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A beginner’s guide to free stock photos: Part two, the better of the rest

$20 bill

Got no money to buy a stock photo of money? This sawbuck is free at

In our previous post, we compared photos from the number one free stock site, stock.xchng, to your quotidian stock photos from a pay site, like Corbis. Free is great on a shoestring budget, but, as we demonstrated, you get what you pay for.

Now stock.xchng is almost certainly the best of the free stock sites, but that doesn’t mean the others are moldy potatos. Granted, most other free sites, except for MorgueFile and StockVault, have very few images, poor photography, and more frequently than not inefficient, even Paleolithic search capabilities. Some have no search capabilities whatsoever, requiring you to invest a significant portion of your brief life to putzing around inside their images. To top it all off, you’re rarely going to find a rich set of people images. Why? Because taking a picture of a person and distributing it as stock requires model releases (which the pay sites demand from their photographers and keep on file). And if you do find pictures of people, chances are pretty good that there is no model release — which exposes you to potential legal action from the person in the photo. So as with all things free, it’s buyer beware!

But, in solidarity with shoestring businesses everywhere, we’re providing a quick list of the best of the rest with sample pics: StockVault, MorgueFile, Dreamstime, FreeRange Stock, and FreePhotosBank:

The best of the rest include:


StockVault, although it is weak in selection, has the highest quality free photo stock on the planet. You may not find what you need, but if you do, you’ll probably light on something easily the equal of anything you can find on a royalty-free site — at print resolution. In fact, a few of the images rival the limited-rights photos that can set you back thousands. The search function is excellent and the categories easy to navigate. Best of all, for some reason the best photos come up in the first few pages (images are ranked based on number of downloads and member ratings of each photo) — no need to scroll through endless thumbnails of drek to find the quality you need.

If, however, you’re looking for business stock images other than objects like money or computers, you’re flat out of luck on StockVault.

We could give you a hundred samples of great photos (some at rights-managed level quality), but here’s just a few:


Cup of coffee


Pocket watch

Pennies and cents

Jumping child

MorgueFile is, in our opinion, one of the excellent sources of free photo stock. It has a good selection and an excellent search function. But, above all, it has some real winners and a number of very close hits. Since we focused on handshakes on the last post, MorgueFile is the only other free photo site where you can find business handshakes. Here’s the best (and, yes, it’s more of an lesbian office romance than a business handshake, but the title says “business handshake,” so there you go):

Business handshake

And a couple more nice images, starting with a semi-abstract shot of a ledger:

Business ledger

Woman on cell phone

Casio calculator

Dreamstime Free Photos
Dreamstime is a low-budget stock photo outfit that also offers a separate free stock images service. The service allows photographers to sell directly to buyers and they encourage the photogs to contribute one or more photos to the free section. Dreamstime Free Photos offers a small collection of free but near professional-level stock photos and illustrations (9,500). And they include quite a few business-themed images. However, there is no search function or categories, just one big honking set of screens (457 to be exact). However, because of the high quality of the images, it’s worth going through the site and downloading any and all photos and illustrations you can imagine yourself using. In addition, the images are only suitable for small printing projects (like brochures), Web use, or presentations. A couple samples:

Girl smiling on cell phone

Pen and bar graph

Business meeting illustration

FreeRange Stock
FreeRange stock has a very limited but high quality library of free stock images. You must be registered to get any images (displayed images are watermarked, so you can only download the print-quality sized images) and downloading can be a bit of a hassle (the system interrupts you with a comment textbox in the download process), but you can find some pretty outstanding stuff here. Like StockVault, when you search or when you click a category, the thumbnail images are arranged in part based on the number of downloads, meaning that the cream rises to the top. FreeRange is practically devoid of business-themed images, but, like StockVault, if they have what you need, you’re looking at quality that approaches royalty-free images from the top sites.

FreeRange does not, however, offer galleries (other than Most Popular and Newest), so the only way to find photos is to do specific searches — a major hassle in many ways.

Let’s start with the ubiquitous handshake:


Computer keyboard

Girl smiling

$20 bill

Free Photos Bank
Free Photos Bank has a good image collection if you’re interested in computer/electronic hardware pictures, food, objects, or various kinds of abstractions, textures, or digitally-altered images (some are pretty good). The people pictures, on the other hand, are pretty abysmal (standard candids) and the selection limited to recreation and holiday pictures. The search function is available only on the home page and does not seem to be very thorough. But you can find some pretty good, usable, even excellent images. Some of the best examples:

Portable computer

Model's eye

Computer & cables

Pennies and cents

Next part: the rest of the rest.

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