The Best Classroom-Friendly Free Stock Photos

Free stock photography sites that are classroom and curriculum friendly. I explored the pros, cons, and how students and teachers can use them in the classroom effectively.

There is a need for safe, free, creative commons media for use in schools. I have put together a no-haggle, no-hassle list of photo resources that are classroom-friendly and, above all, easy. 

I am a high school technology and graphic design teacher, and we are always using photos off the internet to adjust and manipulate in Photoshop. Although the students see “Google Images” as a free stock photo source, they are disappointed to learn that those are not royalty/attribution free photos and not for their personal use for whatever they feel like.

Most school districts put restrictions on anything with “free”, “images”, “free photos”, or “stock images” in the URL. I did some digging, and for each district the restrictions will vary, but I found a few teacher-friendly list of images that you or your students can use in class for various assignments and projects.

One of these sites is bound to have slipped through the dreaded “block list”!



Although the site url has “ography” in it, most blocking restrictions will not specify just part of an ‘alert word’, so our district has this one unblocked. This site has amazing, high-quality photos and was designed by an artist, Ryan McGuire. The first line you see as you enter the site it “free of copyright restrictions,” so there is no second-guessing whether these are protected from use. The library itself is not one of the largest on the list, however this is a perfect example of quality over quantity.

Pros: No attribution necessary; beautiful compositions from a true artist’s mind. No sign up required

Cons: Most of the photos already are “doctored” or have effects applied to them. This can be a pro or a con, however in my Photoshop class, we need photos that are raw so that we can learn the effects together; Library size.

Classroom Uses: These are great for PowerPoints or presentations that need a little modernization. Most of the boring curriculum-driven PowerPoints that we receive need a little visual interest, and this is a great place to start! Some of these photos are making a ‘statement’ and would be great starters to discussions or analytical writing.

Beware: I have seen a few photos on this site that are PG-13, so do not use this for primary and middle school research projects. I use some of these photos to emphasize elements of design or photography, since the compositions and color choices are exceptional. I find it a great place to start for an introduction of how photos can tell a story.



Pexels is another site that is clear about its attribution. There is an entire page of the site explaining what Creative Commons Zero is and what you can/can’t do with the images. Images on this site are available with no permission and can be touched-up and re-distributed, according to their licensing page. For a look at more about Creative Commons Zero according to Pexels, click here.

The site avoids a common alert word “pixel” by changing up one letter, so your district may also have overlooked this one. Pexels adds 50 new photos to its library daily, making it a great resource to use all year long. I have not found any inappropriate content on this site yet, and it is very easy to use (the giant search bar on the top of the page helps find photos easily). I love to venture to this website to view some of the travel photos people have posted, just for fun. Like Gratisography, many of the photos have filters or effects applied to them, but there are so many photos to choose from that you are likely to find almost anything you are looking for in a beautiful composition.

Pexels even has a Photo Competition that changes almost daily with small payouts– anyone smell a class project in the air?!

Pros: No attribution necessary. Large library. New photos posted daily. Allows you to choose from different file sizes when downloading. No sign up required.

Cons: Most photos have filters applied already

Classroom Uses: this is a one-stop shop when it comes to stock photos with artistry. There are a lot of landscape, city, and travel photos available that can be used for story-telling, presentations, or journaling/writing sample subjects at the beginning or end of class. For history teachers, why not browse through the travel photos and find a then-and-now example for your students on the Colosseum, London Bridge….? It just may peak the interest of some of your visual learners.

NOTE: another site that is blocked on our campus is Pixabay. I mention this because it is very similar to the layout and quality of Pexels, however “pix” must be one of our buzz words, so I stick with Pexels. This is worth checking out if you have access or can be an alternative to Pexels.


P1010862 (2)

MorgueFile is another that has slipped through the cracks of our district filter, however I may see how “morgue” could end up on our block list one day. From the site: “The term “morgueFile” is popular in the newspaper business to describe the file that holds past issues flats. The purpose of this site is to provide free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits. This is the world wide web’s morgueFile.”

The navigation of MorgueFile is not as visually appealing to the user, but it has a lot of hidden perks about it. Perk one is the classroom link, which gives access to 10 lessons on Photography by photographer Jodi Coston that explain the basics of photography and composition and provide visual examples for students. Art and graphic design teachers, take advantage of this resource!

MorgueFile also has an app that sends you on daily photo “Quests” to take photos of different subjects, such as #myfavoritemug and the most highly voted photo is crowned #quest champion. Again, I see another spin off of this for a student project, maybe during winter or spring break. This could be applied to any subject hashtag, from #newtonslaws to #imusingmath to #currentevents.

Pros: There are a lot of “untouched” photos that work for my classes. Great resources and ideas for lessons pertaining to photography that can be applied to any classroom setting. No sign up required.

Cons: The navigation is not as appealing, but it is all there. The site even directs you to paid stock sites, such as istock. The ads can get a little annoying. Not all of the photos are photographer-quality, but again this can be a good thing and you can find more “real life” photos within their library.

Classroom Use: Have your kids sign up for a #quest and complete one a week, month, or even day. Use the #quest idea to develop a lesson for putting their selfie-stick or new smartphone to use and allow them to come up with hashtags that include vocabulary words or phrases and take photos relating to them (Photo of your sobering dog–#classicalconditioning or photo cloud system– #cumulus). If you are an art, graphic design or photography teacher, there are 10 lessons ready to use about the principles of design and photography and different photographic effects, such as aperture settings.



Unsplash has a very simple, clean navigation and high-quality photos. I would compare the photos themselves to Pexels, but is more on the “indie” side when it comes to subject matter and site design. The photos are free to with as you please, as stated on the top of their site, and it has the familiarity of interest. You can “like” or “favorite” photos or download them with one click. One thing that Unsplash has over most royalty free sites is that it allows you to view an entire full screen view of the photo before you download. No sign up required, but you can favorite photos if you log in and access them again quickly. There is a “Sign up through Facebook” option for those of us too lazy to go through yet another sign-up process (me!).

Unsplash organizes photos into collections, such as “food”, “beauty”, or “urban exploration”. You could restrict student viewing to only certain collections for specific assignments, or have students create their own collection of photos.

Pros: no attribution needed. High quality, large photos. Artistic composition. Medium-large library. 10 new photos added every 10 days. Easy to navigate, even allows you to choose whether you want a linear or collaged display.

Cons:  most photos have filters already applied. Not an extremely large library.

Classroom Use: Another one-stop shop. Lots of images of food, nature and adventure, and I could not find any inappropriate images. The collections could be a great way to introduce a sample write or journaling by scrolling through a collection, spending a few seconds on each photo and asking students to write about the photos or whatever comes to mind. Students could also create a collection based on a lesson being taught in class, then shared with the class. The collection could be an ongoing project throughout the semester or year.

Some other technology resources that I love:

Dafont– free fonts to install on your computer. Some of the dingbats are great clip art/logo resources!


Pixlr– free online photo editor. Perfect for the days in the library lab, which does not have Photoshop.




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