Whether you’re an aspiring blogger or building a website for a business, it’s tough to escape copyright infringement in a digital age. As enticing as it might seem, you can’t simply use any image you’ve found online and throw it in your blog or use it for commercial purposes. The bulk of the images on the web are subject to copyright — meaning the photographer or creator of a particular image retains exclusive rights to that image — and are therefore protected under federal law. Luckily, there is an entire realm of free-for-all images that fall under something called the “public domain.”
Public domain images are available to anyone and can generally be used for whatever purpose you like — even commercial use — for a variety of reasons; the copyright may have expired, the images could have been photographed by a government branch, or the owner may have just forfeited his or her rights for whatever reason. And, although there is a ton of places to find public domain images online, many of the sites offer limited and lackluster results that are more of an eyesore than eye candy. That said, here are our favorite places for downloading public domain images.
Disclaimer: Copyright properties and conditions vary from one image to the next. Make sure you have an understanding of the license and abide by any restrictions it may have in order to avoid legal penalties and action. Publish at your own risk.
Creative Commons is one of the best choices for public-domain content, whether you’re looking for photos, audio, or something else. The site’s handy search utility allows you to enter a search term in the upper-right corner and filter the results based on Flickr, Fotopedia, Pixabay, Google Images, and a number of other reputable spots for hosting photos. You can even search for images that are part of the Met Musem’s public domain collection.
Keep in the mind that the site searches for images that have Creative Commons licenses, meaning the images might not necessarily fall under public domain, but they can often still be used under certain conditions. The site should also automatically search for content that can be used commercially and otherwise, but it’s a good idea to double-check the license just to be on the safe side.
EveryStockPhoto has an attractive, yet easy-to-navigate interface and displays some of the most popular searches on the left-hand side for easy access. When you use the built-in search bar, the site compiles images from a wealth of resources and showcases them in a classic thumbnail view or a column view that sorts them. Once you click an image, EveryStockPhoto will show you the photographer, the license type, resolution, and a few other tidbits of information. Unfortunately, you must register for a free account depending on the image source.
With more than 16 million media files available for free, Wikimedia is another great tool for finding different kinds of public-domain content. Users curate the elaborate site — uploading, tagging, and categorizing the files — and most of the content is available and can be modified as long as you attribute the original author or licenser.
Wikimedia features a fairly extensive list of categories, from nature to engineering, and there is even a public domain category to greater filter your results. When using the search bar in the upper-right corner, try entering “PD” before your search term to limit the results exclusively to public domain images. For instance, try searching “PD Abraham Lincoln” to show only public domain images of the late president.
Flickr doesn’t just house millions and millions of protected images. It is also a great source for finding Creative Commons-licensed material and some that has made its way into the public domain spectrum, as well. The site features a wide array of images and the comprehensive search function allows you to sift through images much quicker than the built-in image browser.
Many images on Flickr are free to use as long as you credit the photographer. After typing a term into the search bar, use the drop-down menu on the upper left that says “any license” and select the use you are looking for to sort the images. Like the rest of the sites in our roundup, it’s best to avoid any legal trouble by looking at what the original content owner’s restrictions on the image are. Some images on Flickr aren’t subject to copyright at all and thereby can be used for anything (including commercial purposes), while others merely require a simple attribution or hyperlink back to the source. Be sure to check out the Library of Congress’ photostream, if you happen to be looking for a great collection of historical images.
If you’re looking for a place to download a collection of resources for both personal and commercial projects, IM Free offers everything you need, whether you intend to build a personal blog using one of the best blogging sites or create a commercial enterprise using Wix, Weebly, or one of the many quality website builders out there.IM Free bills itself as “a curated collection of free web design resources, all for commercial use,” meaning that the assets can be used in for-profit websites. However, it’s important to note the commercial use clause, as many images and textures are free to download but lack a free license. Unlike our previous pick, Textures.com, IM Free has a stronger concentration on stock images and offers a variety of tools for designers, including templates, icons, and buttons. On the stock photography side, IM Free handles all model and location releases, so you don’t have to — just make sure to verify if the image you’re using requires attribution.
Unsplash has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Although it initially lacked a search button and distinct image categories, it has since expanded upon its Tumblr-like design, allowing you to quickly browse new images and scour the site based on image tags, collections, and users. Despite these recent changes, however, the Unsplash library still features a wide array of high-resolution photos submitted by different users. Photos vary from animal close-ups and landscapes to automobiles and intimate portraits, and a host of curated and featured collections give you a means of browsing an assortment of broader topics — weddings, silhouettes, computers, etc. It remains one of the best for casual browsing, too, as the images are a bit “artsier” than those on other stock sites. Now, if only the site’s image library was a bit more extensive.
Dreamstime has a similar look and feel to Shutterstock, but includes a selection of free photos as well. The site does ask for a user sign-in, and there are some photos that require credits to download, but it does have a substantial selection of free images. In fact, compared to the other sites in our roundup, Dreamstime has the best variety, given it pulls from Creative Commons and many other websites. The search is accurate, too, so long as you keep your search queries broad. It also offers a slew of generic categories to browse through, if you’re looking for something less specific.
Death to Stock Photos is not what you might expect. Co-founders David Sherry and Allie Lehman noticed it can be difficult to find compelling photos for free use on blogs and personal websites, so they decided to offer their own. Once you sign up for a free subscription, you’ll receive a pack of photos with their accompanying stories each month. For an additional $10 a month, you’ll be granted access to the couple’s entire library and receive an extra pack of monthly photos. Part of that money goes to different artists, allowing for greater variety in the library.
Unlike waterfalls or puppies, photos of space can be more difficult to capture for the home photographer. That said, NASA is the place to go to for all of your cosmic and otherworldly needs. The independent agency offers mind-blowing photos it has captured over the years, entirely for free. The site also has a number of galleries you can browse if you’re in need of something specific. Whether it’s retro shots of Neil Armstrong on the moon, photos that highlight the surface of Mars, or something more recent, NASA probably has you covered. And if you’re in need of rocket images or those relating to other spacecraft, check out SpaceX’s Flickr page.
Pexels offers photos that carry a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which pretty much means there are no strings attached. You don’t have to attribute the photos to the photographers, and you are free to edit and redistribute them to your heart’s content. The photos are sourced from either Pexels users or other websites that offer free-to-use images, including Unsplash (see above) and Little Visuals. The company says it has 40,000 free stock images available, and it adds at least 3,000 new ones every month. If you use Pexels often, consider contributing CC0 images to its portfolio, so you can return the favor.
Stock photography is nothing new to the internet, and there are plenty of royalty-free and copyright-free alternatives worth looking into if the aforementioned sites don’t pan out for you. Most of them offer high-quality images with a few stipulations — such as attribution or restrictions on noncommercial use — but some do offer public domain images. Below are few websites of note.
Freestock features a diverse selection of images, logos, and videos that are free to download. The site often requires you to link back if you plan on using content on a website, but otherwise, places no restrictions on you. Videos of waving flags and glittering water are prime examples of the kind of stuff you might not find elsewhere, and the site has a neat “keyword” feature, which makes it relatively easy to browse similar photos.
As one of the first to enter the stock photo scene, Morguefile has been around since the late 1990s. Although the images are not in the public domain and you cannot claim ownership of them, they are still free to use in creative projects. Whether you search or browse the links, be sure to click on the Morguefile on the left — the others in the navigation bar lead to paid stock photo websites.
You have to register for a free membership in order to download images using Freerange, but it’s quick and gives you access to a vast archive of quality images that can be used for both personal and commercial use. You’ll see some advertising, but it’s for a good cause; the photographers get paid when users click on the ads next to their submissions.
Touting more than 125,000 free images, StockVault is great for photographers, designers, and students looking to share their work for both personal and non-commercial use. The site has a clean design and simple navigation, but search results often include images from both StockVault and Shutterstock (which requires a fee). Regardless, the site offers an admirable collection of images, no matter the topic.
Getty Images acquired Stock.xchng and renamed it Free Images, bolstering traffic and making the site more popular than ever before. You need to sign up for a free account before you can download anything, but there are around 400,000 images to choose from once you’re up and running. Some are free to use, while others require notifying the artist or abiding by a standard set of outlined restrictions.
As another free site maintained exclusively by its users, Public Domain Pictures hosts a hodgepodge of images that users can download at any time; you can also upload images to contribute to the library. Clicking on a photo will provide you with detailed information about the camera used, the artist, license, and several other technical features. If you’re feeling generous, you can also pay for premium downloads or choose to buy the artist a cup of joe which basically deposits money in the artist’s account via PayPal.
Free Digital Photos offers both premium and free versions of its images for personal or commercial use. Nearly every image is available as a free download, but there’s a fee if you decide to ramp up the resolution and overall image quality. The site offers a nice selection of categories, from travel to architecture, and an option to filter search results by photos, illustrations, or a specified image ID if you already know what you’re looking for.
Like the title implies, Textures.com (formerly CG Textures) offers mainly textures. Made by a graphic designer for graphic designers, this site makes creating textures super easy and fun. Everything featured on the site is free, but it does require you to sign up for a membership to access the entire photo collection. The site also provides an assortment of traditional photos, such as animals and skulls, if you don’t mind taking the time to browse for them. It even houses a neat gallery that showcases how people have successfully used the textures in the past. It’s a great way to spur some ideas for a potential project, or to be horrified by what people are capable of making.
Built by a photographer and graphic designer, PicJumbo caters to users who are looking for premium, stylized images that are free for commercial use. Unlike many stock photo sites, PicJumbo’s images often have a clean and fresh look that’s appealing to many lifestyle and photography enthusiasts’ aesthetic. PicJumbo is also neatly organized into “collections” that can be downloaded as individual downloads, or as a package by upgrading to a premium subscription. PicJumbo even has a Photoshop plugin, one that allows you to search the site’s image library without even opening your browser.