May 09, 2016
/ by Jim Dougherty
Images drive engagement with social media and content marketing. A media bank is now an expected aspect of a press release. Yet if you have ever needed an image for a social or content post and found (literally) the perfect image only to discover that the license is restrictive or vague, you understand how frustrating finding stock images can be. If you’re like me, you may find one site that works and overuse it to the point of repetition.
Fortunately there are a lot of cool sites and tools that offer free images suitable for commercial use. The easiest way to identify these are with the public domain designation (Creative Commons calls this license CC0) or with the CC-BY (+SA or +ND) licenses. These images are free for commercial use with various levels of restriction.
I personally like to modify photos using Canva (crop, filter, add text, layer, etc.), which I can do with public domain and CC-BY or CC-BY-SA (sharealike) licenses (a great infographic describing how different CC licenses can be used can be found here). But if you want to use a photo without modification, you can use any of the above mentioned licenses as well as CC-BY-ND (no derivatives).
A caveat – many of these sites monetize either by upselling licensed images or with advertising. I try to note this whereever possible, but I am fallible so please forgive me if I missed something.
One of the first places that you may want to start looking for new images is (1) Creative Commons Search. It is a tool developed to return CC licensed media based upon tag matches. Note that by checking “I want something that I can use for commercial purposes” and “modify, adapt, or build upon” will return the least restrictive media for you (of course you could uncheck either to broaden your search as well).
CC Search may not return specifically what you are looking for, but it’s a good start.
The image above is a famous painting by Vincent Van Gogh and is in the public domain. In addition to amateur images that creators release to the public domain, there is media where copyright lapses over time (anything created before 1923 for instance is in the public domain, although in other circumstances there is convoluted math based upon the death of the author and other variables).
Also, works created by the federal government are not protected by copyright laws and are in the public domain. There is far more media in the public domain than there is covered by the other creative commons licenses.
2. Avopix – A repository of about 20,000 public domain images.
3. Bing Image Search – When you search for an image on Bing, you can filter the results by “public domain” (or the other CC licenses if you prefer). A really useful feature – far more intuitive to use than Google Images.
4. The British Library (on Flickr) – A collection of (over a million) public domain photos from the British Library in a joint venture with Microsoft.
5. Burning Well – A dated-looking site with a small repository of public domain images.
6. Canva – This is not a huge repository of images by any means, but if you (like me) are a Canva user there are free stock photos that you can use through the service. They monetize with paid stock photos.
7. CC0 Photo – Small Czech repository of local free-to-use photos.
8. Compendium of Illustrations in the Public Domain – It may be too much work, but you could use a tool like Greenshot to crop to your needs from this digital upload of public domain images.
9. Dreamy Pixel – This is a small repository of free to use images from Slovenia (CC 4.0 International license).
10. Dr. Stock Photo – A small repository of high-quality stock photos.
11. Flickr Commons – An awesome pool of different institutions who share public domain images through Flickr. Begun as a joint project between Flickr and the Library of Congress, Flickr Commons has morphed into a massive pool of images.
12. Free Images (.cc) – An amazing community repository of CC0 licensed images.
13. Free Images (.red) – A search engine for free-to-use images.
14. Free jpeg – A search engine for free-to-use images (note – don’t use the hashtags as this feature appears to be broken as of this writing).
15. Free On Line Photos – A French site with free use images. It doesn’t have the tidiest interface, but the pictures are beautiful.
16. Free Stock Photos – A repository of about 16,000 photo and image vectors. They monetize by up-selling stock photos.
17. Free Tems – A small repository of public domain images with a lot of Adsense ads.
18. Google Images – Not my favorite search tool (because you have to check the license after you search), but if you type in the license that you want to use (such as CC0) and a topic, Google Images will return a plethora of images to you.
19. Karen’s Whimsy – An amazing repository of vintage illustrations in the public domain.
20. Image After – A pretty straightforward site for downloading public domain images and vectors.
21. Library of Congress Images – An amazing repository of images, with the caveat that rights are not explicitly shared. Most of these images are likely in the public domain, but the most you’ll get from the Library of Congress is that there are “no known restrictions on publication.”
22. Logo Design Web – A small repository of high-resolution CC0 images.
23. Morgue File – This is a community-based free photo site, with all images free to download and re-use in commercial work.
24. New York Public Library Digital Collections – A collection of about 200,000 images released to the public domain by the New York Public Library.
25. Old Book Illustrations – A collection of old book illustrations from the public domain.
26. One Million Free Pictures – A small repository of public domain images with a lot of Adsense ads.
27. Photo Stock Editor – A small repository of high-resolution nature pictures free-to-use.
28. Pic Drome – A smaller collection of interesting landscape and texture images.
29. Pic Findr – A search engine that allows for you to set license filters for an image search.
30. Pic Jumbo – This is a community-based photo site, with all images free to download and re-use in commercial work. Monetized by premium member access to exclusive pictures.
31. Pixabay – This is the site that I use the most. The tags are often very relevant and it’s very easy to use. This site monetizes by up-selling stock photos.
32. POND5 Public Domain Project – A repository of over 63,000 images in the public domain. Monetized with premium (user-loaded) content.
33. Public Domain Archive – This is a small site of high-resolution public domain pictures. Despite the CC0 license, the photographer has a preferred way that he’d like attribution for his public domain images.
34. Public Domain Images – A repository of public domain images. Monetized with AdSense.
35. Public Domain Pictures – A community-based photo site. Kind of busy with many different monetization initiatives.
36. Public Domain Review – One of the most comprehensive public domain engines – linked to a lot of great historical repositories.
37. Public Domain Vectors – A repository of public domain clip art (A pretty cool site). Monetized with AdSense.
38. Realgraphy – Awesome small collection of high-resolution pictures for free use.
39. Skitterphoto – A community-based site with public domain images. Some pretty incredible images here.
40. Stocka – Incredible pictures here. A repository of public domain photos. Monetized with Adsense.
41. Toper’s Photos – A small collection of public domain images.
42. usa.gov image search – A searchable database of public domain pictures from the U.S. government.
43. Wikimedia Commons – Nearly 3 million public domain photos are available for search and use here.
44. WP Clip Art – A repository of over 65,000 pieces of public domain clip art.
Maybe something that you want to publish isn’t in the public domain. You can search for CC-BY, CC-SA, or CC-ND licensed images and (more or less) do the same as you would do with public domain on Google or Bing.
The sweet spot for websites is public domain and CC0 licensed images, but you can still find these licenses on photography sites like (45) Flickr or (46) 500px.
Or you could you these sites:
47. Open Cage – A Japanese repository of images licensed with CC-SA.
48. Open Images – This is a repository from the Netherlands which offers media with any one of the Creative Commons licenses. A bit of a hassle to look up the license, but a very nice collection especially of historical photos.
49. Every Stock Photo – An image search engine. Advanced search allow you to narrow your search to any combination of Creative Commons licenses.
Note also that Creative Commons has a preferred method of attribution for licensed material which they outline here.
50. Free Images is managed by Getty. There are restrictions on use, but the collections (as you would expect from Getty) are high-quality.
Remember also that many companies have press photos that you can use when writing about them. (51) Facebook does a good job of this, although they give parameters around how the images can be used.
52. Shutterstock doesn’t have images in the public domain per se, but for smaller operations they have some flexibility for commercial free use so long as it is on a relatively small scale.
This is a great article about institutions who are releasing images into the “public domain.” Most of these institutions either don’t identify the license or put commercial restrictions on use (thus not truly public domain). In any case, there is an abundance of great material here… if you’re permitted to use it.
I don’t know what more there is to say except that there are a lot of options to find free images to use in your content. Hopefully this list is as useful for you as it is for me. And if there is something missing from the list – please leave a note in the comments section.
Image via Pixabay: 1
H/T Computer Hope, PD Images, Rebecca Creger, Richard Byrne,
“Creative Commons Search” by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0
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