What Are Free Images? And Where to Find Them

What Are Free Images by Kat Love

Images are more than just decor, they are an important part of communication online. If you have a website, blog, or social media account for your practice, it’s likely you will need images. But what do you do when you need images but have neither the budget to hire a photographer nor the time or ability to shoot them yourself?

That’s where stock photography comes in. Stock images are images, taken by other people, and made available under a license that outlines how they can be used. Bloggers, magazines, advertisers, and social media ninjas, are all examples of people who use stock images to help communicate their messages.

There are a multitude of places to find stock images online for sale but there are also places to find images available for free. But what exactly are these “free images” and how can you find them?

What Are Free Images?

When someone creates an image, they automatically own rights to that creative result. This right is called copyright. Copyrights exists to protect the creator’s work so that it doesn’t get used in ways that they don’t want it to be used.

Amazingly, there are creatives that are choosing to share their art with the world. There are thousands of images available online under licenses that allow you to use them at no charge.

The most popular licenses in use are Creative Commons licenses. These licenses outline exactly how images can and cannot be used. Detailed descriptions of all of these licenses can be found on the licenses page of the creative commons website.

The most liberal license is CC0 – sometimes also referred to as copyright zero, copyright free, public domain, or “do whatever you want” license. Under the CC0 license, you can “copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.” For example, CC0 images can be used in your blog posts, the homepage of your website, in your ebook, or in your motivational pinterest poster.

Even though giving credit to the original creator of the image is not required, it’s a nice gesture even with CC0 to do so. Typically a link in the image caption or footer area of a post or page is a cool way to do this.

The Drawbacks to Free Images

Nothing is free, including CC0 images! As such, what are the hidden costs of using CC0 images? Here are some drawbacks to using them:

  • Difficult to find photographer’s information. If you do want to give the original creator credit, it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to find their information.
  • They are incredibly overused. Ask yourself, is this image going to be used for something central to my business? If so, it might be worth it to buy a stock photo or hire a photographer for something unique.
  • Generic much? How many photos of foggy mountaintops can you really use in one blog?
  • Difficult to do a targeted search. Paid options for stock photos have more advanced search tools. The ability to search by color, keyword, or photographer, can mean saving a lot of time.
  • It’s kinda like thrift shopping. You might find a dress from your dream designer in exactly your size and color at the charity shop but you better prepare yourself for a needle in a haystack shopping experience.
  • Risk of violating copyright. Be realistic, this is the internet. With all the sharing and borrowing and re-posting, there may be a mistake in licensing or someone may be sharing someone else’s work as their own and labeling it under a CC license. There have been cases of lawsuits so you have to take this risk into consideration whenever you use “free” images.

6 Places to Find Free Images

If the appeal of free images outweighs the drawbacks, which for some uses can be the case, type “creative commons zero images” into Google and you’ll get a mountain of results. There are so many of these images being shared and so many places to find them it can be overwhelming. To narrow down your search and get you started on finding free images, below is a list of 7 places I recommend for finding free, CC0, images online:

1. Stock Snap

Stock Snap for Free Images

StockSnap is becoming one of the best places for high quality, high resolution, CC0 images. The difference between StockSnap and some of the other places you can find free images is that it’s highly curated which means you don’t have to sort through bad photos to find the few good ones.

2. Stokpic

Stok Pic for free images
This site was started by a photographer named Ed Gregory who wanted to share his photography with the world. All images here are shared under license similar to CC0 with the one limitation at the time of writing this that you may not resell the images. But you can use them on your blog or website for free. Another good source of high quality photos, some that you can’t fine elsewhere.

3. Unsplash

Find Free Images on Unsplash
Photos contributed by talented photographers. 10 new photos are posted every 10 days. Tip: click on the thumbnail gallery icon to make browsing easier.

4. Pixabay

Find Free Images on Pixabay
All images here are shared under CC0 license and uploaded by users. Pixabay also has a great searching and tagging system which allows you to quickly find images that are relevant to what you are looking for. You can join and “favorite” your images which puts them in your own gallery to which you can return and find images later.

5. Refe Free

Refe free stock photographyRefe is a stock photo company where you can purchase high quality, natural looking images. But they also generously give images away for free. They are some truly beautiful images too.

6. Pexels

Find Free Images on Pexels
One of the biggest free image search tools. It pulls in images from several free image sites and gathers them together.

7. New Old Stock

Find Free Images on New Old Stock
New Old Stock posts vintage photos from public archives, meaning images that are in the public domain and therefore free of known copyright restrictions. In addition to potentially adding something interesting to your project, they are also just fun to browse!

Free Images Are Awesome

I hope this overview of what free images are and where to find them is helpful. Do you use free, CC0, images on your website or blog? Do you have any places that you like to go for images? Let me know by contacting me or tweeting me anytime. I would love to hear from you.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Kat Love

Hi, I'm Kat! I'm the founder and lead designer here at Empathysites. Therapists helped me heal from childhood sexual abuse so now I help therapists with creating their websites. I write on topics like website design, strategy, and turning website visitors into clients. Reach out anytime if you'd like to say hi. Pronouns: they/them/their