Creative Commons 0 (CC0) License…Completely Free…
No Attribution Required…Really!

When you’ve got the perfect idea for a small business marketing campaign, sales presentation, tradeshow booth design, or even T-shirt, finding the perfect image to illustrate that idea completes the package. Sure, you can turn to sites that charge for each image (and typically charge more for larger images), but it could end up costing you hundreds of dollars to buy limited rights to the image you want to use. A great alternative it to use standard Creative Commons licensed images, like the ones available on Flickr, which are typically free for commercial use—with one caveat: you need to include artist attribution wherever you use them. That’s not such a big deal when it means including a link in small print at the bottom of a Blog or website; but it is rather cumbersome as part of a sales presentation or marketing brochure.

For images that you can use freely in your business projects, without providing attribution, your best bets are Creative Commons 0 (CCO) Public Domain Images. These are images the photographer has donated to the public domain, and can be used in any way, for any purpose. They can be modified, tweaked, used as the basis for your own creations, or combined with other images (as long as they are not sold as redistributed images collections).

My favorite site for a wide variety of public domain images, including clipart, illustrations, and high resolution photography is Pixabay, which I have written about in several previous Tip posts. Not only are the images top quality, there is a search function which is both intuitive and useful.

However, Pixabay is just the tip of the public domain image collection iceberg. There are dozens and dozens of sites offering free images, with varying quality, and libraries ranging from a few hundred selections to thousands of choices. Some are well organized with useful category delineations and search functions. Others are simply browsable by date, with minimal help from tags or categories. Some are heavy on nature and abstract themes, while others are geared towards business themes. A few are pet projects of individual photographers, while others are based on contributions from photographers across the globe looking to disseminate their work.

The following 22 should be on your radar:

Large Public Domain Image Collections

  1. Visual Hunt: This site boasts “354,191,553 creative commons images” as I write this, with 62,811 of them being CC0. To ensure that you only get free to use without attribution images, filter your search for “public domain.” The search also enables you to filter by keyword, category, or color. Most images can be downloaded in a variety of sizes, ranging from small (300 x 200 pixels, ideal for online use) to 2XL (2592 x 1728 pixels, just fine for a large poster).
  2. Pexels: This collection of CC0 images is a curated collection of original work submitted by photographers and images sourced from other sites that Pexels editors deem worthy. It currently hosts over 10,000 images, and claims to be adding 1,500 per month. The Popular Searches page can help you quickly hone in on the image you need.
  3. This site includes thousands of CC0 images culled from many of the sites noted in this post, as well as other public domain sites. It includes a search in addition to the ability to browse by color or one of 15 topics including action, aerial, close-ups, glare, landscapes, laptop, person, screens, and technology.
  4. Public Domain Archive: This large collection of images grows with weekly new additions. Unfortunately the search function is less than helpful, and category browsing is only slightly better. But, you can browse the “Weekly Images” section and see if anything strikes your fancy. Stay away from the “premium” content.
  5. Freerange: A large, searchable collection of stock photos. While all are free, not all are CC0, and so may require attribution. So be sure to look at the license before using a particular image. Also beware of the Shutterstock images displayed above the free images in search results.

Small Collections from Photographers Themselves

NOTE: These collections are provided by artists trying to disseminate their work. While attribution is not required, it is always appreciated.

  1. GRATISOGRAPHY: A collection from photographer Ryan McGuire containing many unique photos that are just on the business-acceptable end of bizarre. If you’re looking for something to jar your audience awake, start here.
  2. Stokpic: A site from photographer Ed Gregory providing his high resolution photographs for free. The site is paid for by advertising, and Gregory says he donates all profit (above operating costs) to support other photographers. Note that the previews on the website are watermarked, but the actual downloads are not.
  3. Another personal project, this time from Indian photographer Jeshu John. This small collection is a refreshing change from the landscapes and abstracts that dominate many of the other stock image sites. Be sure to check out the Concepts and Things categories for unique views of everyday objects.
  4. PicJumbo: Started by Czech photographer Viktor Hanacek , purportedly after all of his photos were rejected by paid stock photography sites, this site provides his large body of work for free. While you’ll want to stay away from the “premium” images, the free selection covers a wide range of categories; and these images are not likely to be found elsewhere.
  5. Jay Mantri: The photographer presents his images for anyone to use. The very small collection is heavy on landscapes and other outdoor images, and is best browsed via the thumbnails on the archive page.

Image Collections for Geographic Locations

  1. Pickup Image: This rather large collection of images is contributed by photographers from around the world. It is a perfect choice if you are looking for an image from a particular location—anything from a sunset at Stonehenge, to the Statue of Liberty, to a generic Pumpkin Patch. There is a search, but browsing can be difficult as there are no categories and only a poorly indexed “Tags” page.
  2. GoodFreePhotos: This collection includes images in many categories, but it shines for images from specific places. If you’re looking for a shot from a certain State, Country, or Landmark, this is your site.
  3. MMT: A personal project from photographer Jeffrey Betts. The collection is small, but of high quality. You can browse by category, or simply scroll. If you’re looking for New York City images, this is a great place to start.

Technology & Business Image Collections

  1. JÉSHOOTS: While this site provides images in a variety of categories, it stands out for its Devices category. If you’re looking for a picture of a specific iPhone or Android model, start here.
  2. Startup Stock Photos: As the name suggests, this site is dedicated to scenes from a start-up. For practical purposes, this is the place to go for photos of 20-somethings engaged in business activities in relaxed office settings.

Other Niche Image Collections

  1. Unsplash: From a previous Tip, but worth mentioning again, this site offers a small selection of high-quality decidedly un-stockish photographs. 10 new images are added every 10 days.
  2. Photober: Stick to browsing the free image categories, and you’ll find a variety of useful images. A nice feature of the site is the details it provides about the mechanics behind each photo, including camera used, aperture, focal length, and shutter speed.
  3. Megapixilstock: This site bills itself as, “a gathering place for web developers and photographers who would like to share their work with the community.” As such, you’ll find some duplication from other sites, and some totally unique images. The library is rather small but the quality is good, the images are diverse, and the search and browse functions are useful.
  4. Negative Space: This small collection contains images in 14 categories including business technology and work. A nice feature is a search filter for “Copy Space Position” which lets you find images where you can add text in the left, right, or center of the picture.
  5. Imagebase: This collection includes standard categories like People, Objects, and Nature. But it also includes a set of PowerPoint slide templates, and a section of “Holy Land” images. So if your needs extend to the religious presentations, this is a good choice.
  6. Photo Collections: This very small collection of unique images is more suitable to browsing than searching. Click the arrow in the top-left to open the menu, select one of the 7 categories, then click the little cloud in the top-right of the image preview to download.
  7. Morguefile: A free photo archive “for creatives, by creatives,” it contains contributions from amateur and professional photographers from around the world. The collection is relatively large, and searching is the best way to navigate it. Just be sure that you stay in the “Morguefile” collection (and that you don’t click to one of the paid sites above the search results).

One final word of warning as you download images from these sites: Be sure you use the correct download link. Many of the stock image sites are supported by advertising; and this advertising includes third-party “download” buttons placed menacingly close to the image download buttons. Such deceptions are unfortunately the price of getting something for nothing– so click carefully!

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