Paid stock photo sites have many advantages over the free ones because of their massive collections, efficiency of search filters, light boxes for saving favorites and (hopefully) better pay for photographers and illustrators. On the other hand, commercial photographs are often repetitive, soulless and unimaginative. (See 21 Reasons Why Stock Photos Make Me Cry.)
Many of us must work on projects with small budgets that require free resources. Fortunately, free or inexpensive stock photo sites can save the day. In the last several years, the quality of free stock has soared and now includes illustrations and video. We now have access to free high quality and high resolution graphics. So here are some options for free or inexpensive stock photos, illustrations and videos. To compare sites, I searched for “city” on each one and discuss my results in the description. I’m assuming that there is an inventory overlap on several of these sites. Note: Now, many of these sites are very well-known! Check the add-ons at the end for some of the lesser known ones.
Be sure to check the license agreements in the fine print before using the graphics as in some cases you are required to give credit to the photographer or illustrator. Also, there are limits on the number of copies you can reproduce in print.
I hope you find some new resources!
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of diversity in typical stock photo collections so this site is not only needed, but beautiful and refreshing. The entire collection features women of color technologists leading meetings, brainstorming, using the whiteboard, head shots, close-ups of laptops, etc. The pictures are clear and the quality is good. It’s easy to download from the Flickr site. You need to attribute images to the main site, WOCinTech. All image resolutions are available, from the lowest to highest to the original.
Strength: Likely to find diverse photos for work projects, fills a gap
Search Results Test: Not applicable
StockSnap is following the trend of providing well-designed high resolution stock photos for free download. Inventory can be searched or you can browse by topic or trend. This is the photo site for Snappa, an online graphic creator and editor. The collection is reasonably large and the photos do not feel like typical commercial fare.
Strength: Likely to find photos for work projects, large collection
Search Results Test: A search for “city” results in over 6600 photos, ordered by relevance
Note: Scroll all the way down to the end of the Death to Stock page to enter your email address to receive free photo packs. This is not your typical stock photo website. Rather, it is a service that sends packs of, “beautiful photos straight to your inbox.” The free version does not allow you to search for the photo you need. But it will allow you to build up a photo collection. The premium version does allow access to all the photos and provides search functionality.
The photographs are sensitive and imaginative and not always applicable to corporate eLearning or training slides. On the other hand, some will work perfectly and may provide just the creative spark you need. You can browse through some of their photo pack themes. Most recently, there were packs titled, Tactile, Wild Imagination, Equinox and Ride or Die.
Strength: Interesting photography, allows you to build a collection
Search Results Test: Search function is only available with premium subscription
Freepik offers photos, illustrations, icons and PSD (Photoshop) files. I’m impressed with their selection of vector graphics—both illustrations and icons—as most freebie sites focus on photography. If you are not familiar with vectors, they are graphics that can be scaled to any size without loss of resolution as long as they are in the appropriate format (EPS, AI, SVG).
Freepik has both a free mode and an inexpensive premium version. With the first, you are required to give attribution to the artist or designer. The premium license allows for usage without giving credit.
A site with similar offerings is Pixabay.
Strength: Inexpensive monthly plan, large collection, vector graphics, likely to find photos for work projects
Search Results Test: 16,000 results for “city” including photos and illustrations
Are you looking for stock photos and illustrations that are unusual, fun or maybe even whacky? You might find what you need at Gratisography, offering the photographs and illustrations of Ryan McGuire. He has beautifully and creatively executed every image. He compositions will catch your eye. They can serve to liven up your work, as metaphors, or to prove a point.
The site is easy to use. No registration is required. Browse by category or search. Then select and download your choice. It’s that easy.
Strength: Fun, unique photography and newly added illustrations
Search Results Test: A search for “city” reveals around 30 photos, many unusual, like the one on the right above
This is a site with thoughtful and sensitive photography evident in the free high-res photos taken by “Karolina” and her friends. There is a bit more functionality here than at most free sites. You can search and then filter by orientation and color. You can also download your selected image in a pre-determined size or in a custom size by entering the width you need. No registration is required to download the photos.
Strength: Sensitive photography, creates custom-sized photos, search filters available
Search results test: A search for “city” resulted in two tiled pages of photos (around 80-100)
This offering from the New York Public Library’s collections includes over 700,000 digitized items. These are public domain as well as copyright photos and drawings that are vintage, quaint and often about New York.
You’ll find retro magazine covers, too many old maps, wonderfully dated photos of New York and lots more. It’s a long shot, but if you can think of a creative use for these archives, they are here and free. There is a filter for searching only in the public domain. Images are available in a variety of sizes.
Strength: Big collection of old and retro photos
Search results test: A search for “city” results in 96,000+ hits. Many are maps so a better search term, like “city buildings” is needed if you want city imagery.
One of the larger, well-known collections of free photography, Pexels offers it’s photographs with a Creative Commons Zero license. This means photographers opt-out of copyright protection and do not require credit. You’ll find some standard stock photography fare as well as unique imagery.
Strength: Large collection, attracts wide variety of contributors, likely to find photos for work projects, CC0 license
Search Results Test: Entering “city” shows an endless tiled display of results.
This free stock photo site has one main focus: individuals and teams who work in the technology sector. The collection is not large, but it is a source for photos of people with laptops, whiteboards, and office equipment close-ups.
These are not professional images, but more akin to polished photos taken in your office. Startup Stock Photos began as an outlet for photos they were already taking on a regular basis. If you are looking for something different from the usual pictures of people with fake smiles, try this. You will not get thumbnails. Click the ‘Load More’ button to get ten pics at time.
Strength: Decent collection of office tech workers
Search Results Test: No search feature, so you need to browse
Unsplash was one of the earlier free stock photo sites to offer artistic high-resolution photography. It’s no longer a little known site, but I want to list it just in case you haven’t heard of it. Unsplash has an intuitive user interface, search box and a large collection. I’ve been able to make use of their wonderful photographs in presentations and in the occasional eLearning course as the quantity of contributors and photos continues to increase.
Strength: May find photos for work projects and creative photography. They organize the search results in several ways, including helpful theme categories.
Search Results Test: A search for “city” results in over 1500 photos, organized by themes, like Cyberpunk City, City Life and Cities of Old. Or you can browse through a tiled display of photo results.
A collection of illustrated people and scenes that feature five illustrated characters. Attribution is required. There are helpful filters for color and background type.
Strength: You can download either the SVG file, which is editable or the PNG file. The filters allow for some customization. Also, these are illustrations rather than photos.
Search Results Test: A search for “city” resulted in numerous illustrations for each character.
The awesome readers of this community have a few more suggestions below:
- Australian Stock Images: Images unique to Australia, starting at $10
- Burst: Free
- CanStock: Recently discovered this low-cost stock image site where no signup is needed
- PikWizard: Free
- RawPixel: Free and premium
- Shotstash: Free with no attribution
- Vecteezy: Free and paid stock vectors, photos and videos