Creative Commons Images & Flickr: The Best Search Tools

FlickrStorm is no longer active. You can find the same functionality on our new website, Wunderstock.com, as well as the other alternatives listed below.

 

Whether you’re looking for free photos for a presentation, website, or any other project, there are millions of Creative Commons images to choose from. Searching through this trove of visuals isn’t easy, however. This page was once home to FlickrStorm, a popular tool for searching CC images on Flickr. We recently turned off the service to focus on other projects and have received quite a few email queries about alternative tools for finding Creative Commons images. Here’s an overview of our favorite options:

1. Wunderstock Flickr Creative Commons Search

An example Creative Commons Flickr search on Wunderstock
Wunderstock is a slick and modern search tool for finding a wide range of free stock photos.

Wunderstock is a new but impressive tool for finding free images. The Internet has changed quite a bit since Flickr and Creative Commons were introduced. As we head into 2021, the Creative Commons search page on Flickr feels very dated. Many results do not seem relevant and it is difficult to wade through the millions of photos. Wunderstock is a newer image search tool that uses AI technology to better understand your query and provide better results. We also find it to be faster than Flickr Commons.

To search Creative Commons images on Flickr, you just need to begin a search on their website and choose “Flickr” under “Sources” in the results. There’s also an option to filter between license types. Wunderstock also has its own growing collection of public domain and CC content.

We also  like Wunderstock because it offers the options to edit images directly on their site before downloading. This is very helpful to students working from home who may not have access to image editing software. The site also does a very good job of visually indicating the license types and corresponding usage restrictions (Attribution, No Commercial Use, etc.) for each image.

2. Creative Commons Image Search

Creative Commons Image Search website
Creative Commons Image Search has the most comprehensive collection.

Creative Commons recently released their own image search tool called CC Search. The site offers access to more than 500 million CC images. Although Flickr Commons is the best-known source for this type of content, there are hundreds of other databases and archives with CC-licensed images. Just a few examples include RawPixel, Behhance, the Smithsonian, and NASA.

We recommend CC Search for science and academic applications because it has the best access to museums, cultural institutions, and research databases. It has a wide variety of historical and cultural items not available on Flickr.

For blogs and websites, however, we recommend other tools. As much as we applaud Creative Common for building this much-needed tool, we found many irrelevant or outdated results for more general terms. A food blogger searching for “grapes” probably does not want to see a 1800s-era illustration, for example. CC Search is constantly improving and we wouldn’t be surprised to see this issue fixed soon.

3. Compfight Flickr Search (no longer active)

You’ll either love or hate how Compfight displays results.

Compfight is a powerful tool for quickly sifting through the millions of Creative Commons images on Flickr. It’s great for bloggers and journalists with tight deadlines because it shows dozens of image thumbnails at once. You can quickly scroll through hundreds of images without breaking a sweat. This feature could be frustrating for others, however, because you can’t get a close look at an image without clicking on it.

One important note– Compfight searches all of Flickr by default. You need to remember to limit your search to Creative Commons in the left-most column. Otherwise you could accidentally use an All Rights Reserved image. Compfight does show safe images by default, which we think is a good thing.

4. Google Advanced Image Search

You can search for Creative Commons images on Google, too.

You can actually search for Creative Commons images right inside Google Images. Just start your search and navigate to “Usage Rights” to narrow down your search by license type. Just keep in mind that Google does not let you filter between Creative Commons license types and does not guarantee 100% accuracy. You definitely should not blindly download images from Google without first checking the license on the source site.

 

5. Bing Image Search

Bing has a filter for specific CC licenses.

Google’s oft-forgotten competitor Bing is actually a very adept at finding Creative Commons photos. Unfortunately the feature is very hard to find. To search for CC images on Bing, first go to the Bing homepage and start a search. Then click “Filter” on the far-right of the screen. A menu for sorting by license type will then appear in the middle-left of the screen.

We like that Bing lets you filter for specific licenses, for example images that allow for non-commercial use with attribution. However, we found the placement of this option a bit puzzling and can’t help but wonder how many Bing users have missed this feature due to its hidden placement.

Conclusion: What happened to FlickrStorm?


We built FlickrStorm in the mid-2000s to help make Creative Commons more accessible. FlickrStorm helped millions of people find free-to-use images and we are proud of the work we did. The video above provides a good overview of what FlickrStorm could do. As is often the case, life took our team in different directions and we simply did not have enough time to devote to the project. We decided it would be better to close the service and recommend alternatives. Thank you to everyone, including the millions of photographers on Flickr, who made our site possible.