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If you are a copywriter, web designer or website owner who doesn’t have enough money to pay for expensive databases, or if you use images only sparingly, so it wouldn’t be very effective to throw money away every month on professional photos, you can try free image sources. How do they work and which ones are the most worthwhile?

First of all, you need to learn how freely available photos are tagged. It really isn’t true – and unfortunately many people still think it is – that it’s OK to download any image on the internet (for example, from the popular Pinterest) and use it in your article, without crediting the source.

With pictures from the internet, it’s like walking blindfolded across an intersection – someone can do it a hundred times and not get hurt, someone else gets hit by a car the first time. Therefore, the author of the photo or the copyright owner may come across your photo on your website and demand compensation from you, or hefty fines for unauthorized use or copyright infringement.

So you never know what image you’re dealing with. And there is no better recipe for avoiding problems than preventing them. If you need an image that you can safely use on your website or blog, or copy, modify, or even use for commercial purposes, without the author’s prior approval, look for photos and images marked CC0. It stands for the Creative Commons licence, a non-profit organisation that collects and makes works of authorship available so they can be used legally.

Even free photos have their flies

At the outset, be aware that your free photo source may not always be a complete advantage. We have come across a few shortcomings that should be taken into account when working with freely available images:

  • Say goodbye to the fact that in such photo banks you will find such a spectrum and selection of images as in paid databases. They are much smaller in number and you will often only find photos from the most searched categories, such as people, health, animals, architecture or business.
  • If you finally arrive at an image that fits your theme, you may not be one hundred percent satisfied with it. It may not have the atmosphere or “message” you need to convey through photography.
  • The search is much more difficult. Even subscribers of professional photo libraries often get sweaty when looking for a suitable picture. Free photo databases are not as sophisticated, so the more specific your request, the harder it will be to find suitable image material.
  • In extreme cases, you may find that keyword or category searches don’t work at all, so all you’re left with is a laborious scroll through the entire image gallery.
  • English is essential when searching (both unpaid and paid databases have this in common), so if you’re not fluent in it, you’d better get some advice when typing in appropriate keywords.
  • If you search for vector images, i.e. cartoon infographics or illustrations, you won’t find many of them among the freely available resources.

Our top 7 image databases

We tried several databases, which – to make it easier – were compared based on the same key term, in our case we chose “fitness”. From among the databases, we selected a lucky seven sources that were the best to work with. However, at the end you will also find links to other photo libraries that you may find useful in the future.

Pixabay Photo Library

Probably the most searched database of freely available photos, it offers almost a million images. This, on the other hand, puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, because chances are that your image will often be found on competitors or dozens of foreign sites. As one of the few free databases, you will also find illustrations, vector graphics and videos. When we put the term “fitness” into a search engine, we found quite a variety of photos. The photo library also provides more advanced search options, for example by subject category, size, type, colour, image size or even by author.

Pexels photo library

It is quite common to find images from Pixabay in this photo database. While here you download your image right away, in Pixabay you have to take the extra step of describing the CAPTCHA security code. You can find plenty of photos for your keyword, but you can also search in the individual thematic sections. photo bank

In this database, which fills up with hundreds of photos daily, we were surprised by a number of nice images when we typed in the word “fitness”, including pictures of various exercises on a white background. However, in addition to specific terms, you can also search by relevance, recently used keywords, date added or popularity with users.

Unsplush photobank

You may not find that many images in this photo database, but they are quite nice and usable. The site declares that it only adds 10 really good shots to its photo library on a daily basis. However, it will certainly meet the needs of beginners or people on a budget. Similarly, images can also be searched by image authors. If you need photos with a certain atmosphere or theme, click on the Collection tab.

Photobank Negativespace

We have variable experience with the database depending on the search terms. Sometimes we manage to find more of them, sometimes less. However, we have been relatively successful with the word “fitness”. There are also 14 different image categories with lots of really high quality photos.

Picjumbo Photobank

The young, just over 20 years old photographer Viktor Hanáček makes us really happy with his database of nice and high quality free photographs. The search engine found a variety of suitable images when we typed in the term “fitness”. If you don’t want to search by your keyword, you still have the option to browse the most recently downloaded photos or the most common themed image categories.

Kaboompics photo library

This database, like the previous one, is small and even the number of main categories is narrowed down to only six, but it offers pictures with a special atmosphere that are worth it. Images are also archived with “tags”, or labels based on key terms, so you won’t have as much trouble finding suitable photos here.

When reliable sources fail

If that’s not enough, here are a few more databases that you can use if you exhaust all previous resources or are looking for something particularly specific.

If your passion is photography, then it doesn’t have to manifest itself just by taking lots of shots every step of the way, but also by starting a photo bank. This one was created by Jeffrey Betts back in 2014. The 11 image categories and 9 thematic collections offer you more search options, but you’ll find fewer terms based on keywords.

The creative agency IM-CREATOR offers a rather rich range of free photos in 22 collections, such as people, business, technology, health, food and more. Some contain fewer images, others thousands. You can also find free website templates here.

The 7 thematic image categories look promising at the beginning, but the search is not so rosy. You have to manually click through the entire gallery in each topic. You can make your “exploration” easier by using the tags you find in the sidebar. The keyword search engine does exist on the site, but it automatically sends you to Dreamstime’s paid database.

Similarly, keyword searches in this database will take you to the paid Shutterstock photo library once you’ve confirmed the term. Therefore, take advantage of the collection of photos in 16 different categories. You will also find the most popular images in the Featured section, as well as photos selected by the database administrators in the Admin pics section. For each image, the site will automatically offer you other searchable photos of the author from whom the image came.

Although the search in this database looks more sophisticated at first glance (by 13 categories, but also by colour or orientation of the image in portrait or landscape), more general terms work better here instead of specific keywords. It may help that the photo library is linked to a database of freely available videos

If you need gastronomy photos, save the URL of this database well. Not only are the images plentiful, but they are shot tastefully, with quality and modernity. Similar to other photo banks, you can search for images by different tags. Among the most followed ones is the Healthy tag. The so-called Thematic Packages include photos related to world cuisine, Easter or Christmas, Halloween, or special events such as weddings. Finally, you can also find inspiration in the magazine (blog).

Reach for this database if you need quirkier images, funnier photos or very specific shots, photo montages and collages, which are categorized under themes such as Objects, Animals or People. Their author is Ryan McGuire from Bells Design.

Before visiting this photo library, arm yourself with a lot of patience, because the keyword search doesn’t work here, so you’ll have to go through all the images nicely one by one. Also, be prepared for the photos to not be very large – we downloaded a few that were less than 1 MB. On the other hand, here you will find various nice travel photos.

Generate images for free with the help of AI

In addition to the ability to download images from free or paid image databases, there is the option to generate images with the help of AI tools. Of course, it has its drawbacks. It needs a very high quality assignment and not all tool will understand what you need quite efficiently. This is of course also on other article.


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