This article was originally published in 2011 and is updated regularly to include the latest, greatest information.
When you visit a blog, what’s the first thing about a particular post that catches your attention?
Other than the article’s title, it’s probably the image (or images) that accompany the post.
Readers’ eyes are drawn to images, so it’s important to place a visual that illustrates your point into every blog post.
Readers are also creatures of habit, so place images in a consistent location, such as the upper left or upper right area of each post. Wrap text around the image to create a clean, packaged look.
I’m forever on the hunt for free and inexpensive stock photos and illustrations to use on websites, blogs, marketing materials, and PowerPoint presentations. You can find oodles of high-quality, royalty-free stock photos and illustrations online.
Pictures you find via a Google or Bing (or any search engine) image search are almost always copyrighted. You CANNOT use those images in your blog post unless you receive written permission from the person who took the photo.
Never assume that because you find an image via a search, it’s free for the taking.
To be on the safe side, use a photo you snap yourself or download an image from one of the following stock photo services. Each service functions slightly differently — some require a photo attribution, link, or byline and others don’t. Make sure you carefully read and follow the terms of service before downloading an image.
Free Stock Images
morgueFile – When I shared the name of my current favorite free stock photo house with a client, she responded, “Oooh, creepy!” She was thinking that a “morgue” is the place dead bodies are kept. Which is true.
However, the traditional meaning of the word “morgue” is “a reference file in a newspaper or magazine office.” The “morgue” in a newspaper office is where the old photos and print editions are stored (at least, they used to be until everything went digital).
Anyway, morgueFile is awesome — they have a fantastic selection of free images.
StockPholio - This service has an interesting interface. Enter your search term and an array of results displays, Pinterest-style. Click on an image you like and a large image displays along with details about licensing (many of the photos appear to be Creative Commons licensed). You can choose from several sizes available for free download, and the download page includes a handy photo credit area where you can copy/paste a snippet of code to correctly attribute the image. The images on this site are gorgeous; it may quickly become one of my favorites.FreeImages – The website Stock.XCHNG has been renamed FreeImages and has a much easier to remember URL: www.freeimages.com. FreeImages, owned by Getty Images, is my number one source for free stock images. I’ve used it for years and can almost always find what I’m looking for there.
stockvault – Free photos are for personal, educational and non-commercial use only. I believe stockvault is a subsidiary of shutterstock, because they offer shutterstock’s premium (fee-based) images, as well.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Members of the Blogging Bistro team rely on FreeDigitalPhotos.net to find the perfect images to accompany blog articles we ghostwrite for our clients.
EveryStockPhoto - Touting itself as a “portal for the stock photo community,” everystock photo is a clearinghouse of free stock images from several sources.
StockPhotos.io - Another reader recommendation, this service offers free, high-quality, high-resolution public domain and Creative Commons licensed photos. Currently, they have around 25,000 images on the site and feature a Pinterest-style interface. You can use the photos for commercial use as long as you give proper credit to the author/photographer.
Pixabay – With a user-friendly, Pinterest-style interface, Pixabay is a repository for public domain images: free vectors, drawings and photos. You can freely use any image from this website in digital and printed format, for personal and commercial use, without attribution requirement to the original author.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art – On May 16, 2014, The Met announced, “more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use.” You can use the images at no charge and without getting permission from the museum. When you surf the Met’s digital collection, look for the “OASC” acronym, which means the image is free to download.
Flickr Creative Commons – You can’t use just any Flickr photo on your blog, but you can use images from users who offer their work under the Creative Commons license. Be sure to check out the license before using an image from the Creative Commons.
Google Creative Commons – Use Google’s Advanced Image Search to find images, videos, and text you can reuse, share, or modify. Keep in mind that you can’t use just any old photo you find in a Google search on your site – it HAS to be one that is labeled for reuse, commercial reuse, and/or modification. Google says, “In addition to images labeled as being under the Creative Commons license or in the public domain, the usage rights filter on this page also shows you images labeled with the GNU Free Documentation license.”
Wikimedia Commons – Millions of images, sounds, and video clips to explore. Read the licensing information below the image for terms of reuse. You can also search by license type.
Getty Images – Getty Images now allows users to embed photos onto their blogs and websites free of charge. The embedded image will appear in an image box with Getty Images’ branding below, but this isn’t a bad tradeoff considering you’d normally have to pay for a standard download. Check out our tutorial on how to embed Getty Images on your blog or website.
Plus! Image - This is not a stock photo service, but rather, a free downloadable app from which you can scan multiple image sources including Google, Flickr, Picasa, Bing, Yahoo, Fotolia, and more. Worth a try!
RGBStock – Free stock images for personal and commercial use. If you wish to use an image outside of the terms and licenses specified on RGBStock (for example, to print an image on something you’re going to sell), you can easily contact the image author through the site and ask for permission.
BestStockPhotoFree.com – The owner of this site, Carl, emailed me and said he created this site as a hobby. Carl offers a collection of beautiful, high-quality photos that are Creative Commons licensed. He adds new images weekly. I checked it out and while there aren’t many images (yet), the ones that are on the site are, indeed, delicious!
Gratisography, Little Visuals, Unsplash – These sites offer free, high-resolution photojournalistic images. While the small size of these collections might not be ideal if you are searching for a specific image for your business blog, one of these artistic images might be just the thing you need for a more inspirational post.
Low-Cost Stock Images
Fotolia – I use Fotolia almost daily to purchase low-cost images for use on our clients’ websites and blogs. They offer both pay-as-you-go plans for as little as 74 cents per image, and subscription plans for as low as 19 cents per image.
depositphotos – Has three types of payment plans to choose from: Daily Subscription, Monthly Subscription, and Pay-As-You-Go Credits. Choose the plan that works best for you.
photodune – Buy and sell royalty-free photographs and images starting at $1. Items are priced on the size/megapixels of each file.
dreamstime- While their prices have skyrocketed during the past year, Dreamstime carries many of the same images as istockphoto and they have good royalty agreements. I’d compare images/prices between the two services before purchasing. A few select “featured” images are free.
iStockphoto – I regularly buy “credit packs” from iStock, so that must be a good sign that they have loads of great images. Which they do. iStock claims that their library of high-resolution stock photography, clip art, vector illustrations, video footage and music is almost 10 million strong.
123rf.com – Offers Basic and Premium subscription plans and a pay-as-you-go credits.
shutterstock - Over 25 million stock photos, illustrations, vectors, and videos. They offer pay-as-you-go images and a monthly, three-month or yearly plan. This service is more spendy than most, but if you download a lot of stock photos, it might be well worth the investment. They also offer multiple user and corporate plans.
PressFoto – This stock photo site features over 6 million stock photos as well as clipart, vectors, and videos. Prices are in US dollars–not in credits as on many stock photo websites–and you can pay as you go, buy a subscription, or even rent images for your website.
5 hints for using stock images on your blog
1. Set up an account with one or more stock photo services (it’s free) and login to your account.
2. Search images by keyword. When you find one you like, carefully read the licensing agreement before purchasing and/or downloading the image.
3. Before downloading, choose which size image you need for your project. Most stock photo services give you the option of choosing from among several different sizes. If you’re using the image in a blog post, the Extra Small or Small size should do just fine.
4. Even if you download the extra small version, you will likely need to reduce the resolution of the image before you add it to your website or blog. Computer monitors recognize only 72 dpi (dots per inch), and images from stock photo services are usually 300 dpi (also called ppi). Plan on reducing both the image’s resolution and its size before uploading it to your blog. That way, you’re not uploading huge images to your blog, which can slow down your blog’s load time.
5. After inserting a visual into your post, preview it before publishing to ensure that the graphic isn’t too large or too small. Images shouldn’t be so large that they dominate the post (unless, of course, the post features the image, a slideshow, or a video). On the other hand, images shouldn’t be postage-stamp small. If people have to use a magnifying glass (or reading glasses) to see your photo, it’s too small. Better to use no image at all than one that is too small.
Invest the time to carefully select and edit an image that will enhance your story. Images will help visitors to your site remember you longer and connect with you more deeply.
Share Your Favorite Stock Photo Resources
Please share links to stock photo sites you like so we can try them out.