I have a ton of painting ideas of what I want to create and the imagery I want to portray, but in all honesty, I have zero interest in hiking the Appalacian mountain for the chance of getting a great picture or buying a plane ticket to go to Hong Kong to take a picture of Chinese lanterns. Nothing about that sounds fun to me.
Sure, I'll do the easy things that I can do around my house, like take a picture of me flicking off the camera, stopping alongside the road to take a picture of a cotton field, or pause on a walk to take a picture of a bee or a flower....but a badger and mountain lion - they get a hard pass on trying to find.
As an artist, probably the last thing you want to think about when searching for reference photos is intellectual property law. Sure, it sounds super interesting, but truth be told, the subject can be a little dry, trust me (I'll put a paragraph about it below :) ).
Thankfully there are many photographers out in the world who LOVE doing this stuff and they provide their imagery for us at no cost or licensing obligations!
NOW about the super interesting copyright info: the copyright of the original photo remains with the Photographer for all these sites so you have no right to resell the photograph. But you can sell the piece that you created as a result of using the photo as a reference image.
AND if you are an artist who is teaching and you use a reference image from these sites, your students who follow your instruction do not have the right to resell the pieces created as a result of your direct instruction. In copyright law this topic is covered in part of the "non-independent study" requirement, refer to Compendium 905, 500, and 300 of the copyright law. BUT, as an FYI, you may also want to consider what is important for you to fight when they do steal your work and sell it as their own (and it will happen, some people don't know any better, and some just don't care) - I personally can attest to this issue.
Copyrighting is designed to protect creators, so be respectful of your fellow creators. Give credit where credit is earned. They put in the 10,000 + hours of work, 1000s of dollars to be masters of their craft!
Ok, that's that. Now onward!
17 Websites to Get Royalty-Free Reference Images For Artists
Here is a list of sources for my fellow creatives to begin compiling and creating artwork that expresses their dreams.
One of the oldest and most well-trusted free image sites, Unsplash provides new stock photos each week from a variety of photographers on almost any subject you can imagine. You can download up to 10 free images a week.
Pixabay is a community of creatives, sharing copyright-free images, videos, and music. All contents are released under the Pixabay License, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist - even for commercial purposes.
This is a closed group for Traditional and Digital Artists and Photographers only. With respect to all donated photos within this Facebook group, the original photographer still retains their own copyright and by uploading them to the Album, it is understood that they give their permission to use them, only for use as a reference by PFA (Photos For Artist) members to create art, freely and without restrictions of license or royalty (incl. member artists who run workshops and art classes).
Paint My Photo (PMP) is a social networking site dedicated to sharing photos for artistic inspiration, without fear of infringing copyright.
Picjumbo is a free stock photo site created in 2013 by designer & photographer Viktor Hanacek. Picjumbo is another site that adds photos daily and provides a plugin for photoshop or sketch (for a fee) if you want to edit the photos after the fact.
All of PicJumbo's published photos and images are free to download and can be used even in commercial projects (unless it’s against the law, obviously).
You don’t even have to credit the author, but it’s very appreciated. If you want, you can support the photographer directly via blue Donate/"Buy me a coffee" buttons within PicJumbo.
I can't say this site is helpful for creating really neat artwork BUT this site is particularly useful if you’re looking for images related to starting or running your own business.
Created by SEO expert Martin Vorel, Libreshot offers a variety of different photos that often fit perfectly with SEO-optimized videos and blog posts.
Pexels curates images that are free to use under the Creative Commons Zero license which is a fancy way of saying that you can use them for personal or commercial use and you don’t even need to provide any sort of credit or attribution for them.
Created by Daniel Nanescu a photographer working out of Italy, Splitshire provides very clean, streamlined images that are perfect for any and everyone. Anyone can use SplitShire, from designers, bloggers, website creators, social marketing gurus, companies, and creators.
Browse royalty-free photos by subject, photographer, or even camera—all free for personal and commercial use. Beautiful imagery! Formerly known as stock.xchng, this site was bought out by Getty images, so you’ll notice up-sell links to their other, paid sites. If you stick to the main site, though, you can find lots of fabulous imagery for your art.
There are plenty more to check out:
- Flicker Creative Commons
The last entry on this list is stock snap IO whose stated mission statement is "No tricks, no gimmicks, no fine print; just dazzling images for your creative projects."
These 10 sites are a great starting point for finding royalty-free stock images to create engaging, visually stimulating imagery that originates in your soul to create a piece of art. You have the freedom to create in your home or studio from 1 or more reference images to create the life you imagine.
Start seeing your world develop on your canvas!