you have two options: pay for a stock photos or find them online for free.
Both have upsides and downsides, and this article will explore each.
To pay or not to pay?
Paying for photos can be worth it if you're strapped for time, or if you’re looking for a very specific image. The best photographers and creators tend to place their work on paid sites. Paid stock sites are typically also established corporations that can afford to invest in tagging, curating, and filtering their visuals to make them searchable and useful. When I think about the Shutterstock (no affiliation) subscription we pay for here at Find A Way, I think of it as a one-stop shop.
There are of course downsides. A lot of stock photos look like, well, stock photos. Some are atrocious -- as is the case with these. The politically-correct, clean-cut, intentionally diverse cast of characters-look is tiresome and are a far cry from the beautiful or emotionally evocative creative you see in magazines. You'll run into plenty of it on paid sites.
Sample images from paid stock photo sites
Free stock photo sites, on the other hand, are free, but require much more work. The range of quality is much greater and I often must search several sites to find what I’m looking for. Free sites are usually devoid of business-related themes and when I recently tried searching these sites for the term “legal” nearly all of them came back with zero results. But not to worry -- if you're looking for desk-from-above with notebook, computer, and phone arrangements, they've got those in spades.
While many free photos aren't as on-theme, many are quite beautiful. They’re less likely to be heavily edited and more likely to include broad, global, outdoorsy, and lifestyle subject matter.
If you're like me, you'll probably, end up using a mixture of both. If I can't find what I need on free stock photo sites, I’ll open Shutterstock.
The upsides and downsides of free versus paid image sites:
Paid stock photo sites:
- 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
Free stock photo sites:
- 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
- Canva - The graphic design tool Canva offers stock photos
- 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