It’s no secret – adding images to your content works.
You attract more readers.
Readers stick around longer.
And your content gets shared more.
What’s not to like?
Before you start downloading images off the web there are some things you need to know.
It’s not complicated, but if you get it wrong you might end up on the wrong end of a legal dispute.
Let’s start with why you should be using more images in your content marketing.
Why images work
Our brain is designed to interpret images faster than words.
We see pictures on signs before we read words. We read more into a friend’s facial expression than their words. And we scan content for images before we stop to read the words.Our brain is designed to interpret images faster than words. Click To Tweet
Content with images gets 94% more views (like your blog) than content without. This is why 65% of senior marketing executives say that photos, videos, illustrations, and infographics are core to how their brand story is communicated.
You can use images in your blog to attract more clicks on social media, move people from your email to click to the full article, or to simply keep readers on your blog longer.
Before we get to sources for royalty-free images for commercial use, a quick lesson about what you are allowed to use.
What is safe to use?
In this post, I’ve listed my favorite sites for free images for commercial use. Some request attribution to the artist, but none cost anything to use.
There are 3 main types of copyright for images on the Internet:
Public Domain – either the copyrights have expired or the creator has relinquished all rights to the works. You are free to use these for private and commercial use. The exception to this “free for all use” policy can be images of recognizable people, like pics of the Kardashians.
Royalty-Free – when you find sites offering “royalty-free” images – these are “free” to use once you pay a licensing fee. You don’t have to give credit to the artist, but you will be paying a small fee (often the higher resolution means a higher fee.)
We’ve been using Adobe stock for years and it’s fast, allows for powerful filtering (size, orientation, white space, background, etc.), and inexpensive. Get 10 free images here.
Creative Commons – is a universal system for categorizing shared photography and other images by 6 types of allowed usage. Creative Commons Zero (CC0) being completely open to use, share, and change without any attribution necessary to the artist, whereas the most restrictive Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) allows sharing works, but without any changes and with attribution to the artist.
All of the sites recommended in this post offer Public Domain or Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensed images. This means no attribution (name or link to the artist) is required.
Regardless, it is good form to add a link crediting the artist (like I did at the bottom of this post.)
Best sites for free stock images
Search the web and there are loads of articles listing sites to find free images for commercial use.
I’m only listing the sites I use the most often.
Yes, there are some very quirky collections that are free to use. For example, if you want depression-era black and whites of farmers in Iowa, go to New Old Stock. Or if you want pictures of a man in a bunny suit, go to Gratisography.
I would avoid searching Google Images – the selection is limited and while you can search for “safe to use” images, you’ll find more images more quickly on the sites listed below.
The sites I’m listing all have a huge inventory of images, are free for commercial use, and are easy to use (nothing against men in bunny suits.)
At the time of writing they all have big libraries, are free of licenses, and have good search tools to help you find that perfect image. Again, even though these are free images for commercial use, it is good form (good karma?) to paste the credit to the artist that is provided on your blog article.
The 800-pound gorilla of free images and royalty-free stock is Pixabay with over 1.8 million photos, vectors, music, videos, and illustrations. The quality is excellent and you use basic filters for orientation, size, and popularity. A big time saver is to use the image size selector when going to download the image you selected.
With over 1 million gorgeous images, and more being added daily, Unsplash is a great place to start your image search. This is not the place to look for products, food, or more business-like images—photo contributions tend to be scenery, people, and often mood shots. And grab a coffee first, you might get caught up in the beautiful contributions made by thousands of artists.
You’ll find 1,000’s of free images on Picjumbo and you can search quickly by category. You will see quite a bit of advertising, and requests to donate to the artists, but the image quality is excellent.
This is a great site for quick searches using basic filters (including by color to match your site or blog theme). The image quality is excellent, the library is huge, and starting your search using their organized collections (business, minimalist, talking, people, etc) is a big time saver.
5. Adobe Stock
Honorable mention goes to our go-to stock photography site, Adobe Stock. It’s not free, but the images are reasonably priced and you get your first 10 images free. The selection is massive and (we love this feature) it has the best filter engine of any of the sites we’ve tested. You can sort by size, orientation, space to add copy, even isolated assets – the subject is on a solid background.
Advertised as the image source for bloggers and creatives, PhotoPin delivers a big selection of professional images. The search filters are limited, but search results show more images on a page than most sites making scanning images quicker. You can also choose from 8 sizes when downloading your selection.
If you are in a hurry to find that perfect cafe-working-on-laptop picture, StockSnap is a great resource to bookmark. You don’t get filters and the images only download in full size (no options), but the library is huge, and well-sorted by categories (social medial, girl, coffee, travel, food, etc.)
All photographs on LibreStock are taken by Martin Vorel and are free for commercial use. The images are excellent and mostly limited to landscapes, architecture, animals, and nature-shots.
The tech wizards at Shopify have created a very slick stock image site fueled by private contributors. The images are totally free for commercial use and you can download either the high or low-resolution version. While you’re there, check out the business ideas section – who knows, you might be inspired to start drop-shipping tea out of your garage.
Another option for a quick search of a huge collection of beautiful images is Reshot that promises: “Uniquely free photos. Tons of handpicked, non-stocky images. Yours to use as you wish.” You won’t find filters and collections are limited, but the quality of images is outstanding.
11. Kaboom Pics
Karolina Graboska is the engine behind the 17,000+ captivating images on Kaboom pics. The photos focus mostly on lifestyle, people, and interior design. You can choose by orientation and color and can download it in 3 sizes.
12. Foodies Feed
The perfect site for “hobby or professional photographer, food blogger, passionate foodie” Foodies Feed offers a selection (about 1,700 images) of anything to do with food. Walnut pancakes dripping maple syrup anyone?
Boasting over 134,000 images, Stockvault has massive traffic and is super easy to use. You won’t find cool filters, but there are loads of collections and the download process is easy.
Want to go deeper?
In this article, I explain pixels, format, sizes, and everything you need to know to use images online. This article is all about using video in your posts.
Over to you. Now it’s time to choose the sites you like the best, bookmark them, and start creating great content.
Enjoyed this article? Here are some of our most popular posts all about images and making your blog shine:
How to easily add images to your blog like a pro
4 ways to make your blog images pop
The ultimate guide to adding YouTube videos to your blog.
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash
Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
I liked Pixabay so much that I started posting my own photos to Pixabay. They have accepted and posted 660 of my photos so far and my photos have been downloaded over 10,000 times in the past 6 weeks, so somebody must like what I do.
Keith, that’s amazing. You are the first contributor I’ve heard from. Congratulations on that – now I have to go and check them out 🙂
Hugh, one word of warning regarding free photos that claim to be approved for commercial use. You point out that you need to be careful when you use photos of recognizable people. I quit posting photos to Pixabay because many of my posts are of people and to be recognizable really means the subject of the photo can be identified. It can be your next door neighbor. Pixabay told me that it was the responsibility of the person or company using the photo to secure a model release if the photo is being used for something other than editorial purposes (which is what most blogs are), but many of my photos have appeared in ads selling products and I was never contacted to find out who the person in the photo was. The identifiable person could sue the company. Be careful. You will notice that sites like Shutterstock use posed photos of people or they say the photo cannot be used for commercial use. BTW, you used one of my photos in one of your blogs last year. One of mine from Pixabay.
Thanks Keith – We all need to be careful about the pics we download off the web. I’m glad you alerted us to this.
“Using stock photos in your blog is more that passé – it’s boring.” I think it’s meant to say, “more than…”
Arrrg! Thanks for catching that, I’m onto it.
Hi, very informative article.
Please also check out https://www.goodfreephotos.com for thousands of unique public domain photos, all high-resolution and free to use for any purpose.We specialize in photos by location as we document cities, national parks, state parks, national landmarks, and more. We update with 20+ photos each week. Appreciate it if you could add us to your list of sites.
your article is very informative. thanks for your good article.
Not sure if my last comment was received. I had a bad experience posting my photos to Pixabay. Pixabay claims that all their photos can be used for commercial purposes, but they tell those who contribute photos that we do not have to provide model releases for identifiable people. Identifiable people are not just celebrities. If you use a photo of a person for non-editorial purposes, and someone who knows the person in the photo could recognize them, you better have a model release from the person in the photo. Pixabay told me that I did not have to provide model releases. They told me it was the responsibility of the company or individual using the photo to secure a model release. Many of my photos of people are being used for commercial purposes and I know the people using the photos do not have model releases.
Thanks Keith. That’s news to me. I wonder if that applies to all pictures on Pixabay? I know there are some restrictions on certain pictures. We use Adobe and pay for our pictures, so have full confidence that we’re allowed to use those for commercial use.