There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well… there may be. Read on to find out.

We all recognise the value of good photography and its impact on design. This is why quality is more important than quantity and, as designers, we are willing to pay for a good stock photo or, even better, create our own photography by commissioning a photographer to do a photo shoot.

What if we could sometimes also get good quality for free, without the strings of copyright attached? When you’re just getting started, or are still studying, it might be difficult to afford great photography that comes at a high price. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of websites that offer quality photography for – you got it – free. Mind you, I’m not saying that these are the best photos you’ll ever see and that they rival everything you would be able to get on Getty Images or Shutterstock, but when money’s tight and you have a job to do, these will work just fine. You may even find the occasional gem!

From what I’ve been able to find, there seem to be three groups of sites:

  1. Stock photo websites which seem to act in a similar way to Getty, iStock, Shutterstock, Fotolia and the like.
  2. Websites of individuals who share their own photos for anyone to use.
  3. Some other type of animal.

Here we go:

Community stock photo websites:

  1. Unsplash: “Free high-resolution photos”. You can also submit photos once you create an account.
  2. Pixabay: With a CC0 license, you are free to use photos from Pixabay with no attribution required. You can also submit photos and join the community.
  3. Pexels: “Best freee stock photos in one place.”
  4. Freepik: “Graphic resources for everyone”, not only stock photos but vectore, icons and PSD files.
  5. Negative space: Free stock photos with no copyright restrictions.

Personal stock photo websites:

  1. Splitshire: a photographer based in Italy realised one day that all those pictures gathering virtual dust in a lost folder on his computer could be put to good use. This is why he decided to create Splishire and share them with the world. All you need to do is download them and you can use them as you see fit. Well, ok, say thanks to the guy if you have a second. After all, he’s helping you out without asking for anything in return – it’s the polite thing to do.
  2. Gratisography: Ryan McGuire had a similar thought: sharing some of the pictures he takes for everyone who wishes to use them in either personal or commercial projects.
  3. Little visuals: Nic did exactly the same thing. He took photos and made them avaiable for use without copyright restrictions on his website. The sad story is he no longer is, because, tragically, he passed away (RIP Nic), but his images continue to live on. You can also read a heartwarming note from his family on the site.

Other:

  1. HubSpot – selling marketing software and specialising in inbound marketing, HubSpot could not be further away from the traditional stock photo website. However, with their marketer clients in mind, they asked a professional photographer to drop by their office one day and take some photos we can use. Thanks guys, you rock. Now stop pushing your CRM solution on us.

Most of these websites license their pictures under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, or under similar conditions. You can read more about the CC0 license at this link. Essentially, the CC0 license allows you to copy, modify, distribute and use photos free of charge, for personal or commercial use. You don’t need to ask permission from anyone nor attribute anyone when using the photo.

Make sure you always check the exact rights before you download and use a photo, to avoid legal headaches afterwards.

If you’d like an intro to copyright, here are some great resources from Getty Images and Shutterstock:

  1. Copyright 101 from Getty Images.
  2. A handy guide from Shutterstock on how to protect your content.
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