It’s no secret – images make the world brighter and get you more attention. In fact, 65% of senior marketing executives (after all, who would you trust?) believe photos, video, illustrations and infographics are core to how their brand story is communicated.
Not only that, content with images gets 94% more views (like your blog) than content without.
The question is where are the best sources for free images for your blog, ebook, SlideShare, promotion, or whatever?
In this post I’ve listed the best sites for finding free images you can use without a license. Some require attribution to the artist, but none of them cost anything to use.
First let’s look at the rules.
HOW CREATIVE COMMONS WORKS
For the curious, here’s a quick run-through of the three main copyright categories:
Public Domain – either the copyrights have expired or the creator has relinquished all rights to the works. You are free to use these for private and commercial use. The exception to this “free for all use” policy can be images of recognizable people (if you want to use pics of Kardashians that another issue.)
Royalty Free – when you find sites offering “royalty free” images – these are “free” to use once you pay a licensing fee. You don’t have to give credit to the artist, but you will be paying a small fee (often the higher resolution means higher fee.) Before you toss this option with a “Pfft!”, consider the time and grief you could avoid by only searching one location and all the images are high quality. I’ve been paying for two years and it’s been a huge time saver. Popular sites for royalty free images are istock, Shutterstock, and Getty Images.
Creative Commons – is a universal system for categorizing shared photography and other images by six types of allowed usage. Creative Commons Zero (CC0) being completely open to use, sharing, changing and without any attribution necessary to the artist, whereas the most restrictive Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) allows sharing works, but without any changes and with attribution to the artist.
All of sites recommended in this post offer Public Domain or Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensed images. This means no attribution (neither the name or link to the artist) is required. Regardless, you should do your due diligence and ensure any image you download and plan to use is free of restrictions.
MAXIMIZE PICTURE MAGIC
Before I get to great sites to find your perfect picture, let’s talk about what goes on behind the picture.
By adding keywords to the Alt Tag of your pictures you allow search engines to rank your picture and the post the picture is in. This is an easy fix for old posts and should be a part of your SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for new posts.
Learn more about Alt Tags, Image size, how to spot backlink opportunities and more in this post from my friends at Venngage.
BEST SITES FOR FREE IMAGES
There’s lots of advice on finding best sites for free images, but I find often the results are mixed.
I’ve tested all of the sites listed below and most I use frequently for my blog and SlideShare decks. At the time of writing they all have big libraries, are free of licenses, and have good search tools to help you find that perfect image. In some cases you will have to give attribution to the artist.
- Pixabay — reliable, simple to use, and quality images with a very good search tool that lets you narrow your search by image orientation (vertical or horizontal). I often check Pixabay first, before trying other sites. You’ll see for-fee Shutterstock images at the top of every search. Pixabay
- Unsplash — brilliant landscape, people and nature pics, with 10 new high-quality photos released every 10 days. If you need a quick meditative moment, just head over and scroll through Unsplash (no yoga matt required). Unsplash
- FreeImages.Red — pretty simple site, maintained in Switzerland, basic search tool, multiple sizes to choose from. Not a huge library, but I’ve found funky images in a pinch. Red
- Refe — created in Lithuania (go figure), Refe has stunning images with a twist towards “imagery of people interacting with technology.” Refe
- Compfight — a search tool that allows you to quickly navigate through the world’s largest photo site (Flickr). I certainly wouldn’t call Compfight user friendly – you’ll have to sort through amateur contributions and you might get pics that require attribution – but you definitely won’t get tacky stock photos. Compfight
- Magdeleine — similar to Unsplash, Madeleine offers stunning images in limited volumes. You can sort by either public domain (CC0), or requiring attribution. Magdeleine
- Stocksnap.io — loads of gorgeous pics sorted by popularity. Very easy, but limited search tool – great for landscapes and “mood” images. StockSnap
Anytime you list sites like these someone will have two more (go for it, list them in the comments), but these will give you a good start.
Now, let’s look at how to best use them.
MAKING AN OKAY IMAGE GREAT
Searching for the perfect image can burn up hours of time – at some point, who cares?
Instead, look for an okay image that you can make great. Here’s a couple of tricks that will save you time and might even get you better results.
Resize and crop
Sometimes an image has the right element but there’re distractions you don’t want. Rather that spending more time hunting for a better image, resize what you have and crop the unwanted parts.
In this example I liked the image, but I wanted to remove the man in the hoodie (far left) to allow more blurred space to layer text over.
Fade into background
An easy solution to fix a so-so image is to simply fade it into the background. The image can give texture and feel to the message, but the text you layer on top will become the main focal point.
Text over Screen
A third option is to layer a screen over your image to highlight your text. I use this effect often when building a SlideShare deck when I want to viewer to focus on what I’m saying but also have the image pull their attention.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
As a final word of caution, here a some things to avoid:
- using stock photography. I’m sure you can picture a group of perfectly groomed, multi-cultural, smiling folks, all with their hands in centre of a circle to represent team work. Using stock photos in your blog is more than passé – it’s boring.
True confession: I’m guilty of using cheesy, stock photography (sorry). Now, I’d much rather manipulate (see list above) a so-so image and put the focus on my text, or even use something I shot on vacation or walking my dog. If I want people to be interested in what I’m sharing I have to use interesting images.
- using large files. I’m no expert on resolution, but I know large images (like over 180kb) will slow your site load time. In our instant gratification world you can’t afford people clicking off your site because of slow load time. Here’s a free tool to test your download speed and enough graphs to keep you busy for a while.
There’s a number of free services for reducing image size, like Pic Resize, and Tiny PNG. Or you can use free design sites like Canva or PicMonkey to get the right size and resolution for any social media site or for your web site.
- not giving attribution. If you’ve ever received a “cease and desist” letter for copyright infringement you’ll know to never grab an image off Google, or not follow Creative Commons requirements (I’m just saying.)
Your blog, slide show, or promotional piece will always get more attention and shares if you use an image. Full Stop.
Learning how to find great pics, or do some simple manipulation, shouldn’t be a barrier. Heck, if I can do it…