Free stock images used to carry a certain taboo. Cliched photos of people making unnatural faces on top of white backgrounds, representing… something.
You knew if you were looking at a stock image, and probably not in a good way. And since high-quality custom photography isn’t always sitting around ready to use, event profs were stuck with expensive pro-grade photo markets, or searching through pages of junky shots trying to find the one inexpensive gem.
Luckily, things have changed since then.
Now there are hundreds of websites with user-friendly licensing agreements that offer high-quality photos of every genre for every need. On the whole, there’s practically an overwhelming array of choices.
But for most of us, when deadlines are coming up and promotions need to be sent, we need something that looks really good, is fast to find, and free. And we usually don’t want to search through dozens of different sites just to find something to help make our promotions and invitations stand out.
So we made a trimmed-down list of the best of the best that will provide you some stellar photos, free (but if you need a more extensive list and are considering paid resources, here’s a longer list of stock photo websites). And we chose sites with an emphasis on user-friendly layouts that help make searching enjoyable and easy to do.
Here are 4 of the highest quality and most user-friendly free stock photo websites to give you an edge finding photos for your event promotions:
Unsplash is a free stock image site that offers a solid selection of high quality photographs, and is a bit more curated than most stock websites. The images are submitted by photographers around the world, so many of the shots are more natural and varied than your average stock photo.
Good For: Excellent, natural looking photos, and searching curated collections.
Finder’s Tip: You can search Unsplash using keywords, but they also offer a variety of collections for quick pre-sorted browsing. They have tons of different collection themes – flatlay categories (great for highly instagrammable posts), wedding categories, arranged food, and much more. User-created collections are a great way to quickly find options for a theme, because much of the searching legwork has already been done for you.
StockSnap offers a wide variety of free stock images, less curated than Unsplash, but often with good, natural visual style.
Good For: Finding and comparing options without sacrificing visual quality or realism.
Finder’s Tip: The keyword search tends to take your queries pretty literally, so you’ll want to try variations (“crowd”, “group”, “gathering”, “party”) if your first search doesn’t turn up what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for something broader, try the trending, most viewed, and most downloaded photos, which is an easy way to get a sense of what’s out there, and get a few new ideas for what to use.
Pexels is a free stock image website that offers the widest variety of options of the websites listed, because anyone can upload photographs. They go through submissions and make the best ones available for public use.
Good For: Tracking down a good photo when you can’t find it elsewhere.
Finder’s Tip: Because there’s such a big collection, you might need to do more searching to find something really good here. That makes Pexels a good place to go when you already have something in mind, so you can narrow down your searches more quickly. You can search by keyword or by most popular, but their categories are also great for straightforward searches, like seasons, art, food, and so forth.
Superfamous is different from your run-of-the-mill stock image website – all photos are by one photographer, Folkert Gorter, and are more abstract shots of nature, architecture, and textures.
Good For: Elegant and visually stunning abstract photos – for backgrounds, textures, and artistic backdrops.
Finder’s Tip: Photos from Superfamous do need to be credited to Gorter, but if you need something abstract and artistic, a little credit line is more than worth it! While there is less selection on the site, it’s a unique way to get an artists work on your website without having to budget for it.