I am completely baffled why websites still produce and use cheesy stock photos with no real meaning behind them. When you can get high-quality free stock photos, why would you choose the cheap alternative? I’ve compiled a list of the most amazing free stock photo sites to prove to you that it’s entirely possible.
What Makes a Good Stock Photo
Before diving into the best stock photo sites, it’s worth knowing what makes a good stock photo. If you’re looking to print photos, you’ll need images with a resolution of at least 640 x 480 pixels. However, given it’s 2019, you’ll probably want higher (and most places offer this).
Photos should be well-focused and sharp. If you download a photo and zoom in and notice any noise, it’s probably not a decent image. As I’ve mentioned above, stock photo’s shouldn’t be cheesy and awkward. They’re meant to be used as representative images, and more often than not we don’t see this (even with premium websites).
Experienced photographers tend to have a good eye for detail. This is often represented in their work, capturing real-life without it looking cliche. Of course, it’s entirely up to you what you choose to use, but I don’t want to lead you down the wrong path.
1 | Unsplash
As featured above, it’s easy to see that Unsplash offer beautiful photos that are free to use. Their photos are actually donated by real and professional photographers. Although you may not find as many images on Unsplash as other sites, the quality makes up for this tenfold.
When you first visit Unsplash, the easiest way to search for a photo is by using their search tool. Simply enter in what you’re looking for and the results which show the most relevant images. If you don’t specifically know what you’re after, you can use their collections tool which categorises images by groups. If you sign up for an account you can create your own collections.
Unsplash has an iOS app which is really useful if you want to search for awesome stock photos on the go. What’s more, you don’t have to credit the photographer if you use any of their photos, but you can if you want to. I’d always recommend crediting the photographer as it’s a courteous thing to do.
Easy search tool
iOS app available
2 | Pixabay
Pixabay has a wide selection of free images as well as vector graphics, illustrations, and videos. If you’re after landscape or nature photography, they have some very high-quality photos available. I strongly recommend checking out their Editor’s Choice section for some inspiration.
When you’ve searched through their library and found an image you like, you can choose the resolution. Depending on the type of project you’re working on, you may need a high resolution. You’ll be asked to complete a Captcha then your file is ready to download. If you don’t want to keep completing Captchas, you can sign up to Pixabay with a free account.
Pixabay does contain some not safe for work (NSFW) images but you can avoid these quite easily. Simply check the Enable SafeSearchoption before looking for content. This is a feature that I find quite interesting as I hadn’t really thought about this before discovering it on their site.
Large library of images
Illustrations and vector graphics
Quality not as good as others
3 | Pikwizard
Pikwizard has thousands of stock photos available amongst multiple categories. After going through their images I can confirm the quality is very high, especially considering the content is free. Thankfully Pikwizard isn’t into cheesy poses as they present more natural photos. If it’s people you’re after, you’ll find plenty of choice on their site.
If you find an image you like but want to make some alterations, you can use the online photo editor. Many of the tools and features are premium so you’ll need to pay for them if you want to use them. However, none of them seems to cost more than a couple of quid.
My main gripe with Pikwizard is their licencing as they have two different licenses which are free and CCo. CCo means the copyright has been waived whereas free means the copyright is retained by the photographer. Free images can be used because the photographer has agreed for them to be used without payment. Similar to Unsplash, there’s no need to credit the photographer but it’s always nice to do so.
Plenty of natural poses
Online photo editor
Licensing applies to some photos
4 | Gratisography
Gratisography might not have as much content as other free stock photo sites, but they certainly offer something different. Professional photographer Ryan McGuire provides surreal photos with a certain sense of quirkiness. This site is a great choice if you’re looking for something unusual and are sick of the cliches.
New photos are added each week to ensure content remains consistent and fresh. If you want to be notified when new photos or updates are applied you can sign up to his newsletter or follow his twitter account.
When you download photos from Gratisography there’s no need to credit Ryan McGuire. Again, and I’ll keep saying this, it’s nice if you do and I’m sure he would appreciate it!
Fresh content each week
5 | Negative Space
Negative Space invites anyone with a camera to contribute. It’s a great place for amateurs to get started and a place to show off photographer’s work. Supporting each other is at the forefront of what they do, allowing people to share their creativity and for it to be used in multiple places.
If you want to subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll get updates on when new content is added. New images seem to pop up fairly quickly, unlike Gratisography which is a bit slower because it’s a one-man-band. If you visit the site and don’t find what you’re looking for, it’s well worth revisiting as chances are new images will have appeared.
Negative Space is one of the few photography sites that’s actually based in the U.K. This gives people more opportunity to find British scenery including landscapes, cityscapes and more. The website is helpfully categorised, such as abstract, travel, technology etc.
Invites amateur photographers to submit work
Copyright protection applies to some content
Pros & Cons of Stock Photography
As with most things, there are pros and cons to using stock photography. Stock photography is available for anyone to use; some sites allow you to download images for free whereas others will charge a premium. We’ve had a look at 5 amazing free stock photo sites to get you started. Paul Suggett from The Balance Careers sums stock photography up quite nicely:
Stock photography is like clothing you buy off the rack at a popular department store. No matter how beautiful it looks, you won’t be the only person wearing that design.
Some websites like Negative Space invite photographers from any background to submit their work. This is a great option for those who want to share their work and those that want to support amateurs. Other sites like Gratisography are run by the photographers themselves and don’t request that you have to credit them. The majority of stock sites hire photographers to submit stock photography to be licensed. This is then sold on to anyone who buys them.
Perfect for mock-ups and presentations
Cheaper than a professional photo shoot
Available to download instantly
Wide range of resolutions
Ideal for those with a limited budget
Not original work
Likely to be used by multiple people and sites
Lacks brand identity
Can be cliche and awkward