Where to Find Free Images to Use in Your YouTube Thumbnails

Photography has always been an integral part of design. Unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing cheesy stock images of people in suits shaking hands. Not only are a lot of these stock photos tacky, but they cost a lot of money.

Using strong, high-quality images when creating custom thumbnails is vital. They help to establish your channel as one with professional videos that deliver a strong message. Finding the right image for that, however, can be quite challenging. You can’t just do a Google image search and use whatever comes up, unless you’re looking to get sued

Nearly every image created in the last 30 years is still protected by copyright. Copyright protection gives virtually every author the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work. While you can find a public domain photo, you may also consider using a Creative Commons image that might need attribution, or even creating your own image from scratch.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that creates the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. There are various types of Creative Commons licenses that range from allowing any type of use with no attribution to only allowing certain uses with no changes.

What is the Public Domain?

Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, been forfeited, or are just inapplicable. Finding something on the internet does not automatically mean it is in the public domain.

What are Royalty-Free Images?

Let’s preface this by saying that royalty-free images aren’t necessarily free. In many cases, you’ll have to pay a one-time fee to obtain the rights to use the image. Only then can you use it as many times as you like. The “free” in “royalty-free” only means that you do not have to pay royalties to the owner of the image every time you use it. 


With these definitions in mind, there are (thankfully) a growing number of websites with beautiful stock photography popping up all over the web. These websites allow you to find reliable (and free) images that you can use without fear of being sued. 

In this post, we’ve curated a list of awesome websites for free stock photos.

Where to Find Free Images to Use in Your YouTube Thumbnails

The stock photo databases below offer images licensed with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means they are completely free to use for any legal purpose without any attribution to the creator.


With over 1.1 million free stock photos, illustrations, and vector images, Pixabay is currently the largest database of free images for commercial use.

Though the database of images is quite large, the quality can be a bit hit or miss, with some images more snapshot-quality than professional photography.


Pexels offer more than 30,000 accessible stock photos, with thousands more added every month. The Pexels database is curated from a community of photographers and other stock photo sites, including Pixabay. While it’s not the largest free photo source, the images are typically good quality and the database is well organized and easy to search.


Unsplash has a huge library of 200,000 free, high-resolution photos available to use for whatever you want. Unsplash’s collection veers more towards artsy portraits and beautiful scenery, where Pexels and Pixabay’s images tend to be closer to those traditional stock photos. It’s a popular choice for high-quality images for blogs where a more artistic image is desired.


Burst is one of the newer free stock photo sites. Powered by Shopify, their collection isn’t huge, but it’s nicely categorized into themed categories. The majority of the images are specifically geared toward business and marketing purposes.


Pikwizard is a good stock photography site that has over 100,000 high-quality photos with 20,000 images that are exclusive to the site. This makes them a great option if you’re worried about your stock photos being overused. As an added bonus, you can also click a button to edit each image with Design Wizard, their sister graphic design tool.

A Quick Note About Licenses

Many of these photographs are free from copyright restrictions or licensed under creative commons public domain dedication. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

However, some photos may require attribution. We’ve done our best to identify sources that offer images that can be used by anyone, but we still advise you to do your own research and determine how these images can be used.

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