Adding a few high quality photos is a great way to improve a website, article or presentation - but be careful.
A search engine like Google Images will quickly locate just about any shot you could ever want, but using them will almost certainly violate someone's copyright. What's more, search tools like TinEye mean there's a very real chance that the original photographer will find out what you've done. Which could be embarrassing, and maybe expensive, too.
Fortunately there's a simple and safe alternative. Just look for your free images in a library of stock photos, where the photographer has already given away most, or all of their rights. There are plenty of online libraries just packed with excellent free images that you can use, even commercially, for no cost at all - and we've found 12 of the very best.
This fabulous site has a library of almost 400,000 images covering every topic, and is probably the best place to start your search for free images.
Stock.XCHNG has a more complex image licence agreement than some of the competition, though, so read that carefully before you start.
It first appeared back in 1998, and so it's no surprise that Openphoto has now built up a solid collection of stock photos. They're neatly arranged into well-chosen categories, and clicking any of these leads on to a thumbnail gallery of related shots.
Stockvault has a small but very high quality collection of stock photos, as well as logo templates, clip arts, textures and backgrounds. It's the perfect site to find graphics for your website, then, but beware - Stockvault's images are free for personal, non-commercial use only.
This site has some great photos, with no significant restrictions on their use. You don't have to register to download images, and Unprofound is strictly non-profit, so you won't be hassled by the usual collection of annoying ads. What's not to like?
5. Free Media Goo
You can browse the tiny library at Free Media Goo in just a few minutes, and the images are relatively low resolution. There are some undeniably impressive photos, though, along with some handy textures and audio samples, and there's no need to register - just download anything that appeals.
This site's best feature is its excellent search tool. You can filter by categories, keywords, size, rating, even colour, so it's easy to bypass irrelevant shots and zoom in on the photos you need. Morguefile's licence is generous and no registration is required.
7. Pixel Perfect Digital
This interesting site includes over 4,000 stock photos, neatly organised in categories from Abstract and Animals to Places and Transportation. The best part of Pixel Perfect Digital is the collection of digital art and illustrations, though; stylish images that are hard to find elsewhere.
Image*After didn't impress us with its conventional photos, but the more abstract efforts - everything from electronic components to brick walls and artistic blurs - are much more compelling, especially if you're looking for an unusual background image.
The Freerange site search has an annoying habit of returning photos that have nothing to do with your keywords. But keep trying, and whether you're looking for animals or objects, people, places or arty, near abstract shots, you'll find a suitable high resolution shot here.
10. Free Digital Photos
There are just a few images here - searching for "cat", say, returns only 13 photos - and only the relatively low resolution (around 640 x 480) versions are free. Free Digital Photos requires a credit if you use one, too. It does have some excellent shots, though, and could be just what you need to spice up a personal website.
11. Free Photos Bank
The Free Photos Bank site provides a typical range of free photos - people, animals, landscapes and so on. They're better at abstract shots, though, backgrounds and digital artwork, so this is a good place to start looking for those more unusual images. There's no registration required so downloading is easy, whatever you're after.
As the biggest photo sharing site on the web, used by some of the world's best photographers, your image search really isn't complete without a quick check of what Flickr has to offer. Not everyone allows their photos to be used commercially, though, so visit the Advanced Search Page, then check "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" and any other licence-related options you need before you begin. And when you find a photo you like, check on the right-hand side for a link like "Some rights reserved", and click it for details on what you can - and can't - do with the shot.
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