Plain and simple, high fidelity photos can give your website the power it needs to gain shares, likes, tweets, and go viral. A site that uses non-professional images is much less likely to be noticed, while a site that uses professional images without permission is likely to be sued.
As someone who has paid a not insignificant sum to Getty images due to using one of their images without permission, I can tell you that using royalty free images, or purchasing rights to a photo, is of utmost importance. However, the reality is that paying for each image is simply out of reach for most people. This is why it is critical to have an arsenal of premium quality free stock photo sites at your disposal.
It should be noted that there are many blog posts out there which contain lists of free stock photo sites (I have visited virtually every single one). The thing is that many of the sites in those lists aren't that good, and seem to just be a buffer in order to increase the size of the post. Not so with this list. I use every site in this list regularly at my web design company GEO Design.
Not only are the photos within each of these sites stunning, but you can use them any way you want, including commercially, without attribution or asking permission. Welcome to the holy grail of free stock photos.
Unsplash is the first site that I check when I need an image. The images are extremely high quality. The images are so good that I will sometimes slowly scroll through them just for fun. When you visit the site you will notice that while the images are awesome, it takes a long time to make your way down the page. In order to take in more images at once I recommend using the grid view. New images are added every 10 days.
Among creative types Snapwire is a well known site that has both a photo marketplace, and a service whereby photographers will snap a photo based on the request of a buyer (for a fee of course). Snapwire Snaps is curated by the same company, and offers free high quality stock photos through their tumblr blog. The only downside is that there is no grid view, so it can take a while to scroll through the photos. Alternatively you can download bundles by week, this will allow you to view the images more quickly on your computer. New photos are added every week.
Gratisography has a very decent set of images, many of which will make you grin. While it does not have the sheer volume of images that Unsplash has, there are some gems. Go to them first if you need something slightly comedic. New images are added every week.
While it can take a bit of digging (and many clicks on the 'next' button), Life Of Pix is another solid resource. Unfortunately there seem to be many more average photos than truly stunning photos, but you can find them if you take the time to look. New photographs are added weekly.
Death To The Stock Photo has a free service where they email you 10 super high resolution photos once per month. In every batch there is normally one or two that you can get excited about. The downside is you only get them once a month, not really useful if you need a wide selection to chose from right now. You can get access to their complete photo library for 8 bucks a month.
What Do You Think?
Leave a comment and let me know which site is your favourite, as well as where you like to source photos for your projects! Lastly, I would greatly appreciate it if you help spread the word about these free stock photo sites. Just click on one of the colourful social network icons, or click to tweet :)