Like anything else, stock photos have their weirdo, dark side. But as Web 2.0 enters its golden years, bringing with it more and better tools for freelancers and small businesses to market themselves online, demand is up for fresh, quality stock photos (FREE, ideally).
So we’ve done the leg work for you, and put together a list of license-free stock photo sites for commercial use. The sites below all have search capabilities embedded in the site, making it easier for you to find just what you’re looking for. To give you a rough idea of how many images you can find, we did a sample search that matches the theme of each site. Happy hunting!
The site that started our searchable stock search. We found images on this site to be consistently high quality, with most photos tending towards lifestyle images, nature, urban life, landscapes, and people doing stuff. The only drawback: this site is becoming well known, so you’re likely to see many of these images on other sites. That said, the patient hunter can still find rare gems.
Test Search: night
There are so many images on this site that you can be more specific in your search and still get dozens (hundreds?) of results. Pixabay is one of the more transparent advertising sites, so you’ll constantly see search results from Shutterstock above and below free results. So be warned: if you can’t put your ad blinders on, you may feel like this site is more tease than help.
Test Search: landscape
3) Stock Up
A search-and-discover site featuring free stock images from 27 other sites (including many on this list). If time is a consideration, then this is the site for you: Stock Up’s search function is wicked fast, rendering results real time as you type each letter.
Test Search: home
A site started by Crew, a collective of creative professionals based in Montreal, Canada offering a constant stream of free stock photos for any use. It hosts submissions from hundreds of photographers, making it one of the most-used sources of high quality images in the world.
Test Search: car
More than just a clever name, Kaboom has a staggering volume of high quality stock photos. These images have a clean and sophisticated feel, great assets for commercial use or blogs. You can do almost anything with these photos except redistribute them without permission.
Test Search: laptop
Stokpic is a one-man show featuring photographer Ed Gregory, who decided to share his work in the public domain. The result is this collection of 583 excellent and unique photos of nature, people doing stuff, and animals. Our particular faves: the underwater shots.
Test Search: woman
7) ISO Republic
ISO Republic has a mix of free and “premium” stock photos of architecture, nature, people, cityscapes, and textures. Each photo is credited to the photographer for attribution. We like how each image has a short, often quirky title — like Uncle Jack for a sophisticated picture of a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Test Search: glass
8) Life of Pix
Montreal-based Leeroy Advertising Agency has put together a network of photographers willing to publish their original work in the public domain. Here you can find a mix of urban life, noir, and nature images, with new images added weekly. If you like what you see here, check out their companion free stock video site www.lifeofvids.com.
Test Search: wall
Pijumbo is a collection of both free and premium stock photography, all of which seem to be the work of 22 year-old Viktor Hanacek, self-styled professional photographer and internet entrepreneur. If you can see past the ads and popups, there are some sweet images for creative and commercial use.
Test Search: party
10) Foodie’s Feed
Need we say more? Okay, maybe a little: great food photos for restaurants, Instagram, or Pinterest. Each search result comes with a hero image as well as the number of photos found — both of which can help you see past the distracting ads that are surely what keeps these images free. Word to the wise: don’t browse on an empty stomach. Seriously.
Test Search: beer
Great source for polished, professional stock photography by Daniel Nanescu — a collection of images that would have gone unused and left to oblivion had he not made them available for free commercial use. The unrelated ads covering the bottom eighth of every image in search results is a bit annoying, but easy to ignore.
Test Search: people
12) IM Free
Name says it all. This site goes beyond stock photography, and features design templates, stock photos, icons, and even a button maker. The home page gives you a great overview of how many of each category are available, and updates of fresh content seem to be regular and frequent. You’ll find a mix of both professional and phone pics.
Test Search: dance
This site features several contributing photographers specializing in nature and architecture images, though interestingly, you can also find a few photos of people using handheld devices. Not all search results make obvious sense, so you may want to try their handy list of categories below the search box to get you started.
Test Search: tree
Results: 16 (but several were of buildings?)
A collection by user experience designer Jeffrey Betts. Given there’s only one photographer, you can count on a consistent point of view and style across the 384 images currently available. Betts mostly focuses on architecture and nature – especially flowers. The search doesn’t seem to be comprehensive, so if you’re not finding what you want, we recommend browsing through all images in grid view.
Test Search: flower
Results: 10 (But there are many more than that!)
MorgueFile is a community-driven website for photographers and creative professionals to share images with other creative professionals that was started in 1996 by Michael Connors. Each search result page has infinite scroll, and we have yet to find the bottom of any search we tried.
Test Search: face
Results: infinite?! (We ran out of patience after dozens of pages.)
16) Designers Pics
Great hi-res photos that are both free and require no attribution. The quantity is low, but the search results are relevant when there are matching images. Great site if you’re looking for still-life photos with bold colors or Instagram-like filters.
Test Search: people
Minimal site with a short list of ~48 quality photos that seem to have been hit with an Instagram filter before posting. Landscapes and urban scenes are the dominant themes. The search box works, but with so few images, it might be just as fast to look through all 6 pages to find the image you are looking for.
Test Search: sky
Search-and-discovery site for several other free stock photography and video pages including: travelcoffeebook, startupstockphotos, littlevisuals, gratisography, jaymantri,superfamous, mazwai, snapographic, moveast, snapwiresnaps, newoldstock, camarama, crowthestone, skitterphoto, plus several sites already listed here. Search functionality doesn’t seem to reflect the wealth of content here, so get ready to browse.
Test Search: house