Jessica Wicks

Finding and using free stock photos


Why should you use free stock photos?

If you do any type of content creation for your business (and you should), you probably need some imagery. Whether it’s a blog post, social media, or even an advertisement, images get people’s attention. They also cost money – as they should. Photographers can’t pay the bills with your gratitude.

Yet the cost of purchasing images multiple times a week would be pretty prohibitive for most businesses.

After all, the content you are taking the time to write and publish is giving away your knowledge for free. Luckily, there are many websites out there where photographers are giving away their goods for free as well.

Of course, there are some different rules depending on what type of license the photos have. It’s always best to read the license page on the website or the agreement for each specific photo. Generally, I like to look for photos with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license so that I have a lot of freedom to use the image however I need to, and reuse it in the future if I wish.

At the time of writing, each of the websites I list is free for personal use – although there are a few with some specific rules (e.g. don’t take their photos and sell them on your site). I would like to think these rules are common-sense, but we obviously have copyright laws for a reason.

Here are my current favourite free stock photo sites:

(Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference)

Choosing free stock photos

Now, knowing what sites to look on is not enough. Actually finding free stock photos that will complement your content is a whole different ball game. There are significantly less to choose from compared to paid, and it can take a little creativity. I usually try to think of a handful of visuals that might suit a specific need.

As an example, I’ll use a blog post about quitting your day job.

It would be unlikely that you’ll find a photo of someone handing in a resignation letter on a free stock photo site. You might need to get a little more conceptual with what the underlying concept of quitting a job might represent. Going to work for yourself might mean freedom, making space, or represent a journey in your life. Or we could go a little more literal and look for photos that represent work – an office, work suit, desk, etc.

You might search for words like freedom, sky, office, home office, suit, desk, quit, journey, work, coffee shop.

Editing the photos

Once you’ve found the photo of your choice, you may want to edit or brand it. For instance, my blog photos are always covered with a layer of transparent colour and a title of the post using a font from my brand. Editing also has the added benefit of making your free stock photo look at least a little more custom. It’s a bit embarrassing when you realize that you’ve used the exact same image as another blog in your industry.

I do this using Photoshop because I’ve used the program for over 15 years now (yikes!). For clients who just want to create a simple template they can use over and over, I suggest Canva for editing your photos. You can use an existing design style or customize it to better suit your needs.

Leave a comment if you know other quality free stock photography websites and I will add them to the list.

P.S. I am planning to write a counterpoint article about when and why you should use custom or paid stock photography. I will link to that post here once it is published.

2 Responses to Finding and using free stock photos

  1. Thank you for these resources. I had not heard of some of them. I am always looking for more places to find images.

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