The Best Free Stock Photo Sites for Fantastic Royalty-Free Images [January 2020]

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Images are an incredibly important part of designing any kind of project, from websites to slideshows, magazines, news blogs, and more. While now superseded by video in terms of engagement, images are still a powerful way to attract attention. Nowadays, there’s no excuse for poor quality imagery. We got used to those cheesy shots of people in suits smiling and shaking hands or the girl wearing the headset with her head tipped to one side as she smiles at the camera. Those just won’t do any more and neither should they. There are dozens of high quality stock image websites around that offer some exceptional royalty-free images for our use and every designer should use them.

We’ve taken a look at every royalty-free stock image site we could find on the web today, so if you’re ready to dive into the world of free-use images, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re interested in design or require stock photos for a project you’re working on, this post is for you.

Licensing and Stock Images

Copyright and licensing is a minefield and the main reason we don’t just copy someone else’s images for our own use. Most stock image websites use creative commons public domain license. This means you can use the image as you see fit. Some will ask for attribution and some will not. It is good practice to offer this anyway as the image creator definitely deserves a little credit. In fact, most Creative Commons agreements require attribution in exchange for use of the photo or asset.

The Best Free Stock Photo Sites

Whether you’re looking for a new desktop wallpaper, a stock photo for your next project, or something completely different, here are some of the best free stock photo sites on the web today.

Pixabay

Pixabay is my go-to site for great royalty-free images. It has hundreds of thousands of great photos, with most of them being high-resolution and high-quality. Registration is optional, downloads are free, and every photo comes in multiple sizes—making them ideal for web design, magazine layouts, blogs and other mediums.

Pexels

Pexels is a bit like Pixabay in that it is a huge selection of free stock photos with a search function to help navigate. The breadth is huge and covers most aspects of life. Images are single size and open within the browser for you to right click and download. If I can’t find something on Pixabay, I tend to try Pexels next. In fact, plenty of our heading+9 photos on this very site come from Pexels.

Unsplash

Unsplash is where I go if I need more thoughtful images. The photos here tend to be more creative and more diverse which makes them ideal for some projects. They tend to be a single size which you download and manipulate yourself. Many are full HD and of very good quality. They also have a fantastic mobile app for iOS that allows you to find photos perfect for your wallpapers.

Negative Space

Negative Space doesn’t hold many images at once but new ones are added each week. What images there are on the site at the time are of very high quality. The images are not available in different sizes but are just a matter of right clicking and saving as. The rest is up to you.

Superfamous

Superfamous is a niche site that is manually curated by Dutch artist Folkert Gorter. What it lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in quality. If you’re looking for something a bit different, this is the place to go. Check the Images link to access the gallery and just click and save.    

Picjumbo

Picjumbo is another large site with a huge range of stock images for you to download for free. The quality is excellent, the selection wide and varied and the search function makes finding what you’re looking for simple. The only downside is they block adblock users and while I can understand why, it’s still not cool.

StockSnap.io

StockSnap.io is a bit more focused on art than the mainstream stock image websites and has a huge range of images to choose from. Many use tones, posing and moments in time with a definite artistic leaning which makes them ideal for many uses. The site does try to promote its own graphics program but other than that is a decent site to use.

Freestocks.org

Freestocks.org is another large site that offers a wide range of top class images. Like Superfamous and StockSnap, many of the images are arty but the quality of them cannot be ignored. These are ideal for a huge range of projects and cost nothing, although donations are gratefully accepted.

Picography

Picography is a good stock photo site for abstract or random images. While the site also covers the mainstream, there are a lot of stills of random objects, interesting perspectives and intriguing angles. If you want something slightly out of the norm, Picography can deliver.

Gratisography

Gratisography is a curious one. The quality is superb but the subjects are a little random and eclectic. I tend to go here if I need something quite different and usually find it. The site is easy to use and the images are very good indeed but you won’t find mainstream images here.

MorgueFile

Despite the name, MorgueFile is full of life. It is a huge site full of amazing royalty-free images for you to download across a wide variety of subjects. With a great search function and logical categorization it is easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for.

SkitterPhoto

SkitterPhoto offers a wide range of subjects from nature to technology. All images are excellent quality and are free to use as you see fit. There is also the option to buy a particular image on canvas which is a neat touch. The quality and selection of images is first class too.

Life of Pix

Life of Pix may be a play on words but it offers a range of top quality free stock photos by members of the LEEROY creative agency. There is a little bit of everything here, moments in time, still life, landscape, nature and more.

Do you use any of these sites? Have any others you think should have been listed? You know what to do…

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