If you’re a business owner, you may be familiar with the struggle of creating content for your website or social accounts. Sourcing free photographs can become your greatest ally if done right.
Google “free photographs” or “photos for my business” and you’ll mostly get results for royalty-free images that aren’t free at all.
It’s confusing, not to mention frustrating.
Which is why, today, we’ll look at 10 sites that offer royalty-free photographs you can use for your website, presentations, and social media, without having to pay a dime.
But first, let’s dig into why Google lists expensive stock photo sites when you’re searching for free photographs.
There’s a difference between free and royalty free
When you’re searching for “free photographs,” you and I both know you’re looking for images that don’t cost anything. But Google doesn’t always know the difference.
That’s because, when it comes to photographs, graphics, and other intellectual property, there’s a difference between “free” and “royalty free.”
“Royalty free” refers to the copyright, not the cost of the image. It only means you can use the image within the terms of the license, after you’ve paid for it.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Royalty-free photographs aren’t always free. What you’re looking for are free images that are also royalty free.
- Royalty-free images may still need to be purchased before you can download them. What you’re paying for are the rights to use the photo.
- Free photographs are those that you can download at no cost. They’re usually royalty free but may have some restrictions.
Why do you need to have royalty-free images for your online business?
The short answer is It’s illegal to use someone else’s intellectual property without their permission.
The long answer: A photographer or designer is a business owner, just like you. They need to be able to make a living from their work. That’s why they sometimes retain the copyright on their work.
Can I just Google images and use them?
To put it quite simply no, and here’s why. Just because an image appears in a Google search doesn’t mean it isn’t copyrighted. In fact, you can’t use any image unless you have permission to do so.
Copyright infringement is serious even when it’s accidental. It can result in steep fines, court costs, and even jail time (in extreme cases).
Copyright permission doesn’t mean you have a blanket license. Even if you do obtain the rights to use an image, you may still be required to pay royalties to the owner.
Royalty-free images are images that come with a more liberal copyright license. They don’t require you to pay additional royalties depending on how the image is used.
Without the royalty-free provision, you would have to pay the owner, photographer, or even the people in the photo every time you use it.
What images can I use for commercial purposes?
Stock photo sites often have different pricing for personal and commercial use.
Using an image on your business website, business blog, or as part of any product or marketing qualifies as commercial use.
Commercial licenses are more expensive because you’re using the image for profit: to promote your business or to sell a product or service.
Some royalty-free licenses are very liberal and do allow for commercial use. But royalty-free images can still have some restrictions.
Why bother with images for your business?
Our brains are better image processors than word processors. We’re wired to notice images.
Social media posts that include images get ten times the engagement as those without. They’re also more memorable.
But choosing the right image for your article or post is important. If a picture is worth a thousand words, you want that picture to be on point.
How to use images effectively
Find images that suit your brand. There are free photos for every brand personality. Make sure you choose images that reflect your style and tone. And make sure they resonate with your ideal customers.
Be careful of images that are overused. Don’t use photos for your business if they’ve been overused. When every website in your industry uses the same (or similar) images, those images lose their impact.
Consider your audience. Always look for photographs that will attract and engage your audience. Is your audience just women or just men? Are they professionals or hobbyists? Are they all from one demographic, or are they more diverse?
Images help your audience identify with you quickly. You want your audience to see themselves in the photographs you use.
10 examples of free (and royalty-free) photograph sites
Free photographs doesn’t have to mean poor quality photographs. Unsplash is one of the best, if not the best, sites to find free photographs that are also royalty-free.
It’s every bit as good as a paid site, but it’s free. You don’t even need to sign up or create a login to access the images. It’s a contributor site, which means images are uploaded by individual photographers. But each photo is hand-selected and only the best are accepted.
It’s also easy to navigate. The categories are listed across the top of the page, and the search engine lets you get very specific with your request. You can even filter your search by color or orientation.
For example, search for “female,” and you’ll have to sort through 10,000-plus results. But you can narrow that search to include just “ female, portrait, yellow” images and you’ll zero in on 21 images.
Splitshire is a small collection by a single photographer, but it might still be worth a look.
All the photographs are both free and royalty free. They’re high quality images with some as large as 18MB.
There are actually quite a few photographs here. Depending on the nature of your online business, you might find what you need.
Be aware, the search feature is a bit limited. Photographs don’t appear to have a lot of tags, which would expand your search results.
That being the case, you may need to get creative with your search terms to find the images you need. Or, try using the “categories” drop down menu rather than a site-wide search.
Gratisography is a fun, personality-driven site. It has some of the most unique stock photographs you’ll find anywhere.
In fact, they describe themselves on their About page as:
“the world’s quirkiest collection of high-resolution free stock images, comprised of the world’s best, most creative pictures — images you just won’t find anywhere else”
This site has made it their mission to actively combat the uniformity of other stock images. If you’re looking for a photograph of a business woman in a suit at a computer, you won’t find that here.
Another site that offers free, royalty-free photographs without a subscription or hidden fees is Skitterphoto.
You won’t find the millions of photos that are available on paid sites. But the majority of the images are high resolution and don’t look like stock photos.
The photo quality and style can vary based on the photographer who contributed them. I recommend limiting your search by contributor if you find a photographer whose style you like.
A unique element of Skitterphoto is its international flavor. Contributors come from different parts of the world, making these photos more diverse than you’ll find on other sites.
- Life of Pix
Life of Pix is another contributor site that offers free photographs with few copyright restrictions. There are some restrictions regarding distribution. So be sure to read their terms and conditions.
What’s unique about this site is the number of contributors. More than 500 photographers upload photos almost daily.
Tip: Click on the magnifying glass icon in the upper right-hand corner and you can search by category, color, and orientation.
If you’re looking for a site with great categories and good search features, Pikwizard is a good site to bookmark for free photographs.
There are close to 30 categories, which can help narrow down your search. And the photos are tagged well enough to make refined searches better than most free sites offer.
Be aware. A lot of the images are actually premium images from partner sites. If it has a “premium” icon in the upper left corner, you’ll be redirected to that partner’s website.
You’ll like the variety of images available here. The quality is excellent, and they have video clips as well as photos for your business.
Contributor sites can be hit or miss depending on the contributors. But Pexels is a contributor site that has high standards for their contributors.
The images are very artistic, and there are a lot of photos to choose from.
Pexels wasn’t started as a site for businesses. It was designed for writers, artists, designers, programmers, and other creators, giving them access to beautiful photos that empower their creative efforts.
However, with over 4,500 contributors from all over the world, you’ll find a variety of styles and subjects covered.
While most free sites have good-quality photos, many fail to offer much (if any) content aimed at businesses.
Rawpixel offers free images that look as professional as the ones you’ll find on paid sites. However, you’re limited to 10 free images per day.
If that’s not enough, their paid business membership is just $19/mo for unlimited downloads and access to premium images.
Fortunately, there are enough free and public-domain images to give you plenty of choices. You won’t have to sign up for the premium membership unless you need more than 10 images a day.
Vecteezy is another contributor site with lots of business-related images. Their free photographs are as professional as those you’ll find on most paid stock photo sites.
The main focus of this site is vector files, but Vecteezy has thousands of photographs as well.
Type in a search for “hands” and you’ll find almost 19,000 images. Filter your search to something as specific as “hands holding eggs,” and you’ll still get 14 free photographs to choose from.
Some of the images are posed and obviously used models. Many look very natural, as if they might have been taken by a friend.
The site is easy to use. No email registration is required to download the free images, but you will need to include attribution for any images you use.
Be aware, the free license limits the number of printed copies you can make and even the number of views. Purchase an individual image with extended license if you need more.
- Flickr Commons
Looking for historic or old school photographs? Try Flickr Commons for photos that don’t look like something you found on a typical stock footage site.
According to their website, the key goal of the Commons is to share hidden treasures from the world's public photography archives.
Over 100 institutions from all over the world have contributed photographs that are free of known copyright restrictions. Some of them are rare vintage photos. Others are as recent as the last decade.
When searching the Commons, don’t use the search box in the menu bar at the top of the page. That search will take you to Flickr’s general image pages, most of which are copyrighted.
Instead, enter your search in the “Search The Commons” box a little further down the page.
Finding free photographs for your online business
Finding photographs for your business can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Explore the sites listed in this article, and highlight your favorites. You’ll likely find all the high-quality photos you need for your business, without having to pay a dime.