Finding free stock images for commercial use can be a daunting task, especially when you’re also looking for (high) quality visual assets. So what are the Do’s and Don’ts for using stock photos in your marketing content. Follow our guide to finding free pictures for your website, blog posts or presentations so that you don’t get yourself in legal hot water and put your bank account at risk.
Stock images come with licences
You can’t just pluck an image from Google Search or an image bank and assume that you can use it however you wish. This is even truer when it comes to using the image for commercial purposes. All third party images are subject to licensing terms so you need to pay great attention to the small print. Doing so could save you from dealing with substantial fines down the track.
Crediting a photographer or a graphic designer does not exempt you from the authorisation to publish his/her work. If you wish to use it you must contact the image owner to get an approval and find out the conditions of use. Most of the time this will be complicated and time-consuming. This is why using stock images appears as the easiest option.
What type of licence do you need for commercial use?
Public domain, royalty-free, creative commons zero (CC0), fair use, rights-managed… If you’re unfamiliar with stock images all this lingo can be very confusing. So what type of licence should you be looking for if you want to use “free”, or at least affordable, stock images for your presentation slides, website or blog posts? In other words, for commercial use.
Here are the main three options at your disposal:
- Public domain: If available, public domain (PD) images are the best option as they are no longer under or have failed to meet copyright protection. That means that you can use, modify or even distribute them without asking permission, including for commercial purposes. So feel free to use them in your pitch slide decks, or on the company blog.
- Creative Commons: Designed specifically for everything web, Creative Commons provide a non-exclusive licence to reproduce, distribute and communicate the work to the public free of charge, without asking permission from or giving attribution to the photographer. This includes for commercial purposes.
- Royalty free: Unlike what is commonly thought, royalty-free doesn’t mean free but free of royalties. After paying a one-time fee to the licensor, who holds the copyright, the picture can be used under non-expirable licence in as many projects as needed. All you need to do is make sure the image is licensed for commercial use and if you need to provide attribution.
Where to find free stock images for commercial use?
There are plenty of image libraries offering free stock photos, which you can download for your marketing or presentation materials. To make it easier for you to find the visual assets you need, here are our Top 5 sources for free images:
- Pixabay – Pixabay offers the most variety when sourcing for blog posts. If you use the right search strings for your topic, you’ll find pictures of people, environments, objects as relevant to your blog post.
- Unsplash – Unsplash has a smaller range but offers the best quality of all. This library is particularly useful for featured images.
- Pexels – Pexels is similar to Pixabay in size, and is a good second stop if Pixabay doesn’t have what you need. Pexels is especially good when you need images of people or to illustrate abstract concepts.
- Burst by Shopify – Easy to navigate, Burst offers a wide variety of collections for various industries. Boosted by Shopify, this platform should be your first stop for ecommerce & online shopping images.
- Gratisography – Gratisography enriches its offer with brand new high-resolution photos on a weekly basis. This stock also offers photos that are a bit more creative, not to say quirky, to help you stand out.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. There are plenty of other websites that you could check for free stock images, some of which include: Life Of Pix, Picography, Negative Space, Stock Up, Tookapic, ISO Republic and many more.
Spend time to save money
Remember to always double-check the licence of the photo you’re planning to use. You want to make sure that you have the right to “freely” use it. Even if the image does not require attribution, there is no harm in crediting the source.
When in doubt about potential copyright, always choose to play it safe. Don’t use the image and invest some time in looking for another one, rather than a lawyer to defend you in a copyright lawsuit. It might take longer to finish your presentation slides, or to finalise your blog post, but you won’t risk paying hefty fines or legal fees later on.