Free-to-Use Images: Wikimedia, Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels, and Freerangestock

Updated on July 13, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

The internet and smartphone technology are key to the way I connect with others. I can't imagine life without them.

This image from Unsplash could be used to illustrate an article about working from home.
This image from Unsplash could be used to illustrate an article about working from home. | Source

Why Use Images in Online Articles?

Many of us now use a smartphone to access the internet. The viewing screen is smaller on a cellphone compared to a computer, and this makes a continuous block of text difficult to read. Articles can be made clearer, and easier to absorb if words are divided up into shorter sections using images. Photographs, and maps can also be used to break up large areas of print.

If you’re an amateur photographer, you can use your own pictures to illustrate your online writing. But not all of us have the required creative skills, so we need to source images from the internet.

Where to Find Royalty-Free Online Images?

If you're looking for a good picture or photo to illustrate your blog, don't just copy the first one you find on the internet. You could be being billed for thousands of dollars if you reuse a picture without permission.

The photographer, artist, or image-maker has a right to demand, and receive payment for their creative work. The solution is to look for sites where permission to reuse the photos for commercial or private use is explicitly given. Royalty-Free or Creative Commons Licence are the phrases to look out for.

Most images online are copyright and cannot be freely used. The law protects such photos and illustrations from unauthorized copying. The artist creator has a right to payment of damages if you reproduce their work without permission. Such fines can be thousands of dollars, and I know of cases where this has been enforced by the courts. You have been warned!

What Are Creative Commons Licenses?

What is a Creative Commons License? What is a Public Domain Image?

Any picture you use without making a payment to the creator must be either (1) in the public domain, or (2) the copyright owner has given you permission to use the image through a Creative Commons License.

(1) A Creative Commons License enables a photographer to freely share their work without relinquishing ownership. They may grant permission to use images for nothing providing you credit them and quote the CC License.

(2) Public Domain images are published works where the copyright has expired. This is usually 70 years after creator's death, but it varies around the world.

Be wary: if you’re in any doubt about whether a picture is free-to-use, err on the side of caution and don’t use it.

This photo of a pair of European bee-eaters was Wikimedia Picture of the Year 2012.
This photo of a pair of European bee-eaters was Wikimedia Picture of the Year 2012. | Source

Wikimedia Commons is Part of a Non-Profit Foundation

There are several websites where you can find free-to-use images. The best known is probably Wikimedia Commons. I use this site to source many of the pictures for my articles. As it is my go-to site, I use this app to navigate quickly and easily to find the pictures I want.

Wikimedia specializes in photographs published under a Creative Commons license. It is an open source website. This means that anyone can contribute to it and anyone can edit existing content.

On the main page of Wikimedia Commons there is always a Picture of the Day displayed. This is an arresting image chosen by visitors to the site as being outstanding. Further voting takes place to choose a Picture of the Year. The bird photo above won the 2012 Picture of the Year contest.

Screenshot of free-to-use. quality pictures of a red sky on Wikimedia Commons.
Screenshot of free-to-use. quality pictures of a red sky on Wikimedia Commons. | Source

Outstanding Images, Featured Pictures, and Quality Photos

As well as Wikimedia Commons, I also search for pictures on Pixabay and Unsplash. These are my favorite payment-free photo websites, but there are many more online. To find similar sites, search for “free-to-use images”. It’s worth taking time to find the right picture; a good image to illustrate your article provides the icing on the cake for your readers.

You may be lucky and find the image you need straight away, but often you need to navigate further into the image website. To demonstrate how to find appropriate images, I am going to talk you through a search for outstanding photographs on Wikimedia Commons.

Imagine I’m looking for a picture to illustrate the English proverb “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”. I type the phrase “red sky” into the search box on the main page of Wikimedia Commons. The default search gives me thousands of results so I click on “categories” in order to narrow them down. This gives me the choice of many different types of red sky. Am I looking for a totally red sky, a pink one tinged with red, or a blue one with a streak of red through it? I choose the category “red sky” to limit my choice to 108 images.

In the top righthand corner, there is the option to select for Quality Pictures or Featured Images. In this instance, eleven of the images meet the criteria for being a quality picture. These means they are artistically and technically good photos, and are in sharp focus. This is important if your readers are likely to view them on a smartphone.

This is a Featured picture on Wikimedia Commons and is considered one of the finest images. It is also a  Quality image and meets the Quality image guidelines.
This is a Featured picture on Wikimedia Commons and is considered one of the finest images. It is also a Quality image and meets the Quality image guidelines. | Source

Pixel Density Affects User Experience

When you’ve found your ideal picture, make sure it has enough pixels. Image Jpeg files use the number of pixels to indicate a picture’s resolution. Too few pixels and an image can appear blurred, too many and it takes a long time to load.

For my online articles, I tend to use images sized approximately 800 x 600 pixels. This gives a good picture quality on most screens. You can use editing software to resize the photo if it’s too large. But don’t be tempted to resize a small picture to make it larger than the original. This will result in a bad viewing experience for your reader; details will be fuzzy and unclear.

If you plan on using your own photos, check your camera’s specification for image resolution. The denser the number of pixels when you take a shot, the greater your options to crop the image later as needed.

This magnificent toadstool is a free-to-use image from Pexels.
This magnificent toadstool is a free-to-use image from Pexels. | Source

Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels, Freerangestock

Pixabay has nearly 2 million royalty-free stock images to choose from. Unsplash gives you helpful tips on what topics are trending. Pexels has a leaderboard listing their most prolific uploaders. Freerangestock has a smaller collection, but sometimes it has just the picture I want, so it’s worth a look. It’s tough to find just the right image to use for your blog, story, or article. These sites make finding that perfect royalty-free illustration just that little bit easier.

Free-to-Use, No Payment Picture Websites

Wikimedia Commons

Almost all the images on the Wikimedia Commons website are public domain, but check the citation below each photo to be sure.


Pixabay asks for a donation for the photographer if you download, but it’s your choice whether or not you do.


There are competitive challenges you can enter if you upload your own photos to Pexels; prizes include camera equipment, or cash US $100 to US $700.

Unsplash, and Freerangestock

Unsplash and Freerangestock websites invite downloaders to make a contribution to the image-maker; but it’s voluntary. Take a look at my article about how you can make money from uploading your photos to these sites.

It's hard to describe fashion with just words; a good picture brings your writing to life.
It's hard to describe fashion with just words; a good picture brings your writing to life. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Victoria Greywing profile image

    Victoria Greywing 

    3 weeks ago from Limassol, Cyprus

    Really useful content! I often write articles for different sites and sometimes it can be extremely difficult to find a right high-quality image :)

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    3 months ago from UK

    This is a very useful resource for writers on Hub Pages. Even if you have a stock of your own images, some times you can't find just the tight one, which is when these sites are very helpful.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    3 months ago from SW England

    Interesting and very useful to have the possibilities for use.

    I am a keen photographer so have a pretty good 'stock' to choose from. However, occasionally I need something different and have used some of the above before.

    Thanks for setting it all out and providing all the details.



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