Epic Top 10 Free Image Sites

My list includes sites that specialise in photography, as well as some more unusual image resources for something a bit different. It’s not in order of preference as these are all great sites.

1 Unsplash

Unsplash calls itself ‘the internet’s source of freely-usable images’. It provides free images (photography) for both commercial and non-commercial use. Although attribution is encouraged, it’s not required. That makes it a go-to for web developers everywhere; with no difficult licensing to understand and no complex attribution required, it’s just simple.

Photo by Michael Walk on Unsplash

2 Pexels

If you use WordPress and make use of the free images provided via your media library, those images will probably come from this site. Just like Unsplash, the licensing is simple – “All photos and videos on Pexels can be downloaded and used for free”. Using Pexels via the media library on WordPress automatically takes care of the attribution for you which is an added bonus.

Pexels does give a link to your photographer and allows you to make a donation, but unlike Pixabay you don’t learn much about them.

Photo by Adnan on Pexels.com

3 The Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection is ‘a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health’. You can use this link to search for free, downloadable images taken from the library and museum collections, including paintings, illustrations and photos. This is a great resource for some very unusual images. I particularly like old botanical illustrations and this is a great resource for those. Images are available to download in various sizes and licensing is clearly explained with many images available to use for any purpose. They do ask that you include an image credit (often just the title of the work) and a link back to their site. You’ll see various images on The Epic Compendium from The Wellcome Collection because I love it so much.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis): flowering stem. Watercolour. From The Wellcome Collection.

4 The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Another resource for this type of image is the Biodiversity Heritage Library. You can find images on Flickr or directly from their website. Many of the items in BHL’s collection are in the public domain and free to reuse without risk of copyright infringement, but do check before use, particularly if you plan to use the images commercially.

Image from The Biodiversity Heritage Library, taken from ‘Illustrations of the natural orders of plants with groups and descriptions’. By Twining, Elizabeth, 1805-1889

5 Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia commons is a resource of about 74 million media files. The photographs are of varying quality. If you want beautiful images for your blog this might not be the site for you, and it’s not intuitive to use. However, all that aside, if you know what you’re looking for it can be a great resource. The licensing and attribution requirements are usually clear, and you can download images in several sizes.

No secret to anyone who knows me is that my favourite photographer is Alvin Langdon Coburn. This is a self portrait of Coburn aged 23 from Wikimedia Commons.

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966); Self-Portrait at Age 23 from Wikimedia Commons


Obviously if you want space images the NASA website is the place to go. Do check the licensing requirements to make sure you’re complying with them as the site says that NASA images, ‘generally are not subject to copyright in the United States’. I take that to mean that you’re free to use them for most purposes, but if your purpose is commercial you might need to check out their media usage guidelines thoroughly to make sure. To find the best images check out the ‘most popular’ header under the image search bar as the ‘newest uploads’ can be a bit dull.

While we’re on space, as a European myself I feel I must add a link to the European Space Agency, ESA, as they also have an image resource available. It’s not as extensive as NASA, but there are some great images available.

Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image of the Cygnus Loop nebula, taken by NASA Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The nebula lies about 1,500 light-years away. From NASA.

7 Rijks Museum

I stumbled across this museum collection by accident, and it’s great. Not only do they have high resolution images to download, they have a Rijksstudio – a resource that enables you to curate your own collection of images and gives you tools and ideas for manipulating them to create your own work of art. I’ve not had time to sit and play with this yet, but the creative possibilities are exciting. The only thing I’d like to see is an option to download smaller, lower quality versions of the images.

I’m assuming that because they provide high resolution images that have a download button, you’re free to use them as you wish. However, as with all commercial uses it is best to double check that assumption!

Self-portrait, Vincent van Gogh, 1887 from Rijks Museum.

8 The British Library

The best way to see images from The British Library is to visit their Flickr page. They say that their “collections on Flickr Commons offer access to millions of public domain images, which we encourage you to explore and re-use.” If it’s images in particular that you want, this Flickr site really is so much easier than trying to find images via their actual website. My personal favourite among their many albums of images is called ‘Space and Sci-Fi‘.

You can choose from various sizes of images for different uses and I find the option to do that very helpful.

The first image is from Space and Sci-Fi: Title: “La Terre: description des phénomènes de la vie du globe. I. Les Continents. II. L’Ocean, l’Atmosphere, la Vie”Author(s): Reclus, Elisée, 1830-1905 

The second image is from the album Myths and Creatures: Title: “A Strange Manuscript found in a Copper Cylinder [A novel. By James De Mille.] With illustrations by G. Gaul”Author(s): De Mille, James

9 Creative Commons

Quoting directly from their website, ‘One goal of Creative Commons is to increase the amount of openly licensed creativity in “the commons” — the body of work freely available for legal use, sharing, repurposing, and remixing. Through the use of CC licenses, millions of people around the world have made their photos, videos, writing, music, and other creative content available for any member of the public to use.’

However, you must follow the licence conditions, and the main condition for all CC licenses is attribution. To help you out, they provide a link for best practices for attribution, but they suggest the ideal is title, author, source and licence. You may also need to include any changes you’ve made to the image, but as with all of these sites always check each image you’re using.

I must admit I find all the various licences confusing. When you’re looking for an image to use right now for a particular project then having to work out what to do can be off-putting, and for photos I’d be more likely to use another site where the usage is very clear across the site. Is it laziness? No, I just want to get it right and I want getting it right to be easy.

The search facility typically leads to a link to the website for the image, in this case it went to Flickr, straight to the image on the photographers photo stream. (I had to search for puppies and obviously when I saw this one I couldn’t resist).

Puppy Love‘ by smlp.co.uk on Flickr  CC BY 2.0 license.

10 Pixabay

Pixabay says it has 2.3 million+ high quality stock images as well as videos and music. You can browse easily and you’re encouraged to sign up for an account. Signing up is quick and easy, but it did take my confirmation email a while to arrive. Pixabay is like Unsplash and Pexels, it’s great for images for blogs and websites.

As a photographer, I think I’d probably be more inclined to submit images to Pixabay because it has a link to buy the photographer a coffee – you can choose to pay for the image you use via PayPal, and you can decide the amount. I think it’s a nice touch. It also seems easier to find out a bit about the photographer and you can follow them to keep up with their work. In fact, browsing around Pixabay and having made myself an account I think I’ll start uploading some images myself very soon!

The usage is crystal clear – for this image it was, ‘Free for commercial use, No attribution required’.

However, you should always try to include attribution; it’s not nice to have absolutely no acknowledgement for your work.

Image by Uschi_Du on Pixabay

Featured image is from Pexels.com. It’s not giving me the name of the photographer – sorry!

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