Free stock photos and where to find them

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Source: @writingquirky on Instagram.

Stock photography is a tricky beast. As a communicator and (occasional) graphic designer, I’ve relied on stock photos as background images, accents in layouts and to fill “graphic holes” in web and print pieces. The trouble with stock photography is that it can be stiff and many photos are over-used.

When working on personal or not-for-profit projects, I don’t always have budget for occasional stock photo use, so finding free and/or creative-commons licensed photos is a priority. Over the last year, I’ve culled together a bookmarks tab of sources for free stock photos.

Here’s my list:

  • Flickr Creative Commons: photos by amateur and professional photographers who are part of the Flickr community. Attribution is good to include, but not always necessary depending on the license. I like that Flickr is easily searchable and includes a huge range of photos. Because this source includes a lot of amateur work, quality can be variable.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Wikipedia’s multimedia portal, all content is free to use under a Creative Commons license.
  • MorgueFile: a searchable database of high-resolution stock images. Their collection isn’t as vast as Flickr’s, but MorgueFile has a great community of photographers and content creators who both upload and download.
  • Free Range Stock: a sizeable collection available to anyone who opens a free account. A lot of their photos have that “stock photo” look.
  • Open Photo: like MorgueFile and Flickr, this is a community-built collection of free photos on Creative Commons licenses.
  • Unprofound:  another community-built photo collection. I like that Unprofound lets users you search photos by dominant colour, which can be handy.
  • Little Visuals: subscription-based. The website emails a zip file of 7 photos every week to your inbox. Their archive is searchable. Little Visuals offers mostly textures, close-ups, landscapes and tech photos.
  • Unsplash: like Little Visuals, Unsplash is subscription-based and emails 10 high-resolution photos every 10 days to your inbox. It’s built on a Tumblr blog, which makes searching the archive a bit tedious.
  • Death to the Stock Photo: you’ll need a free membership to browse, but DTTSP’s photos are high-quality and high-resolution.
  • Microsoft Clip Art: this one’s counter-intuitive, but the latest version of MS’s clip art gallery includes some decent-quality stock photography that’s free to use.
  • New Old Stock: vintage photos, scanned from public archives. Also uses a Tumblr format, so you may need to try a few keywords to find what you’re looking for.
  • Picjumbo:  a personal project of photographer Viktor Hanacek. Attribution is requested, but  not required.
  • GetRefe:  a  Tumblr blog of stock photos taken by mobile phone users. Great source for gritty or spontaneous images.
  • Pattern Library:  tile-able patterns and backgrounds created by a community of graphic artists.
  • Gratisography: like Picjumbo, Gratisography is a personal project. Photographer Ryan McGuire, of Bells Design, has curated a gallery of his own images and offered them for public use, copyright-free.
  • Instagram: I’ve used several of my own Instagram photos as placeholders in mock-ups, or as accent photos in larger pieces. To download Instagram photos, use Webstagram.

Any suggestions of sites to add to this list?

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