Creative Commons images are a special subset of 'free images'. Creative Commons came about as a way to simplify the minefield that is 'free' content (view our listing of free stock photo sites) and allow photographers to provide ('license') their work for free under easy to understand and standardised terms which benefit both the photographer and the user.
The good people at creativecommons.org explain this better, but CC allows photographers and illustrators or creators of any content to clearly license their work, and tag it in such a way that it can be found online easily. Over the past 10 years millions of images and other creative media have been shared under the CC attribution licenses, all may be used in non-commercial applications unedited, and many can be used in commercial application and modified at will.
For the image user creative commons makes it clear if the images can be used in commercial applications, if changes can be made and in ALL cases an attribution as specified by the creator must be included when the image is used. The details of this attribution are usually displayed along with the image on the source web site often in a series of icons or a link to a licence page: as an example:
The above icon specifies that you can use the specified content for free in non-commercial applications, provided that you attribute (link back) as specified.
"You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request."
"You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work."
"You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for non-commercial purposes only."
"You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it."
The above information was sourced from the creative commons licenses information page.
Creative commons is just one of several license types that are commonly used in the stock photography industry to allow photographers and buyers to use and control image use. Read more about stock photography licenses. Also see our listing of Creative Commons Zero websites (a creative commons license that allows photographers to wave all their rights, meaning that imaged can be used 'without strings').
I'm not certain on the exact figures but with services like Flickr allowing users to easily license their images as Creative Commons it seems that there are more CC licensed images out there than there are on free images stock photo websites. BUT a quick look at Flickr (more than 290 Million CC images) reveals that most of these are not intended or at all useful for use as stock photos.
The difficulty in creative commons images for stock is actually finding the stock images amongst all the other creative commons content. There are a couple of places I recommend looking:
Allows you to search google and flickr for creative commons images, and several other search providers for non-image based content (try attaching "image of" or "stock photo" to your search terms.
Click on "advanced image search" and then select for the "Usage Rights" dropdown, ALWAYS confirm that the images you find are actually licensed as you selected.
more than 10 million categorized, photos, illustrations, footage, sound bites etc.
More than 290 million CC licensed images from the popular photo sharing site (almost 100 million with the most flexible "attribution only" license).
contributors submit images covering locations all over the UK sorted on ordiancesurvey map references.
Search a selection of free images sites (flickr, freeimages etc), the license selector in advanced search allows you to filter by creative commons and other free license types.
unusual selection of textures, backdrops and abstract photos and illustration
Specialist collection of animal photos, well categorized (attribution - share alike)
A rev-heads wet dream, browse car photos organized by marque and model, sourced from flickr
Number of Images
|Photographer community based site, where photographers contribute their work, good quality|
|Photographer community site, growing collection of images with good search features and quality|
|specialist collection of scientific stock images for commercial or education use|
|great looking managed collection of quality creative commons stock images, free registration needed|
|great looking german language website, some stylish moody landscapes and cityscapes|
|free textures backgrounds and some images, only lower resolutions are free other available for purchase on cd for $199|
|good clean site with textures and backdrop photos , non commercial share alike|
|specialist Entomology site featuring creative commons images of insets and creepycrawlies, login required for high res|
|limited selection of very nice travel images from aaron logan attribution US 3.0 license|
|plants listed by scientific and common name, relative small resolution, useful research tool, attribution license|
|grungy textures and surfaces, good search tool and a few other freebies like photoshop brushes and desktop wallpapers.|
|varied collection including images from about 100 contributors, but sadly the search feature fails to find a lot of the images, creative commons attribution|
|European library of cc stock images, science, abstract, nature, good search feature and broad image selection for its size|
|search tools to browse creative commons images from various sources|
|links are welcomed as are image contributions, selection typical of user generated content, variable quality but some users have contributed some good images also|
|lots of photos of berlin, travel and nature subjects, high resolution sometimes accessed via flickr. some nice images here to be uncovered|
|beautiful collection of attribution license images by Markus Spiske, somewhat convoluted download but very much worth the effort: some high res versions from flickr portfolio, other in 'special sets' to download in a zip|
|beautiful collection of food photography and related subjects|
|nice CC collection from various photographers in this managed collection|
|a simple site with a good collection of commercial style stock, no search|
|nice looking site, but you feel like you are in an example of trendy web design rather than somewhere to find photos, nice to browse now and again. images seem to be smaller than most other sites (standard web resolutions)|
|very nice collection of travel stock photos - hence the title, tumblr, no search, but tagged by categories, disappointingly small full size downloads|
|beautiful looking collection with some categories to browse, appears to be mostly sourced from the flickr CC collection|
|nice little selection of art, craft and design photos|
Also see: CCZero Websites