How to Find Copyright and Royalty-Free Photos and Images for Your Website

Did you know that the human brain can process images in as little as 13 milliseconds?

Around the world, images are used to tell stories, evoke emotion, and enhance websites. They’re powerful means of communication and can turn an ordinary webpage into something eye-catching and attention-grabbing. However, many website owners struggle to find free images that they can use legally. 

In this article, we’ll break down copyright and royalty-free images, and discuss the types of pictures you can find for free. We’ll also give you some insight into where you can find these images for your website. 

What Are Copyright-Free Images?

Copyright-free images are those that no longer fall under legal restrictions for use. This may be because the copyright has expired, or because the creator has given open access for anyone to use it for any purpose. 

Since they’re openly available, you’re not even required to provide attribution — though it may be a nice thing to do. 

What Are Royalty-Free Images?

Don’t be fooled. Royalty-free images aren’t free. 

Typically, when a piece of media is used in a commercial product (like a film or television show), the creator will receive ongoing payment. These payments are known as royalties. 

With royalty-free images, the rights are sold at a one-time, flat-rate fee. The fee might actually be $0, but using the image could come with the stipulation that you provide a certain kind of attribution. 

The creator also hasn’t released their copyright claim, so they can also restrict how you use the image. While some are available for commercial use, others may be limited to private use. When browsing through royalty-image sites, take time to read licenses carefully. 

Here are some terms to look out for during your search:

  • Creative Commons (CC): The photographer/creator has given people the right to use, download, and modify their work 
  • Rights Managed (RM): The creator has allowed one or more clients exclusive use for some time
  • Rights Ready (RR): This is similar to “rights-managed,” but the period is open to extensions
  • Royalty-Free (RF): The license fee was paid once, and there are no additional royalties to pay to use the content multiple times
  • Extended License: This license offers more uses than royalty-free for a higher price. (e.g. a commercial use, like selling t-shirts)

Types of Images You Can Find for Free

Stock Photos 

Stock photos are most known for their use in marketing, advertising, and creative projects like websites. These photos are ready to use as soon as you download them, so they’re a great way to save time and money when designing. 

For example, are you writing an article for your blog about the benefits of waking up at 5 a.m? Instead of taking photos of your bed or alarm clock, you can find a professionally-taken stock photo that’s ready to use. 

Designed Images 

Designed images are custom graphics that support the information on the page. You can use them to add originality and aesthetics to your blog or website. 

It’s common to see these images on landing pages to grab attention or in infographics to guide someone through a process.

Vector Graphics 

Vector graphics are made on computers and consist of points, lines, and curves. Instead of pixels, they’re created from a sequence of mathematical equations or commands. As a result, you can scale up or down and trust that the graphics will never appear blurry or distorted. 

Because vector graphics are composed of smooth lines and shapes, they make great logos. You can display your logo on a giant billboard or as a small favicon on your website — either way, it’ll be clear and crisp.

Where Can I Find Copyright and Royalty-Free Images?

When used properly, copyright and royalty-free images have the power to elevate the look of your website. Let’s explore a few places you can find high-quality images to use on your site: 

1. Openverse

With over 600 million images, Openverse is a WordPress-powered media library chock full of high-quality pictures. You can filter your searches by license, source, and media type. 

If you’re curious about the variety of images available, a simple search for strawberries turned up over 10,000 images, so the sky’s the limit. 

International users will be happy to know that Openverse is translated into over 12 languages. This means you can find exactly what you’re looking for whether you type in strawberry, fresa, or erdbeere

Note: All photos found on Openverse are available under Creative Commons or are already in the public domain.

2. Pexels

You’ll notice that Pexels isn’t your average stock photo site. You’ll find higher-end, artistic, and eye-catching photos that will stop website visitors in their tracks. 

Use the search bar to type in a keyword or browse by trending topics like building, summer, or water. What Pexels lacks in filters to narrow down your search, it makes up for in the quality of images available.

All the images on Pexels are available for both personal and commercial use. Simply pick a size and select download to save an image you like.

While you can use Pexels without creating an account, users who choose to make an account enjoy unique benefits:

  • Follow photographers you like on the platform 
  • Enjoy a curated homepage 
  • Contribute your own photos and videos
  • Create collections to organize your work 
  • Access all of your downloaded photos 

The best part? You can also add photos from Pexels from within the WordPress media library!

3. Unsplash

Unsplash is a photo-only image directory that features a visual search option to find just what you’re looking for. You can scroll to your heart’s content on the homepage or use the search bar. 

It offers over three million free high-resolution images that you can use for both commercial and non-commercial ventures. When you find an image that would be a good fit for your site, you simply click download, and the photo is yours. 

4. Pixabay

Pixabay is home to 2.6 million high-quality, copyright-free photos, videos, and vector graphics. It also features hand drawings and digital illustrations for users searching for modifiable images for marketing or advertising. Since Pixabay’s photos are licensed by Creative Commons 0,  you don’t need to ask the artist for permission to use their photos or give them credit.  

While you can search from the homepage, you’re shown a selection of similar items after each download to help you widen your search. However, some results on Pixabay redirect you to sponsored photos from iStockPhoto, which can be confusing. Check to make sure the photo you want is available on Pixabay and is not a sponsored one.

5. Freerange

Freerange currently provides first-rate images, textures, and illustrations to over 750,000 registered users. Unlike the other platforms on this list, you need to register to download photos from Freerange. 

Search for photos by browsing through the newest and most popular images. You can also choose to go through their extensive list of 30 categories. When using the search bar, you can filter your keyword search by photos or illustrations. 

If you’re feeling generous and want to show some appreciation, Freerange makes it possible for you to send donations directly to the photographer. 

While most photos are offered in a range of sizes, Freerange will actually attempt to contact the photographer if you need something in a larger or uncompressed version. 

6. Stockvault

Stockvault offers a vast collection of textures, vectors, and stock photos organized into several categories. All the images are free, but they fall into three groups: non-commercial, commercial, and public domain (CC0).  After a download, you’ll see which category your photo falls into from the detail page. 

Search for photos right from the homepage or browse dozens of categories that get very specific. For example, you might start with a broad search like “Nature,” but you’ll then see available subcategories like “Birds,” “Insects,” and “Lakes.”

Stockvault is known for its impressive offering of high-definition images for textures that can bring any website project to life. In addition, Stockvault offers an extensive library of resources, blog posts, and tutorials to help you make the most of your downloaded media. 

You don’t need to create an account to use Stockvault, but creating one allows you to leave comments, message members, and add photos to your favorites. If you want to support photographers on Stockvault, you can buy them a virtual ‘coffee’ to say thanks for the photo. 

7. WordPress Photo Directory (Coming Soon)

The official WordPress Photo Directory hasn’t officially launched yet, however, it’s usable right now, in its limited form. All images here are contributed to by WordPress users just like you, and all are CC0. This means that no rights are reserved, so you are free to use the photos anywhere, for any purpose, without the need for attribution. If you’d like to contribute some of your own photos to the directory, you can do that now, even before it officially launches. 

Find Eye-Catching Fair-Use Images With Ease 

As you can see, there are several places to find copyright and royalty-free images for your website. 

Whether you’re searching for stock photos, designed images, or vector graphics, remember to double-check the licensing to make sure they’re cleared for use. These images can take any blog post, marketing campaign, or design to new heights, so don’t hesitate to get out there and search.

With each site offering thousands of photos to choose from, it’s only a matter of time before you find the perfect ones for your website.


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