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How to find the best free photos for your site

Sourcing photography for a website can be hard, and there are occasions where it’s not viable to have bespoke photography for every need. Fortunately, there are photography sites where photographers have donated their work for free. We like and and in this article, I want to share some tips I use to source the best photos on those sites.

Picking the right colour

If your selected photos are all edited differently and have different colour palettes, they will start to look inconsistent and might lessen the overall quality of your website.

For example, if your website is purple, you may want to use images with purple tones in them to match with that theme.

Currently, Unsplash doesn’t allow you to filter photos with a specific colour but you can often append (for example) “purple” to a search to find purple images. For example,

If you’re going for an abstract shot, you may also want to search directly for that colour to find all photos tagged with that colour. For example,

Picking the right style

Like colours, choosing the right style of the photo will either lift the design or hinder it. And using too many styles can make the site look inconsistent. In this section, I’d like to introduce you to a few popular styles and when they’re best to be used.

Bokeh effect or shallow depth of field - This is when the background is blurred, sometimes showing as blurred circles where light has hit the lens. This is especially useful when text is going to be used on top of the image, as a blurred background will make the text much more readable.

An image showcasing the bokeh effect

Photo by Carlos on Unsplash

Long exposure photos - Long exposure is when the camera’s shutter is open for longer, letting in more light. This gives darker photos more detail and can produce effects where the light travels, for example in the photo below the car’s lights are seen moving even if it’s a still photo. These add visual intrigue and are normally darker than most photos, which make them good candidates for overlaying text on top.

The right photo for the right place

Most websites will accommodate landscape photos better than portrait photos, and often if a portrait photo is inserted on those spots important parts of the photo might be cropped out.

If you know that text is going to be on the left-hand side of the image, try to find photos with the focal point to the right-hand side, so that the person viewing it can see the text clearly, and the main area of the image next to it.

For example, this photo has the focal point (the traffic light) to the left-hand side, so if you know your text is going to the right on your site, it will be much easier to read…

An example of how the focal point of the image can impact the design

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

This can be applied to many layouts - a focal point on the right and text on the left, focal point at the bottom centre and text above etc.

If you’ve found the perfect photo but the focal point is in the wrong area, you may be able to simply flip the image to make it fit. This won’t work if there are written words or illustrations, but it works in most instances!

You also don’t necessarily need a blurred background as mentioned previously for text to be readable. A simpler background, like a blue sky, will have the same easily readable effect.

Crediting & copyright

Although with Unsplash and Burst you don’t need to give credit, it’s good etiquette to credit the photographer when using their photos.

Unsplash’s license page outlines the ways in which you can use their images, permissions and crediting information. Burst has similar information on their site.

Unlike Unsplash and Burst, most photography websites use a royalty-free license. That doesn’t mean they’re free, it means once you’ve paid a license fee you don’t need to pay royalties each time it’s seen. To protect these images, photography sites usually add a watermark on top so that if people have stolen the image it’s easy to spot.

Likewise, don’t take photos directly from Google Images. Both of these are examples of copyright infringement and will open you up to legal risks.

If you are planning to use a photo from a source that hasn’t explicitly given you permission, don’t.


In conclusion, when sourcing free photography for your website, use photos from free stock photography sites like Unsplash or Burst so that there is no chance of possible copyright infringement. They have huge libraries with great search engines and liberal usage licenses.

If you have any questions about sourcing free photos, feel free to tweet us @madebymutual