Disclaimer: My husband helped me write this overview which does contain certain legal terms and concepts. Although he is a licensed attorney, this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions about the information provided in this article or seek further legal advice, you should consult with an attorney where you live.
Being a blogger, having high quality images is so important to be able to stand out and grab the attention of my readers. Since a big focus of mine is on food and recipes, most of the pictures that I include are ones that I have taken on my own with my camera (currently, a Nikon D3200 with a 50 MM lens – check out my Photography Essentials store page for more photography equipment).
That said, there are times when I write articles about other topics where it isn’t practical for me to take all of my own pictures because of the nature of the content. At one point I looked into getting a subscription to one of the stock photography websites, but it wasn’t a great option for me at that point.
Fortunately for me, my husband is an attorney for a technology company that is always looking for different sources of stock photos and images. While they have some subscriptions with some of the bigger stock photography companies, they also look for other sources. Since my husband is one of the attorneys, one of his responsibilities is to screen the images that are being used to make sure that they are not violating the rights of the owner of the photo and to give the go ahead to the creative teams. In his time working there, he has reviewed many different stock photography websites where his colleagues were getting images, and so he helped me come up with this list of stock photography websites that offer free images, that can be used for personal and commercial projects.
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Almost all of the websites on this list offer free downloads of the images under a Creative Commons Zero (CC Zero) license. Creative Commons licenses are basically a way for the owner of certain intellectual property can waive all, or some, of their rights in the property. Depending on what type of Creative Commons License the owner attaches to the image or other work, will determine what the individuals who download it will be able to do. For example, some of the licenses allow a person to use it in any way that they want as long as they give attribution to the owner. While, others allow it to be used only for non-commercial, personal projects. In my opinion, the best Creative Commons option is the CC Zero license, which the owner of the image or other intellectual property can use to waive all of their rights to the property and dedicate it to the public domain.
Under a CC Zero license, a person can modify, copy, and distribute the work and does not have to give attribution or ask for permission. It is important to note, however, that just because the owner of the image, etc. is waiving all of their rights, there may be other individuals that still have rights in the image. For example, if an identifiable person appears in the image, that person may not have given a model release and may still have certain privacy and publicity rights. Some of these websites contain additional terms and conditions that state that the person submitting the image is guaranteeing that they have obtained all model releases and that they have all rights necessary to dedicate the image to the public domain. This mainly serves to protect the website owner, but it can also provide some level of comfort to the person using the images. The best bet would be to avoid using images with identifiable individuals, unless you know for certain that the individual has given a model release.
There is a lot of information available on Creative Commons online and in books. I know you are probably here to see the list, so I won’t go into any more detail, but if you want to read more feel free to check out the Creative Commons Wiki, or the first two books on this list from Amazon.
List of Websites Offering Free Stock Photography under Creative Commons (or similar) licenses
Now, what you are really here for. The following is a list of 20 websites that offer (as of the date of this article) all or most of its images for free under a CC Zero license. My favorites are marked with an asterisk (*)
Website specific licensing terms. This website has its own licensing terms which are pretty much equivalent to the CC Zero. It also offers premium packs with additional images. They cost $15 per pack, or $55 for all premium packs.
CC Zero. They claim that they upload 10-20 new image per day and they seem to be pretty high quality and there is a wide variety of categories.
CC Zero. They claim to upload two new photos per day.
CC Zero. One new picture is added daily. Primarily nature themed images.
CC Zero. This website has a very clean layout and a wide variety of images to choose from. One of my favorites for sure!
6. Jaymantri.com.com *
CC Zero. This website has some great images and a good mix of categories.
CC Zero. This website seems to have a pretty small selection, but the images are nice.
CC Zero. The creator of this website passed away suddenly so new new images are being uploaded. The ones that are on the site are nice.
CC Zero/CC by SA 4.0. Each image tells you what CC license applies, so make sure that you are aware of the additional requirements of a CC by SA 4.0 license.
CC Zero. This website has a good selection of categories.
CC Zero. The photographer is from Portugal, so many of the images appear to be from that part of the World. There is a good variety of images to choose from.
Site-Specific license. These images do not appear to have a Creative Commons license associated with them. However, the website owner has a terms page that gives pretty much the same rights. No redistribution of the images is permitted without paying an additional fee (for a theme template or website builder, etc.). You can get access to 30+ additional images per month for a $7.50/month fee.
13. Pixabay.com *
CC Zero. This website allows photographers to upload images with the condition that the image will be offered under a CC Zero license. There is a very good selection to choose from.
CC Zero. Pretty good selection. They offer a premium service that allows you to download in bulk all images, each month.
15. Realisticshots.com *
CC Zero. Seven new photos are uploaded every week. Very nice images.
CC Zero. Website claims that one new image has been uploaded to site since 2014. Good quality images.
CC Zero. Seven new photos are uploaded every week. Premium and custom images available for an additional fee.
CC Zero. These seem to be more business oriented, but there is a pretty good selection.
CC Zero. These images would be great for a travel blog – lots of travel destinations and landscape shots.
20. Unsplash.com *
CC Zero. The images on this site are very high quality and the site layout is very simple.
This is a link to another resource put together by Canva of many different stock photography websites. Definitely check it out!
I hope that this article has been informative and that it provides you with at least a few sources for finding free stock photography. I am sure that there are more out there, but I have personally checked each of these websites and only listed ones that I can recommend. I will definitely update this list with more as I find them!
Do you know of any other websites where you can get free stock photography? Let me know in the comments.