5 sites for free stock photos and videos for higher education

There's no shortage of stock image or video sites for higher education institutions and marketers to choose from.

Unfortunately, many sites' offerings are a bit too…"stocky". They can appear overly posed, impersonal, and even tacky. The good news is that better options abound, providing both effective visual appeal and authentic brand representation.

While you'll likely find creative content on sites such as iStock and Shutterstock, these are paid sites.

There are, however, tons of excellent free alternatives, as we outline below. 

Using stock photos and videos for higher education

Professionally commissioned photos and videos representing your school and its students will be most effective, but tight budgets and demanding deadlines don't always permit this luxury.

This is where stock photos and videos can be a great alternative solution. But they should never be treated as an afterthought.

Imagery isn't a nice-to-have addition to core content, but rather a key component of it.

Here are three stock photo/video best practices:

  • Choose relevant imagery that truly represents your brand or ideas. Don't add them simply for the sake of adding them.
  • Avoid generic, overly "stocky" images. These do nothing to represent or enhance your brand. At best, they'll be treated as visual "white noise" and tolerated (or ignored). At worst, they'll detract from, or even damage, your brand.
  • Be inclusive and select photos/videos that reflect the diversity of your student body. Stereotypes, in any form, should always be avoided.

1. Unsplash

Unsplash boasts more than 3 million free hand-selected high-resolution photos, contributed by close to 300,000 professional and aspiring photographers.

Their handy search tool lets you quickly find a specific image. Or you can browse their library, categorized by topics (such as "wallpapers", "business and work", "architecture and interiors") or collections (such as "negative space for lettering", "work from anywhere", "muted and pastel colors").

It's free to sign up but not necessary. Their images are free to download (in multiple sizes) for commercial and non-commercial use under the Unsplash License.

Content types: Photos and 3D renders.

stock imagery and videos for higher education

You can search or browse Unsplash's more than 3 million hi-res photos, submitted by almost 300,000 photographers.

2. Pexels

Pexels offers free stock photos and videos for use under its Pexels License. Content is carefully curated by the Pexels team, which is easily searchable.

Or, if you feel like browsing, content is organized by theme and color.

Pexels is particularly useful for designers and developers because it offers a UI "mockup" category for both photos and videos.

Their mockups include photos and videos of "green-screened" (although not necessarily always green) mobile devices, computer screens, picture frames, and paper that can be customized by chroma keying.

Content types: Photos and videos.

stock imagery and videos for higher education - pexels

Pexels "mockups" category lets designers and developers showcase UI interfaces by chroma keying green screened devices.

3. Vecteezy

Vecteezy offers a mix of both free and paid content—and it's very easy to distinguish between the two.

What's really unique about Vecteezy is its search filtering.

Not only are you able to search by content type (images, photos, vectors, videos) and license type (paid or free), but you can also filter images by orientation (horizontal, vertical, square, panoramic) and even the age and composition (headshot, waist up, full body) of people in the photos.

Especially useful is the ability to filter by color or even exact hex color code.

So if you're looking for a photo or vector to match your official school colors, this is the place to find it.

Content types: Photos, vectors, and videos.

stock imagery and videos for higher education - Vecteezy

Vecteezy's search filtering helps you find what you're looking for—even down to the exact hex color code.

4. Pixabay

Not just for stock images, Pixabay's creative community has contributed over 3 million high-quality photos, illustrations, vector graphics, videos, animated GIFs, music, and even sound effects.

You can narrow your search based on resource type (images, videos, music, etc…), with a SafeSearch option to filter out NSFW (not safe for work) content.

But if you're not entirely sure what you're looking for, you can browse the Editor's Choice, Curated Collections, or the most popular in each category.

You're free to download content for commercial and non-commercial use under the Pixabay License.

You will, however, be challenged with a CAPTCHA for every download. If you intend to use this site frequently, it's worthwhile signing up for a free account which will allow you to bypass the CAPTCHA prompt.

Content types: Images (photos, illustrations, vectors), videos, music, sound effects, and GIFs.

stock imagery and videos for higher education - pixabay

Pixabay gives you access to more than 3 million images, videos, sounds, and music.

5. Mixkit

Mixkit contains an extensive library of stock HD and 4K videos, music, sound effects, and video templates—all of which are free to use under the Mixkit License.

Finding content you need on this site is quick and easy through its search and filter feature, which allows you to narrow your results by tags, orientation, resolution, and duration. If you're in the mood to browse, the site's content is very well-organized by categories and sub-categories.

Content types: Videos, music, and sound effects.

stock imagery and videos for higher education - Mixit

Mixkit offers a wide range of free video and audio content that's completely free for commercial and non-commercial use.

Other free imagery resources

There are many other sites worth looking into:

What are your favorite sites for free photos and videos?

We'd love to hear about it in the comments below or on our social media channels.

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