Where to find royalty-free images at no cost, and how to use them
Budget friendly pictures for your marketing
Good and effective marketing requires professional and appealing pictures that communicate the desired message. However, pictures such as these are not always easy to come by. Images from stock photo providers often seem generic and cost money. Your own photo shoots can be time consuming, require special know-how and could drain a considerable amount of the budget. It doesn't have to be this way because on the right websites you'll not only find pictures in conventional styles but also pictures with original content and unconventional motifs - and most without extra costs, even when used commercially. In some instances, it is only necessary to provide appropriate credit to the artist.
The interesting thing about these platforms is that the images available there are not only free of charge but are also of quality value and in high resolution, meeting the most important demands for practical use. That way, even those without a large budget for pictures can still find what they are looking for. Since the amount of free image providers has recently grown exponentially, we have put together a list of the most well-known providers of free images, where you can surely find appropriate content to match your needs.
Note: Be aware of photo licenses
But before we get to the list, it is necessary to peek into the world of Creative Commons licenses. Not every picture will be offered under the same license and all pictures that can be obtained externally from someone else are generally protected by copyright. Photographers, however, have the option to license their images for free use and this is done through the before-mentioned Creative Commons licenses. These modularly composed legal texts stipulate the conditions in which images may be used. For every combination of the individual modules, there is a link that leads to the respective legal text and this link must be specified in the image credits. The fact that most free image providers have search filters for these licenses makes your image research more feasible.
The different Creative Commons licenses
What types of licenses are there for image use and what exactly do they mean? Here is a small overview to help.
CC0 - No cost, royalty-free use without restrictions
Whoever indicates this license for their photos generally waives copyright protection. Photos with this license can be:
- used commercially
- edited freely
- used without photo credits
So, if you want to be very sure that there will be no resulting claims with the use of free images, look out for this license. We will explain why a little caution here is still necessary following this license overview.
CC BY - Picture credits necessary
Images with this license may be used commercially and be freely edited, but it is necessary to provide appropriate credit, to link the license and to include information about any changes made. Photos with this license:
- may be used commercially
- may be edited
- require appropriate credit and license
CC BY-SA - Changes allowed only with publication under the same license
The abbreviation "SA" at the end of this license name stands for "Share Alike." This means that one could use the picture as would be under the CC BY license, but if changes are made, the image must be published under the same license and it is not possible to change to a license that has more or less restrictions. Photos with this license are therefore allowed to be:
- used commercially
- edited freely
- published with the appropriate credit and license
- modified and republished but only under the same conditions
CC BY-ND - No changes allowed
The abbreviation SA is replaced here with ND, which stands for "No Derivatives" and means that no changes to the image material may be made. However, this does not apply to the picture format. This may be adjusted to the necessary size, as long as the basic content of the picture does not change as a result. Photos with this license:
- may be used commercially
- may not be edited
- require that the appropriate credit be given, and the license be provided
CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA and CC BY-NC-ND - royalty-free but not for commercial purposes
As soon as any license previously mentioned contains the abbreviation NC, it is a sign that these photos are "non-commercial" or may not be used commercially. The other conditions remain the same, but commercial use is not allowed.
Caution despite CC0 license
As the list of Creative Commons licenses shows, using images with a CC0 license probably appears to be the most attractive option because it leaves you with more possibilities. There are many of these types of pictures available to you on the websites we are about present to you. Nevertheless, stay cautious because the photos from the listed providers can be uploaded anonymously. So, it is possible that you choose to use a picture with a CC0 license, but the real photographer did not grant it. Therefore, there is no absolute legal certainty, even though such cases are rare. It's also not always certain whether the personal rights of the depicted individuals are upheld. If you have doubts, ask those who are credited with the image on how you can use the photo.
Why you're here: The list of image platforms
After our detour of the legalities, we now reach the point as to why you are here: The platforms with no-cost, royalty-free images.
It seems that Unsplash is the portal that really got the ball rolling on the trend of offering free images. More than 1 million images can now be found there, and thanks to the extensive search feature and various categories, they can very easily be filtered. From portraits and landscapes to cityscapes and more, almost everything is offered - and almost nothing is considered just average.
With 1.6 million images, extensive search and filter possibilities as well as graphics and videos, Pixabay has arose as a true favourite among those seeking images. You feel as though you are working with an agency, only that most of these offers come at no cost and are royalty free.
As mentioned before, questions can arise regarding both the licensing rights and the personal rights of the individuals depicted in photos. With Generated Photos, you can rest easy because the portraits here are AI generated. That means that there are no real people depicted. This may be noticeable in some photos, but most can pass for a real portrait.
Link: Generated Photos
If you would like to change the image composition, then Icons8 is the perfect playground. Here you have different content to choose from and can arrange them into new collages, thus making your own creation.
Here, close-up photos have their own charm. The photos from Kaboompics are normally a bit more modest but that is what gives them that extra something special.
Many different motifs and trendy themes such as food or weddings join classics like architecture, office and nature. Thanks to the extensive search feature, you can quickly find exactly what you are looking for.
Life of Pix
City images, landscapes as well as people roaming among them are at the centre of Life of Pix. From Panoramas to close-up images, if you are looking for urban or nature content, you can find them here.
Link: Life of Pix
Exciting close-up images that are often staged full of colour distinguish DesignerPics from others. If you would like to use everyday items but not everyday staging, you can discover exciting images here.
Startup Stock Photos
This provider says it all with its name. Here you can find pictures of young minds that want their ideas to succeed in a classic office setting. What might sound quite average, actually brings a fresh perspective on office content.
Link: Startup Stock Photos
Pexels describes its own selection as "the best free stock photos and videos shared by talented creators." We will let you decide how good the offer really is. It is no question that the photos are of high quality and come across as original, but they often offer unique details.
This is a search engine that combs through numerous providers who make images available under Creative Commons licenses. The search results can be filtered according to the different licenses so you can quickly find royalty-free images for your desired concept.
Link: CC Search
And even more
If this selection wasn’t enough for you, here is a list of other providers where you can find royalty-free images at no cost. We wish you all the best on your search for motif and picture content.
Good Stock Photos
Free Nature Stock