How to find free photos you can safely use on your website

Updated March 208 with new photo resources

Photo courtesy of  Epsos

Photo courtesy of Epsos

It’s now pretty easy to find great photos that you can use on your website without having to pay for licenses or other fees. However, you do need to be careful to ensure you adhere to license laws where applicable.

There are two main types of images that you can use on your website for free:

  • Creative Commons licensed images, which may have certain restrictions on who can use them (business or personal), and which may also require you to credit the photographer. The image at the top of this page is such an image.
  • Public domain or CC0 images, which are offered totally free of charge, with no restrictions on how they are used, and no requirement to credit the photographer.

Creative Commons licenses have many different types of restrictions. The main ones you need to know about are:

  • Commercial Use - means you can use the images for websites or marketing materials for companies. (Non-commercial licensed images can only be used on personal blogs or private internal uses.)
  • Attribution - means you are required to include a “Photo by Person Name” credit whenever you use the image. It’s also a good idea to include a link to the person’s web/profile page if possible.

Not all Creative Commons images are available for commercial use, and not all images require attribution. There are some easy ways to filter and only find commercial-use images, but you will need to double-check whether you need to include a credit (attribution) on a case-by-case basis. Here is a short video showing some of the best ways to find Creative Commons images, and also where to find information about any attribution restrictions on the various photo sites. Caveat: I made this video as training for a client, so it's a bit long at 13 minutes. However, it does show you exactly where to find the critical information on each site, such as the photographer's name/profile that you will need to include in your credit.

The video also has some useful tips, so it's worth a watch. However, if you'd just like the links, here you go:

Where to get free images if you are OK providing photographer credit when you use them

Creative Commons Search is the best place to start if you don't mind using images that you'll need to credit, as it allows you to easily search across all the main sources from one place, with a Creative Commons filter already applied. Best sources to use are Google Images, Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. You can get to all 3 places from here & quickly switch between (see video).

If you'll be using photos on a business website, be sure to tick the “Commercial use” box at the top before you search! And be extra careful to double-check that the images are truly Creative Commons licensed if you are using Google Image search: it sometimes includes copyrighted images in the results even when the CC filter is supposed to be applied.

Where to get free images that you don't have to credit

My new favourite resource for free images is Pexels. This website is curated and selects only the best quality free images - including those from Unsplash. You don't need to credit any images you find on Pexels, and starting here may save you time looking elsewhere, as this site is an aggregator of content from other free stock websites.

Other resources for free photographs

  • StockVault - pretty decent coverage of subject matter, with a mix of commercial and non-commercial license images, some which require attribution and some which don't.
  • PicJumbo - thousands of totally free images, all by photographer Viktor Hanacek. You don't need to credit him, but you can choose to credit or make a small donation if you use his images.
  • KaboomPics - another set of thousands of totally free, no credit required images from a single photographer named Karolina.
  • Picography - a collection of totally free, no credit required images from a range of photographers.
  • GoodFreePhotos - this was submitted by a reader, who says it's a resource "for thousands of unique public domain photos, especially travel and landscape photos"
  • Morguefile - Morguefile may sound morbid, but it's not. It has many thousands of images, most of which are very high quality, and the site’s strong point is artistic or interesting photos. The website is very slick and easy to use, with a great preview function. A personal favourite for finding something a bit different with a touch of creative flair.
  • Stock.xchng  - One of the longest running free stock photo sites, but has variable quality - you may have to sift through a lot of junk to find the gems. Mainly useful for more general images than specific locations, objects or scenarios. Watch out for the restrictions on some photos - you may have to ask permission before use.
  • Openphoto - Another place to find all kinds of photos, with many thousands of images which may not be visible using the Creative Commons Search above. Not the nicest of websites, but it does have lots of photos.
  • You may also want to check out this Medium article, which includes links to lots of other free photo sites.

I donate to Creative Commons and I recommend you do, too. Help support the organisation that works to protect the rights of creative artists in all media, while enabling sharing for the common good.