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No website is complete without photos. They are necessary as backgrounds, or to illustrate your main pages and articles. Even the dullest government website has some photos on it. So, where does everyone get their photos?

Large companies can afford to pay a photographer to take images according to their specifications and that feature the actual staff and premises of the company itself. Everyone else gets their photos from the internet. Attention! This does not mean that you can simply go to Google Images, type a keyword and grab the photos you like best.

All photos shared online are protected by copyright. If you want to use a photo, you contact its owner (photographer, agency, etc.) and request permission, usually in exchange of a flat fee or royalties. This is quite a hassle, so various stock photo websites are now available for designers and website owners to source photos.

Before we move on to recommendations, you should know a thing or two about the types of licences available for using images:

  • Public domain – this means that either the copyright period has expired, or the photographer released the photos into the public domain. You can freely use the photos as you wish, modify them, and incorporate them into your artwork without crediting the author;
  • Creative commons – free to use, but in certain cases you need to give credit to the author. Before using the photo, look for the licence type – creative commons zero or creative commons with attribution;
  • Royalty free – no, these photos are not free to download and use. You pay a one-time price to download and then you are free to use the photo in any way you want;
  • Rights-managed – these photos carry royalties, this means that every time you use it (in an ad, on your blog, on the social media) you need to pay a fee to the owner of the copyright.

This being said, these are the top five photo sourcing websites you should bookmark and use:

  1. Flickr

One of the oldest photo archives (launched in 2007), Flickr is a place where anyone can share their photos for reuse. The photos are free to use, but you have to credit the author and, if applicable, share a link to their website. You can also find an archive named The Commons on Flickr which contains public domain photos (no need to credit the author).

The downside is that this website contains both high definition and low quality photos, so you need to perform a detailed search to find what you need.

  1. Pixabay

This is a well-stocked directory for photos, graphics and vectors. It is easily searchable and has lots of high quality images to pick from, including basic textures for website backgrounds. The images are free to use with no attribution requirements.

  1. Public Domain Pictures

As the name of the website states, the photos contained in it are free to use and modify without attribution. However, there are some restrictions for commercial use (for instance, you may not use the photo to illustrate an ad).

  1. Creative Commons

This directory is very well stocked with images for almost any niche and topic you may think of. It is easily searchable by single keyword or detailed phrase (for instance, “business people shaking hands”). There are two types of licences: CC0 – no attribution, and CCA – with attribution.

  1. Shutterstock

If you really need a specific image you cannot find anywhere else, it is worth paying a fee for it on Shutterstock. They feature over 30 million photos and vector images in their catalogue. Once you have paid the purchase fee, you can use the photo in any way you want, without paying further royalties.

Phil McGregor

Phil McGregor  

Phil has a strong reputation for being Australia's leading expert on Facebook Advertising. He has presented to thousands of business owners and marketers both nationally and internationally. Phil is passionate about sharing his firsthand knowledge of how to harness the true potential of Facebook Advertising via live-on-stage events, masterclasses and workshops. Phil started his career as an Intelligence Officer for the Australian Police Force, with an entrepreneurial spirit and clear passion for generating a strong return on investment, he made the leap into his own business in 2003.