If you’ve graduated from basic death-by-bullet-point presentations to something that will keep your audience interested, you’ve probably encountered the problem of “where can I find the perfect image to underscore my point,” preferably without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. I recommend books like Presentation Zen to learn more about how to amp up your presentations, and that book makes some (dated) recommendations for places to go to find images. I’ve used many different resources for my developer conference presentations and Pluralsight courses, and I thought others would benefit from this list (and probably future me as well, since I frequently find myself referring back to my own articles for reference).
Free as in Beer?
First, let’s talk about what I mean when I say “free,” since it varies with context and it’s important to this conversation. Most likely you arrived at this article by doing a search for “free stock photos” or perhaps “royalty free photos” and these are two different things. Royalty-free photos may not themselves be free for you to use. Stock photography sites make their money by allowing you to purchase photos, which you’re then allowed to use in specific ways “royalty free.” Many of these sites will also offer free (as in beer) photos, perhaps on a daily basis, to keep you coming back to their site after you’ve purchased a subscription. Of course, you can also find imagery to use that costs you nothing, which I’ll call out clearly below.
Stock Photography Sites
Stock photography sites let you search for and purchase images for use in your presentations (or other media like print, t-shirts, etc.). Some of these sites charge per photo (typically in the form of credits), while others offer a subscription that grants access to their library for as long as the subscription is renewed. If you search, you’ll find a huge number of such sites – I’m only listing sites that I’ve used personally or people I know (other speakers or authors) have recommended to me.
iStock (formerly iStockPhoto)
Now part of Getty Images, iStock offers both a credit and a subscription model. A typical image might start at 7 credits, and you purchase credits for somewhere between $1.40 and $2.00, depending on how many you purchase at a time. A subscription is around $200/mo.
The shutterstock site offers both subscription and pay-as-you-go options as well. Their starter pricing is $249/mo for a subscription or $29 for 2 images. In addition to photography, vector graphics, video clips, and icons, they also offer music.
Fotolia includes images, vectors, and videos, as well as logos. Purchase credits for between $0.74 and $1.40 depending on how many you buy, or subscribe for as little as $25/mo. Special 1-month trial from this landing page.
These sites will let you find and use images free of charge. Most of them require some form of attribution, and many are only licensed for use non-commercially.
One of my favorite photo sites is Flickr. You can specify Creative Commons in its image search, like this search for kitten. In a blog post, you can just link the image to its source; in a presentation, you should include the link visibly on the slide. Thankfully, Flickr now provides a short URL for each image, like this one: https://flic.kr/p/av6qMh
As nice as Flickr is, there’s just a lot of stuff there. IM Free offers curated collections of free resources from Flickr and other resources, all ready for commercial use. Examples of collection topics include people, business, icons, technology, food & drinks, and nature.
Gratisography offers a bunch of completely free and somewhat off-the-wall photos for use in your personal or commercial projects.
The Amazing Pattern Library
The Pattern Library is a compilation of patterns that you can use freely in your designs. Consider some of these for your next slide template background.
Now owned by Getty Images, freeimages is an older site that offers many free photos, with varying usage limitations.
Death to the Stock Photo (via email)
This site, DeathToTheStockPhoto.com, is run by some fellow Ohioans and offers free stock photos sent to you via email each month, as well as a $10/month subscription to get access to everything they have.
New Old Stock
Vintage photos frequently can be used without any attribution or fear of copyright infringement. New Old Stock offers many vintage photos that are free of any known copyright. No attribution required.
Little Visuals (via email)
The Little Visuals site will send you 7 images every 7 days, for you to use however you want. You can start your own personal library of stock photos using sites like this one (and DTTSP above). A good place to keep such things is Copy, which I’ve blogged about previously and which you can get an extra 5GB of storage from if you follow my link.
Creative Commons Search
You can also use search.creativecommons.org to search numerous sources for material that you can use commercially or modify/adapt/build upon. It isn’t a search engine – it doesn’t index or aggregate the results – but it does provide a convenient interface for searching other sites. Currently it works with Flickr, Europeana, Fotopedia, Google Images, Open Clip Art Library, Wikimedia Commons (which I’ve used quite a bit), Pixabay, as well as Video and Music sources.
Thanks to Chris Reynolds for many of these resources!
Update: Just remembered this link to more free image sources.