collage of many photographs

19: The 5 best free photo databases for your scientific presentations

As everybody says, you should be using images and photographs when giving a talk to present your research. Images are very powerful and they can say more than a thousand words. That’s all very well and good, but where are you supposed to get the images from? Good stock images and photographs are not easy to get and rather expensive – but not necessarily. We dove into the pool of online images and found the 5 best photo databases that offer you free access to great footage!   

We also needed nice photos for a presentation at a conference once and we remember what a pain it was just to get all the pictures we needed. We had no idea where to get the pictures from, and we didn’t have the funds to buy them. We also did not have the time to search endlessly for pictures. But where can you get them quickly?

Well, we could have gone to gettyimages.com or iStockphoto.com to get the photos, but this would have cost us several hundreds of Euros per picture. And hey, as young researchers, we did not have an extra 1,000 Euros lying around to jazz up our next conference presentation. So where to turn when you have no time and no money?

Here’s how the story played out for us: The talk we needed pictures for was about involving local stakeholders in a discussion process of how a region should further develop with respect to economical and recreational needs of the residents (as well as agricultural production, tourism and biodiversity concerns). For the conference presentation, we wanted to have pictures of the meeting process, where the local people were involved in discussing the development options with the planners and scientists. The pictures were needed because they illustrated the interaction that was going on between the researchers and the local people. So guess what we did: We took all the pictures ourselves. We went out to meetings and took pictures, asked people for permission to include the photos, explained the purpose of and so on and so on. It was a lot of work! 

We did what we had to do, but this could have been so much easier and saved us time, money and concentration. Luckily, we no longer have to rely on our own skills as photographers, on Google image searches or on a large budget when searching for visuals that we use in our presentations. And no, we didn’t simply drop photos and other visuals from our talks. They are so vital in getting your message across to your audience. Don’t forget, a presentation is always a great opportunity to speak to your audience and show them the great stuff you are doing and how excellent a researcher you are, so it does matter that your presentations are of high quality (for more detail on this topic see our Blog post #7, Why your next presentation matters!) .

We’re not saying you have to drop your camera if you are a passionate photographer. But sometimes, the time, the weather, the mood and the motivation are not so accommodating and you JUST NEED a very particular picture. We know how that feels! Don’t worry, we can help you: There are a whole bunch of very good photo databases that provide images, illustrations and even videos for almost every purpose – for FREE!  

The photos are sometimes from less well-known photographers, from the semi-professional area, and even from people like you and me. Nonetheless, they are often of very high quality and sometimes look even better, fresher and more unique than the posed images on the professional and expensive databases. 

The search functionality within some of the databases is not always as good as in the professional ones, but if you give yourself a bit of time you will learn to navigate and use them for your benefit. If you start to use them regularly, you’ll know exactly how they work and find great footage really easily! 

I. The best 5 free image databases

Here’s our list of 5 databases that we can recommend you browse when searching for any type of photograph you need. These databases do not include only science or research related scenes, but all possible topics! But we have definitely used them for research-related pictures as well:  

1. Unsplash 

A very good source for free images is unsplash.com, offering over 1 million great photographs. Unsplash has a great range of thematic collections. 

Unsplash grants you access to their photos under their own license, which is equivalent to the Creative Commons CC0 license. You can download, use and modify all images for commercial and noncommercial purposes for free.

The database adds new images daily from enthusiastic photographers around the world who have found a platform to showcase their work and gain some recognition. Unsplash also does not require you to provide the photo source on your presentation or your product. It instead encourages everybody to credit the photographers and the database.  

You don’t need to create an account to download images with them. The benefit of signing up for a free account is to tag and create collections of your favourite photos, so you can follow the work of your favourite photographer and can even upload your own footage. 

Logo Unsplash photo database

2. Pixabay

Another great source for images is pixabay.com. It offers 820,000+ images for download without any fees and free use. As with Unsplash, downloaded pictures from Pixabay can be used for private or commercial purposes in original or modified versions.

Pixabay has a huge image database that you can use for free sporadically or you can create a free user account (needed to download high-resolution pictures). The database is available in many languages, which makes it easier to search in languages other than English. You can also search by the photographers’ names, if you prefer the style of one specific photographer. Besides photographs, Pixabay also offers free graphics and illustrations, as well as videos. 

Don’t be alarmed when you find commercial pictures from Adobe’s Shutterstock displayed on the Pixabay website. You don’t need to use any of them, it’s just Pixabay’s way of funding their website.  

3. StockSnap

A third recommendable option to look for beautiful images is StockSnap.io, which has a bit of a smaller collection than the two before-mentioned databases, but includes a very nice search system with many categories and tags. The database includes only photographs, no illustrations, graphics or videos. Like Pixabay, StockSnap collaborates with Shutterstock, so you will see some pictures from the Shutterstock database with their watermark included, before you see the truly free images provided by StockSnap. 

All usage of the StockSnap images follows the Creative Commons CC0 license and can be used without giving credit. You can download, use and modify the pictures for free. If you prefer, you can create a free account with StockSnap, then you are able to mark some photos as your favourites and to upload own photographs. 

Logo StockSnap

4. Flickr

A different approach than those before comes from flickr.com. It is, first of all, a database where photographers can showcase their images. Photos come on all quality levels, taken by travellers with their mobiles as well as by pros, which makes for a very broad collection. 

Flickr is one of the larger databases, which included over ten billion photos! 

The whole website comes in several languages. The search facilities on the site are very good and you can look for topics, categories, galleries, and even define picture orientation, size, colours and more. 

Not all photographs you find on Flickr are free for download or downloadable at all. Nonetheless, you find a lot of good material for free here! Flickr simply works with different licenses, depending on what the individual photographer has chosen. You can e.g. set the filter to “all creative common” and you will find plenty of footage that you can download, use and modify for free. 

Flickr also includes videos and illustrations. Images can be downloaded without creating an account, but setting up a free account enables you to store and tag your favourite images. A professional account allows you to have ad-free use and unlimited storage of pictures plus a few more features. 

5. Pexels 

The approach of pexels.com is to collect only high-quality images that they source from other free image databases or approve photographers to upload their images. 

All images on Pexels are free to use and come with a specific Pexels license, which basically follows the Creative Commons CC0 license. The database comes in several languages, which makes searching in other languages, again very easy. 

II. Other options for image databases

On top of the five databases mentioned above, there is a whole load of smaller databases offering free photos that have been put together by artists and photographers. Most of them do not have a great deal of science-related images, but there are one of a kind photos you can get here and nowhere else. Some of them require an email sign-up and then they deliver you new pictures every week, others work with databases that are enlarged weekly. 

Try one of these if you want to go the extra mile: 

  1. Reshot  
  2. Gratisography 
  3. Picography
  4. Freerange
  5. Foodiesfeed 
  6. Freestocks
  7. MMT Stock 
  8. Kaboom Pics 
  9. Life of Pix 
  10. Little visuals
  11. Skitterphoto
  12. Isorepublic 

III. Licenses & credits

Most of the above mentioned databases follow one of the Creative Common licenses. We still advise you to do your own research and check how the images derived from any of the databases above can be used as regulations may change.

You always need to be aware that the producer of the image does not provide any warranties about the work, and withdraws liability for all uses of the work. Only use pictures where the privacy rights of people shown on the footage are not affected. 

Crediting of the photographers is in most cases not required, but a kind gesture, certainly if you like the images and they help you make a better presentation! 

IV. Conclusion: 

Don’t let the excuse “I don’t have the time or the budget to get really good visuals for my presentation” ever stop you again in setting up your next presentation. It is possible to get really good photographs, graphics, illustrations and videos for your next talk for free! Make use of any of the above-mentioned databases or similar services! Pictures make your presentation so much better! 

Relevant resources:  

More information: 

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Cover photo by Simon Steinberger on Pixabay.com

© 2019 Tress Academic

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