3 websites for finding quality, free images

The human brain thinks in pictures, processing images in half the time of written representations and being twice as memorable. Teachers know the difference a well-chosen visual can make to students’ understanding and engagement with a complex concept, and those of us involved in communicating ideas in presentations, blogs and websites spend hours agonising over how to capture the essence of a narrative in a single, perfect image.

Finding visuals that are free and high quality can take a lot of time and energy, so after years of hoarding my go-to image libraries in my bookmarks, and slowly removing those that don’t prove so useful, it’s time to share!

Before you get lost in the websites below, I would like to offer one piece of hard-earned advice:

think laterally not literally when you’re searching for an image.

No one needs to see more images of students staring at smartphones in ‘naturalistic’ settings. Think harder about the key message. Nail the key concept. Try not to search for literal words like ‘teacher’ or ‘classroom’ because you won’t find many results and most of what you do unearth will be cliched.

Scroll through the example below to see the different results when searching for images that literally match your topic (like ‘technology’ or ‘virtual reality’) versus those that conceptually match your message (like ‘global’ or ‘landscape’):

Ready to choose some images of your own?

Here are my favourite online haunts for free, high quality pics you’ll want to look at again and again:

  1. Unsplash

Lordy, do I love Unsplash. (We tweet them on their birthday.)

There are 200,000+ photographs, all gorgeous and entirely free to use and modify for any purpose without attribution. A community of 40,000+ photographers contribute, and all photos are checked by the Unsplash crew so that any with obvious touch-ups or filters are eliminated.

It’s not a website for generic stock photos. Search for concepts like ‘blue’ or ‘pool’ to find individual photos. If you don’t’ see one you love, have a look at suggested Collections. If you love the style or theme of a particular photo, click on the photographer’s name to see more of their work.

  1. Pexels

Pexels has 30,000+ free stock photos, on the same ‘do whatever you want with it’ licence called Creative Commons Zero. The images are high quality, and overlap with some offered by Unsplash.

While it has a smaller set of images on offer, Pexels has good tagging, so it’s easier to find exactly what you’re after.

  1. Pixabay

Pixabay is a behemoth with more than 1 million free stock photos (plus vector graphics, icons, illustrations and even videos).

With such a massive trove, the quality varies. However, the superior search functions help navigate the massive database. For example, if you search for ‘pool OR blue’ it will retrieve more 67,000+ results. You can then filter on Orientation, Size, Colours and Types.

Bonus: if you’re looking for something more specific, try these libraries for Artworks, Science Images, Emojis, or fun, whimsical photos.

Hopefully, these resources prompt inspiration or make it a little easier to find powerful visuals to communicate effectively. If you have other treasure troves for beautiful and free-to-use images, please let me know or share them with me on Yammer!