It takes the average person 0.05 seconds to make a judgement about your website. That translates to 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression on your visitor. In 50 milliseconds, it’s doubtful the person has time to read much of your text. What does that mean? That means most people’s first impression of your website is made based on the design and images, which the brain processes faster than text.
In that short space of time, the person decides whether they will stay on your site and check it out further or whether they’ll leave and bounce to another site.
Conversion XL took a look at some of the studies that have been conducted, such as the one mentioned above and studies performed by Google in regards to various types of conversions. They found across the board that people do judge a website on it’s visual appeal.
“Websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality (how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites) were perceived as highly appealing.”
Images are the cornerstone of your site’s visual appeal. That includes design as well as images used within posts and as featured images. However, purchasing stock images can cost a small fortune over time. That is why free images are so important to utilize.
To be on the safe side, you’re better off either purchasing the right to use a photo or using a free image that has been marked as Creative Commons CCO license. This is basically where the artist has waived his or her copyright of the photo and is releasing it to the public to be used in any way. The original author does not have to be attributed with CC0, although it is a nice thing to do.
There are also a variety of litmus tests as to whether something is fair use. You can find the details in the article I mentioned above.
List of Free Image Sites
Below is a complete compilation of sites that have appeared in a previous article, but the list has been updated. Old links that no longer work have been removed and new links added.
This one is my personal favorite due to the flexibility. There are no attribution requirements, meaning that you can do whatever you want with the images you get from this source. Additionally, it’s super simple to use – there’s even a simple search right on the homepage available before you even log in. You’ll get access to photos, vector images, and illustrations and can filter down as needed. Downloading the actual images is incredibly easy and, again, comes with options for image size (pixels and MB) so that the image you have in-hand is clear and quality for whatever your purpose might be (in my case, most likely online for your blog – no huge file size necessary).
Note: I call sites like Pixabay DWYW sites – “Do Whatever You Want” – which is awesome!
Unsplash is another one of my favorites that makes securing free images incredibly easy. With a free account, your quantity of downloads is a bit limited – you get 10 photos every 10 days (or an average of one per day)… but unless you’re a mega poster, that will likely suit your needs. The files are hi-res, which makes them crisp, clear, and easily re-sizeable.
As is the case with Pixabay, the files are yours to do with as you please – no limitations. You will need to subscribe – which is really just a matter of providing your email address. Artists are constantly submitting new photos, so the database continues to grow and offer fresh content.
This photo source is a bit different than the first two in that the images take a slightly more indy approach in many cases. You will search using a simple search, then be able to filter down by license type, whether they include the originals, and other various licensing elements. To stay legally compliant and properly attribute the photos you use, you’ll need to be familiar with Creative Commons, a fairly common requirement in the creative world. You’ll have access to plenty of free photos, but also to images that cost money for use, so be careful as you go through the download process to ensure you know of any potential costs upfront.
With a tagline that reads, “free picks no tricks,” UPICM provides a pretty straightforward and easy to use resource for securing free images for blog use and beyond.
That said, there are subscription services available that do come with a cost, but also offer enhanced content and licensing options. One nice thing is that, if you do have an image budget, UPICM has buyout options – which means that you can buy out the creative license to ensure unique imagery (in contrast, many of the free image sites allow you – and anyone else – to download and use the same image). Of course, those buyouts do come with a price tag; but there’s plenty on the site for free, too.
As the name implies, this free image source specializes in providing images available through public domain (that’s how it provides them for free). Some of the images do come with release and licensing requirements, so be sure to thoroughly review each image and its attribution and licensing requirements to gain a full understanding (and stay legally sound). That sounds more daunting than it really is… This is actually a really cool site that provides unique imagery, thanks to photographers and creative professionals looking to sell work on an ongoing basis. All artists are vetted before submitting to ensure quality work… which then, becomes available to you! Happy searching.
This is a fairly straightforward site, friendly for even the most novice of image providers to use. Browse among popular categories with the click of a button or search by keyword. You can also browse the newest images to the site by clicking on “Latest” or view popular images by clicking “Popular” from the top navigation. Images are very easy to share, thanks to the site’s built-in social media and share icons. Alegri Photos is a good resource if you’re short on time and need an easy find.
Dreams Time provides a nice array of images and image types, especially for a free resource. Browse by category, keyword, or image type. Also, while there is a free images section, this site also does offer paid options, so if you’re looking for free, stick to the “free images” link. If you’re willing to pay, you can expand your options to include everything from stock photography to vectors, web design graphics, and more. There is a promo available to download five or 10 images upfront for free – to take advantage, check out the subscription plans under pricing and plans.
Note: You will need to register an account and fill up your personal details before you can do a free download – which consumes slightly more time than the others above.
Clip art is a bit different than your typical photo inclusion, but can come in handy for miniature page graphics or even for design elements within your blog (think arrows to the next page or for creating patterned wallpaper). This site offers access to free clipart, but unlike many of the other free image sources, does not delve into photography or more intricate design elements. That said, it’s easy to use and you never know what you’ll find – definitely worth a peruse.
You know all of those “fun” boxes flying around right now that ship various goodies to your home on a monthly basis (think pet products, makeup samples, snacks, etc.)? Think of Little Visuals like that – but for your email account. This free image resource sends subscribers seven hi-res images via email every seven days. No, you don’t know exactly what you’ll get (nor do you get to choose), but that’s half the fun. You can use the images however you choose – so even if something isn’t quite up your alley right now, save the images to build your own image library… you never know when something will come in handy.
This is another photos of the month collection subscription service. It’s incredibly easy to join – you literally just enter your email address on the join page – and bam! Free photos come to your inbox every month. Again, you don’t get to choose what you receive and you’ll only get them when they send (no searching databases or filtering by keyword), but the photos are different from what you’ll find elsewhere and again are available at your full disposal for pretty much any use under the sun. Of note, there is a premium service available – check the site for full details.
Morgue File actually has a really impressive database of free photos that includes – at the time of this writing – more than 329,000 images. Not shabby for a free image resource! Beyond the free photos, it does pull in images from various other sources, such as iStock, Getty Images, and more – however, conveniently, it keeps those paid images and their sources separated on different tabs so that you have clarity into what will cost you and what won’t. Photos span pretty much every topic and style under the sun – well worth a look.
This site offers great transparency and ease of use, paired with up-front licensing information. The free photos are always available for any application you can think of (yes, including your blog) – but, should you need larger image sizes for reproduction purposes than are available through the free portion of the site, you can always upgrade for a fee. One of the nice things about this site is the navigability – it’s easy to search by keyword, or, if you don’t quite know what you want, peruse by clicking on any of the categories on the left side of the page.
Note: Did you notice that the quality of the image above is not as good as the others? This is because the original size of the image is W:400px. FreeDigitalPhotos.net is not the best place to be if you are looking for large free photos.
You’ll hear about Creative Commons quite often in the image and creative world, particularly since it’s a bit of an industry leader in terms of copyright and licensing standards. This site amalgamates images available through other image sites, pulling them into one easy feed for users – and, importantly, it does so for free. However, because of that amalgamation, you won’t have quite as much control over the results you receive back. For example, a simple search for “cats” returns a smattering of pages – but many of the results are clipart. But, hey – who can argue with free?
This easy-to-use photo site is every bloggers friend, providing an easy way to search, paired with a visually pleasing and non-intimidating interface. A simple keyword or keyphrase search will return loads of photos that you can then filter down based on license type and sort by recency, relevance, or ranked “interestingness.” How does it work? It pulls in photos from Flickr via an API and also searches Creative Commons (sound familiar?). If you are looking for something a bit more predictable, Photo Pin conveniently offers a discount code for iStockphoto.
Everyone’s heard of Wikipedia, but have you heard of Wikimedia? This is the jackpot for free, usable media assets. As of the time of this writing, this photo source has more than 23 million media assets available! Note that I said media assets – not photos or images. That’s because, in addition to static images and photography, you’ll also have access to video clips, drawings, animations, and more. Like I said, jackpot. Conveniently (and thankfully), there are some pretty sophisticated filtering tools to help you find the right media for your needs – search by keyword or topic, then filter by media type, source, licensing option, and more.
As the name would imply, this is a source for free stock photos. Use either the simple search to search by keyword or browse based on pre-populated categories. There are currently more than 100,000 photos available – and importantly, your downloads are unlimited, meaning that you can download as many as you need without restrictions in quantity. All images automatically come with royalty free licenses, which removes any concern about copyright or licensing infringement – I love it when things are easy and clear. To start, you will need to create an account – but again, it’s free, so no worries there.
To get started on this site, you’ll need to create a free account… assuming you actually want to download, that is. However, in the meantime, get the feel for it with the simple search that will pull in images based on the keyword or key phrase of your choosing. One nice thing about this site is that, beyond the qualification for a photographer to join and submit their work, the site puts some additional work into every image to ensure that it is of peak quality before they offer it for download.
This free image resource isn’t quite as “sexy” as some of the other sites, but if you’re in need of free photos, another resource never hurts. The photos are organized into pages by topic, allowing you to browse and even get ideas based on the pre-allocated topics. Since many amateur photographers submit to the site, you may be able to find something a bit “off the beaten path” – you never know.
Membership to this image source is completely free, as are all of the images on the site. The licensing agreement is pretty straightforward and using the images for your blog shouldn’t provide any complications. That said, one thing that is nice is that, if you have questions about use or would like to use the photos beyond what is allowed per the licensing agreement, the site provides a link for you to contact the photographer – this is also a great way to get in touch should you love a particular artist’s work. In terms of navigation and usability, you can search either with a keyword or key phrase, by browsing pre-populated categories, or by browsing through Popular or even a particular artist’s work. It’s really straightforward, which saves time – an awesome trait in our world.
This free image resource is about as straightforward and clear as it gets. Simply type in your search keyword and receive a plethora of results in-line with your needs. Upon receiving your results, you will have the opportunity to filter by license type and to sort based on recency, relevance, or “interestingness.” In my experience, the images are all high quality, making an impressive use of low and highlights and composition. Another nice feature: you can download the size image that you need, ranging from small (180 x 240 approximately) to the original size (which will vary).
This site makes use of the Creative Commons photo database, aiming to simplify the search and browse process. As a huge bonus perk, it has built-in editing tools which allow you to resize images with the click of a button. Additionally, it will create code to embed images on your pages as needed, simplifying the upload/download/enter URL process. There are more than 100 million free photos available – get started in just seconds by creating a free account.
Note: You can speed up Wylio signup process by signing in with your Google account
Images available through Designers Pics cover every topic under the sun… as an example, in perusing the homepage, today imagery ranges from a windmill to paper people chains, eggs, a marina… you get the idea. And that’s just the homepage. You can either browse the categories or search by your own keyword. All available photos are hi-res, which ensures a quality reprint and an image that will certainly appear nicely on your blog.
Images available from this site covers themes like beach, aviation, buildings, and France. The site also offers some free stock digital backgrounds (realistic and surreal) and royalty free textures that you can use in your design elements.
This site has a huge collection of stock photos that are free to use. If you need higher resolution images, theirs are photographer quality. You can search this site easily. The example above is one of many that turned up when searching for the keyword “horse.” You can also refine the search by using more than one word. You can also cross-search by the most popular photos. New photos are added each week and these are Creative Commons Public Domain. That means you do not have to offer attribution.
This site is made up of photographs taken by photographer Ryan McGuire. He offers them free of any copyright restrictions and adds new pictures each week. You’ll find some high level artistic photographs on this site, such as a can of coffee nestled in coffee beans, or a little boy writing graffiti on a wall. If you’re looking for something unusual, this is the site to check out.
Around 20 new photos are added to this site each week under CCO. They are searchable and high resolutions. They are also sorted by categories for easy browsing. You’ll find a number of stock looking photos that are appropriate for business websites.
This website is maintained by Daniel Nanescu, a web designer. The photos are free to use on websites, in magazines, etc. The site does utilize cookies and will ask you to agree to them upon your arrival. Categories include fashion, food, landscapes, street, nature, and many others. You can also search for images based on keywords.
Picjumbo is a terrific site for those who run any type of food related blog, because they have a wide assortment of food photos. All are royalty free with no attribution required. You’ll also find categories such as animals, nature, and people.
This directory of open source images has nearly 400,000 images. You can search by keyword, or browse through categories such as health and medical, transportation, education, people and families, holidays and festivals, and more. The images on this site cover a wide range of topics and styles. You do need to watch the specifics as some of the photos on this site do require attribution.
One thing you’ll want to avoid as you find free images online is hotlinking to them. This is a big no-no in web design. Hotlinking is when you link directly to the image on another person’s website instead of downloading it and uploading to your own site. You essentially are stealing bandwidth from the other website when you do this. It could get it blocked, cause an embarrassing image to pop up, or get you reported to your web server.
Each of these free image sites has different requirements. On some sites, different photographers require different types of attribution. You will find anything from the requirement to contact the original creator to no attribution whatsoever required. Be sure you read the details carefully and comply with what the photographer requests.
With so many free image sites to choose from, you’re certain to find images that will make your website visually appealing to site visitors. Remember that great images can make or break a website.
Article by Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.