Free Stock Images resources reviewed

by Matt Rowan

Free Stock images or Stock Photos can be too generic to represent your work which could be making you stand out for the wrong reasons. Why do you want to look like everybody else?

Every time I build a website for a client, I have the same problem – finding stock images to represent the clients business when they don’t have them available. Clients also have the same issue, many are not willing to take photos of their business, premises or have them feature in images on their website. New businesses may not yet at a point to represent their company with pictures too. My thought is that a lot of people have this same issue, and trawling through stock image sites to find images to represent their business happens again and again. But, stock images are needed at times, they have a place and a use. We can’t always source the images unique of that perfect client or find something to represent a potential client, new product or new service that is new to release, so stock images are essential in the right setting. They may also be a stop gap, or a placeholder until a better more suitable and unique image is produced. Stock images are also getting better than they used to be. But can still be expensive or difficult to source on a budget. I find it is essential to understand the limitations, the cost involved in stock images, and the rights and regulations of using them. Understanding Licenses

Copyright-free, copyright infringement, royalty-free explained There are many stories of stock and open-sourced images now being found not being used to the license requirements, and users being fined or threatened with fines for the photos. istockphoto and Getty images have made a point of enforcing the usage of their images are locked harder than they did previously. This is partly due to the fact that images can now be searched for and reversed search for through search engines, therefore, they may be able to find the use of images, but also because the usage of images was abused by people on the Internet for many years without any comeback. This seems severe and unfair in some instances, however thinking of the trusting individual photographers that have spent their time and effort to produce such images, I think it is fair and right that the management stock management companies who work almost like an agency are collecting their rightful costings for the use of the images. Understanding what many of the License agreements put in place by individual stock companies, therefore, is paramount so you are aware of how you are using them correctly, how they may be managing the usage you are having and that you would hear to this, but also source and use the images respectfully.

So what does royalty-free actually mean?

Royalty-free image is a term that is used a lot online through stock images and can be a bit of a minefield to explain. In in its simplest terms, this means that: In its simplest term royalty-free means that wants an initial payment for the license has been made the image may be used as many times as you require for the specific uses outlined in the license without paying further fees. It’s important to note that this is outlined in the initial license when you buy it. This may mean that you do not have the rights to pass it onto a client or to use it other than outlined in the license you have purchased it for. And it’s important that you keep a note of this license for the future discrepancies may arise.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organisation which focuses on and expanding a range of creating works available for others to legally within outlined parameters build upon and share. Under Creative Commons, there are several free copyright licenses hello in creators to determine which rights they reserve and which right state wave. Again it is important to read the specific license within Creative Commons to understand that it works well with your usage

Extended licenses

Some stock images have a different specific use license, for example, the limitation may be for a certain amount of printed versions of the image and outside of that and extended license may be then needed. This might also apply to digital files or physical products where outside of the standard license and extended license may be required. As this varies depending on stock photo companies, it is important to read the specific usage and how it applies to your intended usage.

Editorial use only

Editorial use only images may not be used in the context that you may require them.  These images are normally not for commercial, promotional, advertorial or endorsement advertising or merchandising purposes. This may be due to the fact the model or the property in the photograph does not have permission for its usage. These images as described are for editorial use, specifically for events that are newsworthy or general interest for example in a blog textbook newspaper or magazine article usage only. It is important that these images are specifically not for commercial use, and are correctly sourced and attributed 

FREE STOCK IMAGES – Why are they Free?

Free to use stock images after the above seems a bit like an oxymoron. But there is an excellent collection growing a collection of stock image websites that are available to people for their use. It is important however to understand the usage and to stick within the licensing restrictions. The following websites are growing rapidly and show a good selection of stock images for your use. There is a growing emergence of website is growing rapidly and gives people an opportunity to get their work out into the world for free and promote themselves. It’s important to stick to the restrictions which usually includes referencing the photographer in action this way you typically free to use this for personal and commercial work usage.


Pixabay Website



Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes. Pixabay License All images and videos on Pixabay are released under the Creative Commons CC0. Thus, they may be used freely for almost any purpose – even commercially and in printed format. Attribution is appreciated, but not required.

Unsplash Website



With a huge library of photos and thousands more being added each day, chances are we’ve got a photo for you. Find inspiration in the new photos we hand-select every day or use our search to find and download exactly what you’re looking for. Unsplash License All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible. More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.

FreePik Website


Free photos for personal and commercial use. Download in .JPG format. 1,515,107 Free photos For Free Purposes, attribution is required, and Personal and Commercial use, as long as it’s not for collective use. Freepik License 

Pexels Website


Pexels provides high quality and completely free stock photos licensed under the Pexels license. All photos are nicely tagged, searchable and also easy to discover through our discover pages. Pexels have hundreds of thousands free stock photos and every day new high resolution photos will be added. All photos are hand-picked from photos uploaded by our users or sourced from free image websites. We make sure all published pictures are high-quality and licensed under the Pexels license. Pexels License

  • All photos on Pexels can be used for free for commercial and non-commercial use.
  • Attribution is not required. Giving credit to the photographer or Pexels is not necessary but always appreciated.
  • You can modify the photos. Be creative and edit the photos as you like. 

Free range website

Free Range

Freerange Stock was formed with the goal to provide quality stock photos for commercial and non-commercial use. For free. We feel that free stock images can be good photos. Freerange is an advertising revenue supported photographic community – photographers get paid when users click on the ads that appear next to their submissions. Images on the site are either shot by Freerange Stock, drawn from Freerange archives, or contributed by a talented community of photographers. We feel that the images want to be seen and good photos should be available to everyone – so we give the collections away with the hope that they will be useful and be enjoyed. Free Range License You can use images for nearly any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, without attribution. You cannot sell, redistribute, or relicense the images, and you cannot sell products which derive their primary value from the image. 

Visual Hunt Website

Visual Hunt

High-quality free stock images in one place. We hunt for the best free images from many online sources and pull them all together in one spot. Most of our photos are CC0 license (do whatever you want). Additionally, we offer all Creative Commons and Public Domain photos from sources like Flickr and make it possible to embed them directly from our website. Visual Hunt License Visual Hunt uses the Flickr API and searches Creative Commons photos. We are not associated with Flickr in any way, other than powering our search results using their API. These are creative commons and MUST be attributed. 2) If you don’t want your photos to be displayed on Visual Hunt, don’t choose Creative Commons licence for your photos on Flickr. You can change your Flickr photo license at any time, but Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license – so choose wisely. 3) Visual Hunt cannot be held responsible for copyright violations and cannot guarantee the legality or suitability for any use the images found through its service or contained in its system. 4) Visual Hunt makes no warranty expressed or implied regarding continued service, information provided, the legality or licensing of the pictures or the functionality of the site. It is your responsibility to ensure the use of any pictures is legal and that they are in compliance with all applicable laws. 5) You assert that your use of the site is legal, and takes full responsibility for your actions on the site. You will not use the site, or photos found using the site services in an illegal manner. 

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Getty Images

 Lastly, Getty images may be of use in this situation. Unlike the above Getty images is a paid-for usage stock image website. However, they have recently brought out the ability to embed images, where you are linking back directly to the images on their website and they are allowing websites to use their images for non-commercial purposes (look into specific usage on this). The following link explains a bit more about specific usage, however, perhaps this is also the future?

Embed images for your non-commercial website or blog in three easy steps: 

Is this the future of Stock images?

Perhaps other stock image websites are funding photographers by promoting portfolios of their photographers work, sharing their name and their experience in a growing portfolio of images that are allowing others to use them for free or at a lower price in order to increase their exposure.
However this only works, if they are getting the exposure they deserve, the links or links back to their work, and the paid work that builds their portfolio and large paid projects they want
If this is the future, it would be great to hear from the photographer about how this works for them financially, and if they are really seeing the results from the point of view of driving more higher and better paid work that they require.

Further Reading

For Further links and in depth reviews of photo stock sites, check out Stock Photo Secrets:


Matt is a Graphic Designer and Web Designer based in the UK. Read about him, and his design work at


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