Six Sites to Find Free, Diverse + Distinctive Images to Use for Your Content and Social Media
As a communications professional, I think a lot about visual content.
Photographs, infographics, GIFs, videos, or data visualizations, are vital in attracting readers to our websites, blogs, social media platforms, or newsletters.
John Medina, bioengineer and New York Times bestselling author, knows that pictures beat text. His studies reveal that when we read information, after three days we probably remember about 10 per cent. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, we remember 65 per cent.
Visual content engages and informs our audiences, followers, fans, and allies.
Suppose you work with non-profits, like me, or are doing marketing or social media management for a small business, and your budget is tight. In that case, luckily, there are great sources you can use for high quality, free images.
However, not everyone knows about them. Sometimes I’ve come across people who think they can use any image from the internet, unaware of copyright. This protection gives every author the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work.
I’ll share a total of 10 different sources for free images you can use without getting into trouble.
First, understand these terms before using any free stock images
When you start checking out the sites I’m about to share, you’re going to come across specific terms and conditions. It’s essential to know them to appropriately know when and what type of attribution is required for you to use that image.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers a space to share and use creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses that go from any kind of use with no attribution to allowing only specific uses and no changes.
Suppose a work is in the public domain. This means that its copyrights have either expired, been forfeited, or are no longer applicable. Remember, just because something is available on the internet doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. This is an excellent guide to find public domain works online.
This term can be confusing because this type of image isn’t necessarily free. Usually, a one-time fee is paid to obtain the rights to use the picture. Then, this image can be used as many times as you like. In other words, the free part of this term means that you don’t have to pay royalties to the owner each and every time you use their image.
Four Widely Used Websites to Find Free Images
These are the top websites used by many people to find free high quality and high resolution images. Some of them also offer videos.
The aesthetic and subject framing in these sites can feel repetitive. Search for terms like explorers, travel, or beach, and you'll see what I mean. It doesn't help that it's common to see one image simultaneously featured in Unsplash, Pixabay, and Pexels.
Also, it's sometimes challenging to find racially-diverse stock images on these sites.
Visual diversity in stock photography is essential. Stock photos are widely featured in editorial articles, blog posts, ads, marketing campaigns, and newsletters, sending subtle messages about beauty, gender, or race. It’s easy to subconsciously absorb these images’ cues due to their pervasive presence. Business people are usually white and male. Wine is enjoyed by mostly white, blonde women. Sigh
If you’re looking for diverse and non-cliché images, check out my go-to stock photography sites, in no particular order.
Six Websites to Find Free, Diverse, and Distinctive Images
1. The Jopwell Collection
Pushing for better workplace representation. The Jopwell Collection is a visual initiative that offers numerous albums with hundreds of images featuring Black and Brown students, interns, and professionals. All photos are free to download, copy, distribute and display under a Creative Commons Attribution license, which asks you to visibly give credit to Jopwell.
For gorgeous images of Black and Brown people doing everyday things, like going for a run, drinking coffee, or hanging out with friends. Jacques Bastien, the founder of Boogie multicultural marketing agency and Shade, a management agency for black and brown influencers, launched this photo stock service geared towards creatives, startups, brands, and agencies seeking more diverse visual content. All photos are free to download, copy, distribute and display under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means you can use them for whatever you want for free, without crediting the author, though doing so is appreciated.
For minimal images of quiet and artistic beauty. These photos are hand-picked and curated by different photographers across the world. One of the best things about this website is its practical and straightforward classification system. It's based on images' dominant colours, categories, tags, or licenses. Beware, Magdeleine catalogues their stock photos under two different licenses. Anything under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) can be used for free in any way. Credit to the author is appreciated but not required. But some of this website's images fall under an Attribution Required license, which means that no matter what you do with the picture, you must credit the author.
4. Death to Stock
A different approach to stock photography. Unlike the other websites I've shared so far in this note, Death to Stock doesn't offer a gallery of images to search and select. Instead, it emails you every month a package of 20 free images created by different artists. There's a premium version that gives you full access to their collections of photos and videos which you can search and choose.
5. New Old Stock
Talk about a "Throwback Thursday." Most stock photography covers modern subjects. A product designer, Cole Townsend, scours Flickr Commons to collect and curate hundreds of actual vintage and historical public domain images. This content is so old, it doesn't have any copyright restrictions. These are fascinating photos showcasing a wide range of situations and subjects. They could be a compelling addition to any social media campaign, blog post, or website with some creativity.
Feast your eyes on this smorgasbord of fantastic food pics. This niche site offers over 1,500 high quality, free images. Created and initially curated by Jakub Kapusnak only, today this site is a top global community of food photographers. The photos range from lovely simplicity to extravagantly staged images of feasts and barbeques. All images are under the Creative Commons Zero license, though it's appreciated when credit is given to the author.
P.S. You can (and should) add social media content
Stock photography isn’t your only source or asset for visual content. You can embed (public) social media content to your website or blog, like:
- Instagram posts
- Individual tweets
- YouTube or Vimeo videos
- Slideshare decks
Over to you
Hope this gets your creative juices flowing. Don't forget to double-check the licence of any photo you intend to use to avoid trouble. Even when the licence doesn't require attribution to the author, it's always a nice thing to give credit where it's due, if possible.
Do you know of other stock photo sources that feature diversity and unique photographic takes? Tweet or email me your favourites.
👀 Did I miss anything? Make a mistake? Let me know. Share with me your thoughts, suggestions, or critiques. Follow me on Twitter: @e_sarin. Or email me at: email@example.com.