Finding the right picture for your blog, your school project or your research project can be hard, especially if you’re on a budget. Buying from a stock image site is usually not expensive, but when it comes to historical images, the price can skyrocket into the hundreds of pounds per photo.
So we’ve compiled our favourite free catalogues to keep in your back pocket.
Pond5 is a stock photo agency that offers the public hundreds of thousands of historic media files through their public domain project. All are copyright-free for use in any way you like.
This site specialises in photos from 50s and 60s America, and most are high-res. You will need to register before you can download, but once you are in it gives you a choice of full, medium or small sizes.
A whole host of cultural heritage institutions have signed up to The Commons on Flickr, a website that increases access to public photography collections. The British Library has put its photo and illustrations archive here, digitised by the library and catalogued by volunteers. The albums are a mix of manuscripts, maps and illustrations, but there are a number of photo albums in there from British history. As well as the British Library, you can search through the archives of dozens of institutions the world over from The Finnish Museum of Photography to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, to the Imperial War Museum Collections. There is no browse function, so start with some keywords and get searching.
The Getty family not only own Getty Images but also provide free access to more than 140,000 historic images through their Open Content Program at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Check the box for “photographs”, your preferred country of origin and then enjoy a trip from the mid-19th century to today.
The largest library in the world has digitised tens of thousands of images and made them available on their website. Expect a lot of American Civil War images. They have also put many of their pictures on The Flickr Commons.
The Wellcome Trust, founded on the wishes of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome after a life of collecting images and artefacts that challenge how we think about health and science. The collection is housed in a free museum and library in London, and has digitised thousands of its books, artworks and photographs. The database is in a beta version at the time of writing, so the search function is not as sophisticated as it could be, for example it does not distinguish between photograph and illustration, and both are classed as “pictures”.
This is a tumblr site that updates a curated list of vintage photos drawn from different corners of the web. There is no search function, so this site is best for inspiration. Each photo you click on will take you to the source, where there will normally be even more photos to search through.
There you have it. Plenty of websites to sate your vintage photo thirst. Why not start a collection of your own? Dig out your old photo albums and boxes of slides and get digitising with Vintage Photo Lab. Browse our services or simply get in touch with your ideas and we can answer any questions.