Unconventional Stock Image Sources

This year, I learned that there is a wide world of free stock imagery available beyond Unsplash and Pexels. You see, I’ve been working on designing WordPress themes this year, and all images need to be compatible with the GPL. Unsplash and Pexels both have free and open licenses, but unfortunately, aren’t compatible. Many other free stock photos sites don’t have the highest quality photos, so I’ve had to get creative about where I get the imagery I use in my mockups.

I discovered the solution to my stock imagery problem, ironically, on Unsplash. I started noticing photos from sources like the British Library, Birmingham Museums Trust, and Library of Congress. Who often has archives of public domain imagery? Libraries, museums, and governments. The sites are never a site like Unsplash, but they work well if you have the time and patience to dive through their archives. Plus? You can find some pretty cool photography, art, and illustrations that have a very different vibe than most stock photo resources.


There are tons of libraries with license-compatible digital archives, such as the New York Public Library, Library of Congress, The State Library of New South Wales, National Library of Ireland, and many more. Try seeing if a major city with your state has a digital archive. Libraries are great for old photos, advertisements, and illustrations that I’ll use in portfolio site designs.


Many museums have started digitizing their collections in the past few years, such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, the Met, and the Art Institute of Chicago. As the museums are often digitizing the work themselves, they have the luxury of releasing the images into the public domain. Museums are a fantastic resource for art, and for photos of objects like ceramics and jewelry that work well in e-commerce mockups.


US Government agencies like NASA tend to release a ton of their own media for public use, and I’ve discovered that space images look great in blog post mockups. Need some COVID photos? The CDC’s got you covered. Need some black & white nature photos? Check out the National Park Service’s “Open Parks Network.” 

Finding high-quality, totally free stock imagery can be a huge hassle. But I’ve found, with some creativity and some patience, there are far more options than I knew!

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