Where do you find free images for your writer website, your blog, or maybe a client?
You could just do a Google search for a free image based on a key phrase. But that could get you neck-deep in legal trouble fast.
When I did this for a post about trout-fishing, I found one pretty easily. But I couldn’t use it. The photographer who snapped the fisherman earned copyright protection the nanosecond he or she pushed the camera’s button.
So where do you find free images (or affordable images) for a blog, website, or client project?
If you know where to look, you’ve got plenty of options that won’t cost you anything.
You might be surprised to know government agencies can be a rich resource for free images. And there’s a growing number of sites where you can find free images.
Looking for free images? Here’s what I recommend:
Free images? A simple copyright lesson
No one, with rare exception, can legally use an image image without permission. The same is true for other artists’ work. Ignoring copyright laws can:
- Trigger a “cease and desist notice” from the creator or their attorney
- Lead to fines or expensive legal fees
- Incite your Internet service provider to take down your post
- And otherwise ruin your day.
Got it? Don’t violate copyright laws. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at where you can find free images:
If you’re totally going for low-cost, affordable images, do it yourself. Lots of bloggers and social media stars do this, and most aren’t professional photographers or graphic designers. For example:
- Take your own photos. Ever seen a DIY blog with photos of the finished project, recipe, craft, or workout? Most smartphones and digital cameras make it easy to take great pictures…and you’ll own the copyright. (You may want a written release from people or any persnickety private property owners featured in your photos.)
- Use editing or design software. PhotoShop is probably the most recognized software for editing images. Tools like Canva can also help you enhance a photo and add design elements. And free tools by Microsoft, Google, and others make it easy to create your own charts and graphs.
- Go back in time…way back. Looking for vintage images? U.S. copyright protection has expired for works created before 1923, putting them in the public domain. For example: last year I scanned an inexpensive 1905 postcard depicting an orchard and used it for a story I wrote about apples. Check thrift shops and eBay for free images like this.
- Get permission. If you find an image you like, but you’re not sure if you can use it, get permission. Reach out to the photographer or creator. They will often permit publication of their work at no cost if it’s accurately credited. But you need to ask.
- Check non-profit and government sites. You can get find free images from non-profit and government sites. When I was looking for a trout-fishing photo, I discovered that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has a database of 24,000 free images. Historical societies and cultural organizations may also give you access to digital image libraries for free.
10 stock photo sites with free images
Maybe you’re thinking: “I’m a writer, not a photographer or graphic designer.” And you still need to find free images you can use for your writer website or client project.
If the do-it-yourself route isn’t for you, don’t worry. There’s a growing list of stock photo sites where you can find free images.
(Note: Most stock photo sites have their own set of rules. Take the time to read through the site’s information. Some have requirements to credit the image maker, limitations on usage, or other rules you must agree to.)
Check out these stock photo sites for snagging copyright-free images:
The Getty Center’s Open Content Program includes 130,000-plus copyright-free images or photos, drawings, paintings, maps, and more.
Photographer and graphic desginer Karolina Grabowska is the founder of Kaboompics. She started sharing her collection of images, then recruited others to grow this database to about 9,500 free images that have been downloaded more than 10 million times.
If you’re looking for free images, don’t forget about sites like the Library of Congress and other government sites. I did a test search for “fishing” and found 2,500 options to choose from.
No, this isn’t a collection of images created by medical examiners. “The morgue” is an old newspaper term that refers to a place to store unused stories and images. It’s a free image database that’s been around almost as long as the Internet.
It’s a crowd-sourced site created by contributing photographers. Check out the “Popular Searches” tab to see a quick list of images by topic.
Picjumo includes a free and paid-version for it’s library of stock photos. If you’re looking for an image that has’t been widely used across the Internet yet, check the tab for recent uploads.
Picography is a relatively new player among stock photography sites online. But it’s provided millions of copyright-free downloads in just the last three years. But you’ll find fewer free images here than some other sites.
This stock phone site currently has a database of over 1.6 million free images in 20 different categories.
This site was created for writers and designers looking for free images for a blog post, website or client project. Includes images in 100 different categories.
Unsplash is another crowd-sourced site for free images submitted by photographers. It’s database current contains about 550,000 original copyright-free images.
When you can’t find the right image for free…
If you can’t make what you need or find the right image for free, consider paid options like:
- Hire a photographer or graphic designer to get what you want. Contracting with students or folks early in their career can make this typically expensive option more affordable.
- Buy an image or subscription from a stock photo site. For lightning-quick access to thousands of quality photos and illustrations, online stock photo companies are hard to beat. Subscriptions and package deals might ease the workload of your blog’s insatiable appetite for eye-catching illustrations. Check out these paid sites for more images:
Engage readers with great writing + images
Your writing may be great, but in today’s visually-driven media world, images, videos, memes, and other digital-eye candy is often the thing that draws readers in.
If you need to give your writer website an update or help a client create an engaging blog or marketing piece, use these resources to find the right images. After all, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Diane Helentjaris writes non-fiction articles and features about interesting people. When not writing, she hangs out with her family and rescue spaniels, Charlotte and Tony.