Looking for free photographs for your online business?
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.
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?
It’s illegal to use someone else’s intellectual property without their permission.
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?
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.
Always read the ”terms for use” before using an image.
Sites that offer free photographs have terms for how you can use the images. Some sites require attribution. Others require you to modify the photograph in some way.
It’s important to know what permissions have been granted before using an image, regardless of whether you paid for it or not.
Creative Commons licenses (CC0) have the fewest restrictions. And public domain images usually have no restrictions because the copyright has either expired or been surrendered.
Why bother with images for your business?
Our brains are better image processors than word processors. We’re wired to notice images.
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.
Images that are playful or silly wouldn’t be a good fit if your business is about medical supplies and PPE resources for dealing with COVID.
But if you specialize in toys for pets, pictures of a pet owner playing with his dog would be perfect.
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.
Everyone’s seen a picture of a woman with a headset answering a phone. It may be a different woman, but it’s the same basic photo.
Since the brain is capable of processing images at a glance, it will recognize that this image isn’t distinct. As a result, the brain will ignore it and move on.
If you need a picture of a woman answering a phone on a headset, find one that looks like it could have been taken in your office. Or, better yet, take a picture of someone in your office.
This image looks like someone who was photographed while actually working. It is more authentic and will make your audience feel more connected with you.
Communication is the goal.
Use images to reinforce your message. Photographs on your website shouldn’t just be used as eye candy.
Images tell a story, and stories are more interesting than facts. They can capture our imagination and emotion better than a list of facts.
Use photographs that illustrate the offer or benefits you’re trying to communicate. Choose images that create an emotion response or show the action you want your audience to identify with.
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.
18 examples of free (and royalty-free) photograph sites
Note: These sites are not ranked in any particular order. All of them measure up to our high standards for quality photos for your business that are free (and royalty free).
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.
Morguefile is one of the oldest free photograph sites on the internet. It’s been around since 1996, and the quantity and quality of the images has continually improved. It’s essentially a free image exchange for amateur and professional photographers who are willing to share their work with other creative professionals.
Every photograph on this site is both free and royalty-free. However, Morguefile does have a pro account. For a one-time fee of $25, you get access to an image editor, history tracking on the site, and an ad-free experience.
The quality of the photos varies since contributors include amateurs and hobbyists as well as professionals. But since the contributors are from all over the world, you’ll find a very international feeling. For example, a search for “money” will result in pictures of several different currencies.
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.
Another unique feature to this site are Cinemagraphs. Cinemagraphs are still photographs that include minor, repeated movement, similar to a gif.
Need any stock video for your online business, there are stock video clips available here as well.
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.
But if what you want is something a bit more zany, lighthearted, or edgy, that same search will yield 10-plus pages of images like these:
Another site that offers free, royalty-free photographs without a subscription or hidden fees is Skitterphoto.
It was launched in 2014 by a couple of amateur photographers from the Netherlands who wanted to share their photos. It has since become a contributor site aimed at photographers who want to share their images with fellow photographers.
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.
Searching by keyword in the search bar will also give you results from partner sites like iStock. That can be frustrating. Especially if you’re on this site because you don’t want to sort through paid images.
To filter out the paid images, use the “Browse free photos” drop down menu in the upper right corner.
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.
6. 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.
For example, a search for “office worker” will give you 441 pages of free images that are actually relevant. That’s over 44,000 images.
The premium membership does give you access to an additional 270 pages of images, but the quality of the free images is just as good.
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.
11. 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.
This site includes images that have no known copyright restrictions, so it can be hit or miss finding an image that fits specific needs.
But if you’re flexible about the type of illustration or the content of the photograph, you can find some unique photos for your business.
For instance, if you’re teaching a course on marketing, your students might enjoy this picture of Catherine M. Rooney, a 6th grade teacher from 1943. Note the original caption to the photo:
“Facts the younger generation of marketers should know are taught this class in the Murch Elementary School, Washington, D.C. Catherine M. Rooney, 6th grade teacher instructs her alert pupils on the way and how of War Ration Book Two.”
Magdeleine.co is a contributor site for photographers that is curated by… you guessed it… Magdeleine.
This site contains public domain and Creative Commons photographs from amateur and professional photographers. You have to hover over the photo to reveal which license applies. Both are free, but CC0 photos here require attribution.
At first glance, you won’t find a lot of free photographs specifically related to business. But the photographs that you will see are all very high quality.
It might be worth bookmarking this site depending on what you’re looking for. Then, be creative in your search (we used this site to find the image at the top of this blog).
Kaboompics is a one-woman show run by photographer Karina Grabowska. At the time of this writing, it features just under 20,000 free photographs.
The quality of her images is excellent. In fact, she’s had more than 20 million downloads since launching her site.
The search feature is a bit limited. There aren’t as many tags as paid sites typically have, but you can limit your search by category.
Kaboompics also lets you filter your search by orientation or color palette.
For example, search for money, and click the green color box. You’ll get photographs of bitcoin with a green filter that looks different than other photographs of currency.
Although this site only has free photographs from one contributor, you’ll find a lot of variety and images that can work for businesses.
Search for “business” and you’ll get around 500 photos ranging from people working on a laptop to stationery. They look every bit as good as the images you’ll find on paid sites.
Add the color search filter to get a more refined search result with images that match your brand colors.
GoodFreePhotos.com, like Kaboompics, is run by an individual.
What’s unique about this site, however, is the photographer’s focus on world travel to take scenic photos of landmarks.
The most interesting thing about this site is that he’s added a category for each of the 82 countries he’s visited. He also labels the subject matter of each photo in the description.
If your online business deals with travel or has an international presence, having the images organized by country is an advantage.
In addition to the 82 countries, there are about 20 other general search categories. Ones you might find useful for your online business include food, business and technology, textures, and holiday.
On a side note, the search feature is very limited. You can’t do a sub-search within the categories.
So, if you want a picture of a boat in the Bahamas, you’ll have to search through all the photos under the category for “Bahamas” to find what you’re looking for.
There are also 1000’s of vector images available.
15. Pickup Image
Pickupimage claims to have the largest collection of free photographs and quality premium-free stock photos.
One of the features that sets it apart is the free image editor that allows you to do some basic editing to your image.
It’s not Photoshop, but it does have a few photographic filters, frames and borders, as well as shapes and text boxes. Which means you can use the editor to turn your photograph into a social media graphic.
While membership is free, you must register to download files. But once you do, you can contribute articles to this site.
16. Public Domain Pictures
Public Domain Pictures appeals to photographers who want to share their photos but wouldn’t mind making a dollar or two from time to time.
The site has more than 300,000 free photographs, but it does encourage you to send a donation to the photographer through PayPal.
What stands out with this site is that many of its images aren’t standard stock images. Some are stylized. Others have been edited or had filters added to them.
For example, search for “conference room” and, rather than your typical table with men in suits, one of your choices is this stylized photo:
Note: There is a paid side to this site. The free downloads include the lower resolution versions of each photograph which are still an average of 1920 x 1300 pixels.
If you need the high-res versions, membership starts at $7.99 per month.
Need access for a one-off project? You can purchase a 1-day pass for $5.99 or a 30-day pass for $9.99 Both will let you download up to 100 premium, high-res images.
Freepik is based in Malaga, Spain, and has created a free photograph site with search features that look a lot like Adobe Stock.
There is a paid side to this site, giving access to more than 11 billion premium photos. As stock photo sites go, membership is affordable. You can choose monthly or annual payment options.
But on Freepick, Premium stock photos are mixed in with free photos. Look for the gold crown icon in the upper left corner to know which images are premium.
Fortunately, you can choose “free” in the search bar’s dropdown menu if you only want to see free images.
There are definitely more premium photos available than free ones on this site. But there are plenty of free images to sort through. If you search for “free” photos with the search term “strategy,” you’ll get 12,140 results.
That same search among the premium photos will give you 92,450 hits, but if you’re like most people, you’ll want to filter your search further than that.
Freepik is more business oriented than most free sites founded by photography enthusiasts.
Search terms like, “marketing” or “e-learning” won’t yield any results on some free sites. Here you’ll find search results for the kind of words online businesses typically look for.
18. Adobe Stock
You might think Adobe Stock doesn’t belong in a list of sites for free photographs. They’re one of the more expensive stock photo sites, starting at $360 per year.
So why have we included them here?
There are almost 80,000 free photographs in Adobe Stock. You do have to register to download photos. But you don’t have to be a paid member to use the free images.
Tip: Filter your search by choosing “free” in the upper left hand corner of the search bar before typing in your search term. Then use the advanced filters in the left sidebar to narrow your search further.
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.
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