Where to Find the Best Free Stock Photos

Finding free images to use in personal or commercial work has never been easier, thanks to a growing number of stock photo websites. Better yet, the photos I have been finding are surprisingly high quality and lack the typical boring, stock feel.

Below is my hand-picked selection of the best free stock photo sites that I often reference when designing websites. The majority of these sources offer completely free, do-whatever-you-want licensing but it’s still a good idea to check the copyright details before downloading.

I’ll continue to update this collection so bookmark it and check back. If you have a suggestion for where to find other free stock photos, leave a comment.

Unsplash

unsplash

Little Visuals

little-visuals

New Old Stock

new-old-stock

Function

function

Startup Stock Photos

startup-photos

Gratisography

gratisography

Jay Mantri

jay-mantri

Pixabay

Note: requires you to enter a captcha before each download, which is a little annoying.

pixabay

Travel Coffee Book

travel-coffee-book

ISO Republic

iso-republic

Picjumbo

Note: this site is loaded with ads; watch where you click.

picjumbo

Picography

picography

Raumrot

raumrot

Life of Pix

life-of-pix

Superfamous

Note: requires attribution.

superfamous

Getrefe

getrefe

Moveast

move-east

Death to the Stock Photo

Note: photos emailed to you monthly if you sign up.

death-to-stock-photos

Lessons From Design Kindle

dk

When I’m not focused on client work, I always have at least a few side projects in the works. In 2010, I created Design Kindle, a website dedicated to offering free web design resources. The project was recently acquired and I no longer run it, though I came away with many lessons learned.

Building an Audience

Most of my side projects are relatively simple websites for myself but creating a community around Design Kindle was a new challenge for me. Before launch, I tried generating hype with a teaser page that offered an iPad giveaway. The rules to enter were dead simple: follow the project on Twitter, spread the word with a tweet, and one random person will win. I received zero interest! In hindsight, I realize I didn’t provide enough information and left people wondering, “What’s the catch?”

Next, I contacted some of the top web design blogs and asked if they would help promote Design Kindle in exchange for a free month of advertising once the project went live. Understandably, no one agreed because they weren’t comfortable vouching for a site that hadn’t fully launched yet.

Desperate to create some buzz, I purchased a $350 ad space on one of BuySellAds’ top performing design sites. Maybe I expected too much but I was severely disappointed with the 0.10% click through rate and, again, Design Kindle had gained no real interest. I should also mention that I had already gone through the process of manually submitting Design Kindle to StumbleUpon, Reddit, CSS galleries, and many other social outlets.

Eventually, something really cool happened: fellow web designers stepped in to help. Drew Wilson and Liam McKay both agreed to contribute free icon sets to the Design Kindle giveaway and they also helped get the message out. I remember Liam mentioning me on Twitter and I was gaining something like 20 new followers every minute for most of that evening. Rounding out the giveaway, Obox contributed a free WordPress theme. I can’t thank these guys enough for their generosity and for providing that initial boost that Design Kindle needed.

Creating and Maintaining the Project

I chose WordPress as the CMS, built a custom theme, and used the Download Monitor plugin to handle file delivery. Andrew Knapp, one of my favorite designers to work with, lent a hand with the design. I had also hired Nick Visser to draw a beautiful mountain scene, though this was later scrapped in favor of a simpler website design.

At the time, 365psd and Designmoo were similar sites offering free files on a regular basis. Shortly after finishing Design Kindle, Premium Pixels launched as well and Orman did a fantastic job with it. He wisely used his freebie site to drive more traffic to his premium WordPress themes, which is something I wish I had done.

Originally, I intended to create all of the free design resources myself but that quickly became impossible with the limited income from the site (details below). I turned to Dribbble, where many designers had started offering free files to gain attention and that basically allowed me to put Design Kindle in auto-pilot.

Traffic and Income

At its height, Design Kindle was receiving 250k page views and $500 per month. Not earth-shattering but when you’re self-employed, any passive income on the side is helpful. That being said, it wasn’t feasible for me to invest a lot of time on Design Kindle and still be able to pay my bills. My interest in maintaining the site steadily dropped, as did the traffic and income. Overall, I made around $9,000 in ad revenue but invested a signifiant amount of time to earn that.

Recognizing that CSS3 was quickly replacing PSDs and wanting to move on to other side projects, I let the site go to Webdesigner Depot for $2,000. They’ve since rebranded Design Kindle to “Design Freebies” and continue to run it today.

Lessons Learned

Don’t put the cart before the horse. I tried so hard to create a community around the site before I even had content to give away, which is completely backwards. A better route would have been to focus on creating amazing content and letting that drive the community interest.

Me versus We. To be clear: I maintained every part of the project myself. The mistake I made was presenting the site as if it were run by many contributors. For example, I always said “we” rather than “I” when updating social media. This detracted from the personal connection visitors had with the site and hid the fact that I was putting in a lot of my own time to keep it running.

Those who contribute the least complain the most. I sincerely wanted Design Kindle to be a valuable resource for designers. The web community has an amazing willingness to share knowledge and this was my way of returning the favor. Unfortunately, I found that freebie sites generate little sense of community — the majority of visitors grabbed the goods and ran. I was also constantly answering support related questions but whenever I asked for a retweet on Twitter, there were only crickets.

Free = crap. The other major issue with offering something for free is you remove all value, regardless of how good it actually is. People are more interested in that which is difficult to get. A perfect example is the Mailbox app that was released about a year ago. Quite brilliantly, they added a waiting list to the download and I remember checking my phone constantly to see what position in the queue I was. The app felt exclusive, out of reach, and therefore I wanted it. Conversely, when you give something away for free that anyone can have, no one wants it.

Lastly, if I had to do it all again, I would focus on creating design tools rather than finished files. For example, a set of Photoshop brushes, textures, patterns, or similar assets would be far more useful. The problem with handing out completed designs is 1) they’re very specific and 2) most people will download and plug them straight into their projects without actually learning anything.

A Return to Writing

A few winters ago, I was in Massachusetts with a group of friends walking to the local bakery. We were chatting back and forth, telling jokes, and mostly self-absorbed as we made our way down the final hill. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an elderly woman, slightly shaky on her feet and holding a large pry bar. Steadying herself before each swing, she was slowly chipping away the ice in front of her porch steps.

It took me a few seconds to register what I just saw, all the while everyone was still carrying on with conversation. Almost instantly, a knot grew in my stomach as I wished I had asked the woman if I could lend a hand. Soon, we were a good 20 feet away and in an awkward phase where I knew what I should have done but it felt too late. I kept walking with the group and, to this day, it bothers me that I missed the opportunity to offer my help.

The moral of this story is that regrets don’t always come from what we do but sometimes from what we don’t do. This blog and the lack of recent updates is a great example. With over a decade of experience building websites, I’m eager to share what I’ve learned, including mistakes I’ve made. This little slice of the web has accumulated a thick layer of dust over the years but that changes today.

“Why the long radio silence?” you might ask. The simple reason is my family comes first. In 2011, I married the love of my life, the following year we bought a house, and late last year we had an amazing baby girl — all three milestones required extensive planning. These are what I call beautiful burdens, which are the people and things in your life that require immense time and effort but are completely worth it. With financial stability for my family being a top concern, I have been putting off writing in order to spend more time on paid work.

After countless long nights trying to get ahead, I’m now at a point where I feel comfortable devoting some time to writing again. To start with, my goal is to publish a new article at least once a week and that pace will increase as time allows. Topics will mainly cover honest insights on self-employment, web design tutorials, and philosophies such as the work/life balance. I have, literally, hundreds of saved article topics I have been storing and look forward to sharing them all with you. This site will continue to evolve as well. For example, I’ll likely be replacing the current “store” section with an exciting idea I have for sharing in-depth guides and other useful resources (more on that soon).

I’m genuinely excited to get back to into writing and I would be honored if you would join me along the way. You can do this by grabbing the RSS feed, following me on Twitter, and/or signing up for the newsletter in the sidebar. I’ll also be answering specific questions from readers so please feel free to ask away.

3 Common Freelance Myths Debunked

I’ve been self-employed for the last six years and it has been a challenging but equally rewarding experience. I regularly receive business questions via email and am often amazed at what others perceive the freelance life to be like. Allow me to shed some light on a few of the most common freelance myths:

“It must be nice having a flexible schedule.”

By far, this is one the greatest misconceptions I hear all the time. Most people envision freelancers as having a wide open schedule, free to do anything on a whim and only work when inspiration strikes. In reality, I have to keep regular hours in order to run a reliable and productive business.

Working remotely involves a great deal of trust on the client’s part and that is not something to take lightly — clear and consistent communication is absolutely essential. If a client calls with a comment or question and I’m nowhere to be found, that doesn’t portray confidence in the job being done.

Furthermore, a regular schedule is crucial to keeping projects on track. What I always do when starting a new job is outline specific milestones that need to be met throughout the project’s timeline. For example, I might set aside two weeks for design, two weeks for website development, and an additional week for CMS integration. Each of these stages require steady attention by way of a consistent schedule.

“That’s your hourly rate? You must be rich!”

Here’s what you may be forgetting: I also pay for self-employment tax, computer equipment and services, any hired help, meetings and conferences, home office utilities, insurance (health, disability, life), holidays and sick time, and retirement contributions. On top of that, think of all the out-of-pocket administrative and marketing time needed to keep a business running.

You can’t compare the hourly rate of an in-house employee to someone self-employed; they operate in completely different worlds. Being your own boss includes a whole slew of expenses that have to be factored into your work rate if you want a sustainable business. I’ve found that working for myself does allow me to make more money than I would at a normal 9-5 job but it also requires extra time and effort.

“Doing computer ‘work’ all day must be easy.”

Growing up, I was very involved with my father’s heavy equipment and carpentry business. We worked from sunup to sundown doing everything from fixing big machinery to constructing entire homes. One of the side benefits of manual labor is you get heaps of exercise and sleep like a baby at night.

Transitioning to computer work was no picnic for me. It’s quite a chore remaining nearly motionless for most of the day, staring at a computer screen and typing thousands of lines of code. You would be surprised at how damaging physical inactivity can be on a body, say nothing about the mental impact of remaining “plugged in” for so long. Computer work is deceivingly taxing.

I also struggle with shutting my work brain off during the evenings, which is especially difficult since I have a home office. More than once, I have been “done” for the day, later solved a work problem in my head, then found myself implementing the fix that night. Adding to the problem, most of us have smartphones and other devices that are with us daily, making it that much harder to disconnect from work.

In short, being self-employed does come with its own set of perks but not without massive amounts of hard work and dedication. And before you ask, stop assuming all freelancers work in their underwear. Weirdo.

Web Designer Lifespan

A lighthearted observance on the career of a Web Designer…

Year 1: “Huh, why does Photoshop have an Export HTML option?” *click* “Holy crap, I’m a WEB DESIGNER!!!”

Year 2: “Yeah, I can build you a website for $500. Your cousin also needs one with a CMS and e-commerce? Sure, $500.”

Year 3: “So glad I took this ad agency job. I love working with clients! I’m learning a ton and safely storing my bookmarks in Ma.gnolia.”

Year 4: “Dude, check out this logo animation I created. All I had to do was include MooTools, jQuery, and Script.aculo.us to make it work.”

Year 5: “I hate clients; I’m going to freelance so I can focus only on jobs that interest me.”

Year 5 and 1 month: “I just remembered I love working with clients, especially when I’m broke and can’t afford bread.”

Year 6: “Ok, I think I’m getting a handle on this self-employment thing. Now all I need to do is keep working 90 hours a week.”

Year 7: “Posted my first Dribbble shot of an ampersand; waiting for the job offers to roll in. Unfortunately, I’m invisibbble because I don’t have 50k+ Twitter followers.”

Year 8: *light bulb moment* “What if I build a theme that I can resell over and over? I’m going to be filthy rich!” *next morning* “Where did all these theme developers come from and how are they selling themes for a nickel?!”

Year 9: “I finally have this job figured out. The ink is nearly dry on my first book and I’m honored to be speaking at such-and-such web conference.”

Year 10: *reading Twitter* “What is a Sass-Less-Stylus and can I buy that on Amazon? I don’t know why so many people are having Angular Backbone problems (maybe from all the Grunting?) but I hope they see a doctor soon. Who are all these full-stack developers and how many stacks am I? How does… ah forget it, I’m a Creative Director at heart. Who wants to build a website for me?”