Powerful visuals can engage your target audience, propel your brand, and grow your website’s traffic.
Professional-quality images can be hard to create though.
The solution? Stock images.
There are plenty of websites offering stock images that you can use to improve your website, collect for use on mood/inspiration boards, or add to your blog posts.
However, not all stock image sources are created equal. In this article, we’ve rounded up our favorite resources for stock images. Some are free, and some are not, but all offer great images (and sometimes more).
- 1 What You Need to Know About Image Licensing
- 2 Our Top 3 Stock Image Sources
- 3 Frequently Updated Sources of Stock Images
- 4 Largest Stock Photo Sources
- 5 Multi-Functional Sources
- 6 Community-Influenced Sources
- 7 High-Resolution Images Only
- 8 Photographer-Run Sources
- 9 Specialist Stock Photo Sources
- 10 Images in the Public Domain
- 11 General Sources of Stock Images
- 12 Summary
What You Need to Know About Image Licensing
Before you use an image you need to know whether it’s in the public domain or is under a license.
Some people think that any image that appears in a Google Image search is available for use. That’s incorrect. If you grab an image from the internet and publish it on your site you can wind up with a hefty bill. Image owners can track how and where their images are used.
There are a variety of licenses. They range from no restrictions on use to multiple restrictions.
Here is a rundown of the license types (or terms and conditions of use) that you’ll likely see.
Creative Commons Licenses
Public Domain Images
Public domain images are those that are not under copyright and can be freely used by anybody.
Royalty-Free Stock Photos and Images
Royalty-free images are those that you can use without having to pay the creator/owner based on how often you use the content. The images are under copyright, which means that you have to pay a one-time fee (or pay for a subscription that gets you the appropriate access), but that is the extent to which you have to pay.
Our Top 3 Stock Image Sources
There are many places to which you can go for stock images, but in our minds, there are three excellent sources that we think are much better than their peers.
What makes a great site for stock images? Well, we look for several things:
- Abundance and variety of images: we want to have lots of options; we’re not really interested in smaller or niche websites.
- Ease of use: we want something that allows you to search for and find what you want with ease. Once we’ve found what we want, we then want to be able to download the images without much hassle.
- Cost: some of our favorites are free, while others are not. Regardless, we take cost into consideration even if there isn’t a specific point at which we say, “We’ll never use this site because it is too expensive.”
With that in mind, here are our three favorite stock image sources.
- Getty Images: a subscription service offering royalty-free images, Getty Images is one of the largest (yet easily searchable) libraries of ultra-high quality stock images (and videos as well). Getty offers creative, historical, and “editorial” (news) photos. (Pro tip: If you have a small business or organization and want to use Getty, contact one of their reps and ask for a custom package. They can negotiate on rates based on the traffic to your site.)
- iStock: most everything that we’ve said about Getty Images applies to iStock (which is Getty Images’ budget-friendly sister site). If you want quality content, but your budget is limited, there are discounts you can apply.
- Adobe Stock: Adobe Stock is similar to Getty Images, but its libraries include graphics, 3-D objects, and templates in addition to photographic images and videos. They also offer editorial photos of newsmakers. For all that the site offers, its monthly subscription fee and use limits are very reasonable.
You’ll probably notice that all of the options we’ve provided are subscription services. There’s no better price than FREE, but for convenience, ease of use, and access to high-quality content, a small subscription fee is well worth it.
Frequently Updated Sources of Stock Images
One thing you should keep in mind is how “fresh” and up-to-date a particular image is. Using something that looks like it was created in the 1990s probably isn’t a great idea. While this seems extreme, even something created just a couple of years ago looks dated.
One way to mitigate this problem is to seek images from sources that are frequently updated. The following are some you might want to consider.
- Stockvault: Stockvault offers photos, textures, and illustrations, and the website claims to add new options every day.
- Unsplash: Unsplash features over 850,000 free high-resolution images shared by photographers around the world. They also promise to add at least ten new royalty-free photos every ten days.
- Gratisography: Source of free, high-resolution images that are updated on a weekly basis.
- Jay Mantri: Southern California designer Jay Mantri’s personal website featuring images that can be freely used. Updated every Thursday.
- StockSnap: Free, high-resolution images available, with new options added weekly.
- Design Rush: Source for new public domain images. The site is updated with new options every week.
Largest Stock Photo Sources
Go big, or go home — the websites in this section are some of the most significant sources of stock images on the internet. If you can’t find what you’re looking for with these sites, it probably doesn’t exist!
- Fotor: Premium, royalty-free stock photos from the Fotor community. Currently, over 335 million options are available.
- Pixabay: Pixabay doesn’t make any promises as to how frequently new images appear in its library, but as a site that allows anyone in its community to contribute stock images, you can rest assured that there will be new content early and often.
- Pexels: Very similar to Pixabay, but with different content. Using Pexels and Pixabay together would be a powerhouse combo.
- RGBStock: Over 100,000 stock photos that are 100% free.
- Shutterstock: Library of stock photos with a different subset that is available for free (this subset of free photos changes from week to week).
- FreeStockPhotos.biz: Source for 15,000+ stock photos and their low-resolution cousins, clip art.
The photo sources listed in this section offer stock images, but they also come with additional tools or services that you might find helpful. For example, you might get things like access to an editor that allows you to customize your image.
- Canva: Offers stock images and editing tools, making it easy to create custom images. Ideal for social media or ads and flyers. There are also a number of alternatives to Canva.
- Snappa: Site allowing you to create online graphics for social media, ads, blogs, and more.
- Creative Commons: This is actually a search engine from nonprofit Creative Commons that allows you to search for images based on license type. It includes information on how to attribute appropriately when using those images.
- Iso Republic: Offers a large number of free stock images and videos.
- Snapwire Snaps: Allows you to license and commission photos from any of the 200,000 photographers affiliated with the site. Offers seven free photos every seven days.
- Free Pixels: Searchable source of free stock images, as well as background images and signs, symbols, and icons.
- Obsidian Dawn: This isn’t, strictly speaking, a source for images. Instead, it’s a source for artist tools that can be helpful when making images.
- Storyblocks Video: Stock images aren’t the only thing that’s available to you — you can get stock videos as well.
- Freepik: Free graphics resources, including vectors, stock photos, and icons.
- Kaboom Pics: Free stock photography and color palettes for all of your art projects.
Naturally, stock image sites feature work created by many people, but some are explicit in soliciting contributions from the community in general. In addition to serving up images to eager viewers, these community-oriented sites encourage photographers to submit photos for use. Some of these sites allow artists to be compensated, while some are strictly free to use.
- Dreamstime: Lots of images (over 96 million), lots of contributors (24 million users), low prices (starting at $0.20 per image . . . assuming the image isn’t free to use).
- Every Stock Photo: Searches through a variety of image-sharing sites, so you don’t have to.
- Image After: Look for stock images and textures, and converse with other artists using the community forum.
- Unprofound: Run by designers, Unprofound offers images that you can use for your projects freely (no mass distribution or redistribution allowed, however).
- Studio25: Search for images or narrow down your options based on category. You can also upload and share images that you create.
- Abstract Influence: Another source featuring stock images on a wide variety of subjects with a community forum for you to chat with other image creators and users.
- Flickr: Photo sharing website (some professional, some not). Licensing varies, so check before you use an image (the site features a robust search so you can omit results that you aren’t allowed to use).
High-Resolution Images Only
If you want the best quality images, shot by professionals in high resolution, these are the sites for you.
- Photocase: Offers professionally-created stock photos that don’t look like stock photos.
- PicJumbo: Free, high-resolution stock photos, backgrounds, and images that are free for both personal and professional use.
- Picography: Lots of free-to-use, high-resolution images taken by professional photographers.
- SplitShire: Lots of free, high-quality images available for commercial use.
- Negative Space: Offers only high-resolution stock photos in a variety of categories that can be used for personal or commercial purposes.
- Death to Stock: Employs photographers to create monthly photo packs featuring over 20 photos that you can use.
- Burst by Shopify: High-quality images from e-commerce giant Shopify that’s free for personal and commercial use.
- Grallim Stock: This site doesn’t brand itself as a professional resource, but you’ll find nothing but quality pictures here.
- ReShot: Source of free, unique photos that are high quality and don’t look like stock photos.
The websites listed here could have been included in the section above feature sites offering high-resolution images, but because these sites feature work by a smaller number of photographers (whose biographies and portfolios are likely available to you), we have chosen to list these separately. There are also a number of agencies and photography collectives on this list.
If you need professional-quality images, look no further.
- PDPhoto: PD Photo features images taken over the years by a single photographer.
- MMT Stock: High-resolution photos free to use by photographer Jeffrey Betts.
- Deviant Art’s Stock Art: Not photographer-run, but artist-run. Features work created by people all around the world.
- Font Play: Offers free-to-use images taken by the website’s owner and his friends.
- Freerange Stock: Site where photographers can share their photos and earn revenue whenever users click on ads next to their images.
- The Photographs of Ricardo Martin Herrero: Features photographs taken by Spanish photographer Ricardo Martin Herrero.
- Life of Pix: Stunning photographs put out by a Canadian advertising agency and its affiliated photographers.
- AMG Media: Photos by professional photography that are free to use (attribution required).
- Aarin Free Photo: 950 images for personal and commercial use taken by photographer Aarin Yu.
- BigFoto: Free downloads of images created by amateur photographers who have opted to release ownership of the work they’ve created.
- Little Visuals: Sadly, the photographer (and owner of the site) whose work was featured passed away unexpectedly in 2013. However, his family has left his work available for use, free of charge.
- Free to Use Photography by Daria: Exactly as it sounds. Daria, a visual and UX designer, creates a lot of content which she enjoys sharing for public use.
Specialist Stock Photo Sources
Stock images are more than just photographs of people and things. The images may feature patterns, textures, and other visual images that can be used as part of your project.
Alternatively, you might be interested in more specialized photographs (eg, Hawaiian plants or old books).
Here are places where you can find photo and non-photo stock images.
- Scatter Jar: Offers free food photographs (and nothing but).
- Foodiesfeed: Another source for free food photos (assuming you don’t have any ad blockers on your computer running).
- Subtle Patterns: Images feature subtle patterns (great for things like website backgrounds).
- Starr Environmental: Features images of Hawaiian plants.
- Superfamous Images: High-quality images mostly taken outdoors.
- Free Photo Station for New Properties in Singapore: Site offering photos of new properties located in Singapore.
- Free Images: Large supplier of free images available for personal and commercial use.
- Morguefile: Free images for creatives by creatives – over 350,000 options available for commercial use. This site also features a job board.
- IMCreator: Free resources explicitly curated for use in commercial web development.
- Backgrounds Archive: Need a background image and nothing more? Look here.
- Styled Stock: Free stylized photography with a feminine feel.
- Holy Land Photos: Free, high-resolution images of holy sites around the world.
- Ancestry Images: Free images aimed at historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in either field. Images include prints, maps, and portraits dating from the 17th century (most are from the late 18th – 19th century).
- National Park Service: The National Park Service’s News page allows you to search for photos and videos of national parks.
- NOAA Photo Library: Source for work created by the scientists, engineers, commissioned officers, and administrative personnel affiliated with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
- New York Public Library Digital Collections: Allows you to search for materials digitized by the New York Public Library, including prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, streaming video, and more.
- GetRefe: Features photos of architecture and landscapes by photographers traveling throughout Europe.
- From Old Books: Over 3,800 free images, engravings, and extracts from antique and vintage books.
- Textures.com: Offers digital pictures of a variety of materials that can be used for graphic design, visual effects, and more. You can download up to 15 images for free each day.
- FreeStockPhotos: Lots of different types of images available, but the focus is definitely on nature shots and religious themes.
- Freestocks.org: Source for modern-looking images that can be freely used.
- Amazing Textures: One of the largest, most popular libraries dedicated to textures on the internet.
- Insect Images: This site is exactly what it sounds like — if you want pictures of all kinds of creepy crawlers, look no further.
- Creativity 103: Free abstract background, textures, and design ideas for use in your projects.
- Lost and Taken: Free-to-use texture stock photos.
- Trip Album: Source of photos organized by location.
Images in the Public Domain
A lot of the sites mentioned elsewhere in this article contain some images in the public domain, but the following sites focus on such images.
- Archive.org: The ultimate source for all things public domain — with lots of book and magazine covers. You may have to search for a while, but you will find lots of useful stuff, including videos.
- SkitterPhoto: A place for people to find and share images in the public domain.
- Public Domain Stock Photos: Lots of stock photos in the public domain, all organized by categories like backgrounds, communication, objects, and people.
- Public Domain Photos: Site with 5,000 free stock photos in the public domain.
- New Old Stock: Vintage photos in the public domain.
- WPClipart: An extremely large collection of public domain images — over 80,000. Great for simple design images.
General Sources of Stock Images
If you need a couple of sources where you can go and find pictures on most anything you can think of, the following sites are good options. None of these sites are standouts in any specific area, but they all offer a good selection of images on a wide variety of subjects.
- PublicDomainVectors: Over 60,000 vector (eg, EPS) images.
- Cepolina: Cepolina features a number of photos taken from various places around the world, including geography-related shots.
- BurningWell: Lots of free images organized into categories like insects, cityscapes, and textures.
- PhotoRack: Free stock photos (just under 28,000 options currently available) organized by category.
- A Digital Dreamer: Offers 100% free photographs featuring textures, animals, technology, earth elements, and more.
- FreeImages.co.uk: FreeImages.co.uk offers over 18,000 photos in over 89 categories (newsletter subscribers get access to bonus images), so it’s an excellent place to find a variety of images.
- Free Large Photos: Offers a variety of photos that are free for personal use (commercial use incurs a one-time $50 fee). Requires use of specialty link that includes photographer attribution.
- Kave Wall: Kave Wall is an excellent resource especially when it comes to unique textures and backgrounds.
- TurboPhoto: TurboPhoto offers only ten categories of stock images. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options available, this might be a good place to look for images.
- ImageBase: Lots of photographs organized by categories like nature, people, and city.
- AllTheFreeStock: Offers multiple types of free media, including images, video, sound clips, and icons.
- BestStockPhotoFree: A collection of oft-updated free photos on all sorts of things.
- Photogen: Small source of images. Unlikely to be your go-to free stock photo site, but features some good photos nonetheless.
- FreeMediaGoo: Offers quality stock photos and backgrounds that can be used by anyone for educational, personal, or commercial purposes.
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: A large collection of images focused on, but not limited to, agriculture.
If you use WordPress, you should probably use a maintenance plugin so you can control how your site looks while it is under development. Otherwise, go crazy!
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a free stock photo site for everybody, regardless of whether you want an all-encompassing library or a specialty source.
Furthermore, the last thing you want to do is use the same image as everyone else. As such, we recommend identifying several options you’d be happy with and checking them all whenever you need a stock image. You’ll find something you like, and you’ll be able to find options that are off the beaten path.
Contributing Editor: Sherrie Gossett