The Content Strategist

​5 Ways to Find Free Photos That Pop

Text may be the meat of publishing, but visuals are the dessert. Posts with images get 94 percent more pageviews than posts with only text. Images also break up large chunks of text and can enhance SEO value if used properly. While finding the right image to dress up your text can seem like a time-drain, it offers an opportunity for publishers and marketers to create better content for readers, as long as they know where to look.

Here are the best ways to find free or inexpensive photos that pop.

1. Filter through free stock photos

It’s very easy to search for free stock photos online. Unfortunately, the majority of them are downright terrible. Hone in on the better ones with quality sources like Unsplash, LittleVisuals, and Gratisography. (If you need more options, Medium product designer Dustin Senos put together a longer list of photo sites that won’t make Ansel Adams want to turn over in his grave.)

While images have been proven to increase reader engagement, a poorly chosen photo can actually make the reader’s content experience worse. Run from the “Most Popular” lists, since readers will likely have seen it on another site before and click away fast.

Depending on the type of audience you’re serving, you may find candid images resonate with readers much more than professionally shot alternatives. Search engines like Foter have plenty of candid options, but also require you to filter through their collection more carefully.

2. Embrace Creative Commons

The Creative Commons movement keeps pushing for a more open internet, so any work published under a Creative Commons license can be republished in different articles as long as you give credit to the original artist. However, if you plan on modifying an image or using it to advertise paid products, certain licenses require the creator’s permission.

The Creative Commons search tool can direct you to available visuals from 13 sites, including Google, Flickr, and YouTube. If you want to experiment, you can also try search engines like Compfight and Photopin.

If you’re looking for different types of images—illustrations, sketches, graphic designs, etc.—try the Creative Commons section of DeviantArt.

3. Try the Public Domain

Public domain is kind of like the Wild West of stock photography—either the work was dedicated to the public domain from the beginning, or the copyright has expired. Thus, few rules apply to photos in this realm. You’ll also notice a lot of black-and-white images, a style that can be aesthetically pleasing if used with the right tone (e.g., Art of Manliness).

New Old Stock and Public Domain Pictures have decent collections of public domain photos for your content marketing. And Wikimedia is particularly useful if you’re looking for a photo of a specific person.

4. Embed from a collection

The stock photo industry is facing a similar problem to what the music industry dealt with a decade ago: Users have figured out how to get what they want without paying.

To overcome this infringement problem, media and photography companies have started opening up their photo collections to legally embed content around the web for free. This form of embedding is similar to pasting the code of a YouTube video or a Tweet into a blog post.

Even companies like Getty Images are letting people embed their pictures with a link for free in exchange for original credit. The void of ownership comes with drawbacks; if the image on the embedded server somehow stops working (either due to differences in region rights or technical issues), editors and marketers can’t do much about it. Still, it’s not a shabby collection and won’t dent in your budget.

5. Premium stock photos

For ages, bloggers and content marketers have relied on the many premium stock photo collections available online. These microstock photography sites, such as Fotolia or Shutterstock, make money every time a user downloads a royalty-free picture. (Downloaders can pay per image or with a subscription that grants access to a specific number of visuals per month; prices vary according to image resolution).

While unusual, it is possible to get a free subscription for one of these services if your blog or publication boasts a large audience or targets valuable clientele like entrepreneurs, small business owners, and freelance marketers.

Additionally, companies like Reuters and the Associated Press are working with freelance photojournalists to publish their top-notch photos. For a fee dependent on editorial use, audience size, and image resolution, you’ll be able to find quality visuals that outclass any stock collection.

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