10 Best Websites For Free References Photos For Artists (2024)

Finding the perfect reference photos can often be a hurdle for an artist. Whether starting your next project or simply fueling your daily dose of creativity, having the right resources is essential. And yet, sifting through many sites can be time-consuming and often costly.

Here comes the good news! There are websites dedicated to providing free reference photos for artists. So, grab your sketchbooks or digital tablets because we're about to dive into a comprehensive list of the ten best websites for free reference photos for artists.

Let's get started!

1. Unsplash

Unsplash is a popular website amongst creatives that offers high-quality images completely free of charge. While it’s not specifically designed for artists, the site boasts many stunning images that can be used as reference photos for your art project. There's no registration required, and the photos are available for commercial use. With over a million images to browse, the world is your oyster!

2. Pixabay

Pixabay provides a mix of free stock photos, vector graphics, and even videos. All images on Pixabay are in the public domain, meaning they're free for commercial use with no attribution required. A bonus is that you won't have to worry about copyright laws, as the site handles everything for you.

3. Pexels

Pexels is another great site offering free stock photos. With a vast gallery of high-quality images, free reference photos for artists are only a search away. The website is easy to navigate, with categories to help artists find their needs. Their free image license also allows for commercial use.

4. Artstation

Artstation is a community site for artists to showcase their artwork, but it also provides an amazing collection of reference photos for artists. You'll need to sign up for an account, but you can access many resources once you're in. Artstation also features videos, tutorials, and blogs to help artists master their craft.

5. Paint My Photo

Paint My Photo is a website created specifically for artists. Photographers upload their images for artists to paint or draw from. It's a great resource where photographers and artists support each other. Remember to give credit where it's due, as these photographers contribute their work for free.

6. FreeImages

FreeImages is a resource offering over 300,000 free stock photos under various categories. The site provides high-quality images that are free for personal and commercial use. However, check the license details for each photo, as some require attribution.

7. Morguefile

Morguefile is another great website that offers free image references for artists. While the site primarily focuses on stock photos, plenty of images can be used as artistic references. All photos are free for commercial use, but the site encourages you to credit the photographer.

8. Reference.Pictures

As the name suggests, Reference.Pictures is a site dedicated to providing free reference photos for artists. They have a collection curated by artists for artists. There's a handy 'pay what you can' feature, so if you appreciate the resources, you can contribute to support the site.

9. Flickr

Flickr: Creative Commons allows you to explore millions of free reference photos shared by the worldwide community. Remember to check the type of Creative Commons license each photo is under, as some require attribution or have commercial use restrictions.

10. Google Advanced Image Search

Google Advanced Image Search is a helpful tool if you're looking for a very specific reference. It allows you to filter search results by usage rights to find images that are free to use, share, or modify for commercial uses.


I hope this article is a valuable resource for you. By tapping into these free resources, the breadth and depth of your artwork can reach new heights. Remember, each website has different commercial use and credit rules, so check those out before using the reference photos.

Happy creating!

Frequently Asked Questions About Free Reference Photos For Artists

What is a reference photo?

A reference photo is an image that artists use as a guide for their artwork. These photos provide artists with visual information on details such as light, shadow, texture, color, and form, which they might not be able to capture from memory alone.

Why are reference photos important for artists?

Reference photos are vital tools for artists because they provide a real-life reference point, helping to achieve accurate proportions, color schemes, and light effects in their artwork. They guide the creation of more realistic and detailed pieces, whether a landscape, portrait, or still life.

Are all reference photos free to use for artists?

Not all reference photos are free to use. Artists need to respect copyright laws. Many websites mentioned in this article offer free reference photos for artists, often for personal and commercial use. However, the terms and conditions can vary by website, so checking each site's specific policies is always a good practice.

Can I sell my artwork that uses a reference photo?

Yes, generally, you can sell artwork that uses a reference photo, but there are important considerations to remember. You can sell your artwork if the image is licensed for commercial use. You're also usually safe if it's from a public domain source.

However, selling your artwork could potentially infringe on copyright laws if you've used a copyrighted photo without permission or a suitable license.

Do I need to credit the photographer or the website when using a reference photo?

This depends on the website's terms where you sourced the reference photo. Some sites require you to give credit to the photographer or the platform, while others don't. Always check the usage requirements on each website before using the images.

Can I alter reference photos for my artwork?

Reference photos are often altered or manipulated to fit an artist's vision. This might include changing the colors, combining different images, or rearranging elements within the photo.

However, remember that significant alterations might be necessary if the original photo is copyrighted and you intend to use your art commercially.

How can I find the right reference photo for my artwork?

Finding the right reference photo depends on what you're trying to create. Use specific keywords related to your artwork's subject when searching the websites mentioned above. Many of these sites have categorized their images, making finding the perfect reference photo for your next project easier.

Do I always need to use a reference photo for my artwork?

No, using a reference photo isn't always necessary. Many artists create from imagination, memory, or by taking inspiration from their surroundings. However, reference photos can be extremely helpful, particularly when depicting intricate details, complex scenes, specific light conditions, or realistic proportions.

What should I do if I can't find the exact reference photo I need?

If you can't find the exact reference photo you need, you can use multiple ones, each for different aspects of your work.

For example, if you're painting a landscape, you might use one photo for the sky, another for the foliage, and yet another for any animals in the scene. Combining elements from different photos can help you create a unique piece of art.

Is it considered cheating to use a reference photo in art?

No, using a reference photo in art is not considered cheating. Many professional artists use reference photos as part of their process.

It's a tool to help achieve more accurate or realistic results, especially for complex subjects. The key is to use them as guides rather than copying them exactly, thereby adding your unique interpretation and style.

How do I know if a photo is in the public domain and free to use as a reference?

Photos in the public domain are not protected by copyright and are free to use for any purpose, including as references for artwork. Many websites in this list clearly state if their photos are in the public domain. However, always check the licensing and usage terms for each photo.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using free reference photos?

The advantages of free reference photos include having access to a wide array of subjects and scenes you may not be able to see in person, saving time, and allowing for more accurate depictions.

However, there can be disadvantages as well. For instance, you may run into legal issues if the photo isn't properly licensed, the photo may not be of high quality, or it may not perfectly match what you envision for your artwork.

Can I use photos from social media platforms as reference photos?

While it may be technically possible to use photos from social media platforms as reference photos, it's generally not advisable due to copyright considerations. Unless explicitly stated, photos posted on social media are usually subject to copyright and are the property of the individual who posted them.

Always seek permission from the original photographer or use images from the abovementioned platforms that offer free reference photos for artists.

10 Best Websites For Free References Photos For Artists (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. An Powlowski

Last Updated:

Views: 5806

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. An Powlowski

Birthday: 1992-09-29

Address: Apt. 994 8891 Orval Hill, Brittnyburgh, AZ 41023-0398

Phone: +26417467956738

Job: District Marketing Strategist

Hobby: Embroidery, Bodybuilding, Motor sports, Amateur radio, Wood carving, Whittling, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Prof. An Powlowski, I am a charming, helpful, attractive, good, graceful, thoughtful, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.