Stuck for Free-to-use stock images? Check out these 10 sites – That We Actually Use!

by . August 25th, 2014

Sooner or later, your business will need at least a few images. Supposing you can’t do diddly-squat with visuals and can’t afford to pay a visual artist, photographer, or graphic designer to help you create the visual elements you need.

You don’t want to just take the first decent image out of Google Image search.


A.) You probably don’t have the permission to use it

B.) You’re probably financially responsible if the copyright owner decides to collect

C.) Disclaimers, back-links, and credits are meaningless without licenses

PR Daily’s classic article How Using Google Images Can Cost you $8,000 illustrates just how much you stand to lose from the misuse – or perceived misuse – of even just one image.

The obvious solution of course, is to buy stock images and their associated licenses. Unfortunately, not everyone has the cash to spare  for this sort of thing.

This is where you start looking into images covered under Public Domain and Creative Commons licenses.

Many of us have one problem with those images:

We think they suck.

That’s not necessarily true though. It all depends on what you need. Even with paid stock photos, it’s become a recurring thing to compile the weirder, less obviously usable images into “Stupid Stock Photo” collections.

The very idea of these collections just annoys me, since whether or not a paid stock photo or free-to-use image “sucks” or is “stupid” really all depends on the context.

You might have to try a bit harder, or play around with visual metaphors, but there’s almost always a decent solution that doesn’t require you to spend a whole chunk of cash.

Here’re YouTheEntrepreneur’s go-to sources for legit, free-to-use images:

1.) Photo Pin

PhotopinWhile it looks a bit dated, Photo Pin is our first stop for free-to-use image under Creative Commons licenses. Why? Nothing (apart from outright image theft) can be simpler.

To download a royalty-free image from Photo Pin :

1.) Use search function 

2.) Browse the usually extensive results (which includes Flickr images), preview the ones you need,

3.) Download them in the size you want

Recommended: Copy the piece of code attached to your image if you want a linked attribution.


2.) Foter

FoterLike Photo Pin, Foter allows you to search by license and to easily attribute and link authors with their images.  While neater and fresher-looking than Photo Pin, one minor gripe we have with it is that you have to click on an image to get a preview, where with many other tools on this list, all you need to do is hover your mouse over the image you want to check.

For people who have to check a bunch of images at once, the lack of this feature could be annoying. But if you only need a few, don’t let the lack of this feature stop you.

3.) Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons is by far, likely the most popular source of Public Domain and Creative Commons images there is. If you need an image of a popular piece of art, this should be your first stop.

However, you shouldn’t just pick out whatever images you want willy-nilly. Be sure to double-check the licenses to see if the author requires attribution or forbids the alteration or use of their images for certain purposes.

4.) Bing Image Search

Yes. Bing. One thing Bing Image Search has over Google Image Search is that you can set it to search for specific licenses. When accessing Bing Image Search, you should see that option here:

Bing Image Search

Annoyingly though, you can’t see this in —the feature isn’t readily accessible until you’re in a results page.

As of writing, Google doesn’t have a comparable search by license function, though it will likely return more images actually relevant to your specific search term. Bing will usually have a couple of duplicates and some clip art, but revising your keywords and scrolling down one page is a small price to pay to ensure you don’t get sued in the future. Be sure to verify the author and licenses after you find an image you like.

5.) morgueFile


If you want free stock images that fit the steretypical “stock image look” – not a bad thing, mind you – morgueFile should be one of your first stops. Simple and easy to use, morgueFile images are free to use, with no attribution required. One important stipulation however, is that using these images  “is prohibited in a standalone manner”.

6.) Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

If you need images related to… well… startups, and don’t mind a vaguely Gen-Y, washed-out, Instagrammed flavor to your images, Startup Stock Photos offers a small but decent selection of very usable images related to nearly every common startup concept. All images are explicitly free to use.

7.) Pixabay


Very similar to Photo Pin and Foter, and likewise a great source for general-purpose free-to-use images. The site’s editors also make it a point to select awesome pics you wouldn’t likely find with a regular search, which in Pixabay‘s case is a really good thing.

The only thing Photo Pin and Foter has over Pixabay is that they don’t have a bit of code that you could copy for linked attributions. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean you need to do a bit of extra work to give authors due credit.

8.) Compfight


Compfight scours Flickr, one of the largest repositories of photos anywhere. You can search images according to Creative Commons or Commercial licenses. However, like Pixabay you need to individually check each image at the source for their license to attribute them correctly.

9.) everystockphoto


Like the other free stock photo search engines, everystockphoto gives you results from a variety of sources – including NASA, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, RGB Stock, stock.xchange, Morguefile, imageafter, freerangestock, photl, photoXpress.

But just because it draws from a wide range of sources, doesn’t mean it will always give you relevant results. The images on the results page are also tiny, the previews hardly an improvement, and the interface in our opinion, pales compared to the other choices on the list.


StockvaultStockvault generally doesn’t return as many results mentioned, and with its often counterintuitive display, and its hopelessly tiny thumbnails will probably not be your go-to source for free images. But it’s always good to know that you have another place to look if you need to.

Other Stock Photo Sites You Might Want To Try

These (allegedly no attribution required) stock image sites were recommended to us. We haven’t extensively tested them, so give us a comment below and tell us what you think!

We have to emphasize that if you want to use these sources, that it’s up to you to practice due diligence. There are plenty of mislabeled photos out there, and a moment’s indiscretion can leave you hurting.

Most of you will eventually want to settle into some sort of cohesive visual style, and paying for licenses and professional expertise can help you in a way these free photos normally can’t.

But if you don’t have the cash to spare, it’s not the end of the world. Not by a long shot.

Image sources:photo credit: Nathan Congleton via photopin cc,Valerie Reneé via photopin cc

Want to add to the list? Hate it? We’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer: We do not own any of the images or videos above. All images, videos are properties of their copyright holders and are here for educational purposes only.


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.