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Free Reference Photo Websites (30+ Site List for Artists)

A person searching for photos on a laptop (Free Reference Photo Websites)

Are you looking for free reference photos? Well, this is the post for you. I’ve scoured the internet looking for the best reference photos and compiled an ultimate list of websites.

Reference photos are helpful for any artist, from beginners to pros.

We also recommend always using a reference photo if you are aiming for realism or working toward any detailed artwork.

As for me, I always use model reference photos, whether from stock photo sites, social media sites, or anatomy photo sites. 

I was a big fan of Quick Poses, especially when I first started trying to draw figures and portraits.

Here is one of my figure drawing attempts based on a Quick Pose reference photo:

Table of Contents

    Choosing art reference photos for beginners 

    Choosing the reference photos for your artwork is an essential part of the creative process.

    High-quality reference photos are important for artists to get a closer look at the subject, allowing them to portray it in their artwork accurately. 

    If you are starting, try to choose photos with clear and simple shapes, lines, and compositions, such as still life and objects. It is best to avoid pictures with too many unnecessary details and find something that fits your skill level and desired style. Eventually, as you improve, you can proceed to more complex ones. 

    Also, be mindful of copyright laws. To avoid legal issues, only use freely available photos, which are abundant if you look for them on the internet.

    Free Art Reference Photo Websites –  Full List

    A picture of a camera beside a laptop

    1. Pixabay

    Pixabay is a website that provides over 2.7 million stock images, illustrations, and vector graphics. The system is run under a Creative Commons license (CC), which allows everyone to use an artist’s creative works in compliance with copyright law. 

    It offers a platform for users to access high-quality creative content without paying a premium to be used by artists as an inspiration for their drawings. 

    2. Unsplash

    As a popular picture-sharing website like Pixabay, Unsplash features images from various mediums and subjects, including paintings and drawings.

    With the CC license, this website has more than 2 million photos that are free of use! It is easy to access and operate since the images are arranged in categories and a search bar (a common feature in our recommended sites). 

    It even has suggested trending keywords to search for, so you’ll definitely find a reference photo you can use.

    3. Flickr

    Flickr has tens of billions of user-uploaded photographs on various subjects and themes. It is contributed by photographers and artists, organized into more than two million groups.

    However, be aware that some photos on Flickr are under copyright protection. But the search bar and tagging system make it simple to locate specific categories, such as the free ones.

    4. Pinterest

    Pinterest is a visual discovery and bookmarking website which you can use as a source of reference images for practice. 

    Users may make their own “boards” to save and organize the visual inspirations that they find, making it very convenient.

    Note: Pinterest does not own users’ photographs that are posted. Ask the image’s copyright holder for permission before using it.

    5. Twitter

    Twitter is a social media platform where users can share multimedia content. For artists looking for drawing references, Twitter can be a valuable source. It is popular among creative types who want to share their work and tips and connect with their fellow artists. 

    Some accounts are dedicated to providing reference material for artists in their drawings, such as dynamic poses, facial expressions, and lighting, like @JookpubStock, @theposearchives, and many more.

    6. Instagram

    Instagram is similar to Twitter, but this platform focuses more on visual content, so you will probably find more high-quality pictures here. 

    You can also search on accounts of some artists in this app or make it easier. Search on the tags of keywords such as #drawingreference and  #arttutorial to discover new accounts and resources (which you can also do on Twitter).

    7. DeviantArt 

    The website DeviantArt serves as a hub for all the artists, allowing members to share their work and connect with others sharing passion as theirs.

    What is great about this website is that it is specifically made for photos of drawings and subjects to be made as references. Some may sell their works or license them for a fee, but there are still many good drawings and pictures you can use for free! 

    8. Dreamstime

    Dreamstime may not be familiar to some, but it holds a lot of free and paid photos that you can use. Artists, designers, and other creative people may use the site’s many pictures, illustrations, and video resources as reference material.

    This website offers free and paid content, but you may filter the results to the free ones only. Also, you need to sign up to access these photos- which is common to many websites.

    9. CharacterDesignReferences

    For those who love working with animation, video games, comics, and visual arts, CharacterDesignReferences is a treasure chest of valuable resources and ideas.

    It includes illustrations of human, animal, and fantastical characters designed in various styles that you can use as an inspiration and guide in making one of yours.

    10. Jason Morgan

    JasonMorgan is the official website of the artist and illustrator himself. He is a professional wildlife artist who provides free reference photos of animals, flowers, landscapes, and seascape photos.

    His website also has tutorial videos and books where you can learn more step-by-step.

    11. Morguefile

    As a free image library, Morguefile offers a variety of visual resources for designers, artists, and other creatives to use in their work. Over 400k photos and drawings are available here, covering various subjects and styles.

    Additionally, they provide paid material from Shutterstock on the website, so some might be confused about it. Nonetheless, it is an excellent website for picking your sample subjects.

    12. Paint My Photo

    PaintMyPhoto is a website that provides artists with a vast library of photographs to use as reference material for drawing and painting and lets them upload theirs to share. 

    Some may not come in high-quality photographs since they come from different artists in the community. Nevertheless, it is still among the best source since its primary purpose is to give a platform to share and provide artistic inspiration.

    The images are free as long as you have a membership by just signing in.

    13. FreePik

    Freepik provides a premium service that offers additional features and resources for a fee and free images that you can avail of by just signing up. 

    The website is easy to use. It has a search engine and featured categories to help you find what you’re looking for. The library at Freepik is regularly updated with fresh designs so you won’t run out of choices.

    14. Photobash

    Photobash has free photos for digital artists and designers, giving them references and inspiration for their work.

    This website focuses more on architecture, infrastructures, landscapes, and nature-related images. So if you are into these subjects, this is perfect for you. 

    15. Stocksnap

    StockSnap allows users to search for and download photos for free. What is good about this website is that they upload new, royalty-free (CC0) photos daily, free of copyright conditions. 

    Landscapes, people, objects, and more are just a few of the categories represented in its broad image library, great subjects for beginners and professionals to start with.

    16. Freeimages

    FreeImages is a website that offers a collection of over 420,000 stock photos for personal and commercial use. 

    The website shows related images from Istock. But don’t worry; it has a category for free photos, providing you with a search bar that makes it easy to use and navigate. 

    17. Kaboompics

    Kaboompics is all for the free photos! This website is one of the sleekest and most friendly users on the internet.

    It is highly recommended for artists who practice using colored pencils or watercolors because the images come with a color palette that they can use as a reference.

    18. Wikimedia Commons

    Wikimedia Commons, as of now, has over 90 million photos that one can freely use. The website allows everyone to contribute, so some images might not be high-resolution. 

    Nevertheless, its vast collection can still help you find the photos you need for reference. You can also have a printable version option on the tools to easily print a copy of your chosen image. 

    19. Google Arts and Culture

    Google Arts & Culture is an online platform that gives users access to an extensive library of cultural items from museums and galleries worldwide. 

    You can view several paintings, sculptures, and other works of art from your favorite classic artists, like Van Gogh. It is a resource for creative people to learn about and be inspired by their works.

    20. Quick Poses

    QuickPoses is a website that provides pose reference images for artists and illustrators. The website is not just a simple source of reference photos; it aims to improve the artist’s skills by giving tips and an option for a time limit. 

    The images will be helpful for people who practice gesture drawing. It has a large library of human figure poses that one may use for various drawing styles.

    21. Line of Action

    Another website for artists that provides dynamic gesture drawing references is Line of Action. It includes a diverse selection of human and animal figures posing in various ways in a time interval that you can customize and pause. 

    Others might find it limited in the selection of still poses, but it is still a great source of high-quality images. 

    22. Setpose

    SetPose is a website that provides artists with an adjustable drawing model for figure drawing reference. It includes a three-dimensional model of a human figure that can be manipulated into different positions and seen from different angles.

    It is similar to a dummy or a mannequin, and you can add props. They also have preset poses if you don’t have the time to make yours. All in all, it is a fun way to generate your reference.

    Here is a video to show your way around the site:

    23. JustSketch 

    JustSketch is similar to Setpose, which provides artists with a 3D model that can be adjusted and moved into various poses, places, positions, and angles using its toolbars. The website also offers a variety of character models and props to choose from, and you can even put a background image. 

    JustSketch is more complicated to use at first. But once you get the hang of it, you will discover that it has much to offer. 

    24. Bodies in Motion

    Bodies in Motion is a website that offers artists materials for sketching gestures in video clips and 3D scans that are viewable in 360 degrees. 

    The high-quality video references can be controlled by pausing and a drawing timer. Images are also available and arranged as it is in the video. It has an “onion skin” feature to observe the flow of movement and easily capture it in their drawings by seeing two overlays of images at once.

    25. Turbosquid

    TurboSquid is another website that offers designers and artists 3D models, textured backgrounds, and other reference material that one may include in their work.

    Not only images of people do it cover, but you can also find different kinds of subjects, from things, and settings, to animals, in various poses and expressions.

    26. X6UD

    This website is a stranger to many, but it is excellent for practicing specific body parts of humans and animals.

    The search bar lets you choose a body part or a specie you would like to focus on drawing. It also has a basic skeleton model at the side that you can move around if you wish to practice on it. 

    Note: The human body photo reference website differs from the animal photo art reference.

    27. Picjumbo

    Picjumbo offers high-quality, royalty-free stock photos that can be used as a reference for your artwork.

    The purpose of this website is to provide a place for Viktor Hanacek to share some stunning free images of high quality. The website features various categories you can choose from and use.

    28. New Old Stock

    This website we next recommend is for people who love and appreciate the beauty of historical or classic images. 

    The New Old Stock provides a collection of vintage and antique photographs. Most images are black and white, so this might be helpful and good for some charcoal and graphite users or practitioners. 

    29. Burst

    Burst is a useful resource for artists and designers looking for reference material with a good selection of high-quality images. 

    This website has free stock photos and is categorized. It also has featured images for the week, popular categories, and an option for high or low-resolution downloads. 

    30. Magdeleine

    Magdaleine is an excellent resource for finding drawing reference material because it contains a selected collection of photos with a primary emphasis on minimalist and contemporary aesthetics.

    This vibe is also seen in the website itself. The details and information of the image are conveniently seen at the side, and it also has a color palette, just like in Kaboompics. 

    31. Openverse

    The Openverse website is a resource for discovering a wide variety of free stock photos and audio. All of its content is under a Creative Commons license.  

    The site’s easy-to-navigate design allows quick access to your search results. It has over 600 million photos; hence, a great website to look for your reference material.

    Stock Reference Photos:

    Stock reference photos are pre-existing images that can be used as a visual reference or inspiration for your artwork. These images are taken by professional photographers and are usually available to purchase or to license through stock picture agencies or the photographers themselves.

    Some websites offer a selection of stock photos for free the following:

    Anatomy Reference Photos:

    Anatomy reference photos for drawing are visual aids artists use to depict the human form in their artwork accurately.

    Here is a list of websites where you can find them:

    Portrait Reference Photos

    portrait of a woman

    Free Landscape Reference Photos for Artists 

    A picture of a landscape

    Free Wildlife Reference Photos for Artists 

    An image of a leopard

    Paid for Art Reference Photo Websites

    Other Reference Photo Options:

    Take your own pictures with your phone or camera

    Yes, taking your photos can be a good source of reference photos

    Taking your images gives you more creative freedom with your artwork’s subject, lighting, and arrangement. In addition, there won’t be any concerns with copyright issues.

    Use social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit

    You can also find your reference materials on social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. For artists seeking inspiration, these sites provide a lot of photographs from tags and accounts.

    Some communities on Reddit or Subreddits are devoted only to supplying artists with reference images, such as r/drawme, r/Redditgetsdrawn, and r/redditgetsdrawnbadly.

    What to Look for in Reference Photos

    When choosing reference photos, pay attention to its composition, lighting, detail, and perspective when considering using it as a reference.

    Your artwork will benefit significantly from a reference picture composed correctly in high definition. The subject’s arrangement and position, the quality of the image, and the color and lighting will help you identify more lines and shapes.

    A high-resolution photo can provide valuable information and details for capturing textures and patterns.

    Can I sell an artwork I created using a reference photo?

    If you are going to sell your artwork where you used a reference photo to make, the best way to do this is to make sure that the picture you have used is copyright free. Or better yet, ask permission from the owner of the said reference image.

    But yes, selling the artwork you created using a reference photo is possible. But remember that you should use any such reference more as a guidepost than a replica when making your original piece of art. If you intend to copy the whole work, it is best not to sell it.

    Free Reference Photo Websites – Conclusion

    Using reference photos from free websites we recommended can be a valuable tool for artists to enhance their creativity and skills. 

    The purpose of reference photos is to aid the artist in creating their unique artwork. Still, it is also essential to obey the copyright rules of the image and check if it is under a Creative Commons license. 

    If you want to discover more tools and resources available for artists, you can contact us for more information.

    Thanks for reading, and see you at the next one!

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