Fortunately, more and more people are growing wise to the fact that it’s a terrible idea to use Google to search for stock images. While there are searches that you can perform to find legal images to use, just pulling up Google Image Search and typing in a keyword will turn up copyrighted images that are not available for free use on your site.
However, I’ve always felt that reducing content theft isn’t just about teaching people how to protect their work. Instead, we have to also help users find resources for finding legitimate works and push them down a path of legal use.
Unfortunately though, the last time I spoke on the issue of where to find legal, free stock images was in 2010, when I announced that I was switching to Morguefile. Unfortunately though, Morguefile and my previous favorite STOCK.xchng,now freeimages.com, have made changes that make them less than useful.
Morguefile has changed to put many of its best features, such as on-the-fly resizing of images, behind a paywall. Freeimages.com has blurred the lines between paid and free images to the point of confusion and has multiple license types on the site.
Fortunately I, as well as many others, have moved on from these sites and it’s past time for an update.
So, without any further ado, here are the three sites that I feel are the best for free, legal stock images for your site and social media efforts.
When you consider both the size of it’s library, over 670,000 images as of this writing and the quality, it’s tough to beat Pixabay. However, unlike another site with “Bay” in its name, everything on this site was created and uploaded by their creators for legal use.
The site’s library is mammoth in its field. The quality of the images are, overall, very high due to quality guidelines and the site also offers videos and vector graphics for use. Best of all, the entire site is under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0), meaning the rightsholders have waived all rights to the work.
While the library can’t compete with paid alternatives, for bloggers needing a legal photo or image they can use on their site, they’ll almost certainly find something that will work on Pixabay.
Pexels, admittedly, is a personal choice. It’s library is only a fraction of the size of Pixabay, about 10,000 images according to their About Us page and the library is filled from public domain images found on other sites as well as user uploads. However, the entire collection is curated with a heavy focus on quality rather than quantity.
Pexels clearly has a style of photography it features and it’s a style I personally like. As such, I usually search it first before looking to other sites.
Pexels, like Pixabay, allows users to choose what size to download the images. While there’s no ability to set a custom size or otherwise manipulate the image, odds are you’ll find a size that’s at least close to appropriate for your purpose.
Finally, there’s StockSnap. StockSnap doesn’t have the largest library nor does it allow you to choose what size images you want to download. However, it does have a large number of high-quality images that are also licensed under the CC0 license.
What pushes StockSnap ahead of similar sites is design service Snappa. Snappa is similar to Canva in that it’s a web-based service that makes it easy to design things such as ads, social media posts and so forth. However, where most of Canva’s stock image library is hidden behind a paywall, Snappa’s is free and you can search much of it without registering for an account.
If you’re using the stock images to create social media posts, YouTube thumbnails and so forth, Snappa and StockSnap are services you will probably want to check out.
A Quick Word of Caution
With all of these sites there are two things you need to be wary of.
First, even though they all do their best to ensure that all of the photos were uploaded by creators and that all of the rights have been cleared, they can not and will not guarantee that. Many paid sites, such as Shuterstock, offer guarantees backed by offers of indemnity.
If you want or need complete peace of mind about the copyright, these sites are not for you.
Second, even though these sites grant you the copyright clearance to do whatever you want with the photo, you still need to be cautious when using photos of recognizable people, properties and trademarks.
This is especially true if you’re using the images for a commercial purpose, such as creating an ad or putting the photo on a product to sell. These photos do not come with the privacy rights needed for such uses.
Generally, it’s safer to stick with images of things, not people.
While it’s sad that Morguefile and Freeimages.com have fallen away, the climate for legal, free stock images is actually better than ever. There are more images of higher quality than ever before.
Thanks thanks to photographers and artists that choose to make their work available under open licenses, in particular CC0.
Still, for the purpose of library size, quality and legal certainty, free libraries can’t hold a candle to paid ones. Shutterstock, for example has over 92 million images by itself. For many, it’s likely worth a few dollars to gain access to those libraries.
That being said, for those who don’t want to or can’t pay for stock images, there’s more than enough high-quality photos available to choose from. All one has to know is where to find them.
Fortunately, they’re never more than a quick search away.