Free Photos for Community Managers

January 22, 2013

Working at Room 214 in the design and digital marketing industry, I’ve always found stock photography to be a necessary evil. For one reason or another, there never seems to be much of a budget for great photography, especially when it comes to community management.

Community managers are tasked with creating great content for their communities with little to no budget for any creative, including photography. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen major brands posting and using photos that have just been slurped up off the web with no credit given to the photographer or artist who made the image.

Being an artist, designer and amatuer photographer I feel as though I should be more upset about this. However, my stance has always been, if you’re going to put your art or photography on the web during the age of social media, expect people to steal it, use it, share it and even modify it to make it their own. Don’t get pissed, just be happy somebody, somewhere, liked something you created enough to use it to represent their personality.

All that being said, there are some great FREE resources out there that you can use to create your next content calendar without pissing off the art community, being sued for copyright infringement or the need to dodge cease and desist letters.

FREE Stock Photography Resources:


397,620 photos. Registration required.

Stock.XCHNG is by far one of my favorite FREE stock photography resources. Aside from the great collection of free stock photos, there is a thriving community, advanced search options, a ton of tutorials and the ability to create lightboxes for multiple projects.


76,539 Photos. Registration required.

RGBstock is a surprisingly nice and simple stock photography site. The ads are minimal and the selection is solid. The community seems to be growing and their random section provides a cool Pinterest-like experience.


Registration optional.

Yes, the name sounds a bit macabre but the term “morgue file” is used to describe a place to keep post production materials for reference. morgueFile has a pretty solid collection of free stock photos. One of the things I like best about morgueFile is that the photographs feel a bit more natural, as if your friend who is into photography took them. Which can be great for community management as we’ve seen that users respond better to more natural looking photographs.


Registration required.

Freerange’s collection of photography isn’t bad but their website is completely bogged down with ads. Granted, that’s how they pay some of their photographers but it’s still annoying. Don’t be fooled by the top row of images after you search, they’ll kick you out to shutterstock.

If none of these websites are working for you then stay tuned, there will be more to come in Part 2 of Free Photos for Community Managers.

About Ben Bowes

Perpetual doodler meets digital creative strategist, Ben Bowes is the Creative Director at Room 214. With the belief that all design is social Ben has helped develop an exceptional creative team at Room 214. He has helped produce countless amounts of creative work for a huge variety of clients including, Forever 21, Mrs. Fields, TCBY, Hello Kitty, Verizon, and many more. In his spare time, Ben likes to draw, snowboard, go camping and hang out with his pet rabbit, Commander Bun Bun.


  • jasoncormier says:

    Thanks for sharing Mr. Bowes. I gotta believe this is going to save people some serious time. Looking forward to “part 2″

  • gina m. barajas says:

    I second your “stance” on posting your work on social media. Thank you for the article.

  • This is really helpful! It’s always a struggle to find great images for posts that are safe to use.

  • Alice Ly says:

    Excellent resource, thank you! When needed, I search Google images but always credit with subtle text on the image from where it came from. :)

  • Ben Bowes says:

    Hey Alice, it’s good to hear that you’re giving credit where credit is due. I’m not sure what all the legal implications are with credit lines but I hope the resources I provided can help you out when you need it.

  • Simply posting credit doesn’t make your unauthorized use of images that don’t belong to you right. And, it certainly doesn’t make it legal. Creative works, such as images, are the property of the person who created the work. As such, that person, and that person alone, gets to say when, where and how their property is used, and by whom.

    If I came and took your car and drove it around town without getting your permissions first, I suspect you’d be none to happy about it. I suspect that you may even phone the police and try to have me arrested. I also suspect that whether or not I made it clear to anyone that I happened to encounter along the way just who the actual owner of the car was, and exactly where I got the car from, wouldn’t do much to alleviate your annoyance.

    Your car is YOUR property. Only you, and you alone, has any right to say who, when and how anyone else gets to use it. If someone takes and uses your property without your permission — whether or not they tell people where they got the property from — it’s theft.

  • Alice Ly says:

    I understand what you’re saying, but in regards to the car theft, it’s not like I’d be leaving my car in a public place with the door wide open. That would be a direct invitation which will lead to theft.

    When creative professionals post their work on the Internet, there is a risk that their work can be copied, distributed, or passed off as someone else’s work. More so in this Social Media age where content/images are thrown around. I myself have had some photos from my Flickr account be used in newspapers without my knowledge or any credit even though I had some Creative Commons “protection” so I know the feeling.

    How do you feel about Facebook fanpage brands pulling images from the Web with credit then? Usually it’ll say [Photo Credit: Name of Person] and that’s it. (The first brand that came to mind for me was the FAGE Total Yogurt) Most of the time, I feel people are happy that their work is being shared and properly credited because that’s more eyes on their creatives.

    In addition, with the boom of Pinterest, members are sharing images they see from all over the Web, and the credit is the link back to the site. I think there’s quite a gray area nowadays concerning this topic but I do understand where you’re coming from. That’s why it’s great that there are free stock imagery sites to depend on instead of Google images.

  • Whether or not you leave your car unlocked in a public place has absolutely no bearing. If you did so, it wouldn’t give me any more right to take your car and use as it as I saw fit without first getting your permission, than had I smashed the window and hot-wired it. Granting open access to any sort of property is not an invitation to theft by ANY stretch of the imagination — and certainly not according to any rule of law.

    As for Facebook fanpages — Facebook has a strict policy against users posting any images to which the poster does not hold copyright. The images you see on Facebook fanpages have either been added by a legitimate owner of the photograph, someone who has obtained proper licensing or permission from the copyright holder, or, the image has been added in violation of Facebook’s policy by someone who neither owns the image, nor has permission to post it, and, if alerted, Facebook will remove the image. And, upon repeat offenses, Facebook will ban the account of the user who engages in such activity.

    Also, yes, most people, most of the time, might indeed be happy to have their work used in such a way. But, again, that doesn’t make it right. If you don’t ask them, you don’t know. I might suspect that my neighbor would have no problem with me using his car without asking him in order to go and run errands. If I were to act on my suspicion, it wouldn’t make me any less guilty of a crime if it turned out my suspicion was in error.

    I make my living selling photos — it puts food on my family table, and keeps a roof over my family’s heads. I need to have those photos publicly accessible on-line so prospective buyers can view them and decide whether or not they want to make a purchase. The value of each particular image is determined, in no small part, by their exclusivity. So, the more a certain image is used, the more its value decreases for future sales. If someone happens upon my images and just decides to take them and use them, it decreases the amount I can fairly charge for the image. Anyone who does that, then, is directly depriving me of monetary compensation that I earned the right to through spending a lot of my own time, effort and money to produce the product. And, that’s not right — it doesn’t matter if my images were publicly accessible — it doesn’t matter if most people wouldn’t have a problem with it. If you do that with my images, you’re cheating me out of what I’m rightfully due — you’re making it harder for me to provide for my family.

  • Don’t you have watermarks on your images though? I find that once an image has a watermark, it’ll deter most people from using it.

    As for my continuous thoughts on this, I still agree with the author’s “stance,” however, you have shed some new light into the situation which intrigues me enough to write a blog post about the gray area of image sharing and the harm to the artist that we may not think about, later :)

  • Images are watermarked on my site, yes. But, I sell many of the images to people who purchase them to use on their websites, as part of the site design, or for blog posts, or what have you. Obviously, they don’t use a watermarked version for those purposes. So, if someone then comes along and grabs the photo from those sites, it’s completely out of my control.

  • Ah……….I understand now. We have purchased stock photography for our website(s) too and yes, I can see that anyone can just right-click + save on any of them. It’s an interesting topic for sure, but hard to resolve if there’s even a solution. :(

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