Finding great visual content for your marketing

This is something I get asked a lot. "Where can I get free or low cost pictures and visual stuff."

So with a little help from our chums at Google, here's a low down. There's no excuses for rubbish pictures on your websites or social media. You will NEVER be stuck for a visual idea ever again.

Keep it legal

Nearly every image created in the last 30 years is still protected by copyright -- a protection that gives virtually every author the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work. But you can find a public domain photo, use a Creative Commons image that might need attribution or even create your own image from scratch.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

There are various types of Creative Commons licenses that range from allowing any type of use with no attribution to allowing only certain uses and no changes.

What is public domain?

Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Finding something on the internet does not mean it is in the public domain.

These terms will come up often as we discuss free photo sources. Read over the terms and conditions of each site you try so you know exactly when and what type of attribution is required.

Searchable photo databases

If you want a photo or image on a specific topic, you'll want a site that's searchable. Here are a few to check out.

Dreamstime - offers a free section that's searchable and frequently updated. You need to create a (free) account.

Free Digital Photos has tons of free images---categorized and searchable---for business, personal or educational use. They're smaller sized, and larger versions are available to purchase. Using the free images often requires a credit to the photographer.

Free Images - is a large gallery of more than 350,000 stock photos, searchable and categorized. Downloading a photo does require a longer-than-most signup process but the bigger selection might be worth it.

Free Range Stock - offers access to free high-quality, high-resolution stock photos. A (free) registration is required.

Free Photos Bank - has a nice collection of free photos available for download without login. They're extensively categorized with a few different ways to search, too.

ImageFree - registered users can download both free and paid images to use in corporate and personal projects. The free selection seems fairly limited, though.

IM Free - offers a curated collection of free resources, all for commercial use. Search for a keyword or browse through the stylishly crafted categories.

Morguefile - contains photographs freely contributed by many artists to be used in creative projects by visitors to the site. A short registration is required, and morguefile asks that users credit the photographer when possible.

Pixabay - offers copyright-free, cost-free images published under Creative Commons. You can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes. No registration is required.

Public Domain Pictures - is a repository for a wide variety of free public domain images uploaded by amateur photographers. A brief signup is required. (Premium download is an option if you need larger images.)

Stockvault - is a stock photo sharing website where photographers, designers and students can share their photographs, graphics and image files with each other for free and use them for personal and non-commercial design work. No registration is required.

Rgbstock - is a free stock image site created by photographers and graphic artists. Registration (required) is one-click and the pool of photos is pretty deep.


Free-form photo collections

Sites in this category offer a more freewheeling approach to images---no searching but lots of discovery.Since there's no search in this category.

Ancestry Images - offers a free image archive of historical prints, maps and artifact photos, like this print of a New Zealand Maori Warrior from 1817.

BigFoto - is a royalty-free photo gallery in which most of the photos have been contributed by amateur photographers. No login is required. It's organized mainly by geographic area.

Gratisography - is a collection of free high-resolution images for personal or commercial use. New photos are added weekly; simply click to download.

Death to The Stock Photo - offers free high-res lifestyle photography sent to you monthly.

FreeMediaGoo - offers royalty-free, cost-free media that can be used in print, film, TV, Internet or any other type of media both for commercial and personal use. There's no login required but the inventory is slightly more limited, organized into unique categories like beach backgrounds and concrete textures.

Little Visuals - delivers 7 high-res images to use anyway you want via email every 7 days. Subjects range from industrial parts to idyllic landscapes.

New Old Stock - is a collection of vintage photos from the public archives, free of known copyright restrictions.

PicJumbo - offers a variety of free photos for any kind of use---free of charge with no registration required. Although there's no search function, categories will help you find your way.

Pickupimage - is a large collection of free stock images mostly focusing on nature- and outdoor-related scenes that can be copied, modified an distributed---even for commercial purposes. No registration necessary.

Superfamous - houses the work of Dutch interaction designer Folkert Gorter, whose photography is available under the conditions of a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. This means that you can use the work for your own purposes -- including commercial use -- as long as credit is provided.

Unsplash - offers 10 free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos every 10 days.

Wikimedia Commons - is a database of 21,049,775 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute. The images are painstakingly organized but the classifications may not be super clear if you're not a big Wikipedia user (I'm not).

Photo search tools

These sites don't offer free photos themselves but rather provide a way to search easily through Flickr or public domain photos to more quickly find a photo you can use.

Can We Image - searches and displays results from Wikimedia Commons. All search results link directly to the resource's usage rights page.

Compfight - is a Flickr image search engine that uses the Flickr API to locate images based on your license needs.

Creative Commons Search - is a sort of photo search engine clearinghouse that offers access to search services provided by other organizations like Flickr and Google.

Foter - is a Flickr-focused search tool that helps quickly unearth photos and identify their licenses.

Google Advanced Image Search -is a method of finding free-to-use images through Google's own search tools. Here's a quick guide.

Image Finder - allows users to search Creative Commons photos from Flickr with similar filters for commercial/non-commercial and other categories.

PhotoPin's - interface allows users to search millions of Creative Commons photos from Flickr. - is a Creative Commons-licensed professional free stock photos sharing community of about 25,000 images. All photos displayed on this Pinterest-esque site are allowed for commercial use with proper credits to the authors.

TinEye - is a reverse image search engine. It finds out where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version.

Wylio - is an all-in-one picture finder, re-sizer and attribution builder for bloggers. Users can resize up to 5 free images per month.

Create-your-own image tools

For options beyond readymade images, consider the many tools available to help even the design-challenged among us create attractive, original images.

Canva - is one I particularly turn to often for creating new images to accompany my posts. This tool allows users to search for the best graphics, photos, and fonts (or upload your own) then use Canva's drag-and-drop tool to create a new design.

Phew - that's all I've got. So now go and make your digital world beautiful.

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