The definitive guide to the best free image sites on the web

Following on from our recent blog The Importance of Great Imagery and How it Can Impact your Content, here at Popdot we’ve researched, analysed, ranked and devised a collection of brilliant online resources that will aid your search for the perfect images for your content. We kept our promise and carefully curated this list of the best 10 online image sites on the world wide web to suit even the tightest of budgets — they’re all FREE! What are you waiting for?! Go ahead and get lost in this kaleidoscope of beautiful imagery!

How did we work out which image sites were the best?

Here is how we ranked the image sites. We used a simple, points-based system, giving a maximum of eight points to each site. Points were given if the site criteria matched the following:

1. Design: images are on trend and reflect high quality design standards. Points rewarded vary and are determined by the additional criteria:

  • 1 point: images are high resolution (300 dpi) and of average quality — deemed a good addition to written content but of an amateur level of photographic quality.
  • 2 points: images are high resolution (300 dpi) and are impressive shots that reflect a certain level of professionalism and considerable focus on composition, detail and subject features.
  • 3 points: images are high resolution (300 dpi) and are professional and of fantastic quality — unique, beautiful and flawless.

2. Attribution: no attribution required to use the images (1 point)

3. Browsing and searching: browsing should be easy on the website (1 point)

4. Selection: there must be a big enough collection to make the site valuable for regular use (1 point)

5. Resolution: the majority of images on the site must be high resolution (1 point)

The top 10 FREE image resources on the internet

1. Unsplash

Unsplash is our ultimate favourite free online image resource. Specialising in landscape, lifestyle and portrait photography, the photographs are simply breathtaking and are all released under the Creative Commons public domain license. The minimalist style of the site allows easy navigation and there is an option to tailor your search for more specific results. There is also the option to browse collections people have put together and by subscribing to the mailing list you will be sent 10 free high-resolution photos every 10 days!

Score: 8/8 | Stunning, considerate images beautifully presented throughout the site that don’t require attribution — what more could you possibly wish for?!

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons Zero
Attribution Required: No
High Resolution: Yes

2. StockSnap.io

With a huge collection of stunning free high-resolution images available and hundreds more added weekly, Stocksnap.io is a must for your image resource kit. In addition to the search feature that enables quick and easy navigation, every photograph is displayed with the number of views, ‘likes’ and downloads, which is a great addition when wanting to see the most popular images. All photographs are released under the Creative Commons public domain license, and you don’t need to credit the author when using images. StockSnap also gives users access to their graphic editor, Snappa, which is similar to Canva. It’s free for a small number of downloads and integrates with StockSnap so that the entire StockSnap image library is available for use in Snappa.

Score: 7/8 | Although not quite on the same level as Unsplash, photographs have clarity and finesse and the site is a great online resource for finding some awesome imagery.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons Zero
Attribution Required: No
High Resolution: Yes

3. Pixabay

Pixabay is a great easy-to-navigate site that is home to over 600,000 free stock photographs — all of which may be downloaded, modified and distributed. The uniqueness of Pixabay comes from the huge variety of creative media that is readily available in the form of vectors, art illustrations and videos. We love the searchable features that the site has to offer. Not only is the user able to browse images using the search feature, but the Explore option offers a large collection of stunning images and videos that have been hand-picked by the Pixabay team. Another lovely addition to the site is the information panel that appears next to a photograph when selected that outlines what camera was used to take the photograph, the image type (e.g.: JPEG), the image resolution, when it was created, uploaded and how many views/downloads have been made. One point to watch out for is that not all of the images on this site are up to scratch. Amongst the many beautiful, professional gems you can find, there are also many images that are more generic and of stock-photo quality so be sure to take the time to select the best images for your work.

Score: 7/8. A clean, easy to use site with some stunning imagery too, Pixabay is a must visit for some excellent additions to accompany your content.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons CC0
Attribution Required: No
High Resolution: Yes

4. Snapwire Snaps

Snapwire Snaps hosts a beautiful collection of images from 200,000 of the world’s most talented photographers. It is possible to copy, modify and distribute the images, even for commercial purposes without needing permission. By signing up to the mailing list, subscribers receive 7 photographs every 7 days. You can also browse the collections from the home page or by making use of the search bar on the http://snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com/ site. 

When using the site it’s easy to be switched to the section of the site where you have to pay for images when the user clicks on More photos. Snapwi.re gives users the option to request an image they’d like and for photographers to submit their images in line with the creative brief. These photographs would incur a fee, but it may be worth considering if you need a very specific image — just ensure you know which site you’re browsing before you download any images.

Score: 7/8 | Some really stunning photographs that would enhance your content considerably, just be sure to know which site you’re browsing to get the freebies.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons Zero
Attribution Required: No
High Resolution: Yes

5. 500px

Images that are available on 500px are of higher quality than sites such as MorgueFile for example, and there is a much larger collection too. Images can be either downloaded or code can be copied and then embedded in your blog post. Note that you do have to pay to use some images on 500px, but there’s a huge selection of free to use images as long as you attribute the photographer (the embed code adds attribution for you automatically). Just ensure you are searching Creative Commons licensed images to narrow down the freebies. Similar to Pixabay, 500px has some great search options. Users are able to browse images with the search feature at the top or alternatively browse the Editors, Upcoming or Fresh selection options for some inspiring collections.

Score: 7/8 | A minimalist site with a fresh design and some beautiful high quality images, just make sure you check the licences before you download any images.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons
Attribution Required: Yes
High Resolution: Yes

6. Death to Stock

A lifestyle image resource, Death to Stock is a great site to visit when needing inspiration and wanting to find unique photographs that’ll help your brand stand out from the crowd. By signing up to the mailing list, you can receive 10 free photos by email every month. With many different artists posting their design blogs and photographs on the site, the collection of images available is really diverse — ensuring there is something for everyone. Death to Stock uses their own license so it’s important to double-check the terms before use.

Score: 6/8 | There’s no search facility as users have to subscribe and the image collection is small unless you have been signed up for a while. With beautiful images, however, it may be worth splashing out to get access to the bigger collection and search capability for $180/year.

Search facility: No
Membership required: Yes
License: DDTSP Photograph End User License
Attribution Required: No
High Resolution: Yes

7. Foter

If you want variety, look no further! With over 220 million high-resolution free images available (primarily from Flickr), there really is something to fulfil every search possible. The simple design of the site and search feature enables easy-navigation that is enhanced by the clean grid structure of images. The site offers a lightbox feature that is a great addition and similar to paid sites such as Shutterstock, enabling favourite images to be stored in a designated themed folder. Similar to 500px, there is the option to copy code to embed the images in your blog post and a Wordpress plugin is available (the embed code adds attribution for you automatically).

Score: 6/8 | A great site with some stunning photographs but many images can’t be used for commercial use and attribution must be given on all imagery. Be sure to filter your search options and check the licence before downloading.   

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: Creative Commons
Attribution Required: Yes
High Resolution: Yes

8. Picjumbo

Picjumbo offers some really lovely photographs of high quality and finesse. Created in 2013 by 22-year-old photographer and online entrepreneur Viktor Hanacek, the site has 1000s of images readily available. Similar to Unsplash, Picjumbo showcases images in large, single-column format. This allows the user to appreciate the quality of the imagery, however it can make browsing the site a little slow. There is also a lot of advertisement encouraging the user to enrol in Premium Membership that is a little distracting. In general, the website is quite busy so it would benefit from being stripped back a little with more prominence given to the photographs themselves. The quality of the images however should not be ignored and there are some great gems on the site that would be a great addition to written content.

Score: 6/8 | Some lovely photographs but the site is a little busy in comparison to others and image collection not as large and varied as some other sites. Premium Membership of $7.50/month may be worth considering for a larger collection of photographs that aren’t available on the free site.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: Not essential but Premium Membership offers more
License: All photographs are taken by the founder Viktor Hanacek so there are no copyright problems
Attribution Required: No, but appreciated
High Resolution: Yes

9. Morgue File

MorgueFile — put together ‘by creatives for creatives’ and in collaboration with iStock by Getty Images — is a great site that contains free high-resolution stock photographs for both corporate and public use. What’s with the name? ‘MorgueFile’ is an old print term used to describe the file containing archived post-production assets. Taking inspiration from this concept, MorgueFile.com is presented as the morgueFile of the internet. With a diverse collection of over 350,000 photographs and options to filter and tailor your search results, it’s a great online resource. The main caveat to note here is that these images are intended to be used by creatives and adapted within larger projects. No attribution is required when they are used in this way; however if used in isolation to accompany a blog post, for example, permission and attribution is required. Another good thing about MorgueFile’s search facility is that you can simultaneously get search results from a few of the major paid image libraries, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for free you do have some other options.

Score: 6/8 | Not all of the images on MorgueFile are stunning to look at. Many are very basic, but it remains a good resource and there are some gems in there too.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
License: morgueFile license
Attribution Required: Yes when images are used in an editorial (blog context); if designers or illustrators alter the image it can be used without attribution
High Resolution: Yes

10. DesignersPics

DesignersPics offers free high-resolution photographs for both personal and commercial use with no attribution required. The site is a little basic in its design approach but with a search feature, it allows easy-navigation throughout the site. Many photographs on the site would be categorised as amateur photography and despite being high-resolution, don’t meet the clarity and finesse of the images that are available on the other sites mentioned above. The collection is quite small but there are some lovely images in there. With no attribution needed and a free reign to use the images, the site is still worth a look.

Score: 5/8 | Both the search facility and site structure is a bit clunky and the collection is quite small. With no membership or attribution required, it’s still worth a look.

Search facility: Yes
Membership required: No
Attribution Required: No, but appreciated
High Resolution: Yes

In case you’re worried we missed a gem in our ranking system, here’s the full list of the sites we researched, analysed and ranked but that didn’t make the top 10:

·      123rf.com (http://www.123rf.com)

·      Albumarium (http://albumarium.com)

·      BigFoto (http://www.bigfoto.com)

·      Camarama.de (http://www.camarama.de)

·      Compfight (http://crowthestone.com)

·      CreativeCommons.Photos (https://freeimages.red)

·      Dreamstime (http://www.dreamstime.com/free-photos)

·      Epicantus (http://epicantus.tumblr.com)

·      Every Stock Photo (http://www.everystockphoto.com)

·      FindA.Photo (http://finda.photo)

·      Foter (http://foter.com)

·      Free Images (http://www.freeimages.com)

·      Free Media Goo (http://www.freemediagoo.com)

·      Free Nature Stock (http://freenaturestock.com)

·      Free Range Stock (https://freerangestock.com)

·      Freestocks.org (http://freestocks.org)

·      Free Stock Image Point (http://www.stock-image-point.com)

·      FreeDigitalPhotos.net (http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

·      FreeImages.Pictures (http://freeimages.pictures)

·      FreePhotosBank (http://freephotosbank.com)

·      GetRefe (http://getrefe.tumblr.com)

·      Good Free Photos (http://www.goodfreephotos.com)

·      Gratisography (http://www.gratisography.com)

·      IM Free (http://www.imcreator.com/free)

·      Image Finder (http://imagefinder.co)

·      ISO Republic (http://isorepublic.com)

·      Jay Mantri (http://jaymantri.com)

·      Jeshoots (http://jeshoots.com)

·      Kaboompics.com (http://kaboompics.com)

·      Life of Pix (http://www.lifeofpix.com)

·      Little Visuals (http://littlevisuals.co)

·      Lock & Stcok Photography (http://lockandstockphotos.com)

·      Magdeleine (http://magdeleine.co)

·      MMT.li (http://mmtstock.com)

·      Moveast (http://moveast.me)

·      Negative space(http://negativespace.co)

·      New Old Stock (http://nos.twnsnd.co)

·      Pexels (https://www.pexels.com)

·      Photo Everywhere (http://photoeverywhere.co.uk)

·      Photo Pin (http://photopin.com)

·      Photober (http://www.photober.com)

·      Pickupimage (http://pickupimage.com)

·      Picography (http://picography.co)

·      Pixel Perfect Digital (http://pixelperfectdigital.com)

·      Pond5 (http://www.pond5.com)

·      Public Domain Archive (http://publicdomainarchive.com)

·      Raumrot (http://www.raumrot.com/10/)

·      RGBStock (http://www.rgbstock.com)

·      Skitter Photo (http://skitterphoto.com)

·      Smithsonian on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian)

·      Snapographic (http://snapographic.com)

·      Splashbase (http://www.splashbase.co)

·      SplitShire (http://www.splitshire.com)

·      Startup Stock Photos (http://startupstockphotos.com)

·      StockPholio (http://www.stockpholio.net)

·      StockPhotos.io (https://stockphotos.io)

·      Stokpic (http://stokpic.com)

·      Superfamous (http://superfamous.com)

·      Tookapic Stock (https://stock.tookapic.com/?filter=free)

·      Travel Coffee Book (http://travelcoffeebook.com)

·      UPICM (http://www.upicm.com)

·      Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page)

·      Wylio (https://www.wylio.com/)

Once you have spent the time sourcing some amazing imagery that best reflects your brand, it is worth taking the time to develop your knowledge on how to save these images for print and web. You want to ensure you get the best quality results for your designs so it is important to understand the differences between file formats and what is right for the intention of your images.  Be sure to check out our blog How to get the best quality results when saving images for print and web to understand the reasoning behind the various file formats and colour modes.

Still can’t find the image you’re looking for from free resources? Keep up-to date with all of our articles by subscribing to our blog and stay tuned for our definitive guide to the top 10 affordable image sites that’ll boost your content. Any comments or questions? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to hear from you!