Free Photos
The 10 Best Websites & WordPress Plugins

I searched all the ten sites listed below for “chocolate labrador” and this was my favorite image. It comes from Flick via PhotoDropper. Photo of “Charlie” (9 weeks old) by R0Ng (link).


By Andrew Hudson Published: September 11, 2012 Updated: January 31, 2017

Every good blog post deserves a good photo. But not every good blog post makes money. So where can you get good free photos? Let’s find out.

Search Now for Free Blog Photos

Summary • I use PhotoDropperGo straight to the list

My second-favorite free blog photo of a
chocolate Lab — Raisin, age 5, by CowCopTim
 

As a blog writer, I’m always looking for good photos. So I decided to spend several days finding the best source for free photos (and, not coincidentally, writing this blog post).

Public Domain

Many sites offer “public domain” images. But these photos are either from before 1923; by the U.S. Government; or by photographers who get no payment or attribution. So the selection is limited, unexciting, and not really usable for blogs. Instead, there’s only one clear source of usable photos: Flickr.

Flickr

Yahoo’s popular photo-sharing site features many kind photographers who have allowed their photos to be used in blogs and elsewhere for free. This is accomplished using licenses by Creative Commons (“CC”).

There are over 235 million photos on Flickr available with Creative Commons licenses (as of 9/7/12, source). Of those, 35 million+ can be used with the “Attribution“ (commercial) license.

Attribution

The Creative Commons Attribution license (also known as “CC BY”) allows you “to make commercial use of the work under the following conditions: You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author …” This is typically done by including a credit line with the name of the photographer, often linked to their Flickr page. For example:

Photo by Joe Bloggs

Searching Flickr

You can search Flickr directly, or through specialized websites and plugins such as PhotoDropper, PhotoPin, EveryStockPhoto, Creative Commons Search, Compfight and Google Advanced Image Search.

Picasa

The next largest source of photos is Picasa, with over 400,000 Attribution photos (as of 9/7/2012). But that is only 1/80th the number on Flickr, and you can only search on their site as there are no specialized websites or WordPress plugins that I could find. No other major photo-sharing site offers CC-licensed images.

Free Photos vs. Paid Photos

Before we get to the list, it should be noted that free photos — although the perfect price — are not the perfect solution. Since the photos are shot by unpaid hobbyists, they are good for landscapes, landmarks and pets, but not for concepts, business scenes and model-released people. If you have the money, a better approach would be a microstock website such as Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, iStockphoto, BigStockPhoto or 123RF.

But you don’t have the money; that’s why you’re here. So onto…

The Top Ten Best Websites
& WordPress Plugins for Free Blog Photos

1. PhotoDropper

The home page of PhotoDropper

PhotoDropper

A WordPress Plugin for Flickr
www.photodropper.com
PROS:Search from the WordPress Post page
CONS:Can’t search from the website
(the site promotes the plugin)

After days of research, this is the solution I ended up using. Unlike the other nine contenders, this is not a website, just a WordPress plugin (the website advertises the plugin).

Like many WordPress plugins, PhotoDropper is free to download. Upon activation, it will add a small hot-air-balloon icon to your “Add New Post” window:

Clicking the balloon icon opens a search window:

Select a photo and PhotoDropper will allow you to save it to your server via the Media Library, where you can select the optimum file size and display parameters.

A drop-down menu on the Post page allows you to choose where the credit should go:

The choices are:

  • In Photo Captions
  • At the End of the Post
  • Use PhotoDropper PHP Tag

If you, like me, code your own WordPress theme, then you can utilize the last option which allows you to embed the credit line wherever you like in your layout. The PHP tag is:

<?php if ( function_exists( ‘photodropper_attribution’ ) ){photodropper_attribution(); } ?>

IMHO

PhotoDropper was my favorite solution as it operates directly from the Post page. This makes adding a photo very quick and easy (with a website solution, I would have to manually download images to my computer, upload them to my server, and copy and paste the HTML attribution).

Compared to similar plugins (see below), PhotoDropper had the simplest layout of search results, and I liked the ability to choose where to add the attribution (including with a PHP tag).

Plus, for some reason, the selection of photos just seemed to be better.

Other WordPress Plugins

The following Creative Commons plugins for WordPress were similar to PhotoDropper, but not quite as enjoyable to use (IMHO):


2. Photo Pin

The home page of Photo Pin

Photo Pin

A website for Flickr photos
photopin.com
PROS:Beautiful layout, good results, no ads
CONS:Can’t search for “commercial” photos from the home page (only from the results page)

Photo Pin is the best website to search for free blog photos on Flickr. The design is impressively minimal, tidy and fast, which makes the search results a joy to review.

“Photo Pin helps bloggers find photos for their blog and makes adding them to their post fast and easy.”
Max & Sameer, developers of Photo Pin

Hovering over a photo allows you to preview the photo or open up a download dialog box (see below). From here, you can get the link to the Flickr page or download the image directly to your server in your choice of Flickr file size. Under “Get HTML”, the proper attribution is conveniently provided, ready for you to copy and paste into your website page.

A results page from Photo Pin

A nice touch is that the results page has continuous scroll, so you can keep viewing more photos without having to click to another page.

IMHO

Photo Pin is easily the sleekest and most attractive website on which to search Flickr for Creative Commons photos.


3. EveryStockPhoto

A results page from EveryStockPhoto

EveryStockPhoto

A website for Flickr photos
www.everystockphoto.com
PROS:Shows photos from Flickr, MorgueFile, PhotoXpress and FreeImages
CONS:Results were not as good as from Photo Pin, and included an upsell to Fotolia

EveryStockPhoto combines the results of four free sources — Flickr, MorgueFile, PhotoXpress and FreeImages. Plus, an icon to the right of the search bar allows you to choose between the traditional view (below) or a nice side-by-side column display (above) of free, public domain, Creative Commons and commercial images.

However, the layout was more dense and confusing than Photo Pin. And space is lost for an upsell to the paid microstock agency of Fotolia. Plus, despite the wider source base, the images were not as appealing as those from Photo Pin. The first result for “chocolate labrador” brought up a picture of Bill Clinton!

Another results page from EveryStockPhoto

IMHO

Although in theory offering a larger selection, EveryStockPhoto had weaker results and layout than Photo Pin.


4. Flickr

The home page of Flickr

Flickr

The largest collection of CC images
www.flickr.com
PROS:You’re at the photo source, with all the information there is available
CONS:A basic and unattractive layout

Why not go to the source? Flickr offers over 200 million photos under Creative Commons licenses, which you can search for directly on their site.

Interestingly, a search on Flickr produced a different selection of results than a search on a Flickr front-end websites such as Photo Pin and EveryStockPhoto.

Personally, I preferred the layout of Photo Pin, as Flickr included additional photographer information that I didn’t need, so the pictures were smaller. Plus, I preferred the infinite scroll of Photo Pin, over the pagination of Flickr. Minor points though.

A results page from Flickr

3 Ways to Search Flickr
Attribution (Commercial) License
Noncommercial iconAttribution-Non-Commercial License
Flickr iconFlickr’s Advanced Search

5. Creative Commons

The Creative Commons search page

Creative Commons

An interface to several photo sources
search.creativecommons.org
PROS:Search several sources starting from one page
CONS:No added value — a search directly at the source produces the same results

Another way to go to the source is to search at Creative Commons. You can check several photo libraries, including:

Unfortunately, the results are not combined — you have to search each source separately. And you are sent to each source’s results page, so there’s no “added value” here.

“Please note that search.creativecommons.org is not a search engine, but rather offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organizations.”
Creative Commons


Google’s photo-sharing site only has 1/80th the number of CC-commercial-licensed photos as Flickr, so you won’t get the breadth of the previous five tools. But you will get a different selection. So that may make a visit worthwhile.

Picasa results page

A results page for Picasa

Flickr vs. Picasa

Number of licensed photosFlickrPicasa
Creative Commons235 million485,793
CC Commercial35 million414,879
As of 9/7/12

7. Compfight

The home page of Compfight

Compfight

A Flickr-search website and WordPress plugin
compfight.com/
PROS:A different source of photos than Flickr (e.g., all other sites)
CONS:Upsell to iStockphoto

Compfight is the only Flickr-search website that also has a WordPress plugin.

The website has a nice feature — when you hover over an image, the maximum resolution is shown, so you can see if the photo is large enough for your use.

Compfight results page

A results page for Compfight

“Compfight is an image search engine tailored to efficiently locate images for blogs, comps, inspiration, and research.”
Compfight


8. Google Advanced Image Search

Google Advanced Image Search

Google Advanced Image Search

The search giant finds photos
images.google.com/advanced_image_search
PROS:Many sources (including Flickr) are searched
CONS:The results were terrible in my test

If there’s search, then there’s Google. The giant’s Advanced Image Search allows you to filter results by “usage rights” including “free to use or share, even commercially.”

Google finds photos from various sources, including:

Noticeably absent from this list was Picasa, which Google owns. And, despite the wide breadth, in my test search, Google AIS only returned two pictures of actual “chocolate labrador” dogs. It also came back with a tunnel, a tree, a pavement, a weird mask, a marching band, and, of course, Bill Clinton.

Google Advanced Image Search results page

A results page from Google Advanced Image Search


9. PublicDomainPictures.net

The home page of PublicDomainPictures.net

PublicDomainPictures.net

Free photos to download and use
www.publicdomainpictures.net
PROS:An attribution is not necessary for blog use
CONS:Limited range; Upsell to Shutterstock; Not truly public domain

This was the onlypublic domain” site to yield decent results. However, the selection pales in comparison to Flickr sites. I got five chocolate labradors.

Despite the name, the pictures are not in the public domain. They are copyrighted images which can be used “for any purpose, including commercial” but a link back is requested and is “mandatory” “to redistribute [an] image online.”

PublicDomainPictures.net results page

A results page from PublicDomainPictures.net


10. FreeImages

The home page of FreeImages

FreeImages

Free photos to download and use
FreeImages
PROS:An alternative source to Flickr
CONS:Requires sign-in; no new photos since 2009; upsell to iStockphoto

FreeImages claims to be the leading free stock photo site. However, the site does not seem to have been updated since 2009.

To download a photo, you have to sign up and sign in, which is somewhat inconvenient.

Although the images are offered at no cost, there is still a lengthy “Image license agreement” (which permits use “on websites”) with an indemnification clause. And, because the site is owned by Getty Images, there is the obligatory upsell to iStockphoto.

FreeImages results page

A results page from FreeImages


Some sites that didn’t make my top ten:

  • MorgueFile
  • PhotoXpress
  • Pixabay — To download an image, you need to be a registered user, or complete a reCAPTCHA form
  • Pixnio
  • Sunipix — A picture library for students, teachers, etc. All images owned by Sunipix. Free use permitted for websites.
  • RGB Stock

Microstock sites that offer free photos


How this list was determined

I visited over 100 websites that offered free blog photos1 and compared the results for the same search term2. Then I took the twelve best websites and made four identical searches3. I ranked the ten best of those sites based on image suitability and website style.

To compare results, I searched for the same term — “chocolate labrador” — on each site.

Terms

Copyright

All photos taken after 1976 automatically have copyright protection (in the U.S.), which is owned by the photographer. If you use someone else’s photo without their permission, you may be liable for copyright infringement, a federal offence with statutory damages up to $150,000 per image, plus attorney’s fees. Plus, it’s not cool.

Creative Commons

Photographers can permit usage of their copyrighted photos by using a license (written permission). A popular licensing method is provided by Creative Commons (CC), which is a nonprofit organization that “enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.”

Attribution

The basic Creative Commons permission is called the “Attribution” license, also known as “CC BY”. This allows the photo to be used for free (yes, for no payment of money), even commercially, on the condition that you give credit to the photographer.

Public Domain

All old photos taken before 1923, and many taken between 1923 and 1977, are not protected by copyright. They are thus free to be used by anyone, which is known as being “in the public domain.”

Public Domain Photo Sites

There are many websites that claim to offer “public domain photos,” but technically the recent photos are not public domain. If taken after 1976, photos are still protected by copyright but they can be licensed for unlimited use by a simple written statement, such as CC0.

All Rights Reserved

When photographers expressly do not want you to use their images without their permission (i.e. a payment), they often mark them with the phrase “All Rights Reserved.” This may not have any real legal value, as rights are automatically granted to, and reserved by, the photographer.

Some Rights Reserved

On Flickr and Picasa, the label for a Creative Commons license is often “Some Rights Reserved” with a link to the license.

Google Images

Google provides a photo search engine called Google Images. But, just because photos are shown on Google Images without a copyright notice, does not mean they are free for you to use. Google can legally display small thumbnail images in a search result under the “fair use” limitation, but you still need to respect the photographer’s copyright.


If you intend to use an image you find here for commercial use, please be aware that some photos do require a model or property release. Pictures featuring products should be used with care.


Footnotes

1: The 100+ sites came from my PhotoSecrets Directory for Free Stock Photos (40), the Wikipedia entry for public domain image resources (89), and other lists suggested by a Google search for “free blog photos” (which came back with “1,320,000,000 other results” but I only went a few pages deep).

2: Since I’m a fan of pictures of San Diego, my initial search was for “san diego”.

3: For the most promising websites, I made the following four searches based on some of my recent news/blog posts:

4: Several image-searching sites attempt to get revenue from affiliate links by also showing paid microstock sites, particularly Shutterstock, Fotolia and iStockphoto. (Naturally, my links in that sentence are also affiliate links!)

Update: Here are some new sites I did not include in the above:

Comments


Reply by Anonymous

September 22, 2014

Thanks! You can also try www.4freephotos.com and www.alegriphotos.com


Reply by Cris DeRaud

August 9, 2013

A good alternative to sxc is http://www.rgbstock.com/


Avatar for Chris

Reply by Chris

June 29, 2013

Thank you! Can’t wait to try these out.


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