A Guide to Finding Free Stock Images

Natalie Reitz, Catalyst Kitchens


Last week, Rising Member Manna on Main Street reached out to Catalyst Kitchens to inquire about stock photos. Specifically, they wanted to see if we had stock photos that we could share with them for the purpose of promoting a new program.

Photos are a very powerful way to augment everything from your annual report to your website. Blogs with images receive 94 percent more viewsthan blogs without images. Many Catalyst Kitchens members opt to use in-house photographs of their programs and their students in such publications. This is a way to add personalization to your publication, which can make it strongly resonate with your intended audience. However, sometimes you might not have the time or the resources to hire a photographer or a graphic designer or to create a graphic or photograph yourself. In that case, you might choose to use a stock image. If you decide to use a photograph or a graphic found online, it is important to know that using pictures found on the internet can be considered copyright infringement if you do not have the proper rights to use them.

According to the United States government, copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that when somebody creates an original work, be it writing, art, etc., they own the rights to determine any usage, including if it is distributed and under what conditions. This is meant to protect the creator’s intellectual property, something they have spent time and energy on. All work is automatically copyrighted from the moment it is created, regardless of if there is a copyright notice or not.

Because of copyright law, not every image that exists has the same usages allowed. For example, it could be illegal to do a Google image search and use a random picture without the creator’s knowledge. Additionally, some images might be costly to use legally. Luckily, there are many places that offer free stock photos that are user created, free licensed, public domain, or fair use images. These databases are easily searchable and have high-quality images that you can use on your materials as needed.

Here are some databases that store premium stock photos that are free to use:

  • Wikimedia Commons requires all images to be user created, free licensed, public domain, or fare use images. They have just about any image you could want to use.
  • Makerbook is self-described as having a hand-picked directory of the best free resources for creatives. They have a curated list of links to some of my favorite free photo sites, including Unsplash and Pic Jumbo.

Lastly, it is considered best practice to credit the image’s creator. Sometimes this is a legal requirement when using royalty-free images, so be sure to look at the creator’s website if you find your photos online.

Let us know where you like to get your free stock images in the discussion forum!

See below for examples of free stock photos:


Free stock photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn


Free stock photo by Jannis Brandt