I’m often asked where to go to find high-quality and hi-resolution still images for reuse so I’ve put together this guide. There have been several new image collections that have opened up to the public just within the past year that not many people are aware of yet, but they offer access to thousands, or in some cases millions of outstanding photographs that can be downloaded for free. Here’s a quick guide to finding those collections.
Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art made over 400,000 images available for free download for non-commercial use as a part of its Open Access for Scholarly Content initiative. These beautiful images include the treasures owned and displayed by the Met such as famous paintings, armor, statues, art objects, and more. All images can be found on this website and are identified with the acronym OASC.
In January, The Wellcome Library in London made 100,000 art and medicine images available online for open use. This collection is where to look for offbeat, bizarre photos including medical art of all types including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements. The images here are absolutely fantastic. The images may be used for commercial or personal purposes, with an acknowledgement of the original source (Wellcome Library, London).
Last summer, the J. Paul Getty Trust announced that they will be “making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.” There are now 87,000+ images in that collection. Images include paintings, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, and more and feature works by masters Rembrandt, Van Gough, David, and more. Open content images are identified with a “Download” link which can be found by clicking into the “Primary Title” link to access the full record.
Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google. Images include famous personalities such as Marilyn Monroe, Charles Lindbergh, etc. as well as photos of American history and Americana. You can browse the collection from here or add “source:life” to any Google image search and search only the LIFE photo archive. For example: computer source:life. These are for personal, non-commercial use only.
The Museum of New Zealand has recently made over 30,000 images available for download and re-use in high resolution as a part of its Collections Online library. It’s best to search this page after first checking the “with downloadable images” check box so that you only get results that are free for download. Each image specifies its license, many of which are remixable and have no copyright associated with them at all.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes thousands of stunning high resolution images available for download for free. The photo library is organized into collections such as the National Weather Service Collection containing over 4,000 weather-related images, the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) Collection, the Fisheries Collection, and many more, see the full list of collections here. The photos can be viewed by browsing the galleries or the catalogs for each collection. It’s better to view the catalogs in all cases since not all images are included in the galleries. Most NOAA photos and slides are in the public domain and CANNOT be copyrighted while a few photos are known to have copyright restrictions are so noted. Credit MUST be given to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
The National Archives and Records Administration offers a fantastic library of photographic images including photos of Churchill and Roosevelt, Nixon and Elvis, JFK and Jackie, World War II photos, and many many more historical photos. You can find many of them through the above-linked online exhibits page, while others are available on their Flickr page, and thousands more can be found within their Online Catalog. All of the U.S. National Archives’ images that are part of The Flickr Commons are marked “no known copyright restrictions.” As for the rest of the site; “generally, materials produced by Federal agencies are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.”
It’s not very well known, but the US Dept of Agriculture has some fantastic high res photos available for download that are copyright-free, public domain, images of crops, animals, insects, food, plants, and more. I’ve been using their photos for many years now for art projects, there are over 2,000 images in their galleries.
NASA has hi-res image collections available both on their website and on Flickr. Here you can find images of the Mars Utopian Plain, the moom landing, astronauts, space shuttles, and so much more. NASA images are generally not copyrighted.
- New Old Stock
- Flickr Commons
- Public Domain Archive
- Free Images
- Morgue File
- Public Domain Photos
- Wikimedia Commons
Searching the Web for Images by License
Google’s Advanced Search form allows you to specify usage rights in your search so you can be sure to return results that match your preferred license.
Flickr’s Advanced Search allows you to specify that your search only returns image results with Creative Commons licenses attached to them.