Free Images for Blogs – How to Get Them & Use Them Effectively (Warning! Non-Obvious Advice, Data-Backed)

They say that blog posts with images get around 94 percent more views than those without them.[1]

Yeah, alright, but are those “just numbers”?

I mean, is there any particular reason why images work that well on WordPress blogs, or do we just like to look at them … with no further explanation needed?

More importantly, are all images created equal? Do you just need “an image” for your blog, no matter what’s in it? Or maybe the kind of image makes a difference?

Today, we find out. The things we cover in this post:

  • Why images are superior to text.
  • Why some images work while others fall flat.
  • How to / where to get free images for your blog.
  • What to do with your images to set them up for maximum impact.
  • How to make your images unique and different from everyone else’s.
Bonus info: This post is about the how. As in: how to make your images look awesome, and how to use them effectively on your site. However, it doesn’t touch upon the technical aspects all that much.

Here’s the thing, images tend to contribute to your site’s loading time quite heavily. And if you don’t handle them correctly, you might end up with a slow-loading site = a disaster in Google’s and your audience’s eyes. One way to avoid that – enter our free crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Just click here.

Why images?

Let’s be cliche …

An image is worth a thousand words! … yada yada yada.

But why? What is it that makes an image worth so much?

There’s been a lot of cool research done about that, but let’s just bring up two pieces:

  • First, we have psychologist Albert Mehrabian explaining that 93 percent of human communication is nonverbal, which is due to potentially millions of years of evolution, during which we didn’t have things like “language” developed yet. Our brains adapted to that. In fact, they can figure out visual elements simultaneously, while modern language is decoded in a sequential manner, which simply takes more time.[2]
  • Then, there’s an interesting study by Nielsen that takes a closer look at the “team page” over at The page displays profile pictures next to short biographies. It turns out that the visitors to that page spend 10 percent more time looking at those photos than reading the biographies. And that’s despite the fact that the text consumes 316 percent more space on the page.[3]

freshbooks team page

So to give you a short answer – images work because our brains prefer them to text content.

That being said, not all images are created equal. And learning the difference between a good and a bad image means everything.

Note. I’m not talking about the technical quality of the image, by the way. Like, pixelated or blurry images vs. crisp ones. This isn’t about that at all.

quality image?

The same study by Nielsen (mentioned above) also talks about the main flaw of decorative images, and how we’ve taught our brains to single them out and effectively ignore them completely.

What’s a decorative image? Read, “obvious stock image.”

For instance, if you want to place an image on a “careers” page of your site then take a photo of the people who actually work for the company, instead of going to iStock an looking for “people in a workplace.”


The main rule here is to use only images that improve or visualize the text message that goes alongside.

Perfect example of this are screenshots. Most of the time screenshots are not fancy, yet they retain a lot of attention, and also make your job a lot easier since you can simply show something rather than describe it.

Mona Lisa

This brings up another aspect – the uniqueness of an image.

At this stage, we kind of know what a stock looks like. So, if you want to get your visitor’s attention, you should make the image unique in some clever way (more on this in a minute). It needs to appear as something original, something that can’t be found on other websites.

Okay, so we’ve talked a lot about the value of images and all the great benefits they can bring. It’s about time we look into the how:

How to / where to get free images for your blog

Actually, a more accurate question would be, Where to go for free, high-quality images that you can use on your WordPress blog without worrying about any copyright issues?

Let’s start with a crash course on what NOT to do:

  1. Don’t go to Google Images – mostly fully copyrighted images that you can’t use without the owner’s explicit permission.
  2. Be careful with what’s called “royalty-free images” – they aren’t free at all most of the time; “royalty-free” just means that you don’t have to pay royalties when using them.
  3. Ignore major stock sites like iStock, Shutterstock, Fotolia … unless you want to invest money in your images, in which case, go for it.
  4. Don’t take images from other people’s sites unless they allow you to do so. Taking an image and displaying it on your site isn’t “fair use,” even if you’re linking to the source.

So, what to do then?

First of all, try to get images that are made available under the CC0 license. What it means in short is that you can do whatever you wish with the image, and that you don’t need to credit the source if you don’t want to.

Basically, CC0 = complete freedom.

Here are my favorite sources of such images:

1. MyStock.Photos

This is a site of our own – run by the CodeinWP team – and it’s our take on free, high-quality images for blogs.

However, what sets it apart is that the photos can’t be found elsewhere on the web. They are all custom-shot and come directly from us. (Uniqueness, checked!)

2. Unsplash

Hold on, hold on! Okay, Unsplash is a fairly well-known source of free blog images these days, but let’s use the site in a bit less standard way.

By default, going to Unsplash will land you in their “featured” gallery – those are the photos that everybody uses on their sites and ultimately making certain pics over-saturating the web. Instead, switch to “new” photos:


Doing so, you’ll get access to a vastly bigger library of photos that are the same quality, but not as commonly used throughout the web.


It’s basically a site just like Unsplash (in terms of photo quality and style), but not that well-known yet.

4. New Old Stock

I personally love this site. It’s a library of vintage photos from the public archives. They’re not necessarily CC0, but rather free of known copyright restrictions, which is basically the same thing (not legal advice; don’t quote me on that).

5. More?

There’s a lot of those CC0 sites out there, so if you’re still hungry for more images, feel free to check out Adelina’s post on her personal blog – free photography resources for your blog.


How to go full pro and take photos yourself

Warning. No photography course here. Just a “photography hack,” if you will.

What follows is actually my very favorite way of getting a hold of a nice photo for a blog post:

  1. If you have an Android phone or an iPhone, get yourself an app called Retrica.
  2. Stage a scene that’s loosely related to the topic you want to visualize.
  3. Pick a random filter in Retrica and take the picture.

Here’s an example image I took this very minute. It would look great on a post titled, “What Star Wars Taught Me About Content Marketing”:

star wars

Now, why use Retrica or a similar app? The thing is that if you take photos normally – through a standard lens – the color scheme of the scene might not be consistent. But when you put it through a filter – like Retrica’s – the color scheme effectively changes, making the whole image more uniform.

How to make your images unique

The one thing you might have noticed in the image above is that there’s some text overlay.

In my opinion, the combination of a) the style of an image and b) the text in it is what makes that image unique. For maximum impact, you need both of those elements.

Here are my 3 favorite ways of tweaking an image like that:

1. Paint.NET, Gimp, or Photoshop

This is a manual approach, but I simply need to mention it because of the freedom it gives you. Besides, working with these tools isn’t that difficult.

For instance, in Paint.NET (free for Win), just open an image, switch to the text tool, pick a font, add your text, save the thing.

2. Adobe’s new Adobe Post app

It’s Adobe’s simplified tool for adding text to images.

I really like this one, particularly due to its ease of use and the clever algorithms working in the background to really take your images to the next level.

Basically, all you do is select an image from your phone’s library. At this point, the app will analyze the color scheme of that image, and adjust the text and layout settings to make sure that everything fits visually.

Plus, it will also take care of aligning your text and adjusting the font size automatically. Let me just show you an example:

adobe post

The price? You have this small hashtag in the bottom corner of the image:


3. Buffer’s Pablo tool

What’s cool about Pablo is its sheer simplicity. It doesn’t give you many options, but it’s still going to be just enough for 90 percent of possible use cases, and especially if you need a quality blog image fast.


An unique feature of Pablo’s is that it lets you optimize your image for social platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

pablo options

Where to display your image for maximum impact

In general, the higher up the page, the better – this is something that newspaper editors have been doing for decades now.

And modern online business experts tend to flock towards a similar approach. Derek Halpern, for example, advises to put an image to the right of the opening paragraph(s) of your post. This shortens the line length of that opening text and thus makes the post more readable.[4]

where to put images

(See what I did there?)

Another very common method is to use a “hero” image or a featured image, which basically means an image in the header part of the post. This is what we’re doing here at CodeinWP.

featured image

One final benefit of using images in your blog posts

It’s this:

Whenever someone wants to share your post on social media, and the post has an image associated with it (through a Twitter card, for example), then this image is going to appear in the tweet itself. This, again, gives you more exposure that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise without the image.

(Team Buffer reports that tweets with images get 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets than those without.[5])

So what do you think? Are images an important element on your WordPress blog/site? Do you put in enough time and effort to make those images really flourish?

Personally, I know I keep forgetting about images altogether at some times … nothing to be proud of, I know. This one time, for example, I landed a nice guest post on ProBlogger talking about the importance of images … and everything seemed fine until I realized that I forgot to include but one image in that whole post! Embarrassing. People called me out on that in the comments.

Oh, and one more time … remember that thing I said at the beginning … about images contributing to loading times? Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. One of the things we cover is how to handle images in an optimal way. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  • Awesome goodies in this post!

  • Great information here.
    I am bookmarking it for my further use.
    I am here via growthhawkers page where it is curated by Erik
    Thank you for this wonderful and infrmative share with lot of connected links.
    Best Regards

  • The problem, imo, with adding text to images is that they are either not readable anymore on smaller formats or you need a whole bunch of different images which has to be done manually instead of dynamically.

    • Karol K.

      Not necessarily. If the text takes up most of the space on an image then it will still be visible even on a smaller screen. Like my Star Wars image, for example.

  • Some good links to free images that I haven’t seen before – thanks! I remember that a few years ago it was almost impossible to find good images that are free for commercial use and things are so much better nowadays.

    • Karol K.

      Indeed, just a couple of years ago we only had Morguefile and some other second site. The things have changed a lot.

  • A great post as it added more to my knowledge with these new tools and platforms. I will definitely try a few of these.

  • Hi! Then we’re happy to have brought you some great resources. Hope you find them useful. 🙂