Where Do I Find Free Images for My Site?

The internet is FULL of images, right? If it's on the internet, that means you can use it! ...No, that's... That's not how it works. You know better than that. If you use an image you found on the internet that someone else created, you are STEALING it from them!

Where Do I Find Free Images for My Site?

I get this question from my clients ALL THE TIME! Long story short... you don't... Okay, yes, you CAN find free images on the internet for use on your website. There have been a few projects pop up over the last few years that offer up some quality art pieces with a very lax license.

Do I need a license for every image on my website?

Short Answer: YES! Long Answer: It depends, but it's a very good idea to make sure you have them.

You see, if you go to Google Images and find a nice graphic to use for your post about puppy shoes, you might just be stealing someone else's content.

cute pomeranian in shoes
Yes, I paid for this image. Why? To prove a point... a point which... escapes me right now. I'm gonna go stick my head in a lake. You're welcome, I guess!

STEALING?! I'm no thief!

Well, if you steal someone else's photo from Google Images, you ARE a thief. And their lawyers could come after you. There are fines, damages, and lawyer fees... It can get expensive. Sometimes they'll offer to settle out of court for ~$5,000 to $15,000. You'll want to avoid that. This is all a big part of a liiiiittle thing called—

COPYRIGHT — It's the right to copy things!

If you are the creator of a work, you have the exclusive right to make copies of it. You can grant that right to others through something called a license. If you use the work of someone else without that license, you are committing something called Copyright Infringement. As per 17 U.S.C. 506(A) AND 18 U.S.C. 2319:

(a) Criminal Infringement.—
—(1) In general.—Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed—
——(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;
——(B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180–day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000; or
——(C) by the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution.

— read the rest of the law and some interpretation at law.cornell.edu

Okay! Okay. So, where are those free images?

So, check this out. The featured image for this post came from a project called unDraw created by Katerina Limpitsoun. They make really nice, sorta-minimalist vector images that have an incredibly loose license. You can even pick your branding color and it will use that color as the accent color for those images. The problem with this is... with this big set of images being free, lots of people use them. This particular style is also very early 2000s? Ish? It just has a very particular air about it. I happen to love this style, so you'll see me use them now and again. But it just doesn't work everywhere. If you have a fashion blog for pomeranian pups, it probably doesn't work for you.

vector image of a person walking a dog near a tree
Not... very... fashionable...

But that's not my style!

Fair. Check out freepik, then. They have some free images, but it pales in comparison to what they have for their paid options. There's also TheNounProject if you just need icons, those are free. They also have paid options for "premium" content, but at that point, you might want to go with one of the big guys. The truth is, you just need to be careful of where you get images from because—

What about a "royalty-free images" site?

Yikes. I knew that was coming. Here's the thing about "royalty-free" images... Royalties are things you pay to someone for continued use of their work. Those images could very well be royalty-free, but that doesn't mean you have a license to use them. Those sites are, at best, ad traffic farms; at worst, traps set by those that would seek out people who steal those images for use on their own site. I'm not saying that actually happens, but it could!

UPDATED 2023/09/19: Since the posting of this article, I have come to fall in love with unsplash! They have a very generous license for all of their images... they are user-submitted, and they have some really great free images that you can use for commercial purposes! 10/10, VINBERDON Approved. They also have a premium subscription that gives you access to even better images than the already awesome images they have available for free.

Okay, so where do I get images for my site? I'm on a budget!

We're all on a budget. If you're in marketing, you better have a budget in mind. And stick to it! That said, there are a few great services out there for getting LICENSED images for use on your blog, poster, product packaging, etc. I use DepositPhotos.


They're pretty affordable and they often have promos like 100 images for $100. They also have music and video content, too! ShutterStock is probably the one that most people people know about. They're kind of the GoDaddy of the industry at this point. Except less terrible. Please don't use GoDaddy. Why? That's a different post.

Are images important for SEO?

Funny you should ask! Yes, images ARE important for SEO! Be sure to use optimized filenames and alt text for all of your images. The alt text should be descriptive and not "SEO Optimized™" or anything like that. It's more important to be functional than optimized, and I think Google thinks that way, too.

For example, that cute pomeranian in shoes up above? Can you guess the filename and alt text? Go take a look! You'll see "pomeranian-puppy-in-shoes_358834006_xl-2015.jpg" for the filename, which includes what the subject of the picture is, a reference code for finding my license for the image (in case I ever get hit with a copyright infringement claim), and the size and year of the image (from DepositPhotos). That last bit isn't necessary, but I left it on there to make it as easy as possible for me to find the license for that image, should I ever need it. The alt text is "cute pomeranian in shoes" and that describes it pretty accurately. That's all you need.

Basically, don't stuff your image with keywords. There's a reason I didn't make the alt text for that pomeranian "puppy in shoes image used for where do I get free images for my website what is copyright give me free vectors" because that would be wrong. Very wrong. Don't do it. The web is moving toward something called Web 3.0 and semantic data is incredibly important. Fluff will not only be unrewarded, but it could be penalized.

Images and their alt text are also important for ADA Compliance... But that's another post. Subscribe to get notified when that drops! Where do you get your images? Discuss in the comments below! Can't comment? That means you're not subscribed! What are you waiting for?

Full Disclosure: The DepositPhotos link or banner above are affiliate links and using them to go there and make a purchase helps to support this blog. I do use DepositPhotos for all of my paid image content. It's a great service. They are not paying me to say this and I do not receive a discount on my services with them. I genuinely think they are the best choice on the market right now and they are very affordable!

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