Eiffel Tower construction during 1889 World’s Fair, courtesy of Public Domain Archive
First, let’s be clear. It’s not legal to download any photo you find on the internet and use it for your organization. You have to pay for the right to use the photo by licensing it (and you can get different types and prices of licenses). Why do you have to pay? Someone took time and possibly even paid to go to school to learn how to take great photos. They should be compensated for that.
Or, you can take advantage of some of the sites we’ve discovered over the years that offer images and other media for use, for free (and it’s legal). Just be sure you understand the licensing. Some will only let you use the image as is, and will require you to display the creator credit. Others, with the Creative Commons Zero license, give unlimited license to modify, re-use, or even sell.
There are many other sites offering free stock, but these have some of the best quality and/or variety of images. Also, many of the “free” sites offer very low quality images for free and encourage you to pay to get access to the better images. Only one of those are included here.
- Negative Space: These images are more like the stock photos you know and love (but with way less cheesiness) and you accordingly can search them by category, copy space, and color. Creative Commons Zero
- Stock Snap: The photo quality here is fantastic, but selection is somewhat limited in comparison to a site where you’d have to pay for the images. But given the quality, it’s worth a look, even though their reason for being appears to be selling a graphic editing tool – but hey, maybe you need that too. Creative Commons Zero license
- Unsplash: Absolutely stunning, highly professional images! They are so stunning they might be too artful for many commercial uses. If you join, they will deliver ten high res photos to your inbox every ten days. Creative Commons Zero
- Picography: This is a compelling collection of photos submitted by several pro photographers (bless their hearts!) so there’s a range of topics and styles to choose from. A handy search bar makes it easier to find relevant images. Creative Commons Zero license.
- Gratisography: Magazine-like, highly creative images, though again, with a limited selection and a call to purchase photos at Shutterstock if you can’t find what you need. Creative Commons Zero
- New Old Stock: This is a really cool collection of vintage photos, many black and white or sepia, pulled from public archives and free of copyright restrictions, as far as anyone knows. There’s no way to search, and these are curated – not everything in the world. So it might be challenging to find something useful. The copyright here varies so read it before using!
- Wiki Commons: This is a great resource, with thousands of images on virtually any topic. Media is contributed freely by people from around the world and includes images, but also illustrations, sounds and videos. The quality of these is not always the best. Most media is licensed for free usage, provided you follow the terms. In most cases, you simply have to properly credit the creator of the work.
- Pexels: A good amount of quality photos with some interesting takes on the usual tropes. You can search to find what you need.Creative Commons Zero.
- MorgueFile: Lots of photos of varying quality provided by creatives from all over. It’s searchable and sortable, and while it doesn’t state it outright, is basically using the Creative Commons Zero.
- Focus Fitness: Great collection of fitness, weight loss and health-food photos available for free download.