Stock photos can be expensive, and there may be occasions where you do need to pay for them (I personally have done so for a project that required the use of rather specific images that I couldn't easily get elsewhere).
Depending on your nature of work, sometimes you don’t really need to pay for them, as there are numerous free stock photo websites that you can use for personal and commercial works. Moreover, attribution is not required in using these free photos, although it would be appreciated. Editing or modifying the photos are also allowed.
In any case, here are 3 of such websites that I would usually frequent for free stock photos.
Pexels is founded in 2014 and it hosts an abundance of free stock photos and even videos. It was acquired by Canva in 2018, an Australian-founded online graphic design editing application.
Pixabay is a website founded in Germany which as it turns out, was also acquired by Canva in 2019. Aside from free stock photos, it also hosts videos, illustrations, and vector graphics.
Unsplash is another website where you can find free stock photos of great quality. Irvue, a MacOS application for changing desktop wallpapers automatically, sources its selections from Unsplash. Read a quick review I made about Irvue here.
What You Legally Can and Cannot Do
To summarize what I mentioned above, the three above websites allow you to:
- Download their photos for free
- Use their photos without attribution, although it would be appreciated
- Use their photos for both personal and commercial purposes
- Modify their photos
Generally, what you are not allowed to do are:
- Redistribute the photos to other stock photo or wallpaper websites
- Portray identifiable people in a way that is offensive
- Portray identifiable brands in a way that is misleading
- Sell unaltered content (for example, selling a photo as is without modification, e.g. as a poster, physical/digital product)
Here are links to the licenses of the 3 above websites:
Pexels License | Pixabay License | Unsplash License
Yes, you read that right. Sometimes photos of a certain nature are very difficult to find, but you might just be able to find them in Wikipedia pages. Clicking on those photos will take you Wikimedia Commons, where they are often available for download in full sizes.
Unlike Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash, where media licenses are usually pretty much similar across all of their photos in that attribution is not required and that their photos can be used for commercial purposes; in Wikimedia Commons, there may be variations in how photos are licensed. These licenses are usually displayed when accessing each photos, so it should be fairly easy for you to know what you can legally do or cannot do with them.