How to find free images online
+ Free guide of how to use them! +
I’ve been working as a designer for over 15 years and sourcing images always takes more time than I expect. “I’ll just go quickly grab an image for this page,” I’d think, “10 minutes max”. An hour later, I’ve got a bunch of possibilities and no winners.
A good image on your site can grab attention, encourage sharing, communicate concepts…. but where to start? In this article, a wee bit further down, I’ll talk about writing an image style guide. It’ll help you speed up the process of finding images and help you get a consistent look and feel on your site. But first…
Where to find these free images
Personally, I find myself getting lost if there are too many options, so when I need an image, I like to consult my trusted favourites. I know I’ll find a images that suit my style quickly and easily. Pexels and Unsplash are my go-to libraries. I use both of these sources regularly and there’s no fussy credit process required.
Pexels is my go-to resource if I need an image in a hurry. There is a really wide range of photographs and videos to choose from. Simply visit the site and search! The files are available to download and are completely free, with no photo credit required. With any free image library there can be some cheesy images in there as well as good images, so be sure to refer back to your style guide and refer to my “5 Golden Rules” guide which you can grab below (no sign up required).
What’s the catch?
Pexels shows you alternative images from Shutterstock.com which is a royalty-free image library, so when you search on Pexels, they suggest buying images that are available from Shutterstock. Shutterstock has a subscription based platform that has a really massive collection of images, vectors and videos, which are decent quality. So if you can’t find the free image that meets your needs, it is possible to find the right image on Shutterstock. If something just right shows up in the suggested images, check it out. You might be able to grab an image collection for your project for a low cost.
Unsplash has a beautiful selection of images and video which are also available to download completely free, and with no credit required. Unsplash has a certain editorial style that sets it apart from the other free image libraries out there. And if you subscribe to their mailing list, they will send you a weekly selection right to your mailbox.
What’s the catch?
Unsplash is getting more and more well-known for their high quality, free images, so you may not be the only one using a particular image. I regularly spot images from the Unsplash collection on blogs that I follow.
Need more options?
Another source that I sometimes use is Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/), it has some good quality images, it’s owned by the same company that owns Canva, so they keep the content current.
Adobe Stock is a paid subscription-based platform, owned by the folks that make Photoshop (and that whole suite of tools) https://stock.adobe.com/fr/ There are resources for just about anything and the quality is of a high standard. You probably wouldn’t need to sign up for it long term unless you run a creative agency, but if you’re in the process of building up your brand materials, if could be a cost effective way to get some great content. They also recently added a system of buying credits for a set number of image downloads. Sneaky tip though – they offer a free trial with up to 10 free images.
I’m a MASSIVE fan of Creative Market*. They have a fantastic selection of photos, templates and fonts that you wont find in other libraries. If you sign up with them, they’ll email you every Monday about their weekly freebies, which are always great! And their images start at about $3 each. If you’re hoping to use free images only, you have a bit less control over your weekly choices, but download the freebies every week and you can collect a nice little resource for yourself over time.
* That’s an affiliate link by the way 🙂
PSDs and Vectors
FreePik is a great resource but you’ll need to know how to edit vector files. So this one is definitely more for the graphic designers and digital artists. This site is also associated with Shutterstock, so don’t be surprised if you click on an image an land on their site. They also ask you to credit the author, which is fair enough, some of the files are really elaborate!
The Noun Project is an excellent resource for icons. There are options to subscribe which means that you don’t have to display a credit for the designer, but you can use the icons 100% for free under a Creative Commons licence. This just means adding a small credit to the creator, somewhere on your site.
Can I use images from Google?
Using images from a Google image search is a frikkin’ minefield! Even if you set your search criteria to “Labelled for reuse” under the search tools tab, there is no way of knowing if the creator of the image or people featured in the image have given distribution or reuse permission.
Look out for Creative Commons licensed images, specifically the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license as these are free to use for any purpose, even commercially. It makes for a more involved search process because you really have to be sure that the image is classified as CC0.
My advice for randomly found images is: If in doubt, don’t use it! REALLY! Just don’t! There are loads of properly free images out there, so do take that risk of being sued!
Create an image style guide
An image style guide is a set of rules and guidelines to help you stay consistent. If you’re working on your site with a designer, they may create a website style guide as part of the project. If you’re doing it all yourself… take some time to suss out your image style, snoop around, make a moodboard, have some fun! Write out your style guide as if you were writing it for somebody you never met. It may all seem crystal clear to you now, but when you refer back to it in future, it may be useful to have a whole lot of detail in there so you don’t stray too far from the original idea. Pop some examples in there too. You won’t regret it!
5 questions to ask yourself when writing your image style guide
1 – How will I source images?
Will you rely only on free sources? How many images will you need? Will you need a constant supply of images in the same style? (For example, if you plan to have a blog).
2 – How can I sum up the image style for my site?
Write down around 3 to 5 adjectives. Bold, professional, contemporary? Cute, quirky, colourful? Casual, sporty, cool?
3 – What do I need to show in my images?
People? Places? Objects? Business or lifestyle concepts?
4 – What are the specific visual qualities that will keep my images consistent?
Should the images be close up or wide angle? Colour or black and white? Can you include your brand colours? Will you use Photoshop to adjust the image?
5 – Is my image style current?
Your image style guide will change over time, as trends change and your business evolves. So create your guide in an editable format. And keep an eye on image styles on competitors websites.
Take action now:
Download the 5 Golden Rules for Free Images ebook to get the most out of free online resources.
There are literally thousands of image libraries online offering free images in good resolution, so my little list is faaaaar from exhaustive! Searching for images can be surprisingly time consuming, so instead of giving you a list of the “Top 20” free image libraries, I have just listed my favourites. I hope this will help you to find free images for your site. Here’s a little roundup of my advice:
When you’re sourcing images
- Always check usage rights. Does the site ask you to use image credits? Or Author’s name? (If you’re using Pixabay or Unsplash, you’re OK, no credit is required)
- Use your image style guide. Does this image suit your other images? Are there other images available in this style in case I want more of the same? Can I edit the image to make it match the others on my site?
- Check around. Is your chosen image in use on lots of other sites and blogs?
- Verify the size. Make sure the image is large enough for its purpose so that it doesn’t get pixelated or fuzzy on large screens.
Finding your image style and getting content together can be a mix of fun frustrating and it’s easy to lose perspective. Download your free guide 5 Golden Rules for Free Images below. It’ll help you get started.
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