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Free Stock Images: The 9 Best Websites For Finding Royalty Free Photos

If there’s one major lesson we can learn from the meteoric popularity of Pinterest it is this: people love to look at attractive, relevant images online.

Just a few of the benefits of adding images to your website include:

  • Professional appearance
  • Greater engagement
  • SEO benefits using ALT attributes and carefully-named image files
  • Potential for additional traffic through Google Images, Pinterest etc.

Sadly, despite all the potential benefits derived from image-intensive websites the real problem is where to source high-quality images, either for free or on a budget, that can be freely used on your web properties.

Today, then, lets take a look at some of the very best sites out there. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each site, as well as providing “cliff notes” on each site’s image licensing to help you rapidly find the perfect royalty-free stock images for your site – whilst staying safe and legal in the process.

Creative Commons Search

free royalty free stock images

Numerous images are made available online under the Creative Commons license. Whilst different versions of this license exist – depending on what the image owner is willing to let you do with their image – generally speaking you are free to use their images on your website so long as you credit them as the source.

Well-known sites like Flickr and Wikipedia provide millions of photos for your use under this license, so as long as you’re willing to provide a link to the photographer who took the picture, this can be a never-ending reservoir of incredible quality images.

Each of these sites in turn has a search feature that will help you track down these “free to use” stock photos but possibly the most powerful tool of all is that which is provided by Creative Commons themselves.

Using their simple yet powerful search engine you can quickly scour a number of well-known authority sites for the perfect image – all while knowing that the search engine is only providing you with images you can safely use.

Every Stock Photo

free royalty free stock images

Every Stock Photo acts as a search engine specially for free-to-use images. This concept is both good and bad, depending on your opinion. On the upside, this is one of the best places of all to actually find a specific image if you have an idea in mind. On the downside, each image included in the search results will have it’s own license details which affects what you may or may not do with it.

This means that in contrast to many of the other sites listed here, rather than operating under a simple license structure, when using Every Stock Photo you’ll need to dig a little deeper when you locate an image you’d like to use and ensure that your proposed use is permissible and legal. That said, with over 18 million images to search through, surely you’ll be able to find something to suit your tastes and requirements?!

Free Foto

free royalty free stock images

The Free Foto site may have a hideous design that looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90’s but there’s magic under that dull exterior. At the time of writing, Free Foto offered 132,549 different images available to bloggers and website owners to use – both for commercial and non-commercial enterprises.

The only stipulations for users are that the images you use from the site must be used as-is (cannot be modified) and an attribution link back to Free Foto must be provided.

From their website:

Anyone, by which we mean commercial and non-commercial alike, can use FreeFoto.com images in an online setting, providing they provide attribution to the image and a link back to FreeFoto.com (either the image or the main site). This license allows blogs, social networking sites and use in emails, just to name a few, providing they provide the required attribution, this includes sites that pay people to write, carry advertising or are selling and promoting products. The only requirement the attribution and link back.

Morgue File

free royalty free stock images

Morgue File is a directory of images freely submitted by photographers and illustrators for other creatives to make use of in their visual projects. In theory this means that the images available on Morgue File should only be used with alteration though there are two easy ways to work within these guidelines.

Firstly, you can make only minor alterations such as using a simple image-editing application like PicMonkey to add relevant text to the image. Alternatively, according to the site’s license information, you may use the images as-is so long as you contact the image owner to inform them of your usage and provide a link to their site.

From their website:

You are free to:
Remix – to adapt the work.
Commercial – to use this work for commercial purposes.
Without Attribution – to use without attributing the original author.

Under the following conditions:

Stand alone basis – You can not sell, license, sublicense, rent, transfer or distribute this image exactly as it is without alteration.
Ownership – You may not claim ownership of this image in its original state.

Open Clip Art

free royalty free stock images

As the name suggests, Open Clip Art focuses it’s efforts on clip art rather than actual photographs. So while this may not be to everyone’s tastes it can be an ideal place to track down simple graphical images to highlight a point – or to use as avatars on social media sites or as the basis for logos and suchlike.

Best of all, the license details here couldn’t be any simpler – in essence every image submitted to Open Clip Art is done so on a “public domain” basis meaning that anyone is free to download and use the stock images for commercial or non-commercial purposes – and with no attribution or link back required.

In other words – do what you like with these images without limitation.

From their website:

All clipart is released to the public domain and may be used in any project for free with no restrictions.

Photo Rack

free royalty free stock images

Perhaps smaller than some of their competitors, the concept behind Photo Rack still makes it well worth a visit. Quite simply, not only are all the images on display here free of charge to download but they may also be used freely in any way you choose – even on commercial websites.

While the search feature is hard to find and not tremendously useful, some time spent on Photo Rack can pay dividends when it comes to finding free images to use on your website while sleeping easily at night knowing there is no fine print to worry about.

From their website:

All photos at PhotoRack are Free to use for personal and commercial projects.
No limitations & No backlink required to use them, however we really appreciate if you post about us in your blog or link back to us in any way you feel comfortable

Pixel Perfect Digital

free royalty free stock images

Pixel Perfect Digital offers an abundance of royalty-free images under the Creative Commons license. In essence this means that you can use their images as-is or even modify them into something else though you need to provide an attribution link back to Pixel Perfect Digital every time you use one of their images online.

From their website:

All our images are provided under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon our work, even commercially, as long as you credit pixelperfectdigital.com for the original creation.

Stock.XCHNG

free royalty free stock images

Stock.XCHNG is arguably the best-known source of free stock images online for use by website owners and bloggers. It’s also huge – with roughly 4 million royalty-free images available though overall the quality of images tends to be rather lower than some of their competitors.

Overall usage policies at SXC are fair for end users like you and me – generally speaking the stock photos provided are available for use on any website though they strongly recommend checking each image you would like to use for any additional licensing details which may be in place.

From their website:

You may use the Image
In digital format on websites, multimedia presentations, broadcast film and video, cell phones.
In printed promotional materials, magazines, newspapers, books, brochures, flyers, CD/DVD covers, etc.
Along with your corporate identity on business cards, letterhead, etc.
To decorate your home, your office or any public place.
You may not use the Image
For pornographic, unlawful or other immoral purposes, for spreading hate or discrimination, or to defame or victimise other people, societies, cultures.
To endorse products and services if it depicts a person.
In a way that can give a bad name to SXC or the person(s) depicted on the Image.
As part of a trademark, service mark or logo.

Stock Vault

free royalty free stock images

Stock Vault houses over 37,000 images of of which can be downloaded and used freely. That said, unlike some of the other royalty-free image websites listed here, Stock Vault does seem to be rather more “anti-capitalist” and dissuades the use of their images on corporate/for-profit websites.

The use on personal websites – even if it is subsidized by advertising – seems acceptable though images cannot be used on commercial websites unless they are not being used used to “promote your services” which may be a little too ambiguous for some website owners.

From their website:

Where can I use the images?
Can I use the images on my personal blog that has ads? Yes
Can I use the images on my company website? No
Can I use the images on my company blog? Only if you are not using them to promote your services.
Can I use the images for educational purposes? Yes
Can I use the images for charity projects? Yes
Can I use the images in a tutorial I’m writing? Yes, if you provide a link back to the image page.
Can I use the images to create image packs and give away on my own site? No
Can I use the images in a demo I’m creating? Yes
Can I use the images in paid smartphone apps? No
Can I use the images in free smartphone apps? Yes

IMPORTANT NOTE: The author is not a lawyer or a legal professional in any way and none of the information in this article should be regarded as legal advice. The contents of this article simply forms the author’s own best understanding of (a) sources of royalty-free stock images and (b) how these images may be used legally online. Incase of any doubt I strongly encourage you to do your own due diligence before adding someone else’s photos to your website.

About the author

Richard Adams

I'm obsessed with blogging, social media and content marketing. If you want to take your blog to the next level then please follow me on Twitter.

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