Sometimes it’s confusing when a website advertises royalty free, because when we see the word free, we automatically means we don’t have to pay any money, right? Not necessarily.

It’s not that I’m trying to be cheap or not give credit to an owner or photographer, but with the sheer volume of photos I use on a daily basis between myself and my clients on social media, the costs can get out of control pretty quickly.

I do purchase photos all the time. Here’s my rule of thumb for when I pay for photos:

  1. The photo is being used on a website or blog on a more permanent basis
  2. It is used for advertising
  3. If I am going to reuse it for multiple clients or purposes.
  4. For use in a product or logo design

There are websites that allow you to use photos absolutely free, with no attribution and little to no restrictions. I’m going to give you ten of them, but first let’s explore what some of the terminology means so that you don’t violate any copyright laws.

What Does Royalty Free Mean?

Royalty free is a type of license that allows multiple use of stock images without having to pay extra for ongoing royalties or license fees for each use. Often you have to pay a fee first to acquire permission to use a photo.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Fair Use is an exception and limitation to the exclusive rights given to the author/owner of the work, under the copyright law. It provides the balance between protecting the creator and promoting the interest of the public. This is often called ‘attribution’. You are essentially allowed to use the photo as long as you credit the original owner.

Copyrighted work may not be used without permission, except for a few exceptions. I personally choose not to use copyright protected material unless I’ve paid for it, because depending on the way it is used, you could get yourself in a heap of trouble.

Some works operate under what is known as Creative Commons. Sometimes there are no restrictions, but read the fine print carefully to see if there is any attribution required.

10 Free Photo Sites

Here are some of the websites that I use on a daily basis, both for myself and for my clients.

UNSPLASH – http://unsplash.com
MORGUEFILE – http://morguefile.com/
PIC JUMBO – https://picjumbo.com/
PIXABAY – http://pixabay.com
GRATISOGRAPHY – http://gratisography.com/
FREEPIXELS – http://www.freepixels.com/
LIFE OF PIX – http://www.lifeofpix.com/
RGBStock – http://www.rgbstock.com/
A DIGITAL DREAMER – http://www.adigitaldreamer.com/gallery/index.php
SPLITSHIRE – http://www.splitshire.com/

Read The Fine Print

Always, always read the rules and adhere to them. NEVER scrape images from the internet and use them for commercial use. I once had a client that was fined $20,000 for using unauthorized images. Any of the websites above could change their rules at any time. Please check carefully to make sure you are still able to use these images freely.


Debbie Peck Digital