Free stock photography for a graphic designer

camera lens close up

All graphic designers and people trying to create eye-catching imagery for print or web with have at some point used stock photography.

Stock photography negates the need for hiring expensive photographers can license individual photos for specific uses. The two largest traditional stock photography agencies are Getty Images and Corbis. They offer mostly photographs that have been shot by professional photographers. But these are still quite expensive for a freelance graphic designer as individual images can cost hundreds of dollars.

Meanwhile there are many alternative agencies like Shutterstock, Fotolia and, the one all my clients seem to know iStockphoto (acquired by Getty Images in 2006 although both businesses are kept visually separate). Since these agencies charge less ($1 to $20 per image) this is called sometimes called microstock photography.

However, hardworking graphic designers may need photographs as place holders or for different options to show a client before they have decided on a finished version. Who would want to spend money on something that may never see the light of day? This is where free stock photography comes in!

Here is my personal list of free stock photography sites.

  • stock.xchng The best and most reliable for me. Some of the free images are large enough to use for print. Some are of excellent quality. Log in necessary.
  • morgueFile I haven’t use them for long but I have found some impressive and large images here. No login necessary.
  • FreeFoto Not fantastic. Email address required.
  • FreeDigitalPhotos OK. Small web images only. No login necessary.
  • ImageAfter I’ve just started using them but they seem good. You can choose the number of thumbnails viewable on page. Some nice large images. No login necessary
  • Annoying website in terms of usability but good quality large images.
  • PhotoBucket Good, large selection. Small web images only. No login necessary.

Other sources of free imagery on the internet

Of course you can find images in the internet using Google image search, deviantArt, Flickr or Picasa but these images may be subject to copyright so please check with the owner first.

Also you can turn a photo into an illustration using Illustrator’s Live Trace function, Photoshop filters or by whatever other means. But, again, it will be always necessary to check the images’ copyright first!

I hope you found my list of free photo sources helpful. What do you do when searching for free quality stock photography?

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    Thought you might like to check out my site for stock images. I am part of OzImages, so after you’ve checked out my site, look at the whole stock library. They offer a free service where you can submit a request for an image and they send an email direct to all their photographers, not only does this save you time trawling through images it also allows you to specify exactly what you are looking for and gives you access to the photographers off line shots as well. Also if possible a photographer may try to shoot the exact image you are after. You are under no obligation to purchase any image and they send you the relevant images in a lightbox for easy viewing. You then deal direct with the photographer, so even though the stock calculator may give you a price OzImages thinks is fair, you can negotiate direct with the photographer and often obtain a much better price. Thanks for your time and consideration. If you find the library to be a good one and you like this facility it would be great if you could include us in your blog.
    Thanks again,

  2. says

    Thanks for this list. I’ve spent some time on stock.xchng and saw some goodies there that I need to grab. I’ll take a look at the others soon. I feel like I need to spend a day or two dedicated to looking at images. Maybe that’s why I keep putting it off. I’ll try a different approach this time.

  3. says

    I understand the need for microstock images, but if you’re looking for traditional professional images, we have one of the broadest collections on the market, and great service if you need assistance finding the perfect shot.

    I enjoyed your site, particularly the article about client testimonials…

  4. says

    @Ileane yes, stock.xchng does seem to be the best one but the others are worth looking at. It does tend to be time consuming.

    @Riley thanks!

  5. Peter says

    I’ve heard some of them and found them very useful.
    I’m fond of searching and collecting images for free.

  6. says

    Hi, thought I would add at Ozimages you can download a comping image for free to show to clients and only buy the image if that is the one they choose.

  7. John Ive says

    Great article. I just want to stress how popular became this kind of bussines. Now we have microstocks not only for images, but for all other stuff like video, audio and sound loops, 3d models, graphic… and ofcourse flash files and components.