You're not a photographer, but you also don't want to use the same boring, corporate stock photo every other website uses. The good news is there are still a few stock photo sites out there that offer a wide variety of unique—and free—images for your creative projects.
As a freelancer and a business owner, I've done my fair share of scouring the web for that perfect stock photo. So I spent several weeks reviewing dozens of stock photo websites—and I narrowed it down to the eight best.
The 8 best free stock photo sites
Unsplash for the widest variety of free stock images (and integrations)
Pixabay for a variety of media types
Pexels for adding simple enhancements and overlays
Burst for eCommerce companies
New Old Stock for vintage photos
123RF for a mix of AI-generated and stock photos
Flickr for interacting with the photography community
rawpixel for a variety of creative resources
How to find the best websites with 100% free stock photos
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Finding images that are free for commercial use isn't as hard as it might sound, thanks to a number of sites that aggregate photos, illustrations, and vectors. These sites usually let you search and filter by keyword or category, making it easy to find what you're looking for. But that doesn't mean every stock photo site is worth perusing.
The best free stock image sites all meet the following criteria:
They must contain images that can be used without payment for both commercial and personal purposes.
I focused on sites that have at least in the thousands of photos, but I favored ones that offer images in the hundreds of thousands or more.
A lot of free stock photo sites essentially offer the same pictures. I looked for sites that offered unique images, so your content can stand out.
If you plan to use stock photos for your website or branded content, you'll need high-quality resolutions. Every site on this list offers at least one high-quality download size for its photos.
And of course, the website itself should be fast, easy to navigate, and from this century.
When reviewing these sites, I visited each one and signed up for an account if necessary. I explored the site's menus and conducted a number of searches to see what types of photos would come up. I reviewed the quality of the photos and took note of things like how advanced the search filters were, whether there were high-resolution download sizes available, and if there was anything uniquely useful about the stock photo site in question.
AI-generated images vs. stock photos: Which should you use?
AI is revolutionizing most online spaces, and stock photos are no exception. With the advent of generative AI, it's possible to feed your exact specifications into an AI image generator like Midjourney and get a unique, often sophisticated, result. The ability to generate fresh new photos that match your exact needs might mean stock photos will soon become a thing of the past.
But AI image generation isn't perfect, at least not yet. Not everyone has the time or inclination to learn how to create prompts to get the results they want—and even then, AI-generated photos aren't consistent in quality or relevance. And while ethical and copyright-related issues are still up in the air around generative AI, some creators opt to use human-generated photos instead.
So stock photo sites are still useful—at least for now. As I was testing, I noticed that many stock photo websites have pivoted to AI-only photos, while others offer AI-generated pictures alongside standard stock photos. For the purposes of this article, I disqualified sites that offer only AI-generated images, but kept an eye out for those that offer a mix of both. And I gave bonus points to sites that incorporated AI tools—including image generation—in a useful way.
The best free stock photo sites at a glance
Number of free photos
The widest variety of free stock images
A lot of native apps and integrations
Over 1 million
A variety of media types
Over 4 million
Adding simple enhancements and overlays
Easy integration with Canva
Over 1 million
Powered by Shopify, so very business-friendly
In the thousands
In the thousands
Mix of AI-generated and stock photos
Filter out AI-generated images
In the thousands
Interacting with the photography community
Also a photo sharing social network
Over 10 billion
A variety of creative resources
Detailed search options
In the thousands
Best free stock photos site for a variety of photos and integrations
Unsplash (Web, iOS, Android)
With more than five million photos and multiple plugins, Unsplash is one of the most easily accessible and largest collections of stock photos available.
It comes with native apps like an iOS app, an Android photo picker, Apple TV and desktop wallpaper apps, and even a Chrome extension that randomly selects a background image when you open your browser. Unsplash's API is also already natively integrated into popular tools like Figma, Notion, Trello, and Squarespace, letting you search and use high-quality stock photos without leaving your favorite platform.
The site is also easy to use: type a keyword into the search bar at the top of the page, and browse the results to find the best images for your purposes. And if you don't know what you're looking for, there are category tabs along the top of the homepage for inspiration.
Another feature that sets Unsplash apart from other free photo sites is its Collections section. Users of the site are able to create Collections—like "Christmas Traditions," "Autumn," and "Milkyway"—by curating photos they come across. If you want several similar photos of a specific theme, Unsplash may be your best option.
Best free stock photos site for a variety of media types
Pixabay (Web, iOS, Android)
Pixabay hosts more than 4.1 million photos, illustrations, vector graphics, and videos—all of which are free to use. Click Images next to the search bar to look for images by type, or you can search more granularly by becoming familiar with Pixabay's advanced search options. Pixabay lets you search by photographer, orientation (i.e., landscape or portrait), size, and even color. The site also features an Editor's Choice curation section, which highlights the best images chosen by the Pixabay team. Click the Explore dropdown menu in the upper-right corner of the site to see their selections.
If you need a professional-looking illustration—i.e., a hand-drawn image or a computer-generated graphic—you should begin your search here. Royalty-free illustrations can be tricky to find on many free image sites, but Pixabay has loads of them. Just click Images, select Illustrations, enter in your search terms, and that's that. You can also use Pixabay to search for vector graphics, videos, music, and even sound effects.
Best free stock photos site for adding simple enhancements and overlays
Pexels (Web, iOS, Android)
If you're planning to use stock photos in social media graphics or other visual projects, it can be helpful to use a source that pairs easily with basic graphic design tools. Pexels offers a wide variety of free photos and videos to use in your next project, and the website is fast and easy to use.
You can also search by popular collections and by color (which is helpful if you're planning to use a specific color palette in your final product). And Pexels' partnership with Canva lets you edit stock photos—or use them as the base for a new design—with a click. The tool's additional plugins also let you access and edit stock photos directly from within Adobe Photoshop, Adobe XD, Figma, or Sketch.
If you're primarily focused on graphic design, you might consider starting from Canva. The site doesn't let you download photos directly without using them in a design first, but it does let you browse and choose stock photos from within a design project. You could also check out VistaCreate, another web-based graphic design tool that offers over a million stock photos, even on the free plan.
Best free stock photos site for eCommerce businesses
Burst is a free stock photo site powered by leading eCommerce platform Shopify. The platform offers thousands of free images you can use to strengthen your content, including a large selection of business-oriented photos (e.g., retail, eCommerce, money, and products). The site serves up 28 different categories, several of which are broken down into subcategories to make it even easier to find the images you need.
Browsing, searching, and downloading are standard fare, but as an added bonus, Burst and Shopify offer advice on things like how to turn your online business ideas into reality.
Best free stock photos site for vintage photos
New Old Stock (Web)
New Old Stock publishes vintage photos from the public archives. If you think old photos—like a group of men sitting outside a storefront in the late 1800s or a British dispatch rider in France—would match your brand, spend a few minutes scrolling through New Old Stock to see if anything catches your eye.
Unfortunately, the site doesn't have as much variety as other stock photo sites—and not all of the photos are free for commercial use. The site creator advises commercial users to check with the originating institution's rights statement through the provided link to the original Flickr posting of each photo.
The site's search functionality also leaves much to be desired. And unlike most free image sites, New Old Stock doesn't offer any way to filter photos. If you're feeling lucky, though, click the magnifying glass in the upper-left corner of the site, type in a search phrase, and you may strike (vintage) gold.
Best free stock photos site for specific photo sizes and sources
123RF (Web, iOS, Android)
Many of the stock photo sites I tested now offer AI-generated images, either alongside human-generated photos or instead of them. I found 123RF to be the most useful option because, while it does offer AI-generated stock images, you can choose to filter those results out. This feature makes your image search much easier since both types of content are gathered in one place for you—but you don't have to wonder which is which.
And if you're looking for free stock photos for Instagram or other social media sites, 123RF makes your search easy. The stock photo site not only provides a variety of free photos and vector illustrations, but it also lets you choose from a selection of download sizes, including Facebook cover, email header, Pinterest post, and even brochure cover.
These pre-selected sizes can save you hours of cumulative time spent cropping and resizing images for social media. You can even apply a filter, add text, and remove the image's background directly from the site before downloading it.
Overall, the site is clean and easy to navigate. And 123RF also comes with plenty of additional paid features, including AI image generation, AI copywriting, premium audio and video, and an extensive font collection.
Best free stock photos site for interacting with the photography community
Flickr (Web, iOS, Android)
Flickr is a photo sharing social network. The site—which boasts more than ten billion images—brings together professional and amateur photographers from around the world.
The thing I appreciate about Flickr is that it places artists front and center. When you navigate to Flickr's homepage, you're invited to join the community, and you can start searching not only by image keyword, but by people or group. Click into any contributor's profile to see a "Photostream," or a feed of their latest and most popular images. Flickr is a great way to discover talented photographers, learn more about the field, and refine your own artistic eye.
The photos on Flickr are known for containing rich metadata, including geolocation information, EXIF data, tags, and more. So if you want to find photos taken in France, select the World Map under the Explore dropdown, and click on one of the pink dots that pop up in that country. If you want to find images of golden retrievers, simply type the term into the search bar in the upper-right corner of the Flickr homepage, and thousands of results will come back. Plus, Flickr lets you search by trending photos and most recently added photos. You can even explore galleries and search specific photographers' collections by clicking on their usernames.
And if you're a budding photographer yourself, you can even click Camera Finder under the Explore dropdown to see the most popular cameras currently being used in the Flickr community.
Keep in mind that you can't use every photo you find on Flickr for free—especially for commercial use. But it's easy to figure out which ones are usable. Run a search for an image, and then click the Any license dropdown menu and select Commercial use allowed.
If you get sick of seeing ads as you browse Flickr, you can upgrade to an ad-free experience for $5.54/month. The premium subscription also comes with unlimited storage (free users get one terabyte of storage). And if you want to do even more with your stock photos, connect Flickr to Zapier to do things like share new Flickr photos on social media or back up new Flickr photos to Google Drive.
Share new photos in a Flickr album to your Facebook Page
If you're looking for more sites that prioritize the photography community, Life of Pix is a great Flickr alternative. Life of Pix is a community-focused stock photo site that allows professional and novice photographers alike to curate their own portfolios. The site features contributors in a photographer-of-the-week challenge, which makes it a great site for finding photographers who are engaged with the platform and constantly uploading fresh content.
Best free stock photos site for a variety of creative resources
Rawpixel is more than a stock photo site (although it has a wide variety of free stock images to choose from). It touts itself as a "creative home" for all kinds of visual projects, providing images, vectors, illustrations, public domain art, fonts, stickers, and more. If you're looking for a one-stop source for your next creative endeavor, odds are that rawpixel has what you're looking for.
As I was testing, I was also impressed with the in-depth and intuitive search features. You can order your search results by popular, new, or "curated" for you. You can also narrow down the content type, filter by price or file type, and even choose to exclude (or isolate for) AI-generated images.
The site is easy to navigate, and if you're looking for inspiration, you can explore the Topics tab to find curated, themed design resources to get the creative juices flowing.
Freepik is another great choice if you're looking for a stock photo site with extremely detailed filter options. The site offers images, videos, vectors, AI images, icons, fonts, and more. And the filter choices let you narrow your search results by asset type, license, AI-generated, file type, and even color and orientation. Freepik makes it quick and easy to find an image (or other design resource) fitting your exact parameters.
Other stock photo sites to consider
If you're looking for something a little more unique (and you have the budget for it), you could try a paid option like Shutterstock, iStock by Getty, or Adobe Stock. These sites are all very well-established resources for paid—but relatively affordable—stock photos. You can subscribe to any of these sites for $29 per month for up to ten monthly image downloads.
There are also many niche stock photography sites out there (like Foodiesfeed, which specializes in food photography). So if you're looking for a specific type of image, it's worth seeing if there's a niche site available. These sites might give you a wider range of options in the specific category you're looking for.
If you're publishing content on a regular basis, you'll likely get the best results by using a combination of our recommended sites. Just be sure that you keep your branding consistent: using too many eclectic images can muddy your brand and make it hard to stand out from the crowd.
A note on copyrights
Why can't you just scour the web for an image you like and publish it? Because creators own the rights to their images, and if you publish one of them without their approval, you may be guilty of copyright infringement. In a worst-case scenario, that could land you a $150,000 fine for each violation, and possibly even jail time. Of course, you'll receive a cease-and-desist letter first, telling you to take the images down, but even still, you'll waste time and effort removing them—in addition to the time and effort you wasted finding them in the first place.
But some creators are happy to share their images with others. Creative Commons offers a number of different licenses that creators can use to enable other people to leverage their work freely. Of course, it's not all or nothing: some licenses allow for personal use, while others allow for commercial use. Some licenses require you to attribute images to creators, while others don't. Some allow you to adapt or modify an image, while others require you to use it in its original form. When using an image licensed through Creative Commons, be sure to read the fine print and abide by the terms.
This article was originally published in December 2018 by Justin Reynolds. The most recent update was in October 2023.