Useful Tools: Free stock media sites

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on free stock photo, illustration, font, music, and sound effects sites.

There are many websites where you can find free stock photos, illustrations, fonts, music and sound effects. However, the caveat to this is you get what you pay for. Although some sites provide high-quality media, others—particularly free stock photo sites—are of considerably lower quality than media that you pay for, both in terms of composition and resolution. However, many paid stock media sites now offer deals where you can purchase media individually rather than needing a subscription.

Most free stock media is licensed under Creative Commons, so you’ll need to make sure you adhere to the terms of the license when you use it. If you’re getting historical content from libraries, also make sure that you’re free to use it.

Some of the most popular free (and paid) stock media sites are detailed below, along with databases for historical images. However, there are literally hundreds of sites out there, so it’s worth conducting your own search as well.

Free sites


Flickr is a photo-sharing site where users can upload their own photos. It also has a section called The Commons, which collates photos from public archives around the world and is a great source of historical photos. Flickr users can choose different kinds of licenses when they upload their photos. When you conduct a keyword search on Flickr, in the top left corner there is a drop-down box where you can select to display only photos with a particular license (e.g. commercial use allowed). When you click on a particular photo you’ll also be able to see the terms of the license and can check if it suits your purposes.

Image Finder

Image Finder was originally started as a search engine for Creative Commons images on Flickr, but it has now expanded to search and display Creative Commons images from various stock photo sites. Unlike other stock photo sites, where you download the images directly, Image Finder sends you to the author’s own site to download high-resolution versions.


Like Image Finder, Foter is a search engine of Creative Commons images, but it is also a public domain database where users can upload their own images. The interface is clean and user-friendly, and the license attributes of each image are easy to find.


Pixabay is one of the most popular free stock media sites due to its large size and accessibility. All its media is licensed under Creative Commons and can be used for any purpose, including commercial use, without attribution. As well as photos, it contains illustrations, vector graphics and videos.

Free Music Archive

The Free Music Archive is a database of public domain and Creative Commons-licenced music, curated by genre. It also contains a handy FAQ section that details the various licenses for its content. is a collection of free sound effects for use in videos or other projects. The sound effects are free for all uses, including commercial use, as long as they’re integrated into projects (i.e. they can’t be on-sold by themselves).

Public domain archives and databases


Trove is the National Library of Australia’s digitised content platform. It brings together Australian-related content from archives, libraries and research and cultural institutions across the country, including photos, objects, newspapers, maps, music, sound and video, government papers, diaries and letters, and archived websites. It’s a great source of historical photos of Australia.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress in the US has a fantastic online collection of historical photographs and other documents, including newspapers, maps, films and sound recordings.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution has around 3000 images under public domain usage on its Flickr page.

British Library

The British Library has an extensive digital collection, although it’s not as user-friendly as Trove or the Library of Congress sites. However, many of its images are available on the British Library Flickr page and are in the public domain in most countries.

Paid sites


iStock is a paid stock photo site run by Getty Images, which is a major player in news photography. It contains photos, illustrations, vector graphics, video and audio. You can buy content through either a monthly subscription or through ‘credits’, which give you a certain number of images. However, it’s quite expensive.


Shutterstock is a paid stock photo site similar to iStock in quality and pricing. It contains photos, illustrations, vector graphics, video footage and sound recordings.

Published by lmmerrington

L.M. Merrington is a freelance writer, editor, academic and communications professional. Her journalism and academic writing has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, East Asia Forum, Inside Story and South Asia Masala, among others. Her first novel, Greythorne, will be published by Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint, in 2015. She is currently completing an academic monograph, India and China in the Asia-Pacific, 1890–2030, and working on her next novel.

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