creative-commons A definitive guide to free imagesThere are stacks of stock image websites around, but it’s fair to say that these can sometimes – in fact, almost always – be a bit on the pricey side.

Which isn’t a reason for those on a budget to panic, however, there are more than enough free image websites to satisfy. But picking out the best ones isn’t always easy, a quick Google search for ‘free stock images’ will give you over six and a half million results.

 A definitive guide to free images

Fortunately, we can help you keep stock of your images – here’s a quick run-through of some of the best ways of sourcing free images online.

Free image sites

As I mentioned above, there are loads of these. Here’s just a few of the better ones to get you started.

Morguefile has an odd name (it’s a term used in newspapers for the files that hold back issues), but is well stocked with images and its useful search engine allows you to search by image size, category and even colour.

morguefile A definitive guide to free images

Image*After has a lot of good pics, but excels when it comes to textures and arty abstract shots. It can be a bit fiddly to use, though. I spent ages trying to locate the search box before eventually spotting the teeniest, tiniest search field at the top of the page.

Free Digital Photos does exactly what it says on the tin: a good selection of free images across a range of categories, with a number of illustrations thrown in for good measure. Very nice.

Free Photos Bank is very good for background images of buildings and countryside scenes and the like. It’s not so hot if you’re looking for something hugely specific, but if you’re just after a nice generic image, it’s worth a look.

And if you need some shots of people grinning awkwardly at the camera while pretending to be out shopping, having a picnic or visiting the doctor, Photl is the site for you. The pics are all a bit ‘catalogue model’, but there are plenty of them.

photl A definitive guide to free images

Paid-for image sites – with free stuff!

However hard-up you may be, you shouldn’t simply disregard the sites that charge for images, though. Many of them offer some free images too. These are inevitably not as good as their paid-for shots – that one that’s just right will inevitably show up in the ‘subscribe and pay to download’ section – but the below are definitely worth taking a look at.

Stock Exchange is one of the finest stock image sites going but it saves its best shots for its paid-for sister site, iStockPhoto. Regardless, you’re likely to be able to find something suitable here for nothing, it’s got all bases covered.

Elsewhere, Dreamstime is a paid-for site, but has a section of free images for people to download. It’s not as comprehensive as what you’d find in the paid area, but it’s certainly worth trying out. You have to sign up for an account, though.

dreamstime A definitive guide to free images

Flickr Creative Commons

Many Flickr users post their images under the ‘Creative Commons’ licence, which means, in essence, that you can download and do what you like with them, depending on the type of CC license. It’s often hard to pinpoint the perfect image for you here – the range of shots on offer is so broad, but with a bit of perseverance you should be able to dig up something that suits you. Alternatively, try out Compfight, which searches through images with a Creative Commons license in a slightly more user-friendly way.

Don’t forget Google

Now at some point, you’ve probably heard someone say that you shouldn’t use Google image search when you’re hunting for free images. You’ve probably heard from someone, who knows someone, who’s heard about someone, who received a threatening letter from a big company in New York or London for using one of their copyrighted images, even though they hadn’t realised what they’d done.

Thing is, this is wrong.  You can use Google’s ‘advanced image search’ to track down pictures and illustrations that have no copyright attached to them. Here’s what you do.

1.    Enter your image search query. For this purpose, we’ve chosen ‘dogs’. What a lot of results you’ll get.

google-images A definitive guide to free images

2.    Now click on the cog icon in the top right of the page and select ‘advanced search’.

3.    At the bottom of this screen, you’ll find a drop-down menu headed ‘usage rights’ – select ‘free to use or share, even commercially’ for the biggest range of pics. Click on ‘advanced search’.

google-images-advanced A definitive guide to free images

4.    Success – all these pictures of doggies can be used in any way you like. They’re all copyright-free, so you needn’t fear any ‘ruff’ justice.


So there you have it – a myriad of image options for you to explore, and they’re all free.  We’re certain you’ll be able to get start getting stocked up on free photography now, with no headaches.

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