When putting together videos, websites, and presentations, it’s helpful to have good images and other media on-hand. There’s always the option to pay for these (which you definitely should do if you have the budget to!), but sometimes you’re operating on a budget of $0. In that case, it’s helpful to know where to look for media you can use legally for free. Here are some of my favorite places to draw on for free, royalty-free media.
A note on terminology: the term “royalty-free” doesn’t explicitly mean free-to-use. It means that the work in question is licensed such that someone using the resource only has to pay once, not, for example, each time your video gets viewed. That said, the resources below are both “royalty-free” and “free” as in without monetary cost.
Lots of gorgeous photos made freely available. I use these in videos, on blog posts, and in presentations.
Another free stock photo site.
More free stock photos.
Mixture of stock photos and vector art.
U.S. Federal Agencies
Did you know that videos from NASA, the Department of Energy, and other federal agencies are all part of the public domain? For video makers, this is a treasure trove. You can often find B-roll tucked into corners of individual agencies’ websites, but their YouTube channels are also fair game. That’s not to say that it’s all nicely organized in one place, though. I recommend going to individual agencies’ websites and searching for terms like “B-roll” and “stock footage”. To get you started, though, here are a few examples:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention B-roll
- Department of Energy B-Roll
- NASA General Video Gallery
- National Park Service – Grand Canyon B-roll
Good for assorted B-roll
Creative Commons Videos
With this one, you want to be careful to make sure the specific license corresponds to your use case, but one handy way to find CC-licensed videos is to do a regular YouTube search and then click “Filter” and select “Creative Commons”.
This is a pretty extensive archive of music and sound effects licensed for use on YouTube.
When I’m looking for sound effects to do foley with, this website is one of my first stops.
Even when using free, royalty-free media, it’s good practice to credit your sources. In a video, this might mean using a watermark or call-out to the source, or including the source in your video’s credits. In a presentation, I like to add a simple image credit to the slide. Where possible, I like to include a link back to the original source. This practice not only gives clear credit where credit is due, it lets me easily relocate media I’ve used before and may want to use again.
Want more tips, tricks, and inspiration for your science writing? Sign up for my newsletter.
(Image credit: J. Tyson)