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What Are The Best Royalty Free Stock Photos Sites?

copyright free image sites
There are many copyright-free image sites online and we will share with you the top sites you can use.

Building a website and creating the right visual image and brand can often be challenging. One of the largest hurdles encountered by web developers and website owners is where to source royalty free stock photos if they are not using their own.

Even though the internet is largely an unregulated domain, one thing that is still protected by copyright laws is photography. This means online images are not exactly free to use just because they are online. In fact, this is quite the opposite.

Fortunately, in recent years, a number of websites have been developed that specialise in providing stock photos for use in websites and blogs. The use of these kinds of photos prevents copyright infringement which is still punishable by law.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a federal law of protection that is used to preserve the rights of those who create original works. This includes literary, written, dramatic, artistic, and musical works to name a few. It also protects photography and as soon as work begins on the original piece, copyright is established. The exclusive rights to reproduce, alter, share and feature publicly the copyrighted work is retained by the person who created it.

How Copyright Applies to Online Photos

Because of the high likelihood that whatever photo you have downloaded from the internet is copyrighted, there are ways of dealing with the issue.

The most logical option is to request permission for use from the copyright owner. If that is not possible, there is a ‘fair use’ clause in copyright law that may be of assistance. Essentially it allows for limited and reasonable use of a copyrighted image as long as it does not get in the way of the copyright owners’ rights or their right to use their own work in whatever manner they wish. However, this is still left to interpretation and may not be your best solution.

Making a series of modifications to the original photo in order to ‘disguise’ it will not be considered fair use and even linking back to the original or to the owner’s website may not be enough. Known as attribution, giving credit to the creator of the photo you are using for a purpose he or she may not have intended it for still does not completely sidestep the issue of copyright.

When in doubt, don’t use a photo you find online, but rather look to use your own photos or turn to a stock photo site.

The Different Types of Copyright Photos

In photography, there are three main categories of copyright.

Public domain refers to the free use of an image without the need to purchase a license. Public domain works can be used for commercial or personal purposes and represent works by creators who have either had the exclusive intellectual property rights expire, were forfeited, or are not applicable.

Royalty-free works are those that have a copyright license where a user can utilise photos based on a series of restrictions that come attached to the work, often following a one-time payment for use. Many users can have royalty-free access to the same photos as it is not an exclusive use license.

Photos that are considered ‘rights-managed’ are the most restrictive of the categories. A user purchases a license that grants a one-time use of the photo which is specified by the license. Additional licenses are required for each additional use of the copyrighted work. The licenses are issued in exclusive and non-exclusive situations. Rights-managed photos are also known as ‘licensed images.’

How to Locate Images Free From Copyright

There is no denying that your best source for free images on the internet is a stock photo site. Many are designed to provide copyright-free photos for commercial use as well as for personal use. This means that if you have a business website or a blog, and you plan on using photos that have some connection to the content, you will be able to use stock photos without having to worry about possible copyright infringement.

However, it is always important to read the “small print” license and usage information regarding the use of each image on these stock photo sites. Just because it says “free to use” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with restrictions, such as providing attribution.

There are many copyright-free image sites online and we will look closely at some of the top ones you might want to consider using.

Where To Find Free Photos For Commercial Use

Here are seven of the best royalty-free stock photo sites online and details about each related to the type of photos available and additional helpful information:

1. Stock Free Images

Boasting the internet’s largest collection of free images, royalty-free and stock photos numbering above the high 1.6-million mark, Stock Free Images is a must-see site. The photos are easy to locate through search tools and there are two options for use. You can use images for free or for enhanced access there are premium plans in place.

2. Pixabay

Searchable through a number of different categories, Pixabay has an extensive selection of photos, illustrations, and more available for free use. They even explain on their home page that the works available can be modified, shared, and used on personal or commercial websites. Most of the images at Pixabay are copyright free under the Creative Commons CCO.

3. Unsplash

Featuring what they call “free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos,” Unsplash is another great source. Photos are searchable and the home page includes tabs for new and featured selections. You can also see how popular the photos are as each has a counter showing ‘likes’ and photographers are credited for their original work.


This is a nice place to find Creative Commons CCO copyright-free photos and images. They are available for any kind of use, personal or commercial, and can be modified, copied, or shared. Search tools help you locate what you are looking for along with popular categories. StockSnap photos all show the number of times each has been viewed and liked.

5. Pexels

By adding 100 new photos daily, Pexels stays fresh as a regular go-to site for images. The photos featured here can be searched by category and the home page shows popular search results, top photographers, and much more, making the hunt for that perfect copyright-free photo very easy and fun.

6. Gratisography

The photography of Ryan McGuire is featured exclusively at Gratisography where each high-resolution image is free for use. Personal and commercial applications are allowed and new photos are added weekly. The photos on this site can be searched through categories and are a simple one-click download away from your hard drive.

7. Splitshire

Promoted as providing free stock photos and images for commercial use, Splitshire is a simple site with many, many photos available. The search tools allow you to look for photos through categories and also feature direct access to new and popular photos.

More on Copyright Free Image Sites

Even when you are using the best royalty-free stock photo sites, it is a good idea to review their guidelines every so often. Don’t just rely on what others have said (including us in this blog), as things can and do change… so just because a site was ok to use previously does not mean it will always be the case.

It’s also a good idea to make a record of where you have sourced each of your images, and what the licensing restrictions are… if someone comes asking you a few years down the track where you found a particular image, there’s a good chance that you won’t remember unless you record it somewhere. If you use WordPress, you can use the Description field within the media library to make notes of each image you have used for each post and page on your website.

So always check the usage before you use any image from websites such as these. This keeps you current on the use and licensing of the images and photos you are using in your projects.

By staying informed of any changes you will stand a better chance of keeping away from the risk of copyright infringement.

About Brendan

Brendan Hones is a digital marketing consultant and website designer and developer at SB Web Designs. He loves helping business owners take control of and improve their online presence to help their business grow. He is passionate about SEO and helping others to learn more through WordPress training.

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