EDIT: Updated for March 2016
I can’t be the only one who finds the term “royalty free” annoying as buggery, right? I mean, it contains the word “free” in it, so why they FUCK aren’t “royalty free” things always “FREE free” things?!
When I started designing for the web back in the early 2000s, there wasn’t much available at all in terms of real “free” images. I used LOADS of “free” images that came from all the wrong places – Google Images, the “free” composition image you get on Getty (yep, the shit quality one with the watermark running all the way through it) and from random websites. I never credited anyone, and no money exchanged hands. Luckily enough for me at the time, I was only ever designing for my personal blog which had a reach of, oooh, about 4 and a half people on average.
But pull that shit now? And you can have a problem on your hands. Not to mention it’s really fucking rude, and I doubt you’d like it if someone came and just chucked your images up on any old site. So, fair’s fair, peeps. Play nice with other people’s images!
So, this “royalty free” thing. While some royalty free (or RF, for short) images are indeed free of payment, many aren’t. The royalty part basically means that you just pay a flat rate for the license instead of paying a royalty for each use or view (and THAT quickly gets fuckin’ expensive and hard to quantify on web pages).
So where CAN you go for some gorgeous, top notch, totally NOT shit images that are free as in speech AND free as in beer? Check these places out:
Some of you may remember me evangelising this brand on Facebook at the end of 2013, and they have gone from strength to strength in the interim. GORGEOUS pictures, not “stock photo-y” all (because NO ONE needs pictures of unfathomably beautiful office staff career-laughing around a meeting table on a white background. Really, YOU ARE NOT SOME BULLSHIT ESTATE AGENCY). You sign up and get one free pack of (normally) 10 photos for you to use as you please.
Need to add credit? Nope, use these freely (check out their Ts & Cs for full details)
Can I search through the images? Not unless you upgrade to the profesh version (a very reasonable $15 a month) and scan through all the other pictures that have gone before. You get a pack a month otherwise, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Beautiful quality, non-cheese-o-rama images perfect for, y’know, sites made in 2016, not 1994. Searchable too, simply add your email to get the latest updates sent straight to you
Need to add credit? No, siree. Ts & Cs are linked under the search bar on the home page
Lots of beautiful nature, people, pets and architecture shots on this site. I’m not sure how often the site is updated, but it’s a nicely curated bunch of pics for both personal and commercial projects.
Need to add credit? No, but check Ts & Cs. No selling of images is allowed.
Searchable? Yes, there’s a basic search facility and categories to pick from
Another BE-YOO-TEE-FULLL site with LOADS of images from a collaboration of many, many photographers – over 4000 curated images and growing, now. This site has some simply stunning landscape vistas, and also some super useful technology pictures (y’know, pictures of computers, or people using mobile phones and cameras – but wearing normal clothes and looking, well, normal rather than staged). Check it out, you can scroll for AGES and not get bored.
Need to add credit? Nope, use these freely (But check the Ts & Cs)
Searchable? YES! Via this website by Arthur Weill
A SUPER-fun site with a whole bunch of free-to-use vintage pictures from yesteryear. Most black and white, some with colour added afterwards, and yet more taken from the early ages of colour photography. Honestly, this site is frickin’ RAD. Even if you don’t need any old-looking images, this site will become a favourite.
Need to add credit? Nope, but check the Ts & Cs
Searchable? No, but you won’t care. This is better than Pinterest!
Great photos in a different style to most of the other sites I’ve mentioned here, many vibrant, HDR-style images instead of the fashionable, muted styles of late. Lots of peopley pictures – quite rare in FREE free photography, probably because it a) costs money to use models and b) it’s easier to get permission from a static object than it is from a person. “Oh, hello there, lovely mountain. May I be so bold as to take your picture? I shall take your silence as tacit compliance *click*”. You’d be pretty surprised if the mountain told you to get fucked (and possibly in need of some mental health care, but, hey, who’s judging…!?)
Need to add credit? Nope, but check the Ts & Cs
Searchable? Not right now
Not strictly a stock photography site, but perfect for those who want a *whisper* of a chic texture in the background of their website or on a image composition, this is the site to head for. You can click on each of the images to see how the tileable background would work for your project and just download. Piece of piss.
Need to add credit? Yes, but you can do this by simply adding a comment to the HTML or CSS code, so it won;t even be seen by human eyes (well, unless they’re reading the code, of course…)
Searchable? Yep, you can indeed!
Ohhhhh, you will rub your hands in a gleeful way at this site. It looks like a standard stock imagery site, but with a few differences; 1) the images are FREE free and 2) the images are MANY AND VARIED and NOT SHIT, and you can even download illustrations and vectors as well. And the ability to search, OH GOD, it’s pretty near perfect – with colours, titles, descriptions, categories and picture orientation all at your fingertips. Seriously, I’e been on PAID sites and the search function isn’t that good!
Need to add credit? Check individual image Ts & Cs, but for the most part, nope!
Searchable? Yep, like a BOSS.
Another pretty extensive selection here – everything from photos to template layouts to icons – AND this site has a handy free CSS button generator, to make your buttons looks sexy using the power of CSS. Searching is easy with the categories and search bar. Basically, a bloody brilliant site.
Need to add credit? Yes, you can see the author name and link on the download page. You need to add this information to your site.
Searchable? Yes, it’s beautifully laid out and easy to see.
Lots of varied images here, and I spotted a few health and fitness ones for anyone wanting to add some fitspo action to their own websites which I haven’t seen all that much of with other stock sites. VERY reasonable premium membership availbale with exclusive use of premium photo packs for $7.50 per month
Need to add credit? Credit is appreciated (but as far as I can tell, not a requirement). Please check the Ts & Cs when it comes to sharing and re-distributing
Searchable? Basic search functionality availlable, yep!
If you want delicious, hipster-style, freelancey laptop and mobile shots or seasonal imagery that doesn’t look like it was taken on your grandma’s Nokia N90, Negative Space is a great site to head to. Easily navigable, quality shots. ‘Nuff said.
Need to add credit? No, these are CC0 Creative Commons license, meaning you can copy, modify and distribute the pics. Boom.
Searchable? Yep, you can even search by colour which is SEVEN LEVELS OF GREAT if you need to fit something in visually with your own brand
Very Unsplash-style, muted-colours, outdoorsy, hipstery. You know the deal. Pictures are free, but with the added option of upgrading to a premium membership for the hardcore stock imagery lovers amongst you.
Need to add credit? Nope, but no sharing or reselling. Seriously, don’t be a bitch about that.
Searchable? Yes, nice, easy search facility
And if you ARE interested in going for some not-quite-free images, simply for the fact there are often MORE options if you’re looking for something specific, here are some alternative, nearly-free places to think about:
I love Creative Market, and mostly hover around the “buy” button for all the fonts they have here, but there are a number of really beautiful, modern, high-res images from $2 each. AND each week Creative Market actually give stuff away for free – fonts, WordPress templates, images, illustrations. I heart this site, and you should too!
Need to add credit? Check the licenses on each image
Searchable? Yes, indeedery-doodery
Now, look, I won’t completely say that this site is free of the type of cheesy pictures that most people want to shy away from because we’re not in 2002 anymore, BUT there are a LOT more images to search through with prices starting from around £5 per image. If you’re really after something specific, check out a bigger stock imagery site. They WILL attract more photographers because they guarantee to pay them for their work, and while the free sites are amazing, a lot of these photographers are generating images for the exposure (oooh, a photography pun, bahaha)
Need to add credit? Check the license on each image
Searchable? Yes, very precise searching
So, as you can see, there is NO excuse for crappy images, and there is also NO excuse for stealing images from anybody else.
YOU ARE WELCOME 😉