Where To Find Free Stock Images And How To Optimize Them

Sourcing free, high-quality stock images for your marketing or website, can be harder than you think. Save time and effort with this guide.

22
September 2022
6 min
Read
Design

Whether you’re looking for on-brand images for a company website or producing marketing materials for a small business, finding free or affordable photos that fit the bill can be an unexpectedly time-consuming, and often frustrating challenge.

In the age of the internet, it should be possible to perform a simple search to uncover the perfect pictures. The reality is that getting the best images for your brand requires patience, and a good understanding of the right places to look. 

The search can be even more challenging for solopreneurs and small businesses — who need cost-effective solutions; not royalty payments or subscription services. Ideally, they need free-to-use, high-quality images that will complement their brand without breaking the bank.  

Before You Begin

Before you make use of any free image, make sure you understand the relevant terms and conditions. The type of copyright licensing determines how you must credit the owner. So before you search, it’s important to know that when it comes to images, there are three main categories of copyright:

 

  1. Royalty-free: After making a single payment, you own the rights to use and re-use the image. Royalty-free means you won’t pay a recurring fee for every use.
  1. Public Domain: Images in the public domain have either never had copyright protection, or it has expired. Not every image on the Internet is in the public domain.
  1. Creative Commons: A simple, standardized way for content creators to grant permission for others to use their work. There are different types of creative commons licences. Each one has its own terms and conditions. 

Now you know the difference between the three main types of image copyright, let’s take a closer look at some of the best places to begin your search.   

Google Images

For most people, it’s almost second nature to look up or find information by ‘googling it’ on the world’s most popular search engine. The obvious downside to searching for free, high-quality images in this way is that the search engine results page will turn up the most relevant results, which aren’t necessarily in the public domain, or free-to-use.

However, go slightly deeper under the hood of Google, and you can refine your results based on usage rights. All you need to do is make sure you’ve selected the image category beneath the search bar, then click the tools button. This presents you with a series of drop-down menus, one of which is usage rights.

Not all images on the internet are free-to-use, so it’s important to select the right type of usage rights: 

  • Creative commons licenses vary, but generally speaking creators will allow you to use their content for free, with certain restrictions or attributions. 
  • Commercial and other licenses usually require a payment although sometimes you may find an image that’s free-to-use, it just has a different type of license.

Bear in mind, Google Images can be hit-and-miss, so before re-using any image found this way, it’s essential to dig a little deeper. Click on your chosen image to double-check which copyright restrictions apply. Sometimes this appears in the preview, or you may need to visit the originating site.

Stock Photos

The most popular and reliable way to source free images is through an online library of stock photos. General topics are very well-served, but anything more niche might require a one-off royalty payment to a paid provider. 

  • Unsplash: With a global community of nearly 300,000 photographers, Unsplash has over 3 million free images for commercial and non-commercial use —  no permission needed. 
  • Pixabay: Alongside video and music, Pixabay offers over 2.5 millions royalty-free images for print and digital use. Modifications can be made, and attribution is optional but appreciated for commercial and non-commercial use.
  • Pexels: An extensive library of free to use images and videos. Like Pixabay and Unsplash, there are clear rules around commercial usage such as not implying endorsement of a brand by identifiable people, or presenting people within the images in a bad light. 
  • Burst: Powered by Shopify, Burst provides access to beautiful free stock photography created by a global community of photographers. The library contains   thousands of high-resolution, royalty-free images aimed at designers, developers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. 
  • Freepik: If you’re looking for high-quality illustrations and icons, as well as photos, Freepik offers over 4.5 million graphic resources. Alongside premium, paid-for content, it has a wide catalogue of free resources which must be attributed with the words “Designed by Freepik”.

Other Free Resources

Stock photo libraries aren’t the only places to source high-quality free images for your projects:  

  • Wikimedia: Approaching 90 million media files, Wikimedia is a mammoth resource of free images. You can even search via the type of licence agreement by refining your search from a dropdown menu.
  • Library Of Congress: This portal of free-to-use and reuse digital images is ideal for a more retro feel. It includes artwork, artefacts, historical figures, and landmarks. 
  • Creative Commons Openverse: There are over 600 million searchable audio and image files in the Openverse, either in the public domain or under a Creative Commons licence.
  • National Gallery Of Art: Under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) the gallery has made any digital images of works of art believed to be in the public domain available to the public. Over 50,000 images can be downloaded and used for commercial and non-commercial purposes. 
  • The Smithsonian: Download, reuse, and share over 4.4 million 2D and 3D images for free from Smithsonian Open Access. It includes images from across the museum’s estate, including the National Zoo and 19 museums.   
  • Art Institute Of Chicago: Filter your search by clicking the option to show only ‘public domain’ and gain access to a treasure trove of free images of famous art.
  • New York Public Library: With new additions every day, this collection of around 1 million assets includes prints, photographs, maps, and video. Click the search bar and check the box to ‘search images in public domain’ which are free-to-use. 

Here is a list of additional sites where you can obtain PNG images from:

Paid Sites

Many paid sites offer a selection of free stock images, covering a limited range of categories. This impacts the relevancy of the images, and sometimes key search terms can produce some fairly obscure results. So when you need a highly-specific image, paying for the right one is sometimes the only answer:

  • Shutterstock: With over 1 billion images, video, and audio tracks, Shutterstock offers a range of monthly pricing plans to suit a range of budgets depending on how many images you need. Licensing and legal protection is included as standard.
  • Getty Images: A high-end solution for royalty-free images, priced per image and also available as mix and match packs.

Optimizing Images 

Once you’ve successfully sourced high-quality images for your marketing materials or website, it’s time to ensure they’re in the correct format, and fully optimized for your needs. For example, reducing the size of website images helps to improve loading times and performance. At the same time, it’s important to retain the quality. So, can you have both?

Thankfully, it’s possible to reduce the size of image files and maintain that high-quality look and feel by using free online tools.  And the good news is that you don’t have to get bogged down in the technical details:

  • Tinypng: Upload any WebP, JPEG, or PNG file (20 images, up to 5MB each) and this handy tool applies clever compression techniques to minimize the number of colours, without compromising on image quality. The result? Great looking images at a fraction of the original file size.
  • Bulkresizephotos: Drop or choose batches of images, and this browser-based tool does the rest. There’s no upload involved, so images remain private, and you’re free to convert, crop, compress, watermark, and reduce the size – until they’re ready to go. 

Visual Content From Khula

At Khula Design Studio, we’re serious about getting your visual content right, so from your website to your social channels, your customers get a consistent and cohesive experience of your brand at every touchpoint. 

Interested to find out how we can bring your brand identity to life, and build a website that showcases your brand in the best light? Get in touch with us for a chat about our range of brand and website services for solopreneurs and small businesses. 

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