Dieter Petereit May 21st, 2014

Public Domain Archive: High-Res Photos for Free

The market of free photo providers is growing fast. After a decade of market domination, giant services like Shutterstock and others see themselves faced with a competition that will likely change the whole way this industry is structured. This new breed of photo services is different in one vital way, they don't take money for the right to publish a picture. Some don't even require you to mention them or say "Thank You". One of these high-grade new services stems from Athens in Georgia, US. Designer and photographer Matt Hobbs and his wife Shayna created and maintain it. It is still tiny in comparison, but already worth a visit or two.


Public Domain Images: Bullet-proof Licensing

We all know, using photos taken by others is never completely risk-free. If you want to stay on the safe side of things, there is only one bullet-proof license out there. Creative Commons has fine variants, too, but the only copper-bottomed license is the Public Domain. Releasing works into the public domain is an irreversible process, where the releaser waives all his rights and gives up the works completely. From then on, they are free to use by anybody for any purpose. Public domain means such a strong sacrifice, that not all countries world-wide support it. Germans for example cannot entirely waive all their rights by law.


Matt Hobbs took that radical step. At his Public Domain Archive only photos are hosted, that are entirely free of rights whatsoever. You are allowed to download them freely and do whatever you'd like to do. Use them in any kind of project, no matter how much money you earn with it. You need not even attribute or backlink or give the original creator any kind of back reference.


Public Domain Archive: Not Thousands of Photos, But Growing

Most of the photos in the Public Domain Archive stem from Hobbs' camera. Only a small section of the site named "Vintage" carries old public domain images from some institutional archive. Matt is happy to accept contributions, as long as the photos are not less than five, not taken with a smartphone and their creators are willing to waive their entire picture rights.


At the time of this writing, contributions are not what makes the site grow fast. Matt links across to other services with totally free photos instead, e.g. Gratisography, while populating the most active section of his site personally. I'm talking about the Daily Images.

The Public Domain Archive started in February of 2014 with a small but solid foundation of pictures. Matt promised to add new material weekly and has kept his word so far. The Public Domain Archive is not trying to compete giants such as Shutterstock. Hobbs doesn't even try to cover all possible topics. Instead he gives, what he got. This may be a perfect fit for your project or not.


If you need a certain photo fast, look elsewhere. If you like to browse and get inspired. the Public Domain Archive might be the perfect place for you. In any case add the service to your bookmark collection.

By the way: As you might have guessed already, all the photos in this article are taken from the Public Domain Archive.

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Dieter Petereit

Dieter Petereit is a veteran of the web with over 25 years of experience in the world of IT. As soon as Netscape became available he started to do what already at that time was called web design and has carried on ever since. Two decades ago he started writing for several online publications, some well, some lesser known. You can meet him over on Google+.


  1. Thanks for the great source of free stock photos. I was looking for some good stock photos sites to use for my website.

  2. Great post with links, when we are approached by clients for a new website 2 things we always insist on are great copy writing and professional imagery as these can make or break a website.

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