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Whether you’re putting together social media graphics, a website or a leaflet for your business, or even designing a birthday card for a relative, it helps to have high-quality free images.
But, if you think you can simply tap a subject into Google Images and use the first photo you find, you’re in for a shock: nowadays, you have to be absolutely certain that you can use an image in a commercial content – or you might find an angry photographer dropping an invoice in your inbox. That means using a reputable stock photo website.
However, before you dust off your credit card and sign up to Shutterstock, consider the hundreds of thousands of photos online that won’t cost you a penny to download and use in any context. Here’s our pick of the best sites for free images.
The best sites for free images: Pexels
If you’re after a one-stop shop for free stock photos, you can’t go wrong with Pexels. The archive is massive, numbering into the hundreds of thousands and – for the most part – the quality is very high indeed.
The site’s mission statement is similarly worthy: “We help millions of designers, writers, artists, programmers and other creators to get access to beautiful photos that they can use freely which empowers them to create amazing products, designs, stories, websites, apps, art and other work.”
But what is Pexels actually like to use? The answer, to use that most British of adjectives, is lovely. Type a term in the search box and you’re given a selection of photos arranged in rows of tiles. Select the one you want, choose a size from the dropdown box (the “original size” is often impressively large) and click download. That’s it.
After you’ve downloaded the image, you’ll also be offered three ways to “say thanks to the photographer”: a donation via PayPal, a follow on Instagram or a custom link back to the photo page on Pexels (something you don’t need to do as no attribution is required).
The best sites for free images: Pixabay
”Okay, you’ve won me over to Pexels – so why would I need to use Pixabay, too? They’re pretty much the same site, right?“ It’s a valid question, but no list of the best free photo sites would be complete without the old warhorse.
Founded way back 2010 (an age in digital terms), Pixabay has over 1.5 million free photos, vectors, illustrations and videos in its vault. But it’s not a case of quantity over quality: most of the images are both sharp and well-composed.
They’re also very easy to find, with the downloading process more or less the same as Pexels’. Type in the term, head to the image’s page, select a size, check an “I’m not a robot” box and then save the image for later use. Job done.
That said, I would say that Pexels still has a slight edge in terms of site design and features (for example, you can’t set a custom size before downloading), but it’s razor-thin.
The best sites for free images: Foodie Factor
It’s more niche, but Foodie Factor is a brilliant resource for, let’s face it, food porn. Whether it’s loaded bowls of noodles from around the world (see above) or good ol’ sausage rolls, Foodie Factor has the perfect, free-to-use photo of grub for your website.
It is also, as you’d expect, easy to navigate: click on a photo and it’ll pop up in a new tab, where you can “Save image as…” or simply drag it onto your desktop – no sign-up required.
But there are a couple of catches. First, you can’t select a custom size before you download, so you’ll have to re-size or crop in your image-editing software of choice before use. Secondly, there’s an annoying “Similar images from Shutterstock” box that it’s very easy to accidentally click. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there are only around 1,200 images on the site.
Nevertheless, Foodie Factor is still an excellent tool if you’re in the catering business – or if you just want to work up an appetite.
The best sites for free images: Unsplash
If you like to think of yourself as a photography connoisseur, Unsplash is the way to go. It has a comparatively small archive of a mere 550,000 photos (“gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers”), but the quality is sometimes astonishingly high.
Yes, it has the usual selection of business-focused stock images (business meetings, handshakes, a brainstorming session and so on), yet the real beauty of Unsplash is in its artistic photos – which are obviously a labour of love.
As with all of the other websites listed here, it’ll only take you a few seconds to download an image: click on one you like and then click the green “Download free” button in the top-right corner of the pop-up that appears.
Overall, Unsplash will appeal most to photography enthusiasts who want to find something beautiful to include in their design.
The best sites for free images: Gratisography
And finally, the wildcard…
If you’re after something kooky, “different”, shocking or downright bizarre, Gratisography is here to help. Think cats wearing ties, terrifying teddy bears, “hipster man with teeth” and, er, a goose wearing a Boris Johnson wig.
Once again, downloading from Gratisography is a piece of cake: select the image you like the look of and press the grey “Download Free Photo” button. Hey presto, the weirdness is yours to keep forever.
It’s difficult not to love Gratisography, but it’s also hard to see the site being useful in a business context. Still, it’s worth checking out just for a laugh, cry or mumbled “whaaa?!” Don’t say you haven’t been warned, though…
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