Buying Stock Photography

Best Websites With Free Stock Photos – Stock Contributor’s Point of View

The use of stock photos is growing steadily year by year. At the same time, the amount of stock images keeps growing even faster.

It’s inevitable that the prices are going down with this development. That’s just the laws of supply and demand.

We are now at the point where there are millions of stock photos available for free.

However, there are some important issues that you should know before using free stock photos in your projects.

There are many websites that are distributing free photos, but only a few where it’s perfectly safe to download images without fear of legal issues.

In this post, I will list 5 of the best websites with free stock photos and what you need to know before using photos from these sites to avoid possible legal problems.

best website with free stock photos

What You Should Know Before Using Free Stock Photos

There are some legal things that you should know before going blindly downloading free stock images and using them in your campaigns.

One of the biggest problems with free photos is the lack of model and property releases.

A model/property release is a document in where recognizable persons in a photo or the owner of the recognizable property give written permission for the photographer to use the image for commercial purposes.

Every stock agency requires this document before the image with models or property can be used commercially.

Model release protects the photographer, the agency, and the buyer from being sued by the person in the image for unauthorized image use.

It also protects the people in photos so that they don’t end up in someone’s commercial even when they don’t want that.

This is not the case with free stock photo websites.

Free photo sites such as Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash are filled with photos of people without any kind of proof that these people have actually given permission to use the images taken of them.

Now millions of businesses download free images of people and use them in their commercial websites or in their Pinterest ads etc. and most don’t even know what they are doing.

Most people don’t read the terms of use or other legal texts. If they would they would know that these free stock sites push the responsibility to the users alone.

Below is an excerpt from Pexels Terms of Use:

So, you are responsible if you upload or use the image without third-party permission. Not Pexels or any other free stock photo website, because they’ve told you in their Terms of Use that third-party permission may be needed!

However, if you use the images only as an editorial, there shouldn’t be any problems. Editorial use means for example news or blog articles or anything else that has no commercial intent.

If you want to be sure that you’re not violating anybody’s rights, but still need free commercial photos because of budget issues or so, there’s only one website you can count on.

Adobe Stock: The Best Free Stock Photo Website

Adobe Stock is one of the biggest stock photo agencies in the world. Their library consists of over 176 million stock images.

Adobe Stock only recently introduced their new free stock images gallery.

At the moment their free gallery consists of over 800 000 images.

It’s not as much as some of the other websites, but it still is a considerable resource of high-quality free images.

The best part of Adobe Stock’s free collection is that they actually pay for the contributors for the images in the free gallery.

Because of that, you’ll find very high-quality images which have been shot by professional photographers.

You can get the images with the standard license which includes a bit narrower usage terms than with most of the other free sites.

However, the risk of being sued for unauthorized image use is 0%. That is because all of the images in Adobe Stock’s free collection that consist of identifiable people or property have been model or property released.

I highly recommend using Adobe Stock instead of any of the other free stock photo websites.

Adobe Stock actually cares about the photographers and is not continually finding new ways to abuse them.

Shutterstock: Get 10 Free Images Risk-Free

Shutterstock is another of the big stock agencies. Its library consists of over 380 million images.

Shutterstock doesn’t have an actual free collection, but they offer a free trial for the first subscription month.

That includes 10 free stock images from their whole collection.

Not that bad when you have over 380 million images to choose from.

Shutterstock also requires model and property releases for identifiable persons and property for the commercial photos.

That makes it a very safe website to download commercial images.

Be careful though, because their library also includes editorial images.

Those are marked with the image so always check that out before downloading. Especially if you are looking only for commercial images.

Free Stock Image Websites That Require A Bit Of Caution

The next three websites with free stock photos are the ones that are most popular and have the biggest collections.

However, none of them doesn’t require model or property releases for images with identifiable persons or property.

So, you are responsible for what you do with the images you’ve downloaded (or uploaded) from these websites.

All of these sites have built their multi-million dollar businesses with free content given to them by photographers.

Yet, these sites don’t carry any responsibility for what the users are doing.

The photographers are helping these businesses to grow without getting any kind of reward from that.

Maybe it’s just me but IMO there’s a bit of an ethical dilemma here.

Well… I have spoken, and if you still want to use these free sites whether your photographer or image (ab)user, go for it.. I hate you but that’s just life… =)

Use Adobe Stock instead!


Unsplash has some really beautiful images in its collection.

You can find over 2 million free images there!

You’ve just entered into image (ab)users’ dream world.

Use images however you want, Unsplash says aloud, even when that’s not even true.

Unsplash license says otherwise…

Lately acquired by Getty Images, who is convincing the free party will continue.

Unsplash’s latest update to their business model consists of (ab)using the image (ab)users to spread brand marketing free all over the world.

Unsplash gets paid by some of the biggest brands in the world to show their brand images on top of the search results. Those brand images are then available for free download!

Thousands and thousands of downloads guarantee that those images are spread all over the world, like a coronavirus, by the image (ab)users.

And it’s all for free! Imagine that! Free marketing by millions of people.

I love it!

Image (ab)users are being (ab)used by the brands with billions of dollars in their cash machines. How perfect is that!


With over 2.4 million images, Pixabay is another heaven for image (ab)users.

Pixabay has not gone so far yet that they would (ab)use their image (ab)users to spread multibillion-dollar brands all over the world for free.

They only get money from affiliate links which is most likely quite a lucrative business as of having huge traffic on their site.

For photographers, this is a great site to give your images for free and help Pixabay grow and make even more money.

The photographers get nothing of course. They don’t need anything, right? Except likes and exposure. That’s enough to feed the whole family.

And for image (ab)users this is like heaven. Millions of images for free although the quality is s..t. But that doesn’t matter, right?


Pexels is like a copy of Pixabay or another way around.

You can find millions of free photos are available for (ab)using here.

I have no more insulting words in my vocabulary so this is enough.

I believe you already know what I think of them…

Why Let Your Photos Go Out For Free?

I had a hard time understanding this.

After some investigation though, I found a couple of reasons why photographers are willing to let their image and themselves being abused.

And, it actually starts to make sense… so maybe I was a bit harsh with my words earlier…

Exposure is the keyword here.

They say, that you may get an astronomical level of exposure in Unsplash.

For professional photographers or good amateurs trying to find gigs, exposure is golden.

If people like your images they may contact you directly and offer gigs.

You can also try to direct some of the traffic to your webpage or blog.

However, you need to be quite a good photographer to get gigs and you need a lot of traffic too.

You don’t just automatically get tons of traffic by uploading a couple of images.

Like in any stock photo site, you need to be consistent and build a big portfolio.

Another photographer group uploading to free stock sites is the dopamine hunters.

They do it just for likes and downloads.

These people are dangerous for the industry because they are completely unaware of the damage they are doing.

Unlike those who are looking for exposure, the dopamine hunters have no plan whatsoever.

My Plan to Offer My Images For Free?

I’m actually at the point of trying this out.

I’m planning to offer some low-res images for free on Unsplash and see what happens.

My goal is to get photography gigs from Finland.

Also, I’ll only offer low-res images for free and try to direct people to buy a high-res image from my website.

In the future, I’ll write here on my blog what are the actual results instead of speculating without any real experience.

Is this stupidness or pure wisdom? Please comment below…


There are many websites with free photos these days.

However, the biggest problem with these sites is the lack of model and property releases.

Model and property releases protect photographers, stock agencies, and image users from being sued for unauthorized image use.

If you want to be sure not to violate anybody’s rights, use paid stock sites such as Adobe Stock.

Adobe Stock also has a huge, over 560k collection of free stock photos. All photos with recognizable people or property have releases.

Nothing prevents you from using free sites such as Unsplash, Pixabay, or Pexels though.

These sites have millions of free stock images.

Why do photographers upload images for free use?

Most do it for exposure. Some for dopamine rush generated from likes and downloads.

Whatever the reason is you either are against it or like it.

I was against it first but after investigating I began to see an opportunity.

I want to do an experiment and upload some of my photos for free on Unsplash and see what happens.

You’ll find the results in the future days here on my blog so stay tuned!