4 places to find FREE stock photos online

Good images are hard to find. If you don’t have an unlimited budget to purchase stock images (and who does?) and you have limitations on using photos of your programs and/or beneficiaries (hello confidentiality), finding photos for your materials is a headache.

Even though photos are more available and accessible online than ever, you can’t just download an image from a website and use it as your own without explicit permission, even if you do attribute it to the original source

I’m here with a solution that will bring a modern look to your materials for free.

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My favorite sites


My first stop always. Easy search function. Browse cultivated collections. No attribution necessary.


Search by topic, color, or photo orientation. Lots of close-up shots that evoke emotion. 


Probably the largest out of all three, but it’s a mixed bag in terms of quality. You can also search for illustrations, graphics, and videos.


This is a new one to me. Someone actually reached out about it recently and I love how different this site is from other stock photo sites. I really like that they have a focus on promoting diversity and peace and particularly like their World Face collection. 


How to search for photos

I’ve laid out the best places to search for photos, but how you search for them is about as important as where you search. 

The first mistake I see most often is searching for the obvious subject of the photo. For example, if you’re looking for a photo to represent a team you search, “team.” 

In my experience your search results will yield a majority of two options: a group of people high-fiving or a sports team huddled in action. 

At the very best these options are overused. At the worst, you’re risking your audience focusing on the image—because it’s unsophisticated—itself rather than the accompanying message.  

When searching for photos, think about the feeling you want to convey. Is it peace? Energy? Freedom? Search those terms and see what you come up with. 

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Maybe you need an image that plays a more subtle role or one that serves as a design that grounds the rest of a document. Try searching use words like “background,” “geometric,” or “pattern.”


Other tips

A lot of stock photo sites will have collections of images that are the “best of” and “most downloaded.” It probably goes without saying, but try to avoid these so you don’t end up seeing your photo on everyone else’s blog. 

While most photos are free for use and don’t require attribution, some do. Make sure you read the use permissions when downloading your photo. 

While I highly recommend these sites, for any medium that gets a lot of exposure, such as your website or an annual report, try to swing for a paid option. You’re more likely to find the exact image you’re looking for and won’t have to worry as much about duplication. 

Are there other sources you’ve found especially helpful? Share them here!

Kim Wensel