A picture tells a thousand words. It brightens a blog post, perfects a presentation, and lights up a landing page. Using images for a project lifts it out of the ordinary and dazzles your audience.
However, sourcing the right images can be tricky. There are plenty of free or affordable stock photo sites out there with perfectly fine copyright-free images you can use.
But when you want your project to shine, ‘fine’ just won’t cut it. You want high-quality and striking images, but don’t come with heavy or expensive copyright restrictions on them.
Thankfully, you don’t need to pay top dollar for top images. Here are five ways you can find free or affordable images that are 100% unique and 100% copyright-free.
Recommended reading: Top 9 Reasons You Should Outsource Graphic Design
Hire a student photographer for affordable but high-quality work
If you want high-quality photos that are so original that no-one else has ever used them, the best thing to do is to simply take them yourself. They’re free-to-use, aren’t copyrighted and you have complete creative control over them.
But maybe you’re strapped for time, or you’ve got the resources but lack the creative flair to capture the perfect image. If that’s the case, why not look to student freelancers?
Student freelancers are perfect for sourcing unique, copyright-free photos for your project. They’re affordable, passionate, and they have a strong education behind them so you know you’re getting quality work.
Hiring student freelancers is a process that goes both ways. You are able to set a brief for your freelancer to work to, as well as pay less than you would for a professional while receiving a high standard of work.
And the student freelancer receives valuable first-hand experience, as well as more work for their own portfolio and a reference for their résumé. It’s a win-win for both parties.
When you’re choosing a student freelancer, take a look at several portfolios before choosing. Don’t just go for the most affordable — with photographers, you generally get what you pay for.
And be sure to set out a clear brief beforehand. Be meticulous with what you expect from the shoot, but let them take creative control where necessary. A successful project is a collaboration, so know when to accept their input.
Find a stock photo site that offers something a little different
There are literally hundreds of stock photo sites on the internet. Copyright-free images that are free to use are just a click away, from Pexels to Pixabay.
But the photos that these sites offer tend to be generic and uninspiring. Need a photo of a white guy in a suit holding his thumb up? They’ve got you. After a snap of a grandma struggling to use a laptop? No worries. But it can be hard to find original and unique photos amongst this sea of sameness.
Thankfully, there are a handful of stock photo websites that eschew these tepid snaps. Crowdsourcing work from photographers from all over the world, these websites offer content that deviate from the standard stock photo fare.
Don’t just default to the usual stock photo suspects — look further afield. When there are thousands of free images on Burst featuring modern office spaces with diverse employees and cool, quirky interior decor, why use cheesy stock photos ever again?
Use an Advanced Google Image search for a quick fix
Is there anything Google can’t solve? Whether you want to find a decent Mexican restaurant nearby or you just want to play Pacman, Google does it all — including providing unique, copyright-free images.
The search engine giant indexes billions of image everyday, and a considerable proportion of them are 100% copyright-free. But how do you find these images?
Firstly, enter your desired search term into Google:
Next, click on Settings, then go to Advanced search.
This will open up the Google Image Advanced Search settings page. Scroll down to usage rights and select free to use or share, even commercially.
Finally, click Advanced search underneath. You will now be able to browse a range of copyright-free images from around the web.
Of course, the quality might vary for these images, as many of them are sourced from other, low-quality stock photo sites. And depending on your search terms, you might not find a wealth of images compared to other stock photo sites.
But don’t lose hope! There are some gems to be found amongst these photos.
Turn to Flickr for 100% original crowdsourced shots
Flickr officially markets itself as an image and video hosting service, where pro and amateur photographers can share their work with other like-minded individuals from around the web. Users can upload their work into albums, tag their own and comment on others.
And while Flickr is not technically a stock photo site, it does offer a staggering number of unique images that are 100% copyright-free. And because they are submitted entirely from talented, passionate individuals, you can find a huge variety of beautiful, high-quality snaps to use on your project.
However, not all of them are copyright-free. To find those that are free to use, you’ll first need a Yahoo! Account.
Firstly, enter your keywords into the search bar at the top and click Search photos.
Next, click Any license at the top left and select All creative commons.
This returns all images that are free to use (provided you add a link back to the original photographer below).
Alternatively, if you are using your selected image specifically for financial gain, you can select Commercial use allowed. This lets you use any image you like without a backlink, although crediting the photographer is recommended.
Finally, if you want to customize your photo with a text overlay or filter (more on that later) for commercial reasons such as a banner ad, select Modifications allowed.
However you use these images, it is highly recommended that you credit the photographer wherever possible. Flickr is a community of passionate, hard-working individuals, so giving recognition for their efforts is only fair.
Experiment with photo-editing software to create unique snaps
There is a rising number of free or affordable photo-editing suites available online. Websites such as Canva or Stencil offer sophisticated but easy-to-use editing software that even complete novices can get started with. Cool collages, professional text overlays, and slick banners are just a few clicks away.
And many of these photo-editing websites offer a stunning array of high-quality stock photos that are free to use and copyright-free. Canva for example has thousands of unique images that are perfect for everything from hero images to email templates.
But even those photo-editing suites that don’t provide stock photos as default are still worth your time by giving your existing copyright-free images a unique spin. Adding a filter or text overlay to an otherwise uninspiring dull stock photo can really lift it up.
Not as au fait with the art of photo-editing as you want? Click here for a handy guide to the basics to get you started.
Your project is a labor of love. You’ve put time and effort into it, so why scrimp on the snaps? Use the ideas above as inspiration to find dazzling and unique imagery that’s copyright-free and doesn’t break the bank.