Updated: Sep 5
Ever share a fun image you found online to social media without checking the copyright? This feels so normal in our personal lives (most social media companies license content for this type of use).
Business owners and entrepreneurs, however, need to be careful to stay on the right side of copyright law, which means understanding when you need permission to use something creative like a stock photo.* Many photographers make their incomes through the licensing fees on stock photo sites like Shutterstock.
Don't have a media budget? There's great content out there you can use for free, without permission. I'll drink to that!
Not a collection, but good to know
Creative works, like photographs, published before 1927 are in the public domain (as of 2022). There are no copyright restrictions on public domain content! Some of my favorite places to find public domain images are the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, and the Public Domain Review.
Drawback: There's more than one place to search for public domain images. It can sometimes be hard to know if an image is in the public domain if there's not a lot of information about it.
Favorite Collection #1: Wix Free Media
Add free images to your Wix blog or website right from the editor (here's how)! Wix's free media collection offers beautiful stock photography appropriate to any industry along with vector art, videos, fonts, and so much more. It's a one-stop shop if you're creating a simple site and don't need highly specific images.
Drawback: Wix images are licensed for digital use only within Wix.
Favorite Collection #2: Unsplash
Unsplash showcases the work of amazing photographers around the globe who choose to give at least some of their art away for free. I use Unsplash a lot because it is also available within the Wix platform. Unlike Wix's media collection, Unsplash is available to anyone. If you don't use Wix, you can download images from the Unsplash homepage.
Drawback: When you search from the Unsplash homepage, you will see advertisements for paid images from iStock at the top. Scroll past these to see search results for free images. (You're probably used to this--Google puts sponsored ads above search results, too).
Favorite Collection #3: Pixabay
Pixabay is less photography-focused than Unsplash, although it does include photos. You can also find videos, illustrations, and vector graphics. I like being able to search by dominant color and size.
Drawback: Like on Unsplash, advertisements for paid photos can be confusing. You may also need to sign up to download the highest resolution of some images.
As a designer, I know how important it is for a site to be visually interesting. Audiences are turned off by long blocks of unbroken text. That's appropriate for books, not for websites! When I'm searching for an image to grab visitors' interest, I look through several collections and try different keywords. Other sources of free images and videos include Pexels, Pixnio, and Mazwai.
Sometimes I pay for that stunning or highly specific image I need to tie a site together. This helps photographers and other artists continue to generate beautiful content. Other times I make my own custom art and illustrations. Time is money, though! Often I find professional, relevant, and free images to engage a website's audience and reinforce the message. I hope, after reading this article, you feel more confident in finding free images for your small business website, too.
*Note: I'm not an attorney! Get legal council if you have specific questions about intellectual property. Copyright laws are complex and vary from country to country.