SD #11: How to Get Getty-Quality Images Without Paying Getty Prices (With Examples)

images visual storytelling Sep 05, 2022
Man working on images on his Pc

By making images available for open use, Unsplash has become the primary source for visuals on the internet. Images on Unsplash are regularly seen more than the frontpage of The New York Times.

— Unsplash's Landing Page Soliciting Brand Sponsorships

But this wasn't always the case. 

We remember the frustration we felt when we first began searching for images to use in presentations for our storytelling workshops as well as for our website. 

There were the usual suspects and the usual costs that came with them: think Getty and iStock which is part of Getty. Of course, Getty is fantastic, the gold standard.  But you can run up costs pretty fast. 

Over the past five years, there a number of image sites we've come to rely on for awesome but free images. These images have been used for presentations from Washington DC to New York to Montreal to as far as Africa...twice! 

We'll talk about some of those image sites today. Our hunch you may already be using at least one of the image sites we're going to share. But even if only one site is new to you and it proves helpful, we think it's worth sharing all of them.

We narrowed our focus to the 3 image sites we've used the most ourselves.

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other sites. There are! In fact, we included a list of additional free image sites below that are worth checking out.

With that...let's get to this week's tip.


What’s the Tip?

Well, it's simply this:

No need to pay Getty Image prices to get Getty-quality images.

It's stunning, really, that you can get high-quality, hi-res images for free and not only that, they're free to use for commercial and non-commerical purposes.

How Do You Use It?

Of course, you'll want to use images strategically in your content to reinforce your message or amplify the story you're telling.

99% of the time, the images you choose will serve to complement your content.

But be on the lookout for these potential problem areas:

  1. Your image doesn't align with your message.
  2. Your image distracts from your message.
  3. Your image overpowers your message.

As it turns out, there CAN be too much of a good thing!

What are Some Awesome (And Free) Image Site Examples?

Let's get to the 3 sites we use over and over again.

1. Unsplash

When it first launched, Unsplash used the tagline 10 photos every 10 days when it only had 10 photos for its first version.

Today, Unsplash posts 10 photos every second. Sign up and create an account to make downloading images painless and easy.  

Unsplash has its own license, which essentially lets you use the images for free, in any way you like, except for using them to create a competing website. 

2. Pixabay


Pixabay is our second go-to and has the largest selection of mind-blowingly great images -- again all FREE. Launched nearly 10 years ago in Ulm, Germany, Pixabay grew from a personal collection to an international, interactive online community, supporting 20 languages. 

Images on Pixabay are licensed under Creative Commons Zero (CC0), which means you can use the images without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist (though it’s always appreciated).

Pixabay provides a gentle reminder to check that the content depicted in the images doesn’t infringe any rights.

3. Pexels

Pexels also has its own license, which states what you can and cannot do with the images. You can use and modify the images for free for both commercial and personal use without attribution.

What’s the Benefit to You?

  • To maximize the benefit of these three sites, sign up for free.
  • If you sign up, you'll get access to your search history.
  • If you're like us, you'll want to bookmark these sites and pin them to your taskbar for easy access.
  • In some cases, you can search based on the kind of image you want as well as size and orientation (landscape or portrait for example).
  • Make sure and have your image compressor at the ready if you're going to post an image on your website or in an email. Here's a link to the issue we did on image compression when we talked about the free tool, Squoosh, which incidentally I used to compress the images in this post.
  • The 3 image sites we talked are far from the only awesome but free sites you can access. But they're the ones we've used repeatedly and can vouch for. 
  • In the More Reading section below, you'll find a list of other sites that either curate free image sites or are ones we tagged in our research that we would recommend at least checking out.



  • There are tons of awesome image sites, where you can download hi-res images for commerical purposes for free.
  • Use your images strategically.
  • Compress your images.

New Workshop: Craft Your Personal Narrative: Master Your Answer to "Tell Me About Yourself"

Are you interviewing and want to feel confident answering one of the most commonly asked questions, "tell me about yourself"? This question can be a real minefield - and your response can go really well, or really wrong. We'll teach you a storytelling framework to help you nail your response.

Explore the Workshop