Design and Branding

10 Best Free Stock Photo Search Engines That Will Make Your Life Easier

The beautiful stock photo sites are all the rage right now, and everyone and their mother loves writing roundup posts about them. What we haven’t seen though is on place with the best stock photo search engines and aggregator sites.

Here are our favorite sites that bring together the best free stock photos from the free sites.

Our test: We used a search for “mountains” to show you the quality of the photos returned. It’s annoying to get lists of the best sites that look pretty on the surface, but when you actually search for what you want you get clunk results. Have a look below, hopefully you find your favorite new resource.

 

1. StockSnap.io

Stock Snap stock photos

StockSnap.io is a quality stock photo search engine that is very well designed. A search for “mountains” gave us 387 results for photos all containing mountains. On some sites you get photos barely related to the search, not so with StockSnap.io.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 5/5
Total: 5/5

From StockSnap:

We select nothing but the highest quality, highest resolution pictures and add them to our database on a daily basis. This is not your typical crappy stock photo site.

License: Their photos are released under CC0 – the most liberating license out there.

 

2. Stock Up

Stock Up Stock Photos

Stock Up is a stock photo search engine built as a tool within Site Builder Report, probably to earn links from other websites :). Nonetheless, it’s a high quality photo search tool featuring free stock photo sites that have either submitted themselves or given permission to be included. The search is responsive, and a search for “mountains” returns relevant results. The only downside is that you would have to check the specific licenses of each site to know how you can use them.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Total: 4.8/5

From Stock Up:

If you’re wondering about usage guidelines please note that Stock Up is a search engine that searches across many free stock photo websites— each with their own individual usage guidelines. So refer to each individual website for usage guidelines.

License: So each photo’s license depends on the site you get the image from, there is no blanket license.

 

3. Pexels

Pexels stock photos of mountains

Like the past two, Pexels aggregates photos from many of the same sources like Unsplash and Gratisography, among others. I like the clear license, the ability to subscribe to their newsletter, and the fact that they show you related searches for every search. Their search is snappy, and includes the Pinterest-like infinite scrolling.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 5/5
Total: 5/5

From Pexels:

Currently we cover over 1800 photos. And every week at least 35 new high res photos will be added. All photos are hand-picked from free image sources. We make sure all published pictures are high-quality and licensed under CC0.

License: Thankfully, each photo is licensed under CC0, making it the easiest way to find free stock photos for commercial projects, worry-free.

 

4. Foter

Foter stock photo site

Claiming to have access to 228 million stock photos, Foter appears to larger gather its photos from Flickr. It’s definitely a huge improvement over Flickr’s own ease of use when you’re searching for photos you can use on your site. Since the photos are sourced from Flickr, it seems the majority of the photos require some type of attribution, and not all photos are approved for commercial use. It’s definitely refreshing to have this interface though when searching for a large amount of stock photos.

Photo Relevancy: 4/5
Photo Beauty: 4/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Total: 4.3/5

From Foter:

Searching for photos and inserting them into blog posts or articles is designed to be very fast and convenient. Just search for images by keywords and grab the embed code to insert them into your blog. The embed code contains all necessary CC attribution, that are mandatory to include, so you don’t need to contribute authors manually.

License: All photos are a variation of Creative Commons licenses, but be careful that the one you use is approved for commercial use if using for your business.

 

5. Pickup Image

Pickup Image stock photos review

Based purely on their site design, Pickup Image seems to be older than its contemporary stock photo search peers. Nonetheless, this site returns a bountiful amount of quality photos for my example search of “mountains”, returning 619 photos of mountains. They allow a wide range of contributors as seen on their contributors page. They get docked a usability point for showing ads, but you can’t blame them for trying to pay their bills for this very useful tool.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 4/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Total: 4.5/5

From Pickup Image:

Pickupimage is the largest collections of free photographs. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. Find and share outstanding free photos.

License: All photos are public domain photos, as stated on their home page, with a license of CC0.

 

6. Compfight

Compfight stock photo site review

Compfight was the only Creative Commons photo search tool I used for years, before I knew about the rest of them. It’s also one of the oldest. It makes use of the Flickr API for all of its photos, and it shows more than just Creative Commons photos. For the purpose of our goal of finding free stock photos to use in our projects, the fact that it shows non-Creative Commons photos reduces the quality of the user experience. In addition to that they blend in Shuttershock photo ads, which ads confusion. On the bright side, they have good photo filters and an easy way to download the photos without going to Flickr.

Photo Relevancy: 3/5
Photo Beauty: 3/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Total: 3.5/5

From Compfight:

The core of the Compfight experience is the filters and options: they help you satisfy your appetite for discovering and locating the images you need, in the most efficient way possible.

License: The photos come from Flickr, and include non-Creative Commons photos, so be careful and filter well before using in projects. Most photos require attribution.

 

7. Stockvault.net

Stockvault Mountains

Stockvault is a dinosaur in this game, it’s been around since 2004, before free stock photos became sexy. With 53k free photos in their database, it’s a bountiful resource for personal use. There are two major drawbacks to the site. One is that the site has a huge amount of ads in the form of banner ads and embedded Shuttershock affiliate photo links. The second is that none of the photos are approved for commercial use, so they can only be for personal or educational use. With a heavy emphasis on users contributing photos, you’ll see a very unique collection of photos that you won’t find anywhere else. Definitely a tool you want to keep in your arsenal.

Photo Relevancy: 4/5
Photo Beauty: 3/5
Response Speed: 5/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Total: 3.8/5

From Stockvault.net:

Since 2004 Stockvault.net has catered it’s visitors with free imagery, “ready to use” web layouts and logos and helped those who don’t have the means to turn to the royalty free agencies. We are in no way trying to compete with royalty free stock, but rather to fulfill the need for “somewhat” free stock imagery.

License: “Yes, the images are free for personal and non-commercial usage. You may however not use them to promote a product or a service.”

 

8. Splashbase

Splashbase stock photos review

Splashbase was one of the first aggregators/search engines of the new wave of free stock photos sites, and it’s name seems to me to be a play on “Unsplash”. It sources its photos from sites such as Little Visuals, Gratisography, Superfamous, and more. One unique thing about Splashbase is that they have their own API that developers can use. A downside of the interface of the site is that the images seem to load slow, and there are no titles on the images, as well as a confusing download button. They do include some pretty amazing free stock video as well.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 3/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Total: 4/5

From Splashbase:

splashbase is a search and discovery platform for the following sites: travelcoffeebook, startupstockphotos, littlevisuals, gratisography, getrefe, jaymantri, superfamous, mazwai, unsplash, snapographic, moveast, snapwiresnaps, newoldstock, splitshire, camarama, mmt, lifeofpix, crowthestone, skitterphoto.

License: The image depends on the photo, most are CC0 (totally free, no attribution) and CC 3.0 (free for commercial, attribution required).

 

9. AllTheFreeStock.com

all the free stock stock photos

AllTheFreeStock.com is not a stock photo search engine, but an aggregator site. But what makes it interesting is that it aggregates stock photo search engine sites as well. Any site you choose on the left panel loads in an iframe. One huge thing that makes this site unique is that it brings together some rare stock photos sites not seen on any other photo search engines. The site also gets bonus points as well for aggregating free videos, icons, and fonts that are necessary to make your design projects complete.

Photo Relevancy: 5/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 4/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Total: 4.3/5

From AllTheFreeStock.com:

Get all the Free Stock Images, Videos and Icons in one location.

License: “All of the sites under [ Free Stock Photos ] offers images listed under the Creative Commons Zero license, so you are free to use these images in commercial projects.” Videos and icons are different.

 

10. The Stocks

The Stocks.im stock photos

The Stocks immediately has a cool hipster vibe to it with some frost trees and mountains front and center, the key to my heart. Like AllTheFreeStock.com, The Stocks isn’t a search engine, but an aggregator of the best sites. The site is well designed itself, and provides a relaxing, minimal list of some beautiful stock photo sites. One downside, is they don’t explicitly state that all photo sites linked to are CC0 or not, they just leave it out. It’s also not as robust as AllTheFreeStocks.com, although it does include rare sites not found elsewhere.

Photo Relevancy: 3/5
Photo Beauty: 5/5
Response Speed: 3/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Total: 3.5/5

From The Stocks:

the best royalty free stock photos in one place

License: Many are CC0, but you’ll have to look at each site’s license individually.

 

Our Wrap Up

The amount of high quality, do-what-you-want-with stock photos have never been in more abundance. This new wave of high quality photo sites has let to a wave of high quality free stock photo search engines. It’s a good time for good design.

We bring you this list because we take a strong interest in good design for our clients. We want them to put their best foot forward and present the best versions of their brand. Old company logos and cheesy stock photos aren’t going to cut it. They need more and they need help from designers like you and builders like us. That’s why we’re extremely excited about these photo search engines.

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