Finding free images can be a tricky task, especially in a digital world where copyright is harder to regulate. However it's still important when using images for free that you choose from trusted sources and credit when appropriate, especially for commercial and editorial use.
Wanting to use images at no cost whatsoever, including no subscription fee, often limits variety and sometimes the quality of the image.
Websites such as iStock and Shutterstock only give permission to use a very limited number of images from a certain range before a paid subscription is required.
But there are some hidden gems too, like Unsplash and Pixabay.
We show you where and how to use free images online from archive sites Unsplash, Flickr, Free Images, iStock, Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and Pixabay.
Best Free Images: Unsplash
Unsplash offers free high-res photos for the taking. A project by agency Crew, this easy-to-navigate site is a great source of stock imagery, perfect for incorporating into your own projects and creative process.
To be a little more specific, all photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero, which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free (including commercial purposes), without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.
Check out the Unsplash range by sifting through their latest releases and interesting collections, including black and white, faceless, urban folk, bright and foodie and a whole lot more.
Best Free Images: Flickr Creative Commons
Many artists using Flickr have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license letting you access these images for free.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that has released several different types of licenses, allowing content-creators to communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators.
Within these licenses includes certain restrictions on an image – some images are unavailable for commercial use and some require attribution or credit, but can be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes.
Although the quality of images may not be on par with iStock, Flickr offers a wide range of images under several Creative Commons licenses including Attribution, Non-commercial, Public Doman Dedication and Public Domain Work.
Best Free Images: iStock, Shutterstock & Adobe Stock
Editorial and commercial entities often pay a subscription to have access to ample stock images per month, but you can also sign up to iStock and receive very limited free stock files each week instead.
However, the free photo, illustration and video clip each week are chosen for you, so this method will be ineffective if you're looking for anything specific.
Every file downloaded from iStock comes with a standard license that lets you use it within commercial use, and all files are licensed on a royalty-free basis.
Shutterstock uses the same method – signing up to the website gives you access to controlled free content each week, presumably pushing you towards the idea of paying for their services.
Adobe Stock gives you 10 standard images with a free 30-day trial when you first sign up.
Best Free Images: Free Images
As a general rule, you don't need to include a photo credit for commercial use, but you must do so if using for editorial purposes.
In some cases you may need to notify the artist about using the image, or to credit them.
These restrictions can be seen under the image previews next to the Download button.
Best Free Images: Pixabay
All images on Pixabay are released under Creative Commons CCO into the public domain.
You can copy, modify, distribute and perform work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission with images under this license.
This means the images can be used for commercial purposes and on social media without needing to credit to the artist.