Where to find the best free stock photos in 2016

Where to find the best free stock photos in 2016

Looking for a high-quality, free stock photo?

Not a bland, generic stock photo. A real, attention-grabbing image, one with depth and colour and a hint of “story” about it.

Perhaps it’s for a personal project you’re working on, or a website you’re making for your local non-profit. Maybe you need a series of photos for your new startup?

Good news, people. We live at the serendipitous intersection of digital photography, the sharing economy, and the Internet. Free photo-sharing sites featuring high-quality images are popping up all over the web, offering a fantastic buffet of Creative Commons Zero (CC0) photographs. An excerpt from the CC0 licence states:

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

How’s that for music to a bootstrapping freelancer’s ears? Before you head off into the sunset with a hard drive full of hi-res visuals though, make sure you read the whole licence. The human-readable summary is remarkably concise, so it won’t take you long.

And of course, it’s good digital manners to send appreciation to the makers/sources by way of links or donations if possible. The decision is really up to you.

On to the photos. Here are five of my favorite websites that produce or curate CC0 images for you to use for free.


Unsplash started out as a side project (a gift to the online community) that ended up saving its parent company, Crew. Mikael Cho, the founder of Crew explains how Unsplash came about:

“we hired a photographer and took a bunch of photos at a coffee shop. We only used one photo so we had extras. We thought, there’s probably a bunch of people having the same issue as us so let’s post these photos online and give them away for free.”

Today, Unsplash offers a great collection of free “do whatever you want” high-resolution photos, posting ten new photos every ten days. You can contribute your own photos too.



Pexels publishes 20 new high-quality stock photos every day. In addition to categories, you can search by color. So, if you’re searching a yellow color theme, the results will turn up something like this.


Like Unsplash, you can contribute your hi-res photos to Pexels. The site encourages user submissions and hosts photo challenges for contributors.


StockSnap calls itself “the best place on the internet to find beautiful free stock photos.” The site, made by Snappa, curates great stock photos from around the web and uploads images from photographers within their network.



Daniel Nanescu is the generous creator of SplitShire, a website that offers many of his personal photos for personal and commercial use. Categories range from abstract to food to people and nature. The reasons behind Daniel’s decision to share his photos with the world will resonate with many of us designers. I particularly like this one:

“It might sound like I’m a little crazy, but anyone who has ever done any graphic design work, which is what I also do, knows it is so hard to find great pictures.”

Yes. Yes it is.


Pixabay has been around for over five years, and as a result, is a repository of over 500,000 photos, vector graphics, and art illustrations. They’ve started a video collection too, which is growing daily. With numbers like this, you should find something amazing here.

Those are my five favorite places to find free, high-quality stock photos, but there are plenty more excellent resources out there. Which ones do you like to use?


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