Few things will turn off prospective customers or clients faster than poor-quality stock images. Here's where to find top-notch photos and illustrations for your business – for free.

By Eoin O'Hara

They say picture is worth a thousand words, but what they really mean is that a good picture is worth a thousand words; a bad picture isn’t worth very much at all. In fact, when it comes to the design and branding of your business, a bad picture can be a liability.
Of course, it's possible to set about creating your own images, but if you lack the technical skills and natural flair, this can quickly become a very costly affair. On the other hand, you could simply retain a few quality stock images, reusing them over and over again as necessary, but this can lead to your business appearing stale, repetitive, and visually unremarkable.
Neither of these options is ideal, and each can result in you settling for images that are of lower quality than you would have liked. 
But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are some really amazing and impressive free images floating around out there; you just need to know where to look.  

Luckily, in recent years it has become significantly easier for the average small business/freelancer to gain free access to a wide range of professional images, due to an explosion in the number of websites offering this service. 

Here are a few places that I've found particularly useful for sourcing good-quality, free images for use in commercial purposes.  
Bear in mind that while the images might be free, they may need attribution to their creator. So make sure that you check before using them. 
Life of Pix 

This Montreal-based platform offers a solid range of professional photographs that are free from licence restrictions. The gallery is subdivided into 12 categories, with some particularly good architectural, urban and landscape offerings. If you are looking for striking saturated colours, this perhaps isn’t the resource for you, but if it’s mellow autumnal tones you're after, then you’re certain to find something to fit your purpose. The site is updated weekly and also offers a decent collection of free short videos. 

Have a look

The added functionality of a really intuitive search feature makes Pexels an impressive source of free-to-use stock images. Adding 35 new photographs every week, they have built up a pretty extensive archive of varied and usable work, and offer some really exquisite examples of accomplished photography. All of their images are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero licence, which means you are completely free to copy, modify and distribute them as you please, for personal or commercial uses. 

Have a look

A good range of visually distinctive photography with a diverse mix of subjects make Unsplash a great go-to destination for your more unusual and quirky photographic needs. The collection is updated with around a dozen fresh images every 10 days or so, and most of the images are sourced directly from their users, making for an excellent array of styles, visual effects and subject matters. We've found some particularly good ‘natural world’ shots within the collection, with an abundance of animals, beaches and forests.  

Have a look

A macabre name, especially since the images to be found here are anything but macabre! This is the place to go if you're looking to add a vibrant splash of colour to your work, without cheapening it with oversaturated colours and heavy-handed use of image editing tools. They have a very large community of contributors, so this is also a really good place for would-be photographers to connect with and learn from each other. Their MorgueFile name references the term used in the newspaper industry to describe the file that holds the past issues of a publication; their aim is to become the ‘Morgue File’ of the internet.

Have a look
I really love using Picjumbo. Not only are the images of stellar quality, but the site itself is sleek and silky-smooth to navigate. It also offers a really innovative little tool that suggests half a dozen ways in which you might use each image, formatting it into various guises and overlaying text/graphics as a means of creative inspiration. The images are all of extremely high resolution, and have been created by the site's founder, Viktor, a web designer who established the platform as a way of providing high-quality free images, suitable for a wide range of uses.

Have a look

Eoin O'Hara is a business developer at Startacus.net. Follow them at @Iamstartacus