Updated April 16, 2020
CC0 licensing is important: this means that the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. They are free for personal and commercial use. You are free to modify, copy and distribute the photos, and attribution is not required, so you can do all of this without asking for permission or setting a link to the source. I will note that giving credit to the photographer or the free image website is generally appreciated, and some sites give the option of letting the photographer or designer know where you have used their work.
I’m including freemium and the occasional paid sites here as well, as sometimes the best image for the job is to be found under the “premium package”.
In no particular order:
This is a personal favorite. Pexels has hundreds of thousands free high-resolution stock photos, all of which are hand-picked from photos uploaded by their users or sourced from free image websites. They also have good tagging and search functionality, making it easy to find the perfect image for your project.
Morguefile is a community-based free photo site, with over 350,000 high-resolution digital stock photographs and reference images available for corporate or public use.
Pixabay boasts over 1 million+ high quality stock images, videos, vectors, and illustrations. One thing to note: they have an “adult content/safe search” filter that may be a little aggressive. I was curious as to what was behind the blocked images, when the tags on those showed terms like “ripped jeans legs” or “male person model”. The “adult” content for one photo turned out to include a woman’s legs in fashionably ripped jeans…with the presumably racy content being that her knees were exposed. The “male person model” was a moody photo of a man in a tshirt who was partially veiled by a sheer curtain. I have absolutely no clue why this image was deemed “adult content”.
No list is complete without the Creative Commons search and collections. CCSearch aggregates multiple public repositories into a single catalog, making it easy to find images from museums and a host of other collections, including Wikimedia, Animal Diversity, DeviantArt, Flickr and others. Check the licensing, as some assets in the collections may have more restricted licensing.
This collection is produced by ThemeIsle. All photos on MyStock are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.
Unsplash is another fantastic site, with over 1 million free and curated high-resolution images, all with the equivalent of CC0 licensing. They include collections of stunning images that include works by modern contributors as well as historical photos from their recent partnership with the New York Public Library. https://unsplash.com/@nypl
https://wellcomecollection.org/works The free museum and library from Wellcome offers thousands of freely licensed digital books, artworks, photos and images of historical library materials and museum objects, with most of the works acquired between 1890 and 1936. I loved the medieval imagery, such as this woodcut from the 1500s: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/cwxa4s5f
Some works require attribution, as they are licensed Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) terms and conditions https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0
Freepik includes Vectors, Stock Photos, PSD and Icons in its collections, with an emphasis on resources for designers and business use. Whether you need magazine templates, motivational quote backgrounds, or unique topical photos, there is something here for you. One thing to note is that they have detailed specifics on how their work can be used, whether you are a free or premium subscriber, so do read the licensing. Free users are required to give attribution.
Billed as “safe to use free photos and design resources, Rawpixel offers an impressive collection of content for commercial and creative use. Of particular note is their curated public domain images & illustrations in high resolution: they are sourcing and digitally enhancing thousands of antique books and chromolithographic plates and making them freely available with a CC0 license.
Along with a well-organized collection of photos, stockvault also offers free Photoshop brushes, clip art, vector images, and textures. Stockvault gives you the option to donate to the artist when you download from the site. Licensing varies, so be sure to set your search filters to match your usage when using the site.
This reasonably priced paid site has a small free section with some very high quality content, including free photos, vector images and videos for commercial and editorial use. Bonus: some of their content is hilarious. Check out the stock photo results for “Person in a desert“.
FreeImages has over 380,000 free stock images and photos, free for personal and commercial use (but not in web themes for resale, sadly). What’s nice is that they clearly specify in their Terms & Conditions that anyone who uploads images with people must have obtained a valid and binding model release.
Stock images sometimes end up feeling like variations on the same-old same-old business-people doing business things or shiny-perfect-people doing yoga things. They end up feeling like they are too much “stock” and not enough “image.” NOT A PROBLEM with the photography on Gratisography! They are quirky and oh-so-happily weird! Gratisography bills their site as having the world’s quirkiest and most creative collection of free high-resolution pictures, with photos you won’t find anywhere else. All completely free to download without copyright restrictions. After looking through the collection…. I have to completely agree. Whether you need a photo of a businessman smoking a pipe and standing barefoot in a kiddie pool or a perfect photo of an old woman wearing a retro robot suit or even a nature scene with a person in a teddy-bear suit leaving a port-a-potty, this is your site. Pro tip: the entire collection is by Ryan McGuire (the founder of Gratisography). You can view his portfolio here: http://www.mcguiremade.com/
I just discovered this site, and it looks pretty exciting. It may not be possible to get too excited. They create all of the content they offer. Besides a very nice collection of icons and vectors, they also include a great selection of stock photos, including photo elements that you just do not usually see. They have both a stock photo collection and a collection that can be used to create your own stock photo collages, and the selection is diverse and unique, with Besides the usual shiny-happy people I also find a goth woman holding a rose, a dog wearing a scarf, a basketball player, a group dressed as the Addams Family… even space-aliens. All of the models are masked and include a variety of poses to choose from. Along with the models, they have a wide selection of objects and backgrounds. With this they include a free and very easy to use stock-photo-creator that you can use to mix and match models, backgrounds, objects, and text to create your own custom stock photography. I’m afraid to go any further because I just might spend my entire afternoon playing around with this instead of writing. But I can definitely see Icons8 becoming one of my favorite go-to sites. The free option requires a link back to their site, or they have a monthly subscription that gives access to everything.
Ivory Mix is another site I just discovered. It is the work of a photographer and her tech-nerd husband, and includes a variety of resources along with the stock photography. You have to register to receive the link to the free content, but it is completely worth it (as are the newsletters… Ivory Mix has good stuff). The stock photos are not the usual content, and include wonderful clean masculine and feminine aesthetics. Freemium. The photos are free for personal and commercial use. I’m planning to go for the paid option to use their stock photos in my WordPress themes once I am ready for that, because the work is just that good.
Good Free Photos is one I had nearly forgotten about, even though I used one of their photos for this site’s homepage for quite a while! The site design is a little outdated, but the collection is definitely unique, with many photos having that “authentic amateur but still a great photo” feel. The photos are all free for personal and commercial use. They do note that they do not claim to have model releases for photos that may need them, so you will want to check the license terms if you think a photo needs a model release.
I came across Toptal Subtle Patterns when I was searching for free background textures for a website design project. This site delivers exactly as promised. The designs are free to use for personal and commercial projects with credit to the source. Credits can be in the code comments. See their FAQ for more detail.
While all of these resources have free photos or other image resources, you should always verify on the site and for the individual photos that the licensing allows for your intended use.
I receive an affiliate commision if you make a purchase from some of the sites I link to. On this page the only site I have an affiliate account with is Ivory Mix (and I would have included them anyway). You can read more on my disclosure page.