It doesn’t matter whether it is for a blog, a company website, an online shop or a personal website – images can contribute a lot to bringing your message across. But where to get great image material from? Simply stealing photos from the internet is neither fair nor legal. After all, these days it’s easy to find illegal content on the web with Google Images or special software, and fines are high for this kind of copyright infringements. That’s why in our two-part special series on image rights we want to present to you a few options where you can quickly get beautiful photos without getting stressed out about licenses and risking legal consequences.

Important notice: This article is not intended as legal advice, but reflects our personal opinion. The information provided is subject to change and we assume no liabilities whatsoever. Furthermore, things keep changing rapidly on the web, so better be on the safe side and refer to the portal’s terms and conditions yourself to find out under which conditions you may use their photos or if you need to obtain written consent before doing so.


17 portals with free images for free use (including commercial use & usage without attribution):

Surprisingly, there is a bunch of websites that offer photos without any copyright limitations. You heard right: You don’t have to read your way through long terms and conditions and you can even use the images for commercial purposes. Always remember though, there have been cost, effort and knowledge that went into these photos, so be nice and give these people some credit, for instance by backlinking to the picture / website or mentioning the sources on your site notice section. Some sites also feature a “coffee” button for small, voluntary donations for the photographers.


Most photos are not only free, but part of the “public domain”

In accordance with the prevailing regulations in the respective country, Public Domain photos are no longer subject to the copyright law and therefore may be used by anyone for any desired purpose without consent or financial obligation. It is possible for the author to release his or her works into the public domain via the CC0 Legal Code and irrevocably “waive all of his or her rights on the works worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by the applicable local jurisdiction.” However, several of the portals listed below do not fall into these categories, but describe the applicable terms of use directly on their website.

In addition to copyright law, you must always have in mind other applicable legal concepts, as for instance the personality right of photographed people, trademark rights and patent law (more about that in the second part of our special). If you have any doubts about the legal status of any of the pictures, it’s always better to avoid images in which people or trademarks do appear. Moreover, it can always happen that, particularly on large portals where you can upload photos anonymously, someone uploads photos for which they knowingly or unknowingly don’t own all the rights. A search for photos on Google Images can give clues as to whether the author details listed on the portal are actually valid. For the worst-case scenario, it’s helpful to document the download, for example with a screenshot of the photo on the portal’s website.


Yes, use them on social media!

Uploading images on Facebook can constitute a copyright infringement (this also applies to premium stock photos – more on that in the second part of our series), because according to their terms and conditions, you automatically give Facebook permission to reuse all uploaded content. According to our research, the use of the photos from all the portals in the first part of our special is permitted on Social Media channels as well, since they are public domain photos or we have received corresponding consent from the portal upon our request.


No endless scrolling - Portals with search function

With many photo archives you must browse quite a lot until you find your ideal image. We’ve marked portals that we favour because of their search function or useful categorization, with a magnifying glass.


Pexels

Currently we cover over 2000 photos. (…) We make sure that all published pictures are high-quality and under the CC0 license. We only add photos from reliable sources like Unsplash, Gratisography, Little Visuals and many more.”

  • Our favorite! An awesome dashboard for great photos from various sources
  • Search function
  • Images by different photographers, see the respective source details for the photo
  • CC0 / Public Domain


Gratisography

Free high-resolution photography that you can use on your personal and commercial projects. (…) All pictures were captured by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design and are free of any copyright restrictions.”

  • Inspiring & extraordinary images with some humorous scenes
  • All photos by Ryan McGuire
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • www.gratisography.com


Pixabay

“You can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission and without paying attribution.” Also pay attention to the FAQ.

  • Huge selection, even of everyday photos
  • Search function
  • WordPress tip: If you use the photos of this platform often, try the Pixabay Plugin.
  • Images highlighted in gray in the first row of the search results are sponsored by Shutterstock
  • Images from different photographers, see Terms of ServiceCC0 / Public Domain
  • pixabay.com


Unsplash

“Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution stock photos.” We enquired: “Photos are totally free to use as long as it’s not for direct resale. You can use them on Facebook and other social networking sites.”

  • Beautifully staged lifestyle images & impressive nature shots
  • Search function
  • Images from different photographers
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • unsplash.com


The Pattern Library

“This ongoing project compiles patterns shared by the most talented designers out there for you to use freely in your designs.” To our enquiry, whether there was anything that was prohibited (e.g. use on social media): “Nope, nothing not allowed. Attribution is nice, but not necessary.”

  • Creative background images and patterns, awakening the desire for the contemporary ornament
  • Patterns from different designers
  • thepatternlibrary.com


Jay Mantri

“Free pics. Do anything (CC0). Make magic.”

  • Hipster photography, small selection of wonderfully produced landscapes, street art & more
  • All photos by Jay Mantri
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • jaymantri.com


Foodie’s Feed

“You can use my original pictures anywhere you want, for both personal and commercial purposes, same for edits of my pictures (they are free to edit). (…) Practically the only condition I have is that selling and re-selling my pictures is strongly prohibited.” And we enquired: “Yes, my images may be used on social networks.” You’ll find more info in the FAQ. Please note: The “thematic packages” are subject to charge.

  • Professional food photography with a small, but nice selection
  • Search function
  • All photos by Jakub Kapusnak
  • foodiesfeed.com


New Old Stock

“Vintage photos from the public archives, free of known copyright restrictions.”

  • Beautiful collection of surprisingly diverse vintage images; photos & illustrations
  • Submitted by different people
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • nos.twnsnd.co


Tinyography

The little sister of Gratisography: “Free iPhone pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects. (…) All pictures captured by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design and free of copyright restrictions.”

  • Small selection of artistic, humorous & thoughtful photos
  • All photos by Ryan McGuire
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • www.tinyography.com


Free Refe Mobile Photos

“Free mobile photos from Refe.” We asked for details, as the usage conditions weren’t clear to us: “You may do anything with the images, except sell them and pass them off as your own work.”

  • Artistic photos by various photographers from all kinds of fields
  • Unclear how and by whom new photos are submitted; don’t confuse the Tumblr blog with getrefe.com where some images are subject to charge;
  • Images by different photographers
  • getrefe.tumblr.com


Picography

“Free hi-resolution photos. Use them however you like.” We enquired: “Yes, by all means people can use them as their profile pictures . We don’t allow or want people to sell the images. They can however include the images as part of a work they created like, say, a website template on ThemeForest. Should people want to use the images in print they would require a 300PPi version which we would supply at a cost.”

  • Inspiring collection of city, nature and culture shots, as well as snapshots for all kinds of occasions
  • Images by different photographers
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • picography.co


picjumbo

“Totally free photos for your commercial & personal works.” Please pay attention to the FAQ and Terms. We probed a bit here as well: “Yes, you can use them on social networks.”

  • With love of detail & depth-of-field photos in different subject areas from abstract to wedding
  • Search function (somewhat hidden in the sidebar)
  • Website somewhat confusing due to a lot of advertisements
  • Photos by Viktor Hanáček (unless otherwise stated)
  • picjumbo.com


Little Visuals

“Sign up to get 7 hi-res images zipped up in your inbox every 7 days. Use them anyway you want.”

  • Great natural and cultural landscape photos, but also tender close-ups; on request you can have new images sent to you as a ZIP file every week
  • No author details
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • littlevisuals.co


Splitshire

“I created splitshire.com to share some of my photos with you for free. Just use them as you like for web design, sliders, apps, backgrounds or templates for sale. I only ask that you spread the word; I would really appreciate it.” In response to our enquiry: “Yes, the pics are under CC0. You can use them on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

  • Impressive selection of outside-of-the-box photography such as infrared images or purely abstract model designs; widely varied selection of subjects
  • Search function (also categories
  • All photos by Daniel Nanescu
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • splitshire.com


Pickup Image

“Pickup Image is the largest collection of free photographs. (…) You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.”

  • Practical photos & clipart on varied topics; if you’re skilled at searching you can find some gems
  • Search function
  • Quality of the images is extremely varied; menu item “Food Photos” leads to another photo website with unclear terms of use
  • Images by different photographers
  • CC0 / Public Domain (see the corresponding info directly on the image)
  • pickupimage.com


PDPics

“PDPics.com is a repository of free public domain pictures. All images have been clicked by our in-house photographers.” Please also look at the Terms of Use.

  • Large selection & easy to use; photos on various (everyday) topics
  • Search function (also categories)
  • Some photos of rather modest quality
  • Images by different photographers
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • www.pdpics.com


snapographic

“You can use these high-resolution pictures on your personal and commercial projects for free. (…) A backlink is not necessary, but it would be nice.”

  • Small, nice selection of high-quality photos with quiet, architectural image build-up
  • All photos by Thomas Mühl
  • CC0 / Public Domain
  • www.snapographic.com


Don’t forget: compress online images!

By the way, don’t forget that good web design means your website loads quickly – you should by all means avoid to upload oversized photos. In Photoshop images can be compressed very well with the “Save for web and devices” function, in GIMP with the Save for Web plugin. If you want to get even more out of your images (advisable especially for large photos), we recommend compressor.io: This free online tool compresses JPEG, PNG, GIF and SVG by up to 90 percent, and with almost no loss of quality.

WordPress Tip: The plugin Imsanity reduces the pixel size of uploaded images automatically to the pre-set size. Depending on where you upload, you can set another maximum size (and so for example distinguish between sliders and background images). Also images can be adjusted after already being uploaded.


Part 2: Creative Commons, Stock Photo Agencies & Personal Images

The second part of our Image Rights Special will revolve around Creative Commons licenses as well as premium photos from stock photo agencies and what you should pay attention to with regards to photos you’ve shot yourself. Follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss out on this and other future articles!