Keep reading for my suggested stock photo websites to help you in sourcing beautiful free imagery for all your web needs.
You want to use engaging photos as part of your blog posts or social media, but you don’t have a ton of professional photography of your own face.
That means turning to stock photography. But the number of free options for sourcing those images might feel a bit overwhelming. You simply want a short, constrained list of reliable stock photo websites that are free, unique, and look great. Then you don’t have to think about which sites to visit ever again to get good photos for your next blog post.
If that’s you, then keep reading for my top 5 free stock photo sites, as well as a note on the legality question some of you might have around these free photos.
Pexels is my first recommendation for beautiful and current imagery. What I love about this site is you can arrange photos by color. That means if you want to match a certain color scheme (for example, if I want to match the red on my website), it’s easy to do it.
You can arrange by color, but also by categories. That means it’s easy to search for something specific or browse by themes including pastimes, emotions, and locations.
Not only does Pexels have a neat and professional website, they’re also the only site on this list with an iOS and Android app so you can more easily browse on your phone.
One thing I don’t love about Pexels is that not only do they take photographer submissions, but they also aggregate images from other photo websites. That multiplies the risks of potential copyright or right of privacy infringements. More on that later.
Pixabay is my second suggestion for stock photos. It has a huge collection of well over a million public domain images – not only photos, but also illustrations, graphics, and even a handful of videos.
The one con for Pixabay is the quality is variable. The caliber of the photography isn’t as consistently high as Unsplash or Pexels. But if you can’t find what you need on those sites, Pixabay might have what you need.
Reshot boasts the “largest catalog of high-quality free stock photos that you won’t find anywhere else.” They source their photos from a community of very talented photographers whom they have partnered with to try and give us the very best (and unique-est) photos for any website needs.
In my opinion, one of the most useful aspects of Reshot is its “Image Packs” feature. To save us time, they’ve curated a handful of images within a specific niche (about 10 to 20 images at a time). We’re able to download the entire list in one shot.
Pretty handy if you ask me.
Fourth on this list is Stocksnap. Stocksnap’s claim to fame is how many photos they add each week — hundreds, by their account.
Via the Stocksnap website, you’re able to search for photos based on themes or categories, which is pretty standard. What’s unique is you can also view photos by date uploaded or even how popular they are on the site (in views and/or downloads).
All this means that the photos are more current than what you might find elsewhere.
Ah, the old standard, Unsplash. On Unsplash you’ll find consistently high-quality. There are fewer images than you’ll find on the likes of Pixabay, but the quality is definitely more uniform. They have a mobile app, too, though it’s only for iOS (not great for us Pixel users).
I relied on Unsplash alone for a long time before branching out to other sites. If you’re going to constrain to one site for all your stock photo needs, Unsplash is definitely the way to go.
Will I get sued if I use free stock photos?
I just wanted to insert a note on this. You might have heard rumors about business owners who got sued because they used a stock photo from Unsplash or some other free stock photo website.
This isn’t a ridiculous concern, and you can read more in-depth about why here. Or skip to below for the tl;dr.
Obviously I’m not a lawyer, so this isn’t intended as legal advice.
But from my understanding, even when a creative commons license is in place (which it is, or a similar license is, for the above sites), all stock photos need a signed release if there’s an identifiable model in the photo.
Unsplash and other free stock photo sites usually don’t have the procedures in place to verify this sort of signed release from the photographers that upload to their platform. Just too much overhead, I assume.
The sites are trusting that the photographer has this release from their models. But often the photographer doesn’t, or at least it can’t be verified. The lack of model release is, from my understanding, the reason why legal complaints arise.
Check out this in-depth article by FriendlyStock for more details on the legality of free stock photos.
In the end, if you’re a small business, the worst that will probably happen is a warning.
Say you use a stock photo on your website. A photographer (or their lawyer) then contacts you about a license breach. In most cases, the worst that will happen is you remove that photo from your site and no fee is due.
As you can tell, I use stock photos (and ones with models) all across my own marketing. So you know where I stand there. But again, I’m no lawyer, so none of the above is legal advice 🙂
I hope that’s helpful!
P.S. Here are my top five stock photo sites:
If you’re going to constrain to one, I’d go with Unsplash.