My wife is a marketing consultant with a background in graphic design. This means she is doing for a living many of the things I have been doing as a hobby in these GIMP tutorials. In the days of the plague we were doing long walks every day as a form of exercise, and I would often talk about my tutorials and what I was trying to accomplish. On one of these walks I was explaining that I was trying to use many different free image sites, and the next day she gave me a link to some more. It came from a marketing site called Twenty Over Ten, and offered their favorite fifteen sites. These are mostly high-quality stock photo sites, which is of course what my wife uses in her work. The advantage of sites like these is that you might get better quality images than you find on a public domain site. So I thought I would investigate. Here is what I found.
Many of these sites are reasonably free, though I wish they weren’t often creating their own licenses. Fairly typical of these is Unsplash.com which bills itself as “The internet’s source of freely-usable images”, but what does that mean exactly? To find out, I checked the license.
Unsplash photos are made to be used freely. Our license reflects that.
- All photos can be downloaded and used for free
- Commercial and non-commercial purposes
- No permission needed (though attribution is appreciated!)
What is not permitted
- Photos cannot be sold without significant modification.
- Compiling photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.
Even though attribution isn’t required, Unsplash photographers appreciate it as it provides exposure to their work and encourages them to continue sharing.
Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.
Now, to be fair this is not a bad license. I think for most people’s uses this would be a good site. And the images are definitely good ones. Similar sites include Pixabay, Pexels, Kaboompics, and Shutteroo. In fact, the license terms I could find on all of these sites looked like they came from a single template.
Then I came to Negative Space. I was very happy to see on the front page that the images are all licensed as CC0, which I like a great deal. Just to double-check, I went to an image and clicked through to the download page and saw “Download the free high-resolution image ‘ Lighthouse Sky’ with a CC0 license and use it however and wherever you like.” And I love that it has the CC0 license claim right on the home page of the site, and that it repeats it on the download page of each image. I take licensing very seriously, and while I tend to think that copyright is way overdone, particularly in the hands of the big media companies, I am friends with an author, Michael W. Lucas, who has reasonably pointed out that he relies on copyright to make a living. So it can be complicated. My wife uses Stock Photo sites a lot, but she has customers so the costs can billed to the client, or taken as a tax deduction. I don’t have any clients or any revenue, in fact I spend money to host these tutorials on a web site I pay for.
In any case, I like it when I can see easily what the license terms are for a site. And when I got to Fancy Crave I did not get that. The site looked like something to check out, since it is aimed at freelancers, and the Twenty Over Ten article had this blurb for it:
FancyCrave’s easy to navigate website releases two new images from professional photographers everyday. The photos have much more of a fun, eclectic vibe, perfect for blog posts or social media.https://blog.twentyoverten.com/10-best-sites-for-free-stock-photos/
But under what terms? I saw that the word “Free” was fairly prominent, and the encouragements to start downloading and fill up your hard drive. But I am not new to the Internet, and I don’t take the word “free” at face value, I need details. The pictures are grouped as themes, so I clicked through to a collection of Sunset photos. I saw that each them said “Free download”, but I have seen that exact same language used to say you can download it for free, but to use it you need to pay money. And I’m sure you have all seen this. There was a collection that said Public domain in the title, one for Palm Trees, but I never found anything that looked like an explicit license anywhere on the site. A further downcheck is that it seemed to autoplay video commercials all the time I was on the site.
Burst is a site that is a subsidiary of Shopify, and it looks like it is a kind of photo sharing site. So part of the emphasis is for people to become contributors and upload their own photos. If you scroll down to the bottom of the Home page there is an FAQ section with a clearly marked link to the License page. So thumbs up there. I clicked through, and found a very long page written by a lawyer that covered the terms of service for the site. So much of it involves what you agree to if you create an account, if you upload photos, and of course the usual denial of liability if anything goes wrong. But Section 4 has the license information, and from this it looks like there are two kinds of license involved. One of them is CC0, and the other looks a lot like the Unsplash license above. You would need to check each photo, but when you click through to the download page for an image there is a section on the left sidebar for License, so it is clearly marked. I tried the first 5 images on the Top Free Downloads, and got this “License: Burst Some Rights Reserved“. Then I tried another image from the Collections drop-down, and got one that is CC0 licensed. I could not find any way to restrict the search to CC0, which would have made this site a lot better for me, but you can get the information at least.
Picjumbo Puts the word FREE in large type on the home page, but it very quickly pivots to selling memberships. There is an FAQ page, but it appears to be for the Premium membership only. As far as I can tell, there are no truly free images here at all. It looks like you purchase a membership, and then you can download images all you like. And while the FAQ page has some usage information, it is in Q&A format, not a real license. So while they are entitled to their own business model, I don’t think I will be doing anything here.
Freerange is yet another site using the word Free very prominently, and in this case there is a clear link on the home page to the license information. They use something called the Equalicense, which aims to balance the rights of users and creators. The summary says:
You can use images for nearly any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, without attribution.
You cannot sell, redistribute, or relicense the images, and you cannot sell products which derive their primary value from the image.https://www.equalicense.com/
There is then a link to a more detailed explanation, which is not bad, but has areas of ambiguity. For instance, you can use these images freely for “Printed items like menus, flyers, packaging, mailers and books (as long as it’s not just a book of photos)”, but you cannot use them to “Sell items with images printed on them”. Now, Freerange does say they also have CC0 photos available, but I could not find any way to search just for CC0 items. And it looks like you have to create an account before you can download anything.
Libreshot is a site by one person, Martin Vorel, who is the photographer. On the Home page there is a clear link to License on the top menu bar, and clicking through there is the clear language that everything is CC0 licensed. However, it is using a version of the license that is older and has been retired. So mostly OK with a small asterisk.
Nappy is an interesting site with a focus on photos of black and brown people. Under the About menu on the top navigation bar I found the License link, and that says that everything is CC0 licensed. So full marks for clearly giving the license information, and this would be go-to site if you needed this particular type of photo.
StockSnap is a site that claims to offer “Beautiful free stock photos”, and right under that headline is a clear link that says “Free from copyright restrictions” which takes you to the License page where you find that they use CC0. And they go further than some sites in explaining what CC0 means.
Wrapping up the list, we have SplitShire, which appears to have something similar to the Unsplash license, which means they are writing their own using common license terms. And finally Life of Pix, for which I could find no license information at all. There is nothing obviously findable for the site as a whole, and clicking on an image does not give any information either. So this is not anything I can recommend.
Of the 15 sites listed here, most of them had at least some issues with the licensing. I think if you were careful you could use some of the images from these sites, but the ones I would recommend based on the licensing are:
So at the very least there are a few sites worth bookmarking for your future use.