Last updated January 13, 2018
Why Add A Featured Image?
If you are writing a product review or a post targeting something specific, then an image of your topic makes perfect sense and finding the right image is pretty straightforward. However, there are many times that the topic is more conceptual and you want the featured image to impart an emotive or cognitive flavor.
"What problem am I solving by adding a featured image?"
Featured images are a draw, or lure, like the cover of a book. The image needs to match, make sense, and attract. The featured image is a hook that grabs the reader's attention and helps to keep them on the page.
Paid or Free?
If you are an artist or have one on staff, then you can have the perfect image created for you. For the rest of us, we need access to photographs and other artwork. You can get stock photos, depending on the source and subscription options, anywhere from .50 cents to $10 each. Paid catalogs are often much larger and better indexed. However, if you are reading this post then you are interested in the free options. Free options are sometimes eclectic, and not indexed as well, so expect to do more searching for the right fit.
Usage Rights and Licenses
Here is a list of sites that have photographs and images that you can use for your website. Some have images in the Public Domain, some have a CC0 license, and others allow personal or commercial use, but have their own license.
Public Domain: Images in the public domain are images whose intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited, or are inapplicable. You can read about public domain works at Wikipedia.
CC0: Images with a Creative Commons Zero license have had all rights waived to the extent allowed by law. You can read about the CC0 license at the Creative Commons website.
Per-site License: You should check the conditions of usage before downloading images from sites that have their own license. The sites listed below allow image use for many circumstances, but your needs may vary.
Note that if the image is a picture of a person then you should check to see if you need a model release. If the image depicts a trademark or other copyright image then you should acknowledge that trademark and may need other permissions.
I've tried to pick sites that have free to use images, without the need for attribution. Also, if figuring out the license terms was confusing or difficult to find, then I skipped that site and did not add it.
Check the license and usage rights of each image you download. Although I've tried to be accurate, you are responsible for images you use. You may want to cite the source of the image or keep notes on image sources for your records.
1 Million Free Pictures
Free photos that were taken by Toper Domingo. Public domain.
Free stock photos powered by Shopify. CC0 license.
Public domain photos.
Short, free videos for your website. CC0 license.
Fitness, weight loss, and food photos. Public domain.
Free realistic food images in high resolution. Foodies Feed license.
Browse thousands of free photos and illustrations. FreeImages license.
A Gallery of unique and free public domain stock photos. Public domain and CC0.
Free hi-resolution photos taken by Ryan McGuire. CC0 license.
Free stock images for personal and commercial use, no attribution required, photographer may retain copyright.
Free stock photos for creatives. ISO Republic license.
Free photos from Jan Mantri. CC0 license.
Free images of the highest quality. KaboomPics license.
Library of Congress Online Prints and Photographs Catalog
The Library of Congress catalog of prints and photographs has a large number of images organized by collection. Many collections are CC0, but note that each collection has a "Rights and Restrictions" link that provides information about usage. Not all images are free from copyright.
Life of Pix
Photographs submitted by various photographers. CC0 License.
Free images for creatives, by creatives. Morguefile License.
New Old Stock
Vintage photographs from public archives. Public domain.
New York Public Library Digital Collections
Photos, magazines, and other digital files. Public domain.
PDPics.com is a repository of free public domain pictures.
All photographs are free for personal and commercial use. CC0 license.
Quality, high-res free stock photos, and images. Photogen license.
Free stocks photos for personal and commercial use.
Photos Public Domain
Photos and clip art. Public domain.
Free public domain photographs.
Free images to use however you like. Picography license.
Free images and videos you can use anywhere. CC0 license.
High-quality copyright friendly images, not copyrighted and no restriction for their use. Images explicitly placed in the public domain, no any rights reserved.
Public Domain Archive
Everything you need for your creative projects, all public domain images.
Free stock photos and images for commercial use.
Free photos for startups, bloggers, publishers, websites, designers, developers, creators, and everyone else. Startupstockphotos license.
Free stock photos for commercial use. CC0 and Stokpic license.
Thousands of Free Stock Photos. StockPhotos4Free License. Signup required.
Beautiful free stock photos. CC0 license.
Public domain images contributed by designers.
Free high-resolution photos. CC0 license.
Vintage graphics in the public domain.
High-quality stock photos. Most are CC0 license, but some may not be so check the license.