The most inspiring free image libraries on the whole World Wide Web

In principle, I should be against free image libraries. After all, I am a photographer. I know how much each photo you see and want to grab for free really costs: the years spent honing your craft, the litres of sweat produced while lugging around prodigiously heavy kit, the hours of sleep lost to make sure you catch the dawn, the fun you missed on to hang around your tripod in the howling wind at sunset while your friends were off to the pub; the thousands and thousands spent on courses, equipment, magazines, books, workshops…

However, this is a rant for another post (oh yeah, I’ll write it. You’ll hear all I think about stock libraries).

Free image libraries ROCK.

There’s nothing wrong with free image libraries because that was the artist’s own decision: there is no exploitation. And we all need free image libraries. Don’t I know it! I even created my own.

So here’s an extremely useful round-up of the most inspiring best free image libraries I have found while scouring around the bright avenues of the World Wide Web.

This is not intended to be a complete list: on the contrary, it’s a list strictly limited to the free image libraries I regularly use and find invigorating for the mind. It purely reflects my preferences.

#1 Unsplash

Who doesn’t love Unsplash. So quirky, so collaborative, so un-corporate. A slap in the face of traditional stock photo libraries.

Unsplash started in 2014 as a simple Tumblr blog, and quickly developed into a community of artists providing inspiration to the rest of the world. New images are added every week, and anyone can apply to become a contributor.

The photos don’t have to be perfect, in fact none of the Unsplash photos probably fit the strict, boring, narrow-minded acceptance criteria of image libraries such as iStock or Shutterstock: focussing on technical perfection while ignoring all that makes a photo truly great.

So refreshing, to find a bit of grain in a photo; so inspiring, when it’s not perfectly in focus! But so much soul, so much imagination, so much personality.

Using a website such as Unsplash to find images for your blog and social media messages can teach you to stop thinking literally.

Don’t look for the literal illustration of your concept: just go for the emotion. Thank you for the photos, Unsplash.

 

#2 Gratisography

Ah, how grateful we are for Gratisography. One of the most special free image libraries out there.

Whimsical, fantastical photography offered gratis by the eclectic, imaginative and more artist than designer Ryan McGuire.

Ryan’s website’s URL is laughandpee.com and it currently welcomes you with the gif someone’s funny face (his own?) covered in flour. What’s not to love?

The opposite of stock photography as we knew and hated. Definitely nothing literal or prosaic about these photos: using them will make you think laterally like never before.

And when they’re not magical, these photos celebrate the beauty of everyday life.

#3 Barn Images

Barn Images is an interesting project within the realm of free image libraries. Unlike Unsplash or Pixabay, it’s not an aggregator: it’s the project of two young Latvian photographers who have had enough of the aesthetic crimes and artist exploitation perpetrated by stock libraries.

A pier in Warnemunde, image from the free image library Barn images.
Photo by Roman Drits / https://barnimages.com/
“We created Barn Images with the hope of redefining traditional stock imagery. Here, you will find only quality photography that’s fresh, with nothing that duplicates the stock photography you’ll generally find elsewhere. We call our collection “non-stock,” and we add new free images every weekday.”

Barn Images is less breath-taking, more subdued than Unsplash and Gratisography: and precisely for this, it has its own special charm and grace. And I can only commend it for taking such a strong stance against stock photography.

Igor Trepeshchenok and Roman Drits, the two founders, are not commercial photographers, and it shows: their images are inspiring, evocative, poetic and beautiful. Thank you for sharing them with us.

#4 Death to Stock

Death to Stock states its intentions quite clearly, and it means it: its images would never be accepted in a mainstream stock library, because they are just too quirky, too interesting, too abstract or specific, or too grainy for that.

However, unlike the free image libraries we’ve seen so far, it’s not entirely free. Or better said: it distributes a lot of lovely free content, but for the real goods you need to go Premium. And why not? surely good images deserve a few of your dollars.

I got this for free from Death to Stock.

Once you do that, you get photo and video packs automatically, and you have access to all past Premium material. This is a great business model, also because the monthly fee is hardly going to break the bank: only $15 a month, to get loads of truly original photography and video in your inbox.

If you need to use a lot of imagery for your online projects, it’s a great way to spend your money and make sure it goes to the artists, instead of being gobbled up by a faceless corporation while the artists get, not even peanuts, just the skin off the peanuts. Can’t eat that, can you.

#5 New Old Stock

I simply love New Old Stock. Another lean project born from a Tumblr blog, this is a project by Cole Townsend that I find so poetic and beautiful. Cole collects

Vintage photos from the public archives. Free of known copyright restrictions. Recapturing history. These are to the best of my knowledge available in the public domain based on the institutions participation in the Flickr Commons and the rules of Flickr Commons.

So, Cole provides a public service that we should all be grateful for. Have a gander, and be inspired. You could find yourself on the moon soon.

An astronaut floating in space.

#6 Startup Stock Photos

Another great photographic initiative coming from the desire to free the world of stock photos (and the exploitative business model that nurtured them).

Startup Stock Photos was created by an agency, Sculpt, and by developer Eric Bailey simply because they were already taking the photos, and just decided to make them available to bloggers, startups or anyone else who might need them.


Less inspiring than other free image libraries, but extremely useful if you’re looking for fresh, authentic, un-staged workplace images a million miles away from the hilariously cheesy stock library equivalents.

#7 PicJumbo

PicJumbo is GREAT. No, really.

PicJumbo is the brain child of a ridiculously talented young Czech photographer, Victor Hanacek. It’s the most commercial of all the free sites seen so far, in the sense of the style of the photos: they are all crisp and sharp and perfectly lit, i.e. technically perfect (not always the case in some of the other free image libraries, which adds to the charm).

Much more mainstream that some of the quirkiness we’ve seen so far, so probably better for some of you.
Like Death to Stock, PicJumbo offers Premium memberships: starting from only $10 per month, you can access tons more images and packages. Well worth it!

 

#8 Pixabay

Pixabay is a very popular and very well known free image library that’s nowhere near as inspiring or special as the other ones here.

However, I had to include it because I do use it, it’s very helpful and you can find the occasional gem.

It serves as a huge advertising platform for Shutterstock: sponsored results crop up everywhere based on your search, and it’s easy to click on a Shutterstock image by mistake. Often, the SS photos are much better than the free version you find on Pixabay, which feels unfair as well as annoying.

(I don’t want to use Shutterstock because as a Shutterstock artist I know that contributors to that, and any other, large stock image library are paid 20-30% only of an already ridiculously low fee. I put up with it for years but now I’m saying NO.)

But I digress. So Pixabay is really good to find more run-of-the-mill images that are more similar to the stock image stereotype. And you can also pay some money straight into the artist’s PayPal account if you feel like thanking them, which is great.

#9 SplitShire

Leaving the best until the end… SplitShire is a 2-year-old project by a photographer who decided to share all the images he (she?) had left from previous projects, gathering dust on his hard drives. The quality is outstanding.

Photo by SplitShire.

SplitShire offers zipped packages of images for sale, all at a very reasonable price and just fantastic.

Despite much trawling around the site and visiting SplitShire’s social profiles, I haven’t been able to find out who is behind the name. They clearly don’t want me to.

So whether it’s a man or a woman or both, let’s just be thankful for the utterly astounding photos SplitShire is sharing with us. Thank you SplitShire.

#10 Photopin

PhotoPin is also an excellent resource: it uses the Flickr API to search Creative Commons for images that are free, or thereabouts, of copyright restrictions. The one I picked requires attribution, which is a really small price to pay for such a beautiful image.

Lupins and a house in New Zealand, photo from free image library PhotoPin
Photo credit: Stuck in Customs The Lupins In Spring via photopin (license)

PhotoPin make their money from ads and affiliate sales: I don’t know for sure but it seems likely from what they have on their site. And absolutely fair enough: they provide a great service and they should profit somehow from it.

#11 My own modest contribution…

I hope you won’t mind if I add my own library here, amongst all the other free image libraries. It’s very tiny for now but growing steadily. Much like many of the other photographers here, I have sold my photos for years on stock image libraries, feeling very exploited and resenting the model, but still tied to it because it did provide a tiny stream of passive revenue.

Sad girl on a beach. Photo by Piccia Neri.
Sad girl on a beach. Photo by Piccia Neri.

The free image library comes as a reaction to that model: I’d rather give my images away for free!

I have also plans for expanding the library. I will keep you posted. Exciting times ahead!

Conclusion

I hope you found inspiration from these amazing libraries and the talented, generous artists behind them.

And I also hope that you can spare a thought and a praise for the skill, the patience, the time and effort these photographers put into their craft: it resulted in that beautiful image that you can now use to illustrate your blog, hang on your wall, print on your company leaflet.

So I also hope you understand that sometimes it’s actually ok to pay for images… It’s a way to give back. Think of all the value you get from the free ones.

Let me know in the comments if there is another quirky, imaginative, inspirational library that I should have included but didn’t.

 

Leave a Comment