The right image can transform your marketing. Photos grab customers’ attention and tell stories. Photos support your brand image on websites and social media. However, not all small businesses have the time or resources to constantly take professional grade photos of their own. That’s where stock image websites come in.
What is a stock photo website?
These stock photo websites provide high resolution images that businesses can purchase or download for free to use in websites, social media posts, or even for commercial purposes. There’s a huge variety of these stock image websites, all with different options and niches. Some focus on high quality images and videos that businesses can purchase the rights to. Others offer a collection of free public domain or royalty free images. If you’re wondering “what does royalty free mean” or want to learn more about the best places to find photos online, read on for a guide.
Free Stock Image Sites
For businesses that don’t have the budget to pay for images, there are plenty of stock image websites that make a collection of free stock imagery available — even for commercial purposes. Some of these sites make their images available for download with no strings attached. Others may require attribution or allow users to make voluntary donations to photographers. These generally provide non-exclusive rights to photos. So you can use them for free — but so can others.
Here are some of the best free stock image websites for small businesses to source images from.
Unsplash is one of the best stock image websites and it offers modern and artsy images. Most are photos of people and real world settings, available in high resolution versions and smaller sizes if needed. All photos are free to use for both personal and commercial purposes and come with a creative commons zero (CC) licensing. And no permission is required, though attribution is always appreciated for the free stock photos. The only limits are that you cannot sell these free stock photos unless they’ve been significantly modified. And you cannot download images to start a competing service.
Pexels is a stock photo site that supports photographers and offers free stock images including some covered by creative commons (cc) license. There are nature scenes and cityscapes plus photos of families at home. Small, medium, large, and high resolution versions are available for most photos. There are also some videos available for download from Pexels. All content on Pexels is completely free and legal to use. You can even modify images, and no credit is required. You just can’t resell Pexels images, alter them in a way that may be offensive to those pictured, or imply endorsement by those pictured.
Kaboompics offers a site for royalty free stock photos. Most of the images are colorful and candid. In addition to searching for specific images, you can view photoshoots to see images of the same model or props. Photos are available in custom sizes. And you can even search by color or orientation to find the options that fit best with your brand or aesthetics. All images are free for both commercial and noncommercial use. No attribution is required, and modifications are allowed. You just cannot resell the images.
Gratisography offers free, high-resolution images for download without copyright restrictions. Created and Founded by Ryan McGuire this offers lots of free stock images that are whimsical and quirky, so it’s perfect for those who want something that can’t be found on other stock image websites. Photos are free for personal and commercial use. And users are free to add logos or other elements to them through creative commons licensing. However, you can’t redistribute them. And Gratisography does not guarantee or license rights to things like trademarks, publicity, or privacy.
Pixabay offers free stock photos, illustrations, vectors, videos, and even music. There are currently more than 1.8 million images on the site. All content is free for both individual and personal use. You can even modify, copy, or distribute images without permission or credit under creative commons licensing. However, Pixabay content may be protected by trademarks or privacy or publicity rights. The page for each image includes more specific information about licensing.
6. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has a digital collection of images that are free to use and reuse. This stock site offers free photos for use under public domain, have no known copyright, or have been made available by permission of the owner. In addition to the collection of free stock photos, there are video clips, documents, sound recordings, maps, and more. Many are vintage or historical, and they have similar attribution as Getty images with a full caption and explanation. Its search feature gives you to option to make queries based lists of authors/creators, subjects, names/titles and others.
Wikipedia pages often include images to compliment the content. Its collection of stock photos are uploaded by users, but must be licensed under a free license like creative commons or public domain. Users can also upload images they created or own, and uploading them to Wiki Commons makes them free and available to all under its Creative Commons Zero (cc0) license. The license and applicable information are available on each photo page.
Pikwizard has a library of more than a million free stock photos and videos. Popular categories include stock image collection of nature, buildings, fashion, and even abstract images. Content is free for both commercial and non-commercial use under a creative commons license. There are also a few premium images mixed into browse and search results, which are ads from Adobe Stock. You cannot use the content as part of a trademark or logo, or resell it.
Flickr is a site full of user generated content and is one of the best free stock photo sites. Some of it is protected by copyright, but others are available under creative commons, creative commons zero, or public domain. You can search for free stock photos specifically under each license within the community. And each photo page includes specific rights. You may need to provide attribution for some. Others are simply not available for redistribution or public display. If you need a stunning stock photo to source from, Flickr is a great place to look.
10. Negative Space
Negative Space is full of beautiful, high-resolution free stock photos. There are tons of nature scenes, buildings, animals, objects, and virtual backgrounds. You can browse by category, search for specific terms, or even find photos by color. Photos are available in high resolution or even raw versions under a creative commons license. You can use, copy, and share the free stock photos for personal and commercial purposes. The site encourages giving credit to the photographer, but it is not required. Negative Space has a newsletter that updates its community when new images are added and also offers support for fellow creatives.
Premium Stock Image Sites
There are also plenty of stock photo sites that provide high-quality images for purchase. On these sites, you either pay a membership fee or pay to purchase and download these images. The licenses and terms vary by site. So be sure to check the policies for the specific services you choose. Some of these stock sites may offer exclusive rights to photos, while others offer high-quality royalty-free stock photos. Here are some of the most popular premium stock image sites to consider.
DepositPhotos offers an array of premium plans and photo download options. You can pay a monthly fee and then download as many stock images as your plan allows during the month to source from. There are also discounts for those who sign up for annual plans. Then there’s the on-demand option that allows users to simply pay to download individual photos. Images are generally available in multiple sizes, including large, high res versions. But each one may differ. The site also offers videos and vectors. Vectors can be scaled to any size. Most images are available under a standard license, which means they’re available for personal and commercial use up to 500,000 copies. If you plan on reselling or distributing stock photos that exceed that amount, they also have extended licenses available.
Shutterstock is one of the best stock sites having one of the largest collections of stock photos available, with more than 1.7 million new pieces of content uploaded each week. In addition to stock images, the site also offers videos and audio files. You can sign up for a monthly subscription based on the number of photos you regularly need to download. Prices range from $4.90 to $0.33 per image under these plans. The site also offers on-demand packs, where you can pay between $14.50 and $9.60 per image. These can be used within one year and are best for those who need high-quality stock images but don’t download a ton of them. There are also enterprise and multi-user plans available. Photos come with a standard license, which makes them available for business use. But enhanced licenses that provide the opportunity to use images in products or templates. Important to note, Shutterstock also provides thousands of free stock photos.
iStock is a stock image website owned by Getty Images. It provides royalty-free photos, vectors, illustrations, HD videos and more. Photos are separated into two collections: basic and signature. The basics are timeless images available at low prices. The signature collection is full of on-trend photos that are exclusive to the site. Plans start at $29 per month for 10 photos from the basic collection. There are also premium plans available that provide access to up to 750 images per month. Standard licenses cover business and personal use for up to 500,000 copies of each photo. And extended licenses are available for those who intend to exceed that limit. Free stock photos are also on offer each week from exclusive signature collection.
14. Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock is a stock image website that also includes illustrations, vectors, videos, templates, 3D graphics, and audio files. Most of its images fall into the creative category, from abstract designs to photos with artsy angles. One of the biggest features that sets this stock image website apart is that you can also access stock images from Adobe Creative Cloud apps and community. So if you’re looking for a royalty free high quality images to add to a graphic or design you’re creating, you can do so without opening a separate window. The site provides both annual and month-to-month subscriptions, with plans starting at $29.99 per month. There are also team and enterprise plans available. Standard licenses allow users to include photos in web content or up to 500,000 print copies. However, you can’t use stock photos in the products you intend to sell. As a member, you also get access to thousands of free stock photos, illustration, vectors and other types of images.
Offset is a stock photography site that focuses on authentic, artistic imagery from award-winning photographers. Owned by Shutterstock, this stock site is full of royalty free images and illustrations in various lifestyle categories, from food to family. Photos come with global usage rights that apply to both personal and commercial purposes. And you can use each stock photo unlimited times. There are two sizes available: small at 72dpi and large at 300dpi. Users purchase packs of images at the sizes they need. Prices start at $211.90 per image for small and $299.90 for large. This is more expensive than the content on many other stock photography websites. But Offset does offer exclusive rights to the photos you download for one year. So you won’t see these photos on tons of competitors sites around the internet. If you want the image on your article or other content to stand out, Offset provides an option.
Scopio is a royalty free stock photo site that focuses on diverse lifestyle images. They offer one plan for $29 per month. But with that you can download up to 50 photos per day. And more content is being added every day. The site even has a boards feature that allows you to save and organize the stock image into categories. This is perfect for teams using stock photo for different purposes. All stock images are approved for business use. And credit is not required but appreciated. The site offers standard, extended, and editorial licenses. Commercial standard licenses generally cover images used in online content and up to 100,000 printed copies. Editorial licenses are generally for those using stock images to accompany online content.
Stocksy describes its stock photo and video content as “art forward.” This stock photo site is an artist-owned cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its creators. Users simply pay to download each stock image. Small images start at $15. And the highest resolution images run for $300. Video content ranges from $75 to $400. Stock images are available under royalty-free licenses that have no expiration dates. However, you can also pay more for extended licenses or exclusive rights if necessary.
18. Getty Images
Getty Images is a stock photo agency that offers high quality, royalty free stock images, videos, music and more. It is touted to be the first place people turn to discover and use stock visual content from photographers and videographers. There are artsy images, backgrounds, and even photos of celebrities. Users can pay for each stock image or video individually or buy packs of up to ten. Prices range from $150 to $499 per download and vary based on size and resolution. Content is available as royalty free downloads. But they also have a rights and clearances team that can help businesses and other users connect with intellectual property owners or subjects. For example, if you want to use a photo of a celebrity in an ad campaign, you can work with them directly to request permission. The photos on Getty images are recognized globally for their quality and attributions.
Photocase offers royalty free photos that feature real people and real emotions. Once you purchase photos, you can use them on social media, include them alongside content, and even transfer ownership to customers or team members. You can also pay extra for an image with high print runs and use it on templates or merchandise. Users can purchase photos directly or buy credits at a lower rate if you plan on downloading multiple photos. Prices range from $14 for small, web-sized photos to $42 for large, print sized photos. Credits come at a discount of between 20 and 45 percent which are applied the purchase of 25 image credit all the way up to 1,000 image credit.
Megapixl offers high quality stock photos, vectors, videos and more. Categories include abstract, animals, people, business, travel, and technology. The site offers various licenses. The royalty free license comes standard. This covers use on things like websites, ad posters, booklets, articles, and presentations. However, the stock photography site also offers extended licenses for those who want to include stock photos in more types of content. The site offers monthly plans based on how many photos you want to download. Prices range from $25 to $219 per month for between 20 and 750 images. All plans also come with a one-week free trial.
What is a stock image?
A stock image is a photo that can be licensed for use by others. Some are available for free, while others can be purchased from stock image websites. Additionally, some stock photos are only available in specific instances, like on websites where credit is provided. On the other hand, you can get a free stock photo and use it for nearly any purpose or even alter it.
What types of stock images are available?
Stock photography can include nearly any type of visual. However, most are either standard photographs, illustrations, or vectors. There are images that depict people, things, places, events and more. Additionally, some are available for exclusive use. But many are available for anyone to purchase or download from stock image websites.
What is the difference between royalty free images and free images?
The difference between royalty free and free is that free images do not include any fee to use, but royalty free images simply means a person has rights to use an image without paying ongoing royalty fees. It is a standard licensing agreement in the stock photography industry. Some stock photo sites offer royalty free images , but some come with a one-time fee. Free images may require credit to the owner or must meet other qualifications for use. In addition some sites provide images which have been made through a cc0 license by their creators which are available to use by anyone, however they like.
Can you use Creative Commons photos for free?
Photos or images with the CC0 1.0 Universal (Creative Commons Zero, CC0 1.0) public domain dedication are available to use free of charge.
According to Creative Commons, CC0 1.0 images are dedicated to the public domain. They have no copyright protection.
“You can copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work worldwide under copyright law,” reads the Creative Commons Zero(CC0 license) page.
How do you choose good stock images, and avoid cheesy ones?
Some stock photography are overused and considered “cheesy.” These don’t usually add any value to your content. And they may even reflect negatively on your brand. Avoid these elements when choosing royalty free stock images:
Fake smiles: We’ve all seen images of a woman smiling while eating salad alone or a businessman giving a thumbs up right to the camera. These images aren’t scenes you’d come across in real life. So it makes the viewer acutely aware that they’re looking at a stock image.
Unrealistic props: How often do you come across large puzzle pieces in your conference room? Stock photo sites often use props like this to convey abstract ideas. But they don’t advance the story in any way.
Bad photo editing: If you can look at a stock image and clearly tell that it uses a green screen for the background, so can your customers.
Instead, authentic and high quality visuals can help your stock photos actually serve your marketing materials or online content. Look for these qualities when browsing stock photo websites to make sure the visuals actually serve your brand:
Candid shots: In stock images that include people, they should generally be doing some activity rather than looking right at the camera. This puts the viewer into the situation rather than focusing on the photographer.
Full backgrounds: Clean white or blue backgrounds are a staple in many stock images. A background that shows a home, office, or outdoor scene is more realistic, as long as it’s not clearly photoshopped.
Images that evoke emotion: Stock photos should help to advance a story. People should be able to tell what the person in the photo is thinking, feeling, or experiencing in the moment to have maximum impact.
Overall, use your judgement. If the content you’ve downloaded from stock photography sites looks like something you might come across in the real world, it’s probably a good stock photo. However, if it looks staged or unrealistic, your customers may run screaming from your cheesy visual content.
Can I use images from Google without violating copyright?
No, you cannot just grab images from Google because they may be subject to copyright. Just because a website includes a collection of images does not mean that those images are stock photos or available for use by others. The photographer, illustrator, or owner of an image generally has a legal copyright claim to that content. So they can determine if and when others can use or share their work.
To use images you find online legally, you need to purchase the rights to it or make sure it’s available in the public domain or under a creative commons license. You may also use images if you receive written approval from the owner; some websites include this permission.
So be sure to check the terms of service on each website carefully before downloading or using their photos. Using an image without permission or rights may result in lawsuits or fines later on. If you’re not sure, stick to stock photo websites that specialize in this area.