There are thousands of fantastic free stock photos for you to use on your websites and projects – though many of them are without attribution.
We've collected our pick of the best free stock photo sites to help you find the pictures you need. All the images on these sites are free to use for personal, editorial or commercial purposes (and are great paired with our pick of the best free photo editors), but there are still a couple of restrictions to bear in mind.
The main limitations apply to photos of identifiable people, trademarked products and privately owned property (not only people’s homes but also some landmarks). Getty Images has an excellent guide to intellectual property (opens in new tab), which is worth checking out before you get started.
But keep in mind that many of these sites take contributions from amateur photographers who might not be fully aware of the rules surrounding model releases (opens in new tab) for photos of people, and may not have asked their subjects to sign a waiver. If you're not sure, it's best to contact the site directly.
Back in October 2020, Adobe made over 70,000 stock photos, videos, illustrations and templates available free for personal, business and creative use. Its aim, according to a blog post (opens in new tab), is to "make the means to create accessible images to all".
The photos are consistently high quality, and artists are paid for their contributions. There's an excellent selection of filters that you can use to find exactly the right stock photo, and you can even upload an existing image to find similar pictures.
Most photos are covered by Adobe's standard license terms (opens in new tab), which are very permissive and only prevent you from distributing the files themselves, creating products where the value is associated with the photo itself (such as a stock photo printed on a poster) and transferring the license to more than one employer or client.
It's always worth checking before you download a photo though, as there may be exceptions.(opens in new tab)
Unsplash is a well-curated collection of beautiful photos donated by skilled photographers and has been used to create some incredible work (opens in new tab). There are fewer images than you’ll find on Pixabay (see below), but the quality is more consistent.
Unsplash’s search tool is the fastest way to find a picture, but if you have a little time of your hands, check out Collections – groups of photos sorted by other users into themes like Light and Shadow, Street Life, and Into the Wild. You can create your own collections after signing up for an account. They’re ideal for inspiration, or gathering resources for a project.
Unsplash even has an iOS app (opens in new tab), which helps you find stock pictures to use for creative work on an iPad or iPhone.
As with all the stock photography sites here, it’s not necessary to credit the photographer, but Unsplash notes that it’s nice to add a simple credit with a link back to their profile as a courtesy. The picture featured here is by Carl Flor (opens in new tab).
Vecteezy (opens in new tab) is a new entry to this guide, mainly due to how modern it offers the user in features and search results, alongside plenty of high-quality images to help your projects.
There are countless photos available here, with a helpful 'trending' bar below the search menu to get the right photo you need.
But what really shines is the type of results you can filter, which we've not seen so far. You can search by color or hex color code, which can bring photo results that match the exact colors you're searching for.
This can be huge when you're working on projects that work towards a similar color scheme, and you want a free photo that can match this. This is why Vecteezy places high on our list.
There are also great vector images in high-resolution sizes, which looked great on our 4K monitor in testing. There's also the helpful addition of a 'free' label to make sure which images you can download right away.
While there are also stock videos to choose from, it's the photos here that make Vecteezy shine, both in the quality and the results that it gives you.(opens in new tab)
Pixabay is packed with well over a million public domain images – not only photos, but also illustrations, vector graphics, and even a handful of videos. Its selection of landscape photography is particularly strong, and the Editor’s Choice (opens in new tab) is well worth a look if you don’t have something specific in mind.
Once you’ve found a suitable free stock photo, choose an appropriate resolution (print projects will need a much higher resolution than online ones) and complete a Captcha to download the file. You can cut out the Captcha by signing up for a free account.
The vast majority of pictures on Pixabay are safe for work, but to avoid anything explicit appearing in search results, make sure you check the Enable SafeSearch box (opens in new tab) before browsing.
The quality of photography isn't as consistently high as Unsplash, but if you can't find the free stock photo you need there, Pixabay might be able to help.(opens in new tab)
If you’re looking for something a bit quirky, Gratisography – a collection of pictures by talented photographer and graphic designer Ryan McGuire – is perfect. Ryan’s photos often have a surreal edge, and are brilliant if you’re sick of dull stock photo clichés; there are no women laughing alone with salad (opens in new tab) here.
Gratisography doesn’t offer as much content as some other free stock photo sites, but Ryan’s creative eye makes up for that, and he adds new pictures every week. You can subscribe to his newsletter for update alerts, or keep an eye on his Twitter account (opens in new tab).
It’s not essential to credit McGuire when you use his work, but he appreciates it if you do.(opens in new tab)
Anyone is welcome to upload photos to Pexels, and the site’s curators will pick out the best shots to populate its searchable collection of public domain images. You can search for something specific, or browse by themes including pastimes, emotions, and locations.
Pexels is a particularly good choice for web or app designers, with an excellent set of device images that are ideal for displaying interface mockups. A couple of images stray close to stock photo cheesiness (ideas that are tricky to illustrate spelled out with scrabble tiles, for example), but the vast majority are creative and original.
Pexels has a category dedicated to space photography, which looks amazing, but bear in mind that some of the material is from NASA – one of the organizations whose images should only be used in specific contexts.(opens in new tab)
PikWizard offers thousands of free stock photos across a broad range of subjects. The quality is impressive and – unusually for a free stock photography site – there are lots of photos depicting people in natural poses. Nothing cheesy here.
The selection of urban photography is impressive, too. If you need a stunning cityscape, PikWizard is a great place to look.
If you want to get creative without leaving your browser, PikWizard provides links to an online photo editor. Most of the tools and templates here are premium designs, but none cost more than a couple of dollars.
Photos on PikWizard are offered under two licenses: Free and CC0. A CC0 license means the photographer has waived their copyright, but a Free license means they retain the copyright, but have given permission for their work to be used without payment. The full license (opens in new tab) explains in more detail. It's not necessary to credit the photographer, but it's appreciated if possible.(opens in new tab)
Anyone with a camera is invited to contribute free stock photos to Negative Space, which aims to give amateur photographers a platform to share their work with the world and support fellow creatives.
As with Gratisography, you can subscribe to Negative Space’s newsletter for updates when new images are added, and because the content is refreshed so frequently, it’s well worth revisiting to look for new pictures if you’ve been working on a project for a while.
Negative Space is based in the UK, so much of the photography features British scenes. At the time of writing, the collection has several shots of architecture in London, so it’s worth checking out this guide to intellectual property and the London skyline (opens in new tab) before using these.
What makes great stock photography?
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For print work, resolution is key. Standard photo prints require a resolution of at least 640 x 480 pixels, but your printer and designer might well want something higher. The photos need to be as sharp as possible, with no artifacts or noise visible when zoomed in. Avoid shots that are even slightly out of focus.
Creativity is also very important. Stock photography has a poor reputation because so much of it (even on premium sites) relies on cliches and awkward metaphors to convey tricky concepts, but experienced photographers tend to have an eye for interesting details and scenes that might convey a message in a more subtle or imaginative way.
Ultimately it's up to you to decide which picture is most appropriate for the context, but some sites (such as Unsplash) let users tag images themselves, which can make it easier to find something that fits the message you want to express.
- Check out our guide to the best free photo editors