Using strong, high-quality imagery can help you create a professional video that delivers a strong message. Finding the right image, however, can be challenging. You can’t just do a Google image search and use whatever comes up, that’s a quick way to get sued!
To avoid ending up in court, you need to make sure that all the images you use are royalty free. Royalty free doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no cost to you.
For paid images, it usually means you pay a licensing fee as a one-off cost, and can use it as many times as you want without giving attribution to the photographer or stock photo site.
Free images are typically licensed with Creative Commons copyright licenses, but not all of these allow you to use them for commercial purposes, and most require that you give attribution to the creator.
You’ll want to ensure that the image you intend to use has the right license and that you follow the conditions of the license. Public domain images, however, are free for commercial use without attribution.
There are lots of places online to find copyright free images, but they can vary widely in price, quality, and ease of finding what you’re looking for. Below, we’ll break down the best places to find premium, cheap, and free stock photos.
The stock photo databases below offer images licensed with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means they are completely free to use for any legal purpose without attribution to the creator.
With over 1.1 million free stock photos, illustrations, and vector images, Pixabay is the largest database of free images for commercial use.
Though the database of images is quite large, the quality can be a bit hit or miss, with some images more snapshot-quality than professional photography.
Pexels offer more than 30,000 royalty free stock photos, with thousands more added every month. The Pexels database is curated from a community of photographers and other stock photo sites, including Pixabay.
While it’s not the largest free photo source, the images are nicely curated and the database is well organized and easy to search.
Unsplash has a huge library of 200,000 free, high-resolution photos available to use for whatever you want. Unsplash’s collection veers toward artsy portraits and beautiful scenery, where Pexels and Pixabay’s images tend to be more like traditional stock photos. It’s a popular choice for high-quality images for blogs, when a more artistic image is desired.
Burst is a new free stock photo site powered by Shopify. The collection isn’t huge, but it’s nicely categorized into themed collections, and the images are specifically geared toward business and marketing purposes.
If you’re looking for an image that’s a little more whimsical or surreal, Gratisography is the place to go. The high-resolution images are free to use for any purpose, and are definitely more unique than anything you’ll find on other stock photo sites.
Here are a few more places to look for free stock photos. Since these collections are smaller, they may not have exactly what you’re looking for, but you may also find an image that hasn’t been overused by other creators.
StockSnap.io — With hundreds of new images added each week, this growing collection of stock photos is curated from user-submitted photos.
Picjumbo — A smaller collection of around 1500 free images with a variety of themes. These are created by a single artist, rather than a community of users, but there’s is still a good deal of variation.
FoodiesFeed — If you need food images, this collection of 800+ free culinary-themed images may have just what you need.
Death to Stock Photos — Sign up for this “anti-stock photo” newsletter to receive unique photo packs that aren’t your typical stock photo. There’s no searchable database though, unless you sign up for premium.
Flickr — Lastly, you can search on Flickr for images posted under Creative Commons CC0 (note that not all images on Flickr have this license.) However, because it’s entirely user-submitted, these copyright free images are not always professional quality so it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’ve got a budget for images, these sites will give you the best bang for your buck. These databases are quite large and images on the cheaper sites are sometimes quite cheesy stock photos, so you may need to do some digging to find what you’re after.
Per photo prices get cheaper with monthly or annual subscription plans, so keep that in mind if you’re likely to need a lot of photos on a regular basis.
Perhaps the best known stock photo site, Shutterstock has a huge collection of more than 150 million royalty-free images.
Single image download packs start at $29USD for two images, with monthly and annual subscriptions from $29USD/month for 10 images.
Dreamstime offer more than 64 million royalty free stock images, as well as audio and video assets. The credit-based pricing starts at $14.99USD for up to 11 images, or subscription plans from $25USD/month for 5 images. Images cost as little as $0.20 depending on the subscription plan you choose, plus there’s a smaller collection of free images.
With more than 26.8 million stock photos, videos, and illustrations, Pixta bills itself as the leading Asian marketplace for high quality royalty-free images. Affordable single purchase images from $15USD, with subscription plans for 10 images per month start at $29USD/month.
On Stock Photo Secrets, you can choose from more than 4 million royalty free images.
Image packs start at $39USD for 5 images. Monthly and yearly plans are available, starting at $35USD/month for 25 downloads.
Many of 123rf’s 84 million royalty free stock photos tend towards a modern “Instagram-style” aesthetic.
Prices are affordable, with a 5 image download pack for $39USD. Monthly and yearly subscriptions are also available, starting at $59USD/month for 150 images.
Bigstock’s marketplace has over 55 million royalty-free photographs, videos, illustrations and vectors. There’s a wide range of aesthetics, from artistic shots to traditional stock photos to unique original art.
While individual 10-image credits are reasonable at $35USD, subscription plans start a bit pricier than other options, with the cheapest monthly plan coming in at $79USD/month. That rate grants you 5 images/day (up to a maximum of 150 images per month), however, so if you need a lot of images, it could be a good option.
If you have a bit more in your budget and want something really special, there are a number of premium stock photo sites that offer more unique, higher-quality, high resolution images and video footage.
The leader in editorial photography, iStock has millions of high-quality, royalty free images, illustrations, and video clips. It’s actually owned by Getty Images but is separate from the Getty Images site.
Prices start at $33USD an image, with subscription plans from $40USD/month for 10 images.
The makers of leading image software like Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe’s stock photo site offers visually stunning photos, vectors, and illustrations.
If you have a specific look in mind, the handy reverse image search feature makes it easy to find images that are similar in color, tone and composition to a target image.
Adobe Stock monthly plans start at $29USD/month for 3 images.
Shutterstock’s premium stock photo site is Offset, a curated collection of super high-quality, royalty free images for commercial use. Pricing for small images is $250USD each, $500USD for large images, with 5 and 10 pack discounts available.
While much of Getty Images’ collection is dedicated to news and current events for editorial use, they also offer creative images, videos, and music.
Be careful though, not all images are royalty free. Many are “royalty managed” or “rights ready”. These licenses are granted for specific use, and pricing varies depending on the size, distribution, and duration of use.
Make sure you’re searching the Creative RF section for royalty free licensed work. Prices for individual images vary based on file size, from $50USD for small images (suitable for blogs and web use) to $575USD for a large image (suitable for printing in magazines, newspapers, or even billboards).
No matter your budget or preferred aesthetic, the 20 sites on this list are sure to have all the royalty free images you could possibly need for your videos. Just be sure to read the small print to ensure you know exactly what license you’re getting and avoid ending up on the wrong side of copyright law.
Do you also need royalty-free music for your video? We recently wrote a guide on ‘How to Find Royalty Free Music For Your Videos’ that you might find useful!