Updated December 2020
Do you want your content to stand out in today’s crowded social media landscape? Then it’s time to get visual with social media.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that great visuals make for great marketing. Visual content can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool, one that increases message association, brand awareness, and encourages engagement and shares.
But when it comes to using images don’t be tempted to reach for the nearest stock photo.
These days there’s no excuse for using boring stock images. In this article you’ll learn about my best recommendations for sourcing images you can use for free to enhance your social media posts.
Creative Commons License
While you already know that you can’t simply use graphics that appear on Google’s image search, did you know that you’re not necessarily covered just because you purchase an image from a stock photo site? Many stock photos cannot be used for commercial purposes, which is why it’s important to use a site that provides images licensed as “Creative Commons” — this means the pictures are completely free to be used for personal or commercial purposes.
Recommended Reading How to Use Creative Commons to Find Free Images
The following list of stock image sites are all great sources of Creative Commons (CC) images.
- Burst is a free stock photo site that is powered by Shopify, with many of its collections created with entrepreneurs in mind. You can use these free photos on your online store, product packaging, or anywhere else you’d like. “Business Ideas” features free photo collections and case studies that revolve around trending ecommerce niches. The free photo sets include both the product shots and lifestyle images, so that you have all the stock images you need to create a professional brand for free.
- Creative Commons Search offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organizations. The site has no control over the results that are returned so do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are under a CC license. You should always verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link.
- Fancycrave is an online resource providing free public domain photo packs. It collaborates with independent photographers to deliver emotionally-driven photos for your project. It also provides a premium service for more unique and exclusive photos.
- Flickr is a popular photo sharing platform that allows users to store, sort, search, and share their photos online. It includes a section for photos that have been shared with a Creative Commons license.
- FoodiesFeed hosts over 1000 free food pictures. See also Foodie Factor.
- Free Nature Stock hosts royalty free nature stock photos.
- FreePhotosBank focuses on abstract images, including architecture, landscape and nature.
- FreePik offers users, high quality graphic designs: exclusive illustrations and graphic resources. It operates on a freemium business model which means, the majority of the resources offered at Freepik can be used for free, only having to credit the author of the illustration to Freepik. In addition, for a small fee, you can subscribe to the Premium plan and use the illustrations without any accreditation whatsoever.
- Gratisography is a collection of free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects, free of copyright restrictions. What I really like about this site is many of the images are quirky and fun — no cheesy stock images here!
- IM Free is a “curated collection of free web design resources, all for commercial use.” The images (mostly from Flickr) are organized by themes such as inspiration, recreation, and ambient, and can be downloaded in a single click. On the site you’ll also find free templates, icons, button makers, and more.
- ISO Republic provides over 3,000 images under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for personal or commercial purposes with no attribution required. The site recently launched Foodie Factor, a new website dedicated to free food and drink stock photos.
- KaboomPics offers free, high-quality images that are available for personal and commercial use. Each comes with a helpful color palette so you can plan your visuals accordingly.
- Life of Pix is a collection of free high resolution stock images donated to the public domain by the Leeroy Advertising Agency in Montreal. Their sister site Life of Vids offers royalty-free videos, clips, and loops for you to use to your heart’s content.
- Morguefile is a free photo archive “for creatives, by creatives.” Founded in the early Internet days of 1996, the site was created to serve as a free image exchange for creative professionals and teachers to use in their work. The photos have been contributed by a wide range of creatives from around the world, ranging from amateur photo hobbyists to professionals. MorgueFile also offers discounts on iStock credit packs and makes it easy to search images from Getty, Dreamstime, and more all in one place.
- New Old Stock hosts hundreds of vintage photos from public archives. The collection is a refreshing change from regular stock imagery (see also Freevious).
- Pexels provides over 3,800 high resolution photos, collated from other free image sites — making it one of the largest free image directories. Pexels has also added a large library of stock videos to its site also under the CC0 license. Use the site’s list of popular searches to find the most in-demand stock videos.
- Picjumbo is free stock photo site created by designer and photographer Viktor Hanacek in 2013. Users can click through the different categories of over 600 free high resolution photos, with the option of upgrading to Premium for new unpublished images to power your social media marketing. No attribution is required.
- Pixabay hosts over 650,000 free stock photos, vectors, and art illustrations free of copyrights under Creative Commons. Pixabay also has a collection of stock videos for use in your marketing. On the home page, you’ll find a small, curated collection of images and a search bar for more targeted results.
- Rawpixel prides itself on having the most diverse collection of stock photos on the web. It wants to change the face of stock photography by creating design resources that reflect today’s society as it really is. To this end it has started the (one) world face project with the ultimate goal of photographing people from every nation in the world.
- Splitshire was created by web designer Daniel Nanescu, who wanted to offer his photos and videos free for personal and commercial use.
- Startup Stock Photos is focused on providing free stock images for “startups, bloggers, publishers, websites, designers, developers, creators, and everyone else.”
- StockSnap hosts photos released under Creative Commons and do not require attribution. The images can be filtered by date, what’s trending, number of views or downloads, as well as the amount of keyword searches.
- Stockvault is a free stock photo community where photographers and artists can share their own photos and artwork. It hosts over 35,000 royalty-free images, pictures and illustrations and also has a large collection of free textures ranging from grunge, dirt, paint, rock, plastic, wood and liquid to metallic and rusty surfaces and backgrounds.
- The New York Public Library collections. This site is a living database with new materials added every day, featuring prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, streaming video, and more.
- Unsplash gives you access to a bank of 50,000+ free-to-use photos. You can subscribe to receive ten new images every ten days directly into your inbox.
Spend some time this week perusing these sites and download a selection of your favorite images to your desktop. Then get creative with the help of Canva.com and edit your chosen images into something more interesting for your brand. Save these images to a Dropbox folder so you now have your own library of unique images to draw on each time you write a new piece of content or post something to social media.
Read 11 Simple Design Tips to Enhance Your Social Media Images for further tips to make your images stand out.
Where do you source images? Can you add to this list with your recommendations?
You might also like to read: How To Create Professional Graphics — Even If You’re Not a Graphic Designer