Adding photos to your web page can be a great way to connect with visitors who are more visual and to make your website generally more appealing. Here is a list of websites where you can find free stock photos for use on your web projects, in your e-learning courses, blog and social media posts and other types of publications including print.

The old adage "you get what you pay for" applies here. You will often find the best of what a photographer has to offer, the photos that have been touched up to perfection on commercial stock photo sites like Shutterstock. Where in business, time is money, another benefit of these commercial websites is that their photos will often be tagged and categorized in order make it easier and faster to find just the right photo.

However, in recent years, the quality stock photo sites that offer photos that you can download at no cost and royalty free have been improved considerably. If you have the time to search and perhaps some Photoshop skills, you can find great photos at budget prices on sites such as:

  1. Pexels
  2. Pixabay
  3. Unsplash
  4. Wikimedia Commons
  6. Public Domain Archive
  7. Openclipart -- Clipart (drawings instead of photos)
  8. New Old Stock
  9. Stockvault
  10. Freerange Stock
  12. MorgueFile
  13. NegativeSpace
  14. Life of Pix
  15. Cupcake
  16. PicJumbo
  17. Gratisography
  18. FreeImages
  19. LittleVisuals
  20. Picography
  21. Jay Mantri
  22. DesignerPics
  23. Creative Commons Search Engine
  24. The Stocks -- Search engine

As previously mentioned, Shutterstock is commercial however they do offer a free high quality professional photo and vector image each week to anyone who signs up for a free account. I've been collecting them on and off for years. Makes for a nice library of photos.

iStock is also a commercial stock photo site and has not only similar deal for free photos and illustrations but also offer a free video clip.

Fotolia is commercial but also has a free photo of the week. They will even allow you to download photos from a couple of previous weeks if you missed them. In my opinion, the quality of their images doesn't seem to be as good as those on some of the other commercial sites like Shutterstock and iStock but, every once in a while, you will find some photography gems.

BigStockPhotos is commercial but super easy to use. They have a huge selection and the photos are relatively inexpensive. They have a 7 day free trial where you can get up to 5 photos per day. If you browse around before you start your 7 day trial, you could end up with all the photos you need for your website.

IMPORTANT TIP -- Regardless of where you get the photo from, even if it is from a commercial site like Shutterstock, always take note of:

  • The name of the photo file. If you make changes to the file, always keep a copy of the original.
  • The date you acquired the photo. Licenses can change over time and the applicable license is dependant on when you got the image.
  • Where you got the photo (URL or print screen which includes the URL and site name is probably best).
  • The copyright owner's name and an actual copy of the copyright license. Print it to a PDF file of the same name as the photo and make sure that the date and time appear in the header or footer of the PDF. Naturally the name of the license file name should end in .pdf instead of .jpg, .png, .tif or .bmp which the photo ends with.
  • A record including the payment receipt if you purchased a license for it.

Take the time to read the copyright license. While some photos may be free, some require attribution and some don't let you use them in a commercial application or don't include the right to alter it. For example, cropping, adjusting colours/contrast/brightness or even just adding text to it is considered making a change.

While the photo may be free on a website, this doesn't prevent someone from coming back to you years later claiming that you didn't have permission to use the image. I know of someone who ended up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, licensing fees and damages because they used photos on their website that they didn't have a legal right to use.

If you are doing work for someone and want to use a copyrighted photo in the project, either download a new copy of the photo or make sure that the license attached to the photo is transferable. For example, you could not download a photo of the week from Shutterstock today and use it in a clients project next month. When you downloaded the photo, the license is for you to use the photo, not for your future clients. You would not want to get employers or clients into trouble.

If you want to use your own photos in a project for an employer or client, you are most welcome to do so as you have that legal right. Just make sure that you provide them with some kind of note indicating either a standard license or the terms under which you are letting them use the photo.

If people are included in the photo, it is always a good idea to have them sign a consent release form, especially if the photo was taken on private property or includes children. If children are involved, their parents/guardians will need to sign. Never use a photo of a person where it could possibly be interpreted as an endorsement for your product or services without their written consent.

Examples of common licenses for photos include:

  • Public Domain (also known as Creative Commons Zero) -- means that anyone can use, copy, make changes the photo for any purpose without attribution or permission from the author.
  • Creative Commons has several types of licenses available if you want to make the photo available for free. These are similar to public domain licenses but often require attribution or have some restrictions on how and where they are used. The author retains a copyright to the image.
  • Copyright with all rights reserved where you would be specific about how they can use the photo. For example, can they sell the photo? Claim it as their own? Where can they use it and for how long? Do they need to pay you a one time fee now or renew a license in the future? Is there a time limit for this license? Can they make changes to it? It's your photo so you make up the terms and conditions.

You may also want to read your employment agreement to see if there are any pre-existing terms and conditions that would affect your legal rights to photos you may have taken while employed, whether it was part of your job or not.

PLEASE NOTE -- I am not a lawyer/barrister. I recommend always getting professional legal advice unless you are 100% sure of what you are doing when it comes to copyright issues.

Hope you found this information helpful.

Michael Milette