In social media, we're all increasingly thinking about visual content.
At Buffer, we've shared our own study on the importance of images in Twitter posts for more social sharing. We've explored tools that help anyone create visual content.
But there's one question we get asked quite often: Where can you find free, good quality images that are cleared to use for your blog posts or social media content?
It's a question with a lot of different answers and caveats. Nearly every image created in the last 30 years is still protected by copyright -- a protection that gives virtually every author the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work. But you can find a public domain photo, use a Creative Commons image that might need attribution or even create your own image from scratch.
We'll explore all of these and then some in this post about free image sources. A few things to know before we get started:
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
There are various types of Creative Commons licenses that range from allowing any type of use with no attribution to allowing only certain uses and no changes.
What is public domain?
Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Finding something on the internet does not mean it is in the public domain.
These terms will come up often as we discuss free photo sources. Read over the terms and conditions of each site you try so you know exactly when and what type of attribution is required.
In this post, we'll break down more than 50 different sources and tools for visual content. We'll cover the following (click on any section to be taken to that area directly):
Searchable photo databases
If you want a photo or image on a specific topic, you'll want a site that's searchable. Here are a few to check out. (To better help you evaluate these sites, I performed the same search on each using the word"coffee.")
offers a free section that's searchable and frequently updated. It requires you to create a (free) account.
houses a wealth of free images---categorized and searchable---for business, personal or educational use. They're smaller sized, and larger versions are available to purchase. Using the free images often requires a credit to the photographer and the site like the one you see below.
Image Credit: khunaspix via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
is a large gallery of more than 350,000 stock photos, searchable and categorized. Downloading a photo does require a longer-than-most signup process but the bigger selection might be worth it.
offers access to free high-quality, high-resolution stock photos. A (free) registration is required.
has a nice collection of free photos available for download without login. They're extensively categorized with a few different ways to search, too.
's registered users can download both free and paid images to use in corporate and personal projects. The free selection seems fairly limited, though---my coffee search didn't turn up a free photo I could use.
offers a curated collection of free resources, all for commercial use. Search for a keyword or browse through the stylishly crafted categories.
contains photographs freely contributed by many artists to be used in creative projects by visitors to the site. A short registration is required, and morguefile asks that users credit the photographer when possible.
offers copyright-free, cost-free images published under Creative Commons. You can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes. No registration is required.
is a repository for a wide variety of free
images uploaded by amateur photographers. A brief signup is required. (Premium download is an option if you need larger images.)
is a stock photo sharing website where photographers, designers and students can share their photographs, graphics and image files with each other for free and use them for personal and non-commercial design work. No registration is required.
is a free stock image site created by photographers and graphic artists. Registration (required) is one-click and the pool of photos is pretty deep.
Free-form photo collections
Sites in this category offer a more freewheeling approach to images---no searching but lots of discovery.
Since there's no search in this category, I've picked a representative image for each service.
offers a free image archive of historical prints, maps and artifact photos, like this print of a New Zealand Maori Warrior from 1817.
is a royalty-free photo gallery in which most of the photos have been contributed by amateur photographers. No login is required. It's organized mainly by geographic area---for example, this photo is from the Copenhagen collection.
is a collection of free high-resolution images for personal or commercial use. New photos are added weekly; simply click to download.
offers free high-res lifestyle photography sent to you monthly.
offers royalty-free, cost-free media that can be used in print, film, TV, Internet or any other type of media both for commercial and personal use. There's no login required but the inventory is slightly more limited, organized into unique categories like beach backgrounds and concrete textures.
It's not a photo source per se, but marketing platform
in exchange for your email address.
releases new a new batch of
every week. (Signup for a free membership---a slightly confusing process---is required.)
delivers 7 high-res images to use anyway you want via email every 7 days. Subjects range from industrial parts to idyllic landscapes.
is a collection of vintage photos from the public archives, free of known copyright restrictions.
offers a variety of free photos for any kind of use---free of charge with no registration required. Although there's no search function, categories will help you find your way.
is a large collection of free stock images mostly focusing on nature- and outdoor-related scenes that can be copied, modified an distributed---even for commercial purposes. No registration necessary! Since the pool isn't too broad this site didn't pass the coffee search, but here's a sample of what you can find there.
houses the work of Dutch interaction designer Folkert Gorter, whose photography is available under the conditions of a
. This means that you can use the work for your own purposes -- including commercial use -- as long as credit is provided.
offers 10 free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos every 10 days.
is a database of 21,049,775 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute. The
but the classifications may not be super clear if you're not a big Wikipedia user (I'm not).
Photo search tools
These sites don't offer free photos themselves but rather provide a way to search easily through Flickr or public domain photos to more quickly find a photo you can use.
searches and displays results from Wikimedia Commons. All search results link directly to the resource's usage rights page.
is a Flickr image search engine that uses the Flickr API to locate images based on your license needs.
is a sort of photo search engine clearinghouse that offers access to search services provided by other organizations like Flickr and Google.
For example, searching for kittens on Creative Commons Search and selecting Google Images brings me here. Note that the search has been set up with special parameters.
is a Flickr-focused search tool that helps quickly unearth photos and identify their licenses.
is a method of finding free-to-use images through Google's own search tools. Here's a
is a search engine for free photos. These come from many sources and are license-specific. You can view a photo's license by clicking on the license icon, below and left of photos. Membership is free and allows you to rate, tag, collect and comment on photos.
allows users to search Creative Commons photos from Flickr with similar filters for commercial/non-commercial and other categories.
's interface allows users to search millions of Creative Commons photos from Flickr.
is a Creative Commons-licensed professional free stock photos sharing community of about 25,000 images. All photos displayed on this Pinterest-esque site are allowed for commercial use with proper credits to the authors.
is a reverse image search engine. It finds out where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version.
is an all-in-one picture finder, re-sizer and attribution builder for bloggers. Users can resize up to 5 free images per month.
Create-your-own image tools
For options beyond readymade images, consider the many tools available to help even the design-challenged among us create attractive, original images.
is one we particularly turn to often for creating new images to accompany Buffer's blog posts. This tool allows users to search for the best graphics, photos, and fonts (or upload your own) then use Canva's drag-and-drop tool to create a new design.
For plenty more options for making original art, quote images and even infographics, check out Buffer's
52.) Getty Images
when it began to allow non-commercial sites to embed some of its photos for free.
Downloading an image and uploading it to your website is still a no-no---you've got to embed it.
As you'll see below, an embed is slightly more intrusive than simply adding a photo into your post - the embed keeps its own frame, share buttons and branding. Still, for many blogs it's an option worth looking into.
Search for embeddable photos here. Read the instructions and then click on the Search images available to embed link.
It's also worth noting that you can
into your blog post.
Pinterest boards are a little trickier to embed, but it can be done. Here's a full guide from Ginny Soskey and a look at her adorable example board.
Follow Pinterest Pin pets on Pinterest Often, viewers can engage with embedded posts more deeply than static content by following users, liking or commenting on posts
Consider replacing screenshots with embedded posts so that users can engage with your examples.
What free photo sites did I miss? What tools do you like the most to find or create images? I'd love to keep the list growing in the comments!
Top image courtesy TimothyKrause