Free Stock Photography

779192_31958571.jpgI love photography, and whenever possible I like to shoot as much of my own imagery to be used in my designs.

Sometimes, however, it’s just not practical or possible to get out and take the photo you need yourself – enter stock photography.

In and of itself, stock photography is nothing new. Designers have always used stock photography as a way to spice up everything from magazine layouts to identity and collateral materials.

Where things have changed though is in the availability of free, or nearly-free, stock photography. In the vein of open source software, and creative commons licenses, many new databases of stock photography are opening up at a cost of nothing, or next-to-nothing for the user.

The concept behind the free sites is one of “share & share alike”, and so there’s a communal onus that if you take from the pool you should also donate to the pool. As open-source has shown, this concept works well.

Using the biggest of the bunch, stock.xchng, as an example; photos are free to be used in almost any application.

stockxchng.jpgTheir Image License Agreement explains that you can use the photos free of charge as follows:

  1. In digital format on websites, multimedia presentations, broadcast film and video, cell phones.
  2. In printed promotional materials, magazines, newspapers, books, brochures, flyers, CD/DVD covers, etc.
  3. Along with your corporate identity on business cards, letterhead, etc.
  4. To decorate your home, your office or any public place.

You are limited in that you cannot use the photo “for pornographic, unlawful or other immoral purposes, for spreading hate or discrimination, or to defame or victimise other people, sociteties, cultures.” You also cannot use it as part of a trademark or logo, nor can you redistribute or sell the photos. Otherwise though, there’s quite a berth of freedom.

Though the information above is specific for stock.xchng, and each site has its own rules and regulations, many offer similar services. Here is a list of sites, courtesy of DesignersMind:

Free Sites

Nearly Free

And should you wish to search a number of photo sites at once, check out

The “nearly free” sites generally offer higher quality images than the free sites, but are still at a completely accessible price (often $1 or less). This is perfect for designers (such as myself) that don’t have a big-firm budget but still want access to high-quality imagery.

In the end, this is a viable way to cut costs, without sacrificing the quality of the design, making yourself just that much more competitive and attractive to potential clients.

5 thoughts on Free Stock Photography

  1. Pingback: Dao By Design Blog » Blog Archive » Speeding Up Wordpress
  2. Ryan, helpful stuff, I’m going to love your new blog! How do the stock photo sites generally feel about the manipulation of their photos? Is it acceptable to alter the content of a photo to suit your purposes?

  3. I have two questions though 1) what is the number (20) next to my last comment, and 2) what is the check box below for?

  4. Hey TaiTai, glad to have you reading! Each stock photo site has their own rules. Generally the concept is “open photography”, so I would say that most are good with it. If you’re going to use something very publicly, I’d just fire it off to the original photographer and let them know about it – chances are they’d be fine with it.

    As for your other two Qs – fixed. Sorry about that… teach me to drink and code. 😉

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