If you’re looking for a proven, sure-fire way to boost engagement and gain more attention for your social media efforts, include photos in your posts. Compelling visuals can be just as important as the content, especially high quality, attractive images that help tell your story and support the content you’re posting.
Relevant images attract attention and help your audience consume your content quicker, which is important when you’ve got mere seconds to capture that coveted like, share or retweet.
Here are some stats from HubSpot that highlight the incredible power of images and visual graphics in social media:
- Facebook posts featuring images get 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images.
- Articles featuring an image every 75-100 words pull double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images.
- Infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other type of content.
- Buffer reported that for its user base, tweets with images were retweeted 150 percent more than text-only tweets.
Why are images and graphic visuals better than plain text? Buffer cites some interesting reasons, based on biology:
- Color attracts and keeps viewers’ attention for longer – two seconds or more for color images versus less than a second for black-and-white text.
- Our brains process visual information about 60,000 times faster than text.
- People retain about 80 percent of what they see, but only 20 percent of what they read.
Where to Source Great (and Free) Photos
Now that you understand the importance of using compelling photos and visuals in your social media posts, where can you find the images without breaking your budget? While paid stock photography sites offer a wealth of choices with advanced search features, they’re not your only option.
Many free or low-cost stock photo sites exist, allowing you to download photos for any purpose, commercial use or personal. Some don’t offer the best quality, but many feature stunning photography. With any stock photo site, though, make sure to check the licensing details and understand the basic concepts and terminology when it comes to usage rights.
- “Creative Commons Zero” means you have the right to use the photo however you’d like, without permission.
- “Creative Commons with Attribution”means you have the right to use the photo in any way you want, but you must credit the photo’s creator.
- “Attribution” means when you use a photo, you must add text that gives credit to the photographer (for example: “Photo by Joseph Blough”) and include a link to his or her site when possible.
Here are 12 of our favorite free stock photo sites:
- FreeImages offers an exhaustive directory of open-source images. This site offers thousands of pictures in many categories, and it’s searchable. Like many of the other free sites, it also offers a paid premium level.
- Picjumbo, the site that features “totally free photos for your commercial and personal works,” is packed with high-resolution images, plus it’s easy to navigate. No attribution is required.
- Stockvault images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and are considered small to medium in resolution. The site says it offers 64,000 images; you can also download logo templates, backgrounds and clipart without signing up on the site.
- Gratisography features many unique, beautiful images that require no attribution. Categories include whimsical, urban and nature.
- Unsplash offers up 10 new photos every 10 days, and allows the photos to be used for any purpose. Many of the high resolution images are stunning.
- Pixabay features an easy-to-use search function for its many beautiful images. Most don’t require attribution, but always check the fine print for the photo you’re interested in.
- SuperFamous offers a collection of incredibly high-resolution images, perfect for use in website design or as desktop backgrounds. You can use the photos for any purpose if you provide credit.
- IM Creator curated this small library of high-quality free photos with categories including technology, health, sports and fitness. Attribution is required.
- Picography is a gallery of random shots offered by a group of professional photographers. Scroll through and you may just find a gem here.
- GetRefe is perfect if you’re searching for architectural or landscape shots.
- New Old Stock is a unique collection of antique photos, including many taken by government agencies or discovered in estate sales.
- Public Domain Archive provides an expansive collection of vintage images.
Bonus: Free Photo Editing Tools
Now that you’ve found some great images, you may think you need an expensive, complicated photo editing program to make them perfect. But we’ve got you covered there, too. Here are four powerful photo editing tools you can use for free:
- PicMonkey is an all-in-one editor for photos, designs and collages. It’s an easy-to-use tool that allows you to choose your quality level, then customize your edits; it also lets you experiment with a wide variety of filters and fonts. This tool offers many of its services for free, but throughout the site you’ll find some premium options for a fee.
- Canva is a web-based editor with a focus on graphic design. Their site says you can upload your own photos (or pull them from your Facebook account) and “turn them into all sorts of things, from a new banner photo for your Facebook and Twitter pages, to a graphic for a blog post.”
Some interesting features include pre-measured layouts made specifically for all of the major social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Canva can also help you design podcast covers, collages and flyers.
- PhotoScape lets you edit images, but also gives you the ability to create slideshows and animated GIFs, capture screenshots and combine and split images. You can customize your toolbar and organize the features you use most.
While it’s free to download, PhotoScape software is part of the Open Candy network and runs ads for other “recommended” software.
- GIMP is a freely-distributed editing program for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It’s been around for more than 20 years, and for good reason – it’s a powerful program that’s easy to use.
Do you have a favorite free stock photo site or editing tool? Share it with us in the comment section below.