The Internet is flooded with places to buy stock photos or download them for free, but that means that you have to sift through a lot of junk to find that one perfect image.
We want to make your job a little bit easier, so we looked around to find the best places to get royalty-free stock photos. Going forward, we’ll include example photos from each source so you can get a taste of what’s available without having to sign up at a bunch of different sites that you may or may not end up using.
And, of course, there are a ton of practical uses for these stock photos — whether you run a blog and need quality images to accompany your posts, need a cover for an ebook to be self-published, or you just want a really cool Twitter header image. Everyone can benefit from a stock photo in some way.
What Is Royalty-Free, Exactly?
Royalties are a percentage of revenue given as compensation to artists for their work. Most of the time royalties are used in place of upfront costs, but some artists charge both upfront and royalties.
In the context of photography, a royalty-based stock photo means that if the photo helps you make money in some way, you owe a percentage of what you earn back to the photographer.
Luckily for you, all of these websites are royalty-free, so once you download an image (some are free, some have upfront costs), it’s yours to use without having to worry about any recurring costs. However, keep in mind that royalty-free doesn’t necessarily mean attribution-free.
Hint: You don’t want to go snatching photos wherever you find them. That’s how you can run into legal issues with copyright. Fortunately, we’ve written an entire guide on how to legally use images on the web.
For anyone looking to use stock photos in a commercial setting, royalty-free is by far the cheaper and simpler route to take. With that out of the way, let’s get onto the websites.
Free Images is actually the new name of the famous stock image repository, Stock.XCHNG. The name change came after it was bought by Getty Images.
With the new name came a really nice visual redesign, and it still has a massive amount of high-quality photos that you can browse and search through.
You will need to create an account to download images, but that only takes a second. You can use most images for commercial purposes without attribution, but you’ll need to attribute for editorial content. Be sure to check the licensing agreement below every image because some images require artist permission to use.
There are some premium images from iStock mixed in among the free, but it’s easy to navigate around those.
Above is a nice abstract image from Free Images.
And this is a beautiful nature photograph.
Here at MakeUseOf we use Shutterstock a lot, and we’re particularly fond of the Shutterlock Labs feature that allows you to accurately search for the photo you want.
It is a paid service, and an expensive one at that. Two images alone can set you back $29, and the lowest monthly plan starts at $169 per month for 350 images each month.
They do request that you give them credit for any editorial use, but in return for all of this, Shutterstock has a massive library of content across every genre and a solid search function to boot.
Somewhere in this universe, a human is searching for stock photos of this same universe.
Are they sparks, or is the metal just crying?
SplitShire doesn’t have the largest collection, but it does have some really interesting choices. There’s no login or attribution necessary, and there are a few categories you can browse through to make things easier. They even have a few videos that you could use for B-roll.
That is the most dramatic snail I’ve ever seen.
Here’s the perfect photo for your post about your love for motorcycles.
Unsplash has some really gorgeous photos, but they’re pretty random. Not too picky about the artistic photo you’re using? Take a look through Unsplash. None of the photos require any attribution, and you don’t need to make an account.
You can search by keyword, but there’s no browsing by category or anything like that. They simply post ten new photos every ten days, and they’re honestly breathtaking. But this probably isn’t the place to go if you have a specific photo in mind.
The above photo is just a pineapple, but damn, it’s a pretty pineapple. That’s my aesthetic.
There’s just something eerie about empty playgrounds.
This website snags photos from various free stock photo websites and combines them all under an easy-to-use interface. Searching is easy, or you can just scroll through all of their newest or most popular photos.
Most photos can be used without attribution, but Pexels does a great job of outlining — right next to the download button — exactly how you can use each photo. Plus, you don’t need an account to get started.
I’ve never said this before, but that’s a majestic frog.
This would be a great photo for your blog about blogging while drinking tea.
As with many of these websites, all the photos on Jéshoots are free to use for any purpose (other than straight out selling them) without attribution. That’s because they’re licensed under CC0, meaning the photographer has waived their rights to it and put the photos into the public domain.
Jéshoots doesn’t have the largest number of photos available, but it has an easy-to-browse category system and some really brilliant photos. No account or login necessary.
That’s a flower. You’re welcome.
This is where the boats gather during mating season.
We took a look at this all the way back in 2009, and it’s still a great way of getting photos — as long as you ignore all the invasive Bigstock ads. There are a lot of ways to get taken to other photo sites here, but try to stay on MorgueFile.
The quality of images really isn’t the highest, but it’s not bad as a last ditch attempt to find something specific.
Puppies are the cutest things on this planet, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
This is just a keyboard. There’s nothing witty about it, but it’s a classy keyboard.
Looking for tons of free photos, a great search feature, no login required, and no attribution required? StockSnap.io has you covered.
It really checks all the boxes when it comes to a stock photo website. It’s got a nice, clean interface and a whole bunch of photos — with even more being added weekly!
Such organize. Very work.
If you stare at this photo long enough, it’s almost like you ate enough fruit today.
Unique photos. That’s the first thing you’ll notice about this website.
All of the photos are taken by SkitterPhoto creators, and they seem to have a really clever eye for photography. Dramatic and artsy photos are in abundance, and they add a new photo everyday.
Oh, and all the photos are free, don’t require a login, and don’t require attribution.
I almost can’t believe this is a photo — it looks like CGI. It’s also the definition of creepy.
The blur on this cycling photo is just perfect.
Kozzi is a great source of photos, yet unfortunately doesn’t offer a free version. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial that gives you five image downloads per day, but after that, it’ll cost you.
The pricing depends on how many images you want to download each day, but the lowest option (five per day) is $4.95 per month. Or you can buy credits that allow you to buy images for about $0.50 each. Obviously you’re going to need an account no matter what you do, but at least you don’t need to attribute the photos.
Kozzi also has a Free Photo of the Week, which is where the photos below are from.
I bet the turtle wins the race.
Do you really take the time to draw a lightbulb when you have an idea?
Still disappointed after checking all the other sites? Of course, there’s always Google.
But there’s a certain trick you need to know for this. When you search for something in Google Images, options for the search appear at the top of the page below the search field. You can narrow your results by size, color, and even license.
Choose “Labeled for Reuse” if you plan on using it for something serious, and be sure to check the source website to ensure it really is okay to reuse.
Flickr is a wonderful photography hub, but it’s also great for finding open photos licensed for reuse.
To find them, though, you’ll need to click the search icon at the top right of the Flickr home screen, then look under the “Any License” drop-down menu and select “Commercial Use Allowed” or “No Known Copyright Restrictions”.
Again, be sure to check with each individual photo to be sure that it’s okay to use, and it’s good manners to link back to the original photographer.
Which Is Your Favorite?
There are so many different stock photo sites out there — it would be impossible for us to list them all — but we are more than happy with these. Some sites even allow you to just enter your email and receive free photos every once in a while, so consider that option as well.
Are there any additional sites you would add to this list? Any of your favorites make an appearance here? Let us know in the comments!
Image credits: Free Images/env1ro, Free Images/John Nyberg, Shutterstock/Galaxy, Shutterstock/Metalworking Industry, Splitshire/Snail, Splitshire/Custom Motorcycle, Unsplash/Pineapple, Unsplash/Aaron Burden, Pexels/Green Frog, Pexels/Tea Cup Laptop Apple, Jéshoots/Flower, Jéshoots/Monaco, MorgueFile/GaborfromHungary, MorgueFile/Macbook, StockSnap.io/Startup Stock Photos, StockSnap.io/Anthony Delanoix, Skitterphoto/The girl, the bike and the light, Skitterphoto/Cyclist on the move,