What Are the Best Sites for Royalty-Free Photos & Images?

By Jack SteinLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 7:19:21 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: DeMorris Byrd/Unsplash

If you're a digital creative, such as a graphic artist or a web designer, then the term "royalty-free" may have confused you when you first tried to grab an image for a project. Specifically, you may have wondered why certain websites charge for use of their images if the images are royalty-free. In short, the term "royalty-free" actually means the owner of the photo doesn’t charge a royalty fee each time the photo is used in a creative project.

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The big caveat, however, is that most websites that offer royalty-free photos have paid the creators a flat price for the photos, thus eliminating royalties, but then they charge people who want to use the photos one-time flat fees per image or monthly subscription fees for access to a catalog of images.

This helpful list can help you get started with some of the best royalty-free photo and image sites. Some charge for each download or subscription, while others offer all their royalty-free media completely free of charge.

Shutterstock

It would be hard for digital creatives to not encounter Shutterstock photos and images at one time or another. The website boasts an inventory of photos, video clips and audio files that numbers close to the billion mark. Creatives who are looking for photos and images to use on projects are sure to find some possibilities among the 300 million images that are available on the website — with about 200,000 more added each day. The photos and images on Shutterstock come at different prices, depending on a number of factors such as resolution and terms of use.

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Photo Courtesy: @Shutterstock/Twitter

Unsplash

For the past several years, various stock photo websites have burst onto the scene offering professional quality photographs for commercial use that are completely free of charge. Unsplash is one of the top websites in this category, and it claims to offer more than a million high-resolution images from the world's most generous photographers.

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Photo Courtesy: Jordane Mathieu/Unsplash

Pixabay

Pixabay is another popular website that offers free access to royalty-free photos, illustrations, vectors, videos and music. Its media inventory has about 1.7 million choices and counting. The photos and images are available for download in high resolution and are available under the Creative Commons "no rights reserved" (CC0) license. That means you can use the images in any way you please without asking for permission. However, the quality of most of the photos is so impressive that you are likely to feel compelled to give credit to the photographers.

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Photo Courtesy: pixel2013/Pixabay

Pexels

Just like Pixabay, Pexels offers a massive collection of photos available for use under the CC0 license. The difference between the two websites is that Pexels is an aggregator of free-to-use photos, images, video clips and music from various stock media websites. Think of Pexels as being the site that makes it easier for you to find images from many different sites, such as Pixabay, Unsplash and other image banks.

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Photo Courtesy: Sharon McCutcheon/Pexels

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a website service that operates much like Shutterstock, meaning you can download high-quality, royalty-free photos and images for a fee. The website used to be called Fotolia, and it was an erstwhile repository of high-quality stock photos that were available at a more affordable price during its heyday. All the photos from Fotolia were migrated to the Adobe Stock platform, and then many more images were added to the collection.

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Photo Courtesy: @adobestock/Twitter

iStock by Getty Images

iStock by Getty Images works just like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. It allows you to download any of the photos on the site for commercial use for a one-time fee. While some of the photos can be a bit pricey, the site also offers packages to make the purchase of several images more affordable. Although it's unclear how many images the website has in its collection, a single search often yields as many as 400,000 results.

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Photo Courtesy: @iStock/Twitter

Burst by Shopify

Images from Burst by Shopify are both royalty-free and completely free for download and use. The website says that the photos are Shopify's way of helping online entrepreneurs build their websites and create their marketing campaigns. This should come as no surprise, considering Shopify is currently one of the leading e-commerce platforms for online startups. Although it doesn't offer an extensive collection like Pixabay and the others, its inventory of photographs and images are high quality and neatly organized into easy-to-find categories.

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Photo Courtesy: Brodie Vissers/Burst by Shopify