Finding Free Stock Photography Online

Where do you get your stock photography?

This question comes up nearly every time I discuss training with a fellow trainer or instructional designer. I usually pick and choose from one or two canned answers, but really, there’s a science behind it. I love science, and I love pictures, so I’m pretty good at coming up with out-of-the-box ways to get really nice photos for free.

Here’s some techniques I use when looking for artwork online.

Remember to always ask and receive permission before using pictures, and provide credit to the photographer or publication.

  1. Search Wikimedia Commons. Many of these are covered under generous creative commons licenses. This looks like its growing.
  2. Use Google Image Search Advanced Settings
  3. Search Google Image Search using a picture’s URL
    I plan to write a separate article about this, but it’s a love at first site thing 🙂 A site I follow on Facebook posted a beautiful picture from NASA. Here’s what I did to find it on Google Image search:

    1. Right-click on the image and select copy image URL
    2. Open Google Image Search
    3. Click the camera on the right-side of the search text field*
      *For those using the Chrome browser, right-click on the image and choose “Search Google for this image” for a faster search.
    4. Paste the URL you copied in step A and click Search.
    5. Reap the rewards 🙂
  4. Use photos from Facebook friends and contacts who take good pictures
  5. Find local photography clubs that will let you use their photos. Colleges and high schools are options.
  6. Find .gov sites related to the type of photos you are looking for. Most if not all (not sure about laws) government sites are in the public domain, so photos they own are available for public use. For example, NASA’s Media Usage Guidelines page provides guidelines for using NASA photos.Here is the beautiful photo that inspired me to write this blog post:

    satellite from space with lights from nasa 1980419_805568286130851_8333884728513564778_o

    Image Credit: NASA

    Here are some .gov sites (including .us, which is state) which offer free media images (go to and search for “media images”):

      Medical Images from VDH
      Interesting selection of images…
      Lots of military images – clearinghouse I found from the NASA site
  7. Be frugal, but be open to spending a little money. Of course, our department pays for an iStock Photo account. While I do not endorse them, I use their site and have been happy with the quality of the photos we’ve purchased from them. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and pay $20 for “the right image”. However, also remember, one slide, visible for about 45 seconds, now costs an additional $20.

With a little creative searching in the right places, you’d be surprised how many photos are out there for you to use.

Do you have any other search ideas? Post them in comments!


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