Best Free Stock Photo Sites for Personal & Business Use

A stock photo site lets you download photos and other media for commercial or non-commercial use. If you’re a designer, website developer/owner, branding strategist, or anything in between, you’ll definitely need the best stock photo sites from which to get your photos and media. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the best free stock photo sites. These websites include popular names such as Unsplash, Getty Images, and Adobe Stock, as well as niched websites. Read on to learn where you can find the best images online!

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Best Stock Photography Websites Compared

1. Unsplash

Easy to search and navigate the website

Access to high-quality photos absolutely FREE

Curated photos by Topics and Collections

Best for consistent high-quality free images

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Unsplash serves as one of the best sources for stock images, all of which are royalty-free and high-quality. It doesn’t charge absolutely any fees, plus it’s super accessible thanks to its API. You can find photos you need easily via its Collections and Topics sections. And you can expect more photos regularly, thanks to its community of 211,166 photographers.

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Images Quality

Images Variety

Extra Features

Plan Options

2. Gratisography

Offers absolutely free images for commercial use without watermark

An overall unique website with an original selection of photos

Quirkiest Collections of Photos with Personality

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Gratisography offers 100% unique and stylized selections of photos that are completely free for you to use. You can choose from creative Categories and Collections. Licensing is simple and applies to every image in the selections, although you must perform due diligence to know if you’ll violate any intellectual property rights or trademarks shown on any photo. You can also sign up for “New Pictures Alerts” to get the latest content.

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Images Quality

Images Quality

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Images Variety

3. Pixabay

See the artists behind the free professional photos

Has a widely positive reputation among users and photographers

Creative Commons license allows more flexible usage

Best completely free images overall

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Pixabay is one of the best stock photography websites around. It offers many of the best stock photos and other content and lets you browse easily through the categories and see the professionals behind the photos. You can access illustrations, film footage, and videos if you need those for marketing campaigns.

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Images Quality

Extra Features

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4. Stockvault

The site also offers Photoshop tutorials for contributors

Categories and Collections are well-curated

Easy searching and sorting by Categories, Collections, and Licenses

Best for One-Time & Occasional users

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Stockvault offers thousands of high-quality stock photos, both paid and free. Searching is easy because of the Categories, Collections, and sorting features. To get the best offers, sign up for a free membership, or avail yourself of its Premium plan, which grants access to more choices on another website.

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Extra Features

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5. Pexels

Over a million best free high-resolution photos and videos

Ranks among the biggest and most popular stock photo websites

Offers an easy-to-use API for businesses, websites, and apps

Best organized collections of photos

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Pexels offers premium-quality photos and features virtually for free. The images and videos are searchable and easy to find through Themes and other sorting features. Its API is perfect for your business website, while its programs and offers to contributors ensure that they are motivated to offer better photos that are free to use commercially.

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Images Quality

Images Quality

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Images Variety

6. Flickr

Easy searching for almost any type of photos

Offers social networking features apart from photo downloads and uploads

Billions of beautiful free stock photos

Best for Photo Sharing & Social Media Posts

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Flickr’s platform offers more than just the best stock photos online. You’ll enjoy social networking features such as sharing your photos, viewing what’s trending, and other users’ galleries. You can also avail yourself of the Pro plan that offers more exciting features and functions, such as unlimited photo storage, advanced stats, 6k photo quality, and more.

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Images Quality

Extra Features

Plan Options

Images Variety

7. Burst (by Shopify)

High potential for faster growth and better service

Best for business owners and ecommerce entrepreneurs

Allows you to create your website from scratch using Shopify

Best for Online Stores & Ecommerce Sites

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Burst by Shopify aims to serve ecommerce entrepreneurs and business website owners. It offers stock photography that is royalty-free, as well as a chance to create your own ecommerce business website using Shopify. It also provides Business Ideas that tell you what kind of business is hot this year. And since it’s backed by Shopify, you can expect more features in the future.

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Images Variety

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8. RGB Stock

Contributors and photographers can interact via the site’s forums

Has a simple and user-friendly interface

Photos are absolutely free to use commercially and/or personally

Best for businesses with decent budgets

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RGB Stock offers thousands of stock images with impeccable technical quality. You can use them for commercial and personal purposes. The collections are easily searchable thanks to the categories and subcategories. It lets you create your own account and create galleries where you can save or upload your photos.

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9. iStock

Pricing models fit different needs

Long business history that proves stability

Best for contributors because of the royalties

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iStock ranks among the best stock photo sites, not only because it has been around for decades. It features more than 8 million photos, illustrations, vectors, and videos split into two collections - the Essential collection and the Signature collection. The pricing plans are flexible, offering subscription and per purchase (credits-based) models.

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Images Variety

10. Adobe Stock

Part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of software, so integration’s easy

Offers some of the best photos for commercial use

Best for corporations with large budgets and many media needs

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As a brand that’s extremely different from free stock photo sites like Unsplash, Adobe Stock serves as part of a larger creative suite of programs trusted by millions of people around the world. It offers millions of photos, illustrations, and videos, so you won’t run out of assets. Its pricing plans are flexible. There’s also the Creative Cloud integration feature so you can access the assets via any Adobe app you’re using.

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Our Methodology

We chose these websites according to different factors. We’ll discuss how they rank in the industry and on consumer review websites. You’ll also find out what to expect from each website when searching for free stock images in 2020.

First, we checked the quality of the photos on each website. We also checked to see whether you can download them in different formats. You may need various types of files, so keep reading to find out whether each website offers videos, illustrations, or music downloads.

You’ll find out the different photo licenses and usage rights available on each website. Some of them have strict rules, while many others have simpler, more straightforward policies.

Keep in mind that free images are riskier because not all free photos have the necessary licenses and releases. We’ll dig deeper into that later.

We also included extra features each website may offer to you, such as photo editors, freebies, and the ability to interact with other members, along with the pricing and how they work. Are the photos completely free? Is there also a paid version? How do you pay: subscription, one-time payments, or credits?

You’ll find out all of this and more in our review of the best free stock photo sites.

At a Glance

  • Over one million stock photos ‒ free
  • Curated photos by Topics and Collections
  • Access to high-quality photos absolutely FREE
  • Easy to search and navigate the website
  • Straightforward licensing terms (no copyright concerns)
  • Difficult to search for super-specific types of images

 

According to its website, Unsplash was inspired by “the pain we had in finding great, usable imagery.”

As one of the best websites offering free stock photos, Unsplash provides over one million choices. It handpicks every photo from the 211,166 contributing photographers from around the world.

Unsplash partners with some big names, too: BuzzFeed, Squarespace, and Trello. It is also more accessible than ever, thanks to its powerful API.

Unsplash stock photos fall under different categories that you can use to navigate and search for free pictures. Apart from the collections, you can search by topics, such as:

  • Wallpapers
  • Travel
  • Nature
  • Film
  • Textures & Patterns
  • Current Events
  • Featured photos
  • Business & Work
  • People

Unsplash also makes its licensing policies clear:

  • You can download and use photos for free
  • You can use them for both commercial and non-commercial purposes
  • No permission necessary (but Unsplash would appreciate attribution)

And you only have to worry about two must-nots:

  • You can’t sell photos without significant modification
  • You can’t use Unsplash’s photos to set up a similar service

If you like learning, Unsplash also offers a blog section that covers wide-ranging topics. Learn by reading titles like “3 Beginner-friendly shoot ideas” or “Take better phone photos”.

If you’re searching for an ultra-specific type of image (like a “sad woman wearing an Iron Man shirt”), you’d be disappointed.

However, this little drawback doesn’t change the final verdict: Unsplash deserves its place on the list of the best free stock photo sites because of its massive collection of free high-quality stock photos. It’s best for those who want access to millions of free HD stock photos.

 

At a Glance

  • An overall unique website with an original selection of photos
  • Offers absolutely free images for commercial use without watermark
  • Unique, quirky, totally free stock photos full of personality
  • Licensing is simple and easy to understand
  • Selections are not large enough for long-term projects
  • Some images link to another stock photo website, which isn’t free

 

If you’re looking for something “quirky…beautiful…arresting,” Gratisography is for you. It’s the world’s quirkiest collection of free high-quality images founded by Ryan McGuire, a talented photographer.

Gratisography doesn’t offer any other type of content as some of the other sites do, but it offers more images every week free of copyright restrictions.

All images come from McGuire. You can browse photos by Category and quirkily named Collections such as:

  • Amusing Animals
  • Funky Food
  • Hijinks Hands
  • Virtual Backgrounds
  • Artsy Architecture
  • Goofy Grownups

To access more free high-quality images, you can sign up for Gratisography’s “New Pictures Alerts” feature to receive notifications for new uploads.

How about licenses? Here’s what you can use Gratisography photos for:

  • Personal and commercial projects
  • Advertising campaigns (logo, adding text to the image, print, etc)
  • Merchandising (as long as the photo itself is not what you are selling)

What you CAN’T do includes:

  • Distribute Gratisography pictures on other stock photo sites or apps
  • Claim the photos as your own
  • Imply that Gratisography endorsed you or your product
  • Use photos in pornographic, criminal, defamatory, hateful, degrading, or similar ways

Gratisography has a niche-style selection of photos, so you may not find an extensive collection for huge projects.

One drawback is that some pictures may be trademark images or have intellectual property or privacy rights. It’s best to perform due diligence before using such photos.

But overall, if you’re searching for unique, distinctive photos, Gratisography is a great choice.

At a Glance

  • Creative Commons license allows more flexible usage
  • See the artists behind the free professional photos
  • Has a widely positive reputation among users and photographers
  • A massive collection of free-to-use stock photos
  • Music, illustrations, vector graphics, film footage, and videos are also available
  • Browse either by the most popular or by format
  • Customer service has a negative reputation
  • Photo-tagging is also inaccurate at times

 

Pixabay is a go-to source of free images online and it ranks among the best stock photography websites around the world. It offers over 1.8 million free photos, illustrations, and vector graphics. Additionally, it also offers film footage and music.

You can search by type of media (photos, illustrations, videos, etc) or by popularity. Another way to search is to browse using the following categories:

  • Editor’s Choice
  • Popular Images
  • Popular Videos
  • Popular Searches

The Editor’s Choice is the best place to look for the most beautiful free stock photos and videos on the website, hand-picked by the Pixabay team.

If you want to get to know the community, you can check out the Artists that contribute to Pixabay. You can browse by:

  • Most Active
  • Popular
  • Newcomers

This feature helps if you want to stick with one or two visual artists for free HD photographs.

Licensing rules also apply. Like many photo download sites, Pixabay photos and videos can be:

  • Used for free for commercial and non-commercial purposes
  • Modified and changed

You cannot, however, do the following:

  • Redistribute or sell someone else’s Pixabay images or videos
  • Sell an exact copy of a stock photo
  • Use images with identified brands

Meanwhile, reviews from Trustpilot and Sitejabber cite customer service as a downside. The service, they say, is not as good as customers expect.

Still, Pixabay is one of the best free stock image sites you can find, thanks to its arsenal of free stock photos. And because its photos are released under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, Pixabay remains a favorite for people who want to use free photos without asking permission from or giving credit to the artist.

At a Glance

  • Categories and Collections are well-curated
  • The site also offers Photoshop tutorials for contributors
  • Easy searching and sorting by Categories, Collections, and Licenses
  • Content comes from photographers around the world
  • Lots of freebies for members
  • The Premium plan requires you to switch websites
  • Not as many selections as other free stock image sites

 

Stockvault offers more than 138,000 free-to-use stock images for commercial and non-commercial purposes. It’s a great website that prides itself on providing free image resources, both paid and free.

The photos come from photographers and professionals around the world. You can browse by Categories and Collections for easier searching, or sort by size, date, popularity, and number of downloads. All content is of superior technical quality.

The website also lets you know the photo’s licenses right off the bat. You can also sort by licenses, which include:

  • Commercial
  • Non-commercial
  • Creative Commons (public domain)

Membership is optional, but if you sign up, you get additional features such as:

  • Commenting on photos, illustrations, videos, and other content
  • Adding photos and content to a Favorites list
  • Messaging other members of the Stockvault community

If you want to support a specific photographer, simply click the “Buy Me A Coffee” button.

Stockvault does offer a “Premium” plan. However, it redirects you to Shutterstock, which is a paid stock photos website. The 10 images freebie that they offer if you sign up for their newsletter also come from Shutterstock. Consider this if you dislike jumping from one site to another.

Still, when it comes to finding stock photos that are free to use, Stockvault ranks among the best websites for royalty-free images. If you are an occasional user with no high demand for stock photos but you still want high-quality ones, Stockvault is for you.

At a Glance

  • Offers an easy-to-use API for businesses, websites, and apps
  • Over a million best free high-resolution photos and videos
  • Ranks among the biggest and most popular stock photo websites
  • Highly positive reputation among users
  • Some photos have limited use or are sponsored by Shutterstock
  • Video collections aren’t as wide-ranging as photos

 

Pexels is one of the biggest stock photography sites around, offering over one million royalty-free stock photos.

Packing tons of features, Pexels offers many hand-picked photos that you can browse by themes and by the most popular searches.

If you’re curious, you can see who’s ranking high on its contributors’ Leaderboard. If you are a contributor, you can compete with other members via the Challenges section.

Pexels also boasts its own API that lets you incorporate Pexels into your app or website, making it one of the best stock photo sites for business use. Some of its notable partners include:

  • Canva
  • Hootsuite
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Airtable
  • WordPress
  • Sketch
  • Google

Although all images are free to use, Pexels has a rule for using photos of people. This means that identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in any offensive way. This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t find the best stock photos of people on Pexels — you only have to keep this rule in mind.

But Pexels more than makes up for that drawback by offering premium quality options and features for free, such as an expansive catalog of stock videos, illustrations, and vectors. For this reason, Pexels is best for a wide variety of creatives who want authentic and professional stock photos and videos. Graphic designers, digital marketers, blog writers, and content creators will love this website. It was also acquired by Canva, which means a more solid future ahead for the website.

At a Glance

  • Offers social networking features apart from photo downloads and uploads
  • Easy searching for almost any type of photos
  • Billions of beautiful free stock photos
  • Allows you to share your own images easily
  • The free version doesn’t allow commercial use of photos
  • Flickr Pro plans are expensive

 

Right off the bat, we’ll say Flickr is one massive platform to use. It’s home to tens of billions of photos and 2 million groups.

Unlike other top stock photo sites, Flickr serves as both a photo-sharing platform AND a social networking site. Think Instagram and Unsplash combined. So, if you’re asking where to get free stock photos and enjoy a nice photo-sharing social network that’s not called Instagram, Flickr is the answer.

Browsing is also intuitive and easy. The website looks neat and searching is straightforward: just type a search term and hit enter. Then, it will show you a selection of high resolution images for free.

The Explore button also lets you search Trending photos, Events, and Flickr Galleries. If you want your photos to be part of these categories, create a Flickr account and start uploading your photos.

The Commons function lets you help make photos more searchable by adding relevant tags to them. Another interesting feature is the Camera Finder, which literally shows you some of the best cameras on the commercial market.

Meanwhile, the Pro version offers more advanced features like:

  • Unlimited storage (when you upload your photos)
  • Ad-free browsing
  • 6k photo display
  • 10-minute video uploads

Upgrading to Pro also gives you more exposure to browsers and other users. The pricing comes in three plans:

  • Monthly Plan – $7.99/month
  • Annual Plan – $5.99/month, billed annually
  • 3-Month Pro – $21.99 every three months

Since Flickr is also a platform for social media posts, it has Community Guidelines you must strictly obey if you’re a member.

On the flipside, Flickr suffers from negative reviews on Trustpilot and G2. The main reasons include its customer service policy and the pricing for the Pro version. Also, you can’t use photos commercially unless you upgrade to Flickr Pro.

The verdict, however, remains positive. If you want the dual functionality of Flickr, then it’s perfect for you. With its vast collection of user-generated photos, it’s no surprise that it ranks among the biggest stock photography sites around. If you’re searching for a place to share your photos and back them up at the same time, Flickr has you covered.

At a Glance

  • Allows you to create your website from scratch using Shopify
  • Large collection of stock photos that fit best for commercial use
  • High potential for faster growth and better service
  • Best for business owners and ecommerce entrepreneurs
  • Supported by Shopify, a popular name in ecommerce
  • The website is easy to use and navigate
  • Their collection is large but not as large as the collections on sites like Unsplash and Pexels
  • Doesn’t offer other content like videos and film footage

 

Burst, powered by Shopify, offers thousands of free high-resolution pictures that searchers can browse easily.

Burst is great for business website owners who want to improve their site’s appearance using high-quality photos. Whatever business niches you are interested in, you will find a photo that perfectly fits them. Attribution is optional, although Burst would surely appreciate that.

The photos are sorted into different Collections. So, if you’re searching for that perfect photo for your website or business, you can browse by Collections. You will view galleries like:

  • Animals
  • Backgrounds
  • Landscapes
  • People
  • Technology
  • Work
    And many more

When downloading photos, you can choose between High-Res and Low-Res options. If you want to use the photo to create a website, Burst lets you use your Shopify account (if you have one) to do so. After setting up an account and website, you can start downloading stock photos that are free to use commercially.

Clicking the Business Ideas section lets you choose from over 20 business ideas that are booming this year. From there, you can download photo kits for your store.

Burst encourages you to use its stock photos for commercial purposes. It lets you use the photos for your store, marketing campaigns, products, t-shirts, mugs, etc.

The obvious drawback to Burst is that it doesn’t have collections as large as the other top-tier free photography websites. You might have a hard time searching for super-specific kinds of photos that are not related to business or online stores. You’ll have more luck finding such photos on other free stock photography websites, including sites like Unsplash and Pexels.

Overall, Burst by Shopify promises superb services to business website owners who want stock photos for blogs, campaigns, stores, or other projects. If you’re planning to put up an online store, Burst is perfect for you. It’s still growing, so we can expect better features in the future.

RGB Stock

Best for Businesses With Decent Budgets

At a Glance

  • Photos are absolutely free to use commercially and/or personally
  • Contributors and photographers can interact via the site’s forums
  • Has a simple and user-friendly interface
  • High-quality stock images for commercial use
  • The website is easy to use and straightforward
  • Not as many photos and collections as other sites
  • It’s mandatory to create an account to download or upload photos

 

With more than 100,000 free-to-use stock photos, RGB Stock is another venue for you to download HD images for free. Using it is very simple and straightforward: type your search term, press Enter, and select from a wide variety of results.

You can browse these photos by Category, which includes various themes such as:

  • Abstract
  • Architecture
  • Business
  • Computers
  • Concepts
  • World

Within each category, you can browse subcategories that make the search even easier. The navigation also lets you view New Photos, see what’s Popular, or find Random free stock photos.

The photos are absolutely free to download in their true dimensions, or you can modify them to your liking.

Like Unsplash, RGB Stock doesn’t offer any paid subscription or premium plans. All you have to do is create an account, and you’ll gain completely free access to thousands of free photos for blogs, products, websites, apps, and other projects. This places it among the best Unsplash alternatives.

You may use RGB Stock images for commercial and personal use. However, you cannot use the images:

For pornographic materials
To endorse products or services if they depict an identifiable person

You also cannot sell or redistribute the images without express permission. If you want photos to be redistributed, you need to obtain confirmation from the author or photographer.

An obvious weakness of RGB Stock is that it doesn’t provide as many content types as other free image download sites. Other websites offer videos, illustrations, and vectors. RGB Stock sticks with free photos.

RGB Stock more than makes up for that weakness by being an easy-to-use platform for any type of user. It offers thousands of photos perfect for simple website designs. The photos are completely free, and you can use them in almost any way you want, whether for banners, personal t-shirts, or blog posts.

At a Glance

  • Long business history that proves stability
  • Pricing models fit different needs
  • Broad selection of professional, royalty-free stock content
  • Offers advanced image search and image editor
  • Customer service has a bad reputation
  • Some reviews note overpriced selections

 

When it was founded in 2000 by Bruce Livingstone, iStock was the only solid source of user-generated high-resolution images.

Today, iStock is a part of the Getty Images family. It features over 8 million photos, illustrations, vectors, videos, and other content.

You can search for photos in two collections:

  • Essentials Collection — affordable, decent quality images for daily use
  • Signature Collection — higher quality, exclusive content

From these collections, you can perform advanced image searches. Filter your search by file type, contributor, collection, size, shape, details, and more to find that perfect royalty-free image you want. The same searching mechanism applies to videos, vectors, and other content.

Licenses define what you can and cannot do with the files on the commercial market. iStock offers three categories of licenses:

  • Standard License — for ads, websites, blogs, etc.
  • Editorial Use Only — cannot be used for advertising, promotional, or commercial purposes.
  • Extended License — for items you want to use in ways not covered under the first two licenses.

You can sign up for free and then choose between the Subscription and Credits models. The Subscription model is best for you if you download regularly and in bulk.

Meanwhile, you can also buy credits that you pay upfront and then use later on to buy images. One credit costs $12, while three credits cost $33, meaning that the more credits you buy at once, the more you save. Essential images cost one credit each, while Signature images cost three credits each.

So, unlike sites like Unsplash, RGB Stock, and Pexels, iStock offers paid plans that target both occasional and regular users.

Yet, there are some downsides to this royalty-free stock photo website. Most of the user-generated reviews on Trustpilot and Sitejabber complain about iStock’s pricing system and customer service, which appear to be inconsistent.

Contributor reviews, meanwhile, cite low royalties as the greatest downside of working with iStock. Still, iStock royalties (15%) for contributors are higher than those of many other image libraries out there.

Overall, if you need a nicely curated and organized collection of photos, images, and videos, iStock is among the best photo collection sites. The flexible pricing and Getty Images support don’t hurt, either. Whether you’re a casual blogger downloading one photo at a time, or a web professional with a high stock photo demand, iStock is for you.

At a Glance

  • Offers some of the best photos for commercial use
  • Part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of software, so integration’s easy
  • Millions of images, vectors, videos, and content, all royalty-free
  • Has a flexible subscription plan
  • Proprietary license agreement may be confusing for many users
  • Subscription plans are a bit expensive for individuals

 

Adobe Stock is among the best stock photography websites that also offer illustrations, vector graphics, illustrations, video footage, templates, audio, and 3D assets — all royalty-free. It also sports one of the most popular brand names around.

Adobe Stock’s users are mostly businesses that want to purchase stock assets (images, videos, vectors, etc) for commercial purposes. Web professionals often use it because it offers millions of choices.

You may use assets in various ways depending on the type of license and copyright restrictions they have. Adobe Stock serves three license types:

  • Standard License
    • Unlimited web views
    • Use assets in adverts, broadcasts, etc.
    • Modify asset
    • Up to 500,000 copies of the asset
  • Enhanced License
    • All Standard license features + more than 500,000 copies of the asset
  • Extended license
    • All Enhanced License features + ability to use assets in merchandise or other products for resale

You can try Adobe Stock’s free trial to get free stock photos for websites. But if you feel that Adobe Stock is right for your long-term projects and business, they have paid plans that allow regular downloads.

  • $29.99/month — 10 standard images per month
  • $79.99/month — 40 standard images per month
  • $199.99/month — 750 standard images per month

You can transfer any unused licenses to the next month (“rollover” option). Remember that the licenses are for images, illustrations, and vectors. If you want to access professional, royalty-free stock videos and premium assets, you’ll need to buy credits. Credit packs include:

  • 5 credits – $49.95
  • 16 credits – $149.99
  • 40 credits – $359.99
  • 80 credits – $669.99
  • 150 credits – $1,200.00

You need to be aware of some drawbacks, however. Many reviewers complain about Adobe Stock’s customer service and the somewhat confusing proprietary license agreement. If you want to avoid litigation and legal problems, it’s best to fully understand the said license agreement.

But when all is said and done, these drawbacks won’t stop businesses and marketing creatives from taking advantage of Adobe Stock’s premium offerings. Adobe Stock is the best brand for you if you want to integrate it with other Adobe Creative Cloud offerings like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, and others.

How to Choose the Best Stock Image Site?

With so many choices, you might be overwhelmed. Which ones are truly the best for you? What’s the best stock photo site? Before you choose, you need to consider a few things. 

Type of photos

Are you looking for generic but high-quality stock photos for your blog? Or are you looking for something unique, full of personality, and symbolic of your brand or business? Your choice of website will depend on these questions. 

Quality

Also, never settle for lower quality than what you need. Many of the best stock photo sites offer premium quality images for free, so you shouldn’t settle for anything less. 

Legal Safety

Make sure you check the business background and the legality of the site. You don’t want to get involved in any litigation processes. 

Copyrights & Restrictions

Since you’ll be using images and materials created by other people, always check for copyright restrictions. You must do this for both paid and free photography websites to be safe legally.

Budget

Last but not least, consider your budget. How many photos do you need? Are you looking for top-quality photos in bulk? Are they available for free on stock photo sites? Do you have the budget in case you need to pay for the photos you want? 

Is It Safe to Use Free Stock Images?

Using free stock images online also has its downsides, and not minor ones either. Legally-wise, free stock images do not always have the necessary licenses and releases. Often, you need to verify the licenses first before you can really use the photos.

Even if you have a commercial or royaltyfree license, the photo may still contain model rights, trademarks, copyrights, etc. that even the photographer who took the photo doesn’t have. 

For instance, you download a photo that shows an identifiable person. You may not use that photo commercially if the photographer hasn’t collected a “model release,” which is a legal document giving him/her all the rights to use the photo of the model. 

To avoid these risks, you must do the following: 

  • Check if the license is current. Trace the image back to the source and confirm the license and model release if necessary. 
  • Check if your use is commercial. If you’re not sure whether your use is commercial or you have questions about its legal validity, consult your attorney. 
  • Do a background search on any image before using it. Try Google Image Search to find other sites the photo may have appeared on. 

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Perform due diligence to avoid any huge problems when using free images for websites and other purposes.

Types of Usage Rights and Their Restrictions

You should never skip checking the type of usage rights or licenses you have for every photo you download. A photo license and its usage rights govern how, where, when, and in what situations you can use the images and videos you download.

Types of Usage Rights

Generally, there are two types of usage rights: 

  • Non-exclusive rights – you can use the photo only in a certain specified way. The author of the photo can allocate non-exclusive rights to multiple people at once.
  • Exclusive rights – you have the sole right to license the image. Even the author may not hold any rights to the photo, depending on what has been agreed upon. 

Types of Licenses

Consider, too, the type of license you have. At the very least, you should know the following types of licenses: 

  • Commercial license – when you want to sell or promote an idea, service, or product (other than the photo itself); this is the most common license for free stock photos for entrepreneurs
  • Editorial license – used primarily for publishing newspapers, books, and other materials. 
  • Non-commercial license – used for non-profit and personal purposes. 
  • Rights Managed (RM) license – you need to define exactly where and how the image will be used. 
  • RoyaltyFree license – purchase the photo once and use it in various ways. 
  • Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license – doesn’t require you to credit the photographer or creator. Photos with the Creative Commons license are often not available for commercial use. 
  • Public Domain – the image can be used by anyone in whatever way. 

Although the Public Domain license sounds like the best type, photos under this category are usually not suitable for any commercial use. 

The best types of licenses, overall, are the royaltyfree and commercial licenses. Royaltyfree images allow you to download and use the photos in many ways, while commercial licenses let you use them on your products and promotions with minimal chances of violating any intellectual property rights.

How to Get Free Images from Paid Stock Photo Sites

Most paid stock photo sites offer freebies, discounts, and deals. Take advantage of these deals to get free images. 

Here are some websites that offer such deals: 

  • Adobe Stock – get a 30-day free trial to get 10 assets for free
  • iStock – experts select photos, illustrations, and videos every month from its Signature Collection and make them available for free download 
  • Shutterstock – get 10 free HD stock photos using their 30-day trial

Make sure you get the most out of your subscription by going after these freebies and deals.

Best Free Stock Photo Sites at a Glance 

📸  Unsplash – Best for consistent high-quality free images.

📸  Gratisography – Quirkiest, single-sourced collections of photos with personality.

📸  PixabayBest completely free images overall.

📸  Stockvault – Best for one-time and occasional users. Offers Creative Commons (CC0) license. 

📸  Pexels – Best organized collections of photos. 

📸  Flickr – Best for photo sharing/downloading and social media posts

📸  Burst – Best for online stores, ecommerce sites, and sales websites.

📸  RGB Stock – Best for businesses with decent budgets.

📸  iStock – Best for contributors because of the royalties.

📸  Adobe Stock – Best for corporations with large budgets and many media needs. 

Key Takeouts

The best sites for free stock photos offer not only high-quality photos but also the best-quality user experience. Whichever website you use, make sure that it offers plenty of choices, flexible plans, and useful features.

Different websites cater to different needs. Whether you’re a designer, business owner, or simply an amateur, pay attention to the features that are useful to you and your projects. Some websites offer extra functions that you might find useful.

Pricing plans and budgets are also great considerations if you’re planning to subscribe to a premium plan. Compare these plans across websites to find the best deal.

And that, overall, is the key to choosing the right one from among the best stock photo sites: choose what works best for you.