Stock Images: 21 Sites For Free Photos & Where to Buy When You Have To

By on Friday, September 29, 2017

The demand for stock images is going up for nonprofits, trade associations and small businesses. More images are needed for social media channels, videos, publications, and other materials. We all need to get stock images or artwork to jazz things up and vary what people are seeing. Sometimes, you need to hunt for just the right image that resonates or expresses what you want to say.

One way to get yourself into trouble, is by going to Google Images and helping yourself to whatever comes up. Your organization or business can open itself up to legal liability by doing so. The solution is simple: stock photography. Stock images are a great option for the time-crunched or when you just need one photo to crank out a project.  You can also build up a library of images to select from when you have a big project or need choices.

A few tips on looking for stock images:

  • Think about photo orientation and your needs. Many photos used in social media formats look best in horizontal orientation. Website layouts and needs may require horizontal or vertical photos. Consider your need before you hit download.
  • Expect to be registered. Whether it’s a free site or a paid one, expect that you will need to set up an account. A few of the free sites do not require registration, but many do, especially if you are downloading a lot of images.
  • Read any subscription, credit, or purchasing choices carefully. Make sure you know what you are paying for. If you need a lot of images, a monthly subscription might make sense. If you just need one or two, a few credits or pay as you go may be more practical. If credits expire or you need to cancel a subscription before a renewal date – set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Watch where you click on the free stock image sites. Many of these sites are sponsored by a site with subscriptions and they will advertise other photos (usually labeled) that are for sale to you.
  • Always check the licensing options tied to the photo. Some licenses will not allow images to be featured prominently on merchandise without the purchase of an extended license. Others may only allow up to a certain number of views or downloads.

Here’s my list of places to get stock images:

21 Places to Get Free Stock Images

Many of these photographs are free from copyright restrictions or licensed under creative commons public domain dedication. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. But you should always check the license associated with the photo, even on the free sites. Some photos may be free, but will require attribution.

Burst – has some nice photos in certain niche fields. I like browsing their collections to see what’s available. I’ve not had a lot of luck for certain subjects.

Freestocks – artsy photos in a handful of categories.

Death to Stock – every month they send you via email 10 “not” stock photos. Easy signup. Gotta love their pluck.

Foodies Free – more than 800 free stock photos of food.

Gratisography – offers stock photos in bundles that you can download. Love their animals bundle. For some of my stock needs for particular objects, I’ve not found them helpful, but they have some pretty stuff.

ISO Republic – bills itself as free stock photos for creatives – and they have some great ones!

Kaboompics – Great quality on the images and their search engine tool is better than some of the other free stock sites – allowing you to search by photo orientation. One unique thing they do – they add a color palette with free graphics for download to images (you can also select the quick download option for just the photo).

Life of Pix – beautiful and artistic images. They also offer free video at Life of Vids.

Makerbook – offers a package of 71 free photos for download.

MMT Stock – free photos organized in collections.

Negative Space – images organized by topic. For personal or commercial projects – all Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensed.

Pexels – All photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. I find the library to be a bit small, but if you just need 1 or 2 images, it works.

PicJumbo – Offers 1500 photos for free. For free images, they do not require registration before downloading. It sells access to premium images.

PikWizard – Offers over 100,000 free photos (no log in required to download with 20,000 images exclusive to the site. Free to use without attribution. Organizers aim to reach 1 million images (that’s a great goal).

Pixabay – this is my all time favorite free stock image library. They have some great materials, and you can even buy them a cup of coffee! The image featured with this post is from Pixabay and is one of the 410,000 images they offer.

Shot Stash – you can sign up to get new photos every week. Images are organized on the site in 8 categories.

Skitter Photo – public domain images. I haven’t found objects that I need, but lots of other choices.

Stock Free Images – they bill themselves as the largest free image site online with 1.7 million images.

Stock Snap – Check out their trending feature to see what is most popular. They will send you a weekly email with their most popular photos if you sign up. I find their images to be nicely curated and good quality.

Styled Stock – stock photos made with female entrepreneurs and marketing to women in mind.

Unsplash – lots of interesting images and no registration required for download.

Paid Stock Images: Where to Buy When You Need To

Adobe Stock Photo – allows you to download 10 standard license images per month on their basic $29.99 plan.  They have a library of 90 million images and offer templates and video as well. If you need an extended license for an image – expect to pay a bit more per image.

Big Stock Photo – allows you to download 5 images per day on its cheapest $79 monthly subscription (that’s 150 images per month). Their library includes 57 million photos. If you need to bulk up your personal collection quickly, this may be a good route if the images fit your needs. They offer a 35 images free promotion.

Brown Stock Imaging – if you need images to represent or reach out to a diverse audience, this is a great site for you and costs are reasonable, often only $25-$45 per image.

Deposit Photos – this is one of my new favorites. Offers a library of 60 million images and their monthly subscriptions start at $29 for 30 images, and you can buy additional images for just $1 a piece.

Dreamstime – sells credit packages that you can use for downloads. While they typically run a five images free introductory offer, their packages rapidly go up in cost – with a one month package for 750 images per month for $197/month.

iStock photo – images in the essentials collection are as low as $12 each but prices go up from there with Signature images going for a premium. The library uses credits that you purchase. It also sells high-definition video. A month long subscription for signature images (10) is $99 and a month long subscription for only essentials images (10) is $40. This library is built by Getty Images.

MegaPixl – they bill themselves as offering a no monthly downloads limit subscription plan. However, it’s pretty much impossible to view the subscription options without giving them your email address, which I personally find to be a turnoff. Hopefully they will change this soon. They offer a one month free subscription.

Shutterstock – is an industry standard with plenty of vector, photo and video available. Subscriptions start at $29 per month for 10 images and go up from there. They say their library includes more than 100 million photos. There are on demand download and team subscription options too.

Storyblocks – offers 400,000 images for download and purchase, as well as video and audio. They offer up to 20 downloads per day. Pexel users can get 7 days with free access. Their Marketplace section gives photo sellers 100% of the purchase price (many of the major stock sites only pay photographers pennies on the download). They offer 115,000 HD videos, 400,000 images, and 110,000 audio tracks. An annual plan is $99/year and gives you rights to their 400,000 image library. Annual plan members get a 60% discount on marketplace photos, making them often $3.99 apiece.

Talk to Us
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Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

One thought on “Stock Images: 21 Sites For Free Photos & Where to Buy When You Have To

  1. 1

    Ami – Thank you for this invaluable list. I have another suggestion, Getty Image’s Royalty Free photos. They are the same, high-quality shots you’d expect from Getty but you are allowed to use them online through an embedded code they provide. The images have their watermark in an unobtrusive way, but no one cares and you have the benefit of a great photo you likely couldn’t find anywhere else. Check it out at

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