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Free Stock Photos for your Website – 11 Solid Sources

posted by Matt Ward on Nov 20, 2009.

Have you ever needed to get your hands on some stock photography, without the price tag? Maybe you’re working for a non-profit with a super tight budget, or are just looking for some photos to use at reference for an illustration. In this post, we’re going to look at 11 awesome sources for picking up some free stock!

Looking for some photos for your website or blog? Looking for an option that won’t break the bank? There are a lot of great stock photography sites out there that offer their wares at reasonable prices, especially for the low resolution images that are typically needed for the net. But, while cheap is good, free is even better!

Wouldn’t you agree?

When I first started looking for free stock photography a few years ago (on account of working on virtually no budget), I was amazed at just how much material was actually out there! There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of different sites from which you can grab free photos, which you can use with varying degrees of freedom in your designs. Today, I want to look at 11 of these resources, which I deem to be amongst the best and most valuable.


Collections are sites – or parts of sites – that have a standing archive of free photographs for you to download and use in your designs. Some sites dedicated entirely to giving away free stock photos. Others are pay sites that have included a free section in order to encourage more visitors and/or to provide samples of the images that are available.


Probably the largest and most well known repository of free stock photos, stock.xchng is an invaluable resource for finding free stock photos.



There is a lot of really great stock on this site, but there is not a lot of consistency. There does not appear to be any real minimum standard, so the images range from small to absolutely huge. Some of them are nice and crisp, but most have at least some level of excess noise. Many are just slightly out of focus. Others are significantly out of focus.

The notable exception, of course, are the computer generated images, which unfortunately only come in JPEG format, despite the fact that many of them were clearly designed as vectors.

Still, it’s a great resource and usually the first site I turn to. Many of the defects in the images can be fixed with a bit of Photoshop, or become unnoticeable when the image is resized for the web, and the range of images is probably the best I’ve seen from the free collections.

Stock Vault

I only recently discovered Stock Vault as I was doing research for this post, so I haven’t had the chance to give it an extensive test drive, but I did download a few images and I have to say that I am extremely impressed with the quality of the stock!



Overall, the images seem to have a much higher minimum standard than stock.xchng, which is a bonus. It’s nice to know that the larger image will still look as good as the thumbnail. On the other hand, the collection doesn’t seem overly extensive, so you may be somewhat limited in what you can find.

Still, it looks like a great resource, and it’s definitely going to stay in my bookmarks!


Here’s another one that I only discovered recently. I’m not quite as stoked about this find as I was about StockVault, but it’s still probably worth at least checking out.



Again, I’ve only downloaded a few images from this site, but I have found that the quality is not quite as high as what I’ve seen over at StockVault. Some of the images are just a bit blurry or have a bit too much noise. Also, the collection is really limited, especially when it comes to people – they only have three images in their People category, all of which are shadowy and obscure. This probably has something to do with wanting to avoid the whole issue of model releases.

Still, free images are free images, so you may want to check this one out. They may have exactly what you’re looking for!


This site is great for those of us who are looking for stock photography specifically for use in websites or other forms of digital display. FreeDigitalPhotos gives away high quality, but low res images for free.



The photographs on this site are also available for purchase at higher resolutions, with prices ranging quite modestly from $5 to $10. This means that the site is also great for doing mockups for print. If you find an image you like, just download the free image to use in your low-resolution proofs. When the piece is approved, you can then go and buy the image at the required resolution.


BigStockPhoto also has a collection of freebie photos, which contains some really great shots which are ideal for use on your website or blog.

Big Stock Photo

Big Stock Photo

The images all seem to be strictly in low res, 72 dpi format, with a standard width of 500px. So, unless you are going to be using them in very small formats, they won’t translate all that well to print. Also, you should note that the images all have the BigStockPhoto name branded in the lower left hand corner, which can be a bit of a pain.

Lastly, the collection contains 499 images, and has contained 499 images for quite some time. Unlike some of the other free collections we’ve looked at here, this one seems to have remained static. Personally, I preferred it when BigStockPhoto gave away one high res image a week, like some of the other sites listed below.


This is another one of my personal favorites. After stock.xchng, Dreamstime is probably the site that I visit the most. Sometimes, I will even go there first, especially if I am looking for an image that I assume will be in abundant supply.



The free images here are generally taken from larger collections on the pay-for-use section of the site. Artists provide these images almost like teasers – samples of their larger body of work! As such, I find that the quality of the images is usually pretty good, at least from a clarity perspective. Technically and artistically, the shots are not always the best.

There are some great images to be had here though! Some of my favorite stock images have come from Dreamstime’s free photo section!


deviantART has a ton of stock photos available, though they tend to have a much more limited usage. Most of the images you will find here are posted primarily as reference material for other artists.



There are all kinds of different materials available on this site, in a range of different formats and of hugely varied quality. Each contributor is also responsible for establishing their own usage rules and licensing agreements, so there are all kinds of different restrictions. For example, I know some photographers who produce incredible work, but will only allow their stock to be used for art that is displayed on deviantART itself. If you want to display your image anywhere else, you need specific permission. Other artists are much more open and will allow you to use their stock for pretty much anything.

Given that many of these photographs are indented as reference material, their subject matter tends to vary somewhat from the other sites in this post. There is generally more emphasis on human figures, costumes, accessories and settings. However, if you are looking for stock photography primarily for artistic reference, then deviantART can be a goldmine!


Some of the larger, pay websites, also give away free photos from their collections. They give away one stock image every week or day. The image is predetermined, so you don’t get much of a choice, but sometimes its worth downloading them anyhow, just to start building your collection of stock. I’ve been doing this for a while (though haven’t been disciplined to remember to grab every image), and I have already found this growing library to be a wonderful resource!


Of these sites, Crestock is the only one that actually gives away a new image every single day! I hesitate to use the term photograph, because often these freebies are vector files. Still pretty sweet, though.



Occasionally, the images do seem as though they may be of extremely limited use, but there are some absolutely incredible images to be had this way! The site also offers an RSS feed of the daily free stock photo, so you can just check out the current offering in your favorite feed reader and decide if you want to go get it. Super convenient.

Recently, Crestock has also released the Freebie Images plugin for WordPress, which allows you search and insert high quality, but low res images into your blog posts for free! An awesome little value add for an already awesome company!


Every day, Fotolia posts a number of what they call their “extras”. From what I can gather, these are images that were submitted but did not meet the quality standards for resale. I guess the artists then have a choice to make them available as free downloads.



As you can probably imagine, then, the quality of many of these images is not the greatest. Sometimes it is just plain bad. And, since you never know what you’re going to get on a given day, it may not seem like the greatest resource. I do check it out from time to time, though. Occasionally I do find an image or two which I think might be useful, usually as reference material for drawing or painting (digitally, of course).

Also, you can almost always be guaranteed to find some sort of animal photos.


ShutterStock gives away on free photo every week. Since these images come directly from their main collection of photographs, the quality is always great.



Typically, I’ve found that the images are general enough that I can foresee some circumstance in which it might be useful, which is always nice. It always feels better to download an image when you think it might actually be usable one day.

Shutterstock’s free image is typically updated every Tuesday, so be sure to grab it before then, or else you’ll miss your chance! They also provide a free vector of the week, though I find these to be less useful.


Yes, the grand daddy of all stock photography sites also offers some free images! Like Shutterstock, there is one free image every single week!



Unlike, Shutterstock, though, iStock has an archive of their free images, and the photos from the previous three weeks always remain available. I can’t tell you how nice this is! Unless your away (or forget) for more than a month, you can always miss a week and still be able to grab that week’s free photo!

Of course, the quality of the images is always extremely high, as you would expect from iStock, with it’s super high image standards!

Well there you have it, 11 different sites where can get free photographs and start building your stock collection. Please, please, please just be sure to read the license agreement, and use the images accordingly! Which ones are your favorites? Do you know of any other high quality resource? I’d love to hear about them!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Nov 20, 2009

Jônatan Fróes says:

I really like flickr creative commons…

Nov 21, 2009

NewBloggerTemplates says:

nice article. I am like this..

Nov 21, 2009

Design Informer says:

My favorite is sxc.hu

Nov 22, 2009

Zine Creative says:

this post rocks! thank you for the roundup!

Nov 22, 2009

Ajay says:

Great list! Thanks

Nov 23, 2009

articlescreen says:

Good and nice informative blog about photo sharing sites. And Thanks a lot for helping those who really need photos for there sites..

Jan 4, 2010

robert says:

You forgot morguefile.com

Jan 9, 2010

Michael Garmahis says:

My version of best Free Stock Photos Sites

Jan 9, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Thanks for sharing your post Michael!

Jan 19, 2010

Yakov says:

http://www.KosherStock.com offers weekly free photos for personnal and commercial use. KS is a royalty-free microstock site (photos, illustrations and cliparts) focusing on the Jewish life, culture and religion.

Mar 5, 2010

Hydroponic Closet says:

Wonderful stuff.. really very informative. I’ll grab the RSS feed and will stay tuned for more. Oh, and I threw you a StumbleUpon vote ;)

Mar 5, 2010

Jeanelle Wine says:

well researched article. Thumbs up!

May 1, 2010

Mr. Juegos says:

Another vote for sxc.hu. The list is very much appreciated.

May 31, 2010

jay says:

An other free stock photo site: http://www.rgbstock.com. More then 39,000 free photos on line.

Jun 29, 2010

Ann says:

My favourite is http://www.sxc.hu as well but i like http://www.photl.com also. They have a large collection but they have many similar images unfortunately. And the images are mainly studio and many of them on white background. And a nice search based on color.

Jul 1, 2010

Carissa says:

Thanks for the tips you got here. I like sxc.hu too!

Jul 5, 2010

Alicia says:

Thnx for the post. SOme of te sites are new for me, will go and check them out right now)))) Impatient) but i would add http://www.photl.com as well. They offer a large free collection of high resolution.

Aug 4, 2010

Stock images philippines says:

Nice site you got here. Thanks for the list.

Aug 6, 2010

Stock Royalty Free Photos says:

Hello There,

Great site you have here. May I add additional resource site for royalty-free photos. you may visit the site at stockroyaltyfreephotos. Thank you very much.

Aug 17, 2010

Getty Images Representative Philippines says:

I really like DeviantArt. Others I think are great are Morguefile.com and GetCre8ive.com.ph.

Aug 30, 2010

Marianne says:

At Which Stock Agency (www.whichstockagency.com), we review, rate & rank the top stock agencies. We also list all their current discounts, offers & promotions as well as news and you can post your comments about individual agencies as well.

Sep 26, 2010

Mindy says:

Great list of stock photo sites.

Sep 27, 2010

lacrosse mls says:

Good share, great article, very usefull for us…thanks.

Oct 15, 2010

Angelina says:

Hey, great list you’ve got here! I’m using http://www.123rf.com ! They provide free images every day at here http://www.123rf.com/freeimages.php !

Nov 8, 2010

Piet de Visser says:

I am using http://www.rgbstock.com a lot

Dec 3, 2010

PLR eBooks says:

A good list of sites to pick-up stock photos from. I use Fotolia but I just might look into some of the other sites and see if they might have something for me. Thanks.

Mar 14, 2011

Stock Images says:

I must say that these are treasure to every webmaster.

Through this resource now we are not worried about the photos any more.

Dec 5, 2011

Brian Weck says:

Surprised that StockFuel was mentioned. Has plenty of free stock media files as well.

Mar 12, 2012

picjew says:

I am using http://www.picjew.com/en a lot

Mar 30, 2012

Henry Rivers says:

A very solid list but don’t forget about free trials – a good way to get pro-standard content in bulk.

Most well known one is http://depositphotos.com/ but there is also now a good one at http://www.ingimage.com – started in February I think.

May 7, 2012

Tasha says:

Thanks for the nice contribution. Very well appreciated. I would also like to add http://www.kozzi.com/ on the list coz’ this site really have lots of wonderful and mind-blowingly beautiful free stock photos. =)

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