Photo by Unsplash
It used to be hard to find great free images for your website but all that’s changed in the last couple of years thanks to an explosion in high quality, free stock photo websites.
First of all let’s define what we mean by free though.
There are lots of different licences in use for photos online. Some only allow you to use an image in a certain context. Some require attribution. Some require nothing at all.
That latter scenario is usually covered by something known as a CC0 licence. Broadly it allows you to do pretty much anything with an image, but to be specific:
A person using CC0 (called the “affirmer” in the legal code) dedicates a work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her copyright and neighboring and related rights in a work, to the fullest extent permitted by law. If the waiver isn’t effective for any reason, then CC0 acts as a license from the affirmer granting the public an unconditional, irrevocable, non exclusive, royalty free license to use the work for any purpose.
That means if you’ve found an image using a CC0 license you are absolutely free to use it on your website (or any other marketing) material without attribution (though it’s usually nice to give an attribution anyway of course!).
Where to find ’em
So with licensing understood, where should you start your picture search?
Here are my recommended sources*.
Unsplash (best all-round)
Yes, you’ll find Unsplash listed in every article like this one but that’s only because the of their longevity, consistency and quality. Probably best known for their landscape photos, expect to find excellent abstract photos and close up shots of technology (iPhones, laptops too).
Minimography (best for undiscovered gems)
A less well known (i.e. newer) source of images than Unsplash but no lesser match in quality. As the names suggest the vibe is minimal and there’s a good mix of nature and the typical (but very welcome!) iPhone / laptop compositions. (They also ask that when you use their photos you link back to their site).
Gratisography (best for ‘quirky’)
This used to be a slightly less well known site but – like Unsplash – you’ll find their images popping up everywhere now. That shouldn’t necessarily put you off though, if you’re looking for something a little different
Jay Mantri (best for ‘different’)
While browsing Jay’s images might not be quite as easy as on Unsplash (there’s no grid view or search function) you’ll find a superb range of images on this site. From close-ups, to landscapes, to old muscle cars, it’s a site that rewards browsing.
Startup Stock Photos (best for ‘startup style’)
Yes, it’s easy to be a snarky about ‘those’ type of startup website photos showing hipsters on MacBooks crowding round a meeting table drinking coffee. But sometimes you really do need a photo of hipsters on Macbooks crowding round a meeting table drinking coffee and when you do you’ll be glad of Startup Stock Photos. I certainly am and that’s why they’re in this list.
Death to the Stock Photo (best subscription only stock photos)
Death to the stock distinguishes itself not only because it has such consistent quality photos but also because if you want them you’ll need to subscribe. Do so and every month you’ll get a great downloadable photo pack on a particular theme.
New Old Stock (best vintage photos)
If you’re looking for something slightly retro you won’t go far wrong with New Old Stock photo’s vintage selection.
Although many of the websites above have a search feature, the Stock Up and Pexels are two of the best sites for keyword style searches across a number of CC0 image sources. I’m a frequent user of both.
Honourable mentions (best of the rest)
Bonus points: how to differentiate your images
Of course, as good as many of these images are, with a lot of people using the same photos on their websites you might want to distinguish them just a little bit, but what’s the best way?
If it’s a concern take a look (or ask your regular photo editing guy or girl to take a look at the following article, which gives tips on how to give an entirely different treatment to a stock photo that everyone else is using but still make it your own.
Got a favourite source for free images? Share it in the comments below.
*Although I believe all these images are available under a CC0 licence (‘No Rights Reserved’), please make your own check before using them by checking the individual website’s term and conditions (particularly in the case of websites that aggregate images from several sources).