When you hear the phrase “search engine,” your mind probably goes straight to Google. When you hear “image search engine,” well, chances are you’re still thinking of Google.
With 136 billion indexed images, Google has the world’s largest public image collection. By 2030, that number is expected to triple.
But being the biggest doesn’t make it the best—especially when you’re searching for great photography online.
Professional content creators and photography enthusiasts often want quality over quantity, so they seek out sites that are more niche.
You’ll recognize several on our list. Others you might be discovering for the first time.
Before we dive, let’s define some terms so we're all speaking the same language 😊
What is an image search engine?
An image search engine allows users to search for digital images using keywords or visual elements.
A “true” image search engine uses algorithms to crawl and index images from across the web, making it easy for users to find images based on their search queries.
Why is “true” in quotation marks, you ask? Technically, an image search engine is not the same as a website that searches for images within its owned or affiliated content libraries.
In this article, we cover both: internet-wide image search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, as well as platform-based image search engines like Getty Images and Flickr.
What is the best image search engine?
As with most things, it depends.
Are you looking for royalty-free photos? Unique photography? Curated collections or archival images.
All of it can be found, as long as you know where to look. To help you on your search, we rounded up the best image search engines based on these categories:
Best Google alternatives
Best platform for free photos
Best platform for unique photos
Best platform for high-quality photos
Best platform for creating collections
Best Google alternatives
Bing and Yahoo Images
Bing, from Microsoft, and Yahoo are internet-wide image search engines where you can find photos, illustrations, and other types of images.
Like Google, Bing and Yahoo offer advanced image search features that allow you to filter results by size, color, image type, and more. Also like Google, they offer suggestions to help narrow your search and find related results.
Bing image results for “astronaut in space”
Check out the differences between these search engines by searching for the same phrase on all three. You’ll see different image results; you’ll also see different suggested searches at the top.
For example, when you search “astronaut in space,” Google offers suggestions like “floating,” “high resolution,” and “trippy.” For the same search, Yahoo offers suggestions like “cartoon,” “space suit,” and “NASA.” And Bing offers suggestions like “real astronaut in space,” “gravity,” and “spaceship.”
DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine that offers a range of search features, including a dedicated image search. It allows you to find high-quality photos and images without your personal data being tracked.
One key difference of DuckDuckGo is that it doesn’t alter search results based on your previous search history, so you can escape what’s known as the "filter bubble."
Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia. Similar to Google, it offers email, maps, photo storage, smart home technology, and a voice assistant called Alice.
Yandex was built for the Russian market, but you can use its English version at yandex.com.
Yandex’s image search engine aggregates millions of images from sites across the web, with easy-to-navigate results page. Hovering over an image makes it larger, which is a nice feature.
Best platform for free photos: Openverse
Openverse is part of the WordPress open-source project. The Openverse engine indexes over 700 million openly licensed images from around the internet, including Flickr, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institute.
From Openverse: Illustration by Rawpixel LTD
Images found on Openverse are public domain or fall under a Creative Commons license. A Creative Commons (CC) license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that the author has created.
Results on Openverse won’t be as specific as what you’ll find on Google, Bing, or Yahoo, but for interesting photos that broadly match your keyword, it’s worth checking out.
When you find an image you like, simply follow the link provided by Openverse to view the source and download the image.
Best platform for unique photos: Flickr
Flickr is a popular photo-sharing site that offers a vast collection of user-generated photos. You can search for photos by keyword or browse through collections and groups to find the perfect image.
From Flickr: Photo by Adi Karpel
Flickr images come from amateur and professional photographers sharing their work on the platform. Because of this, you can find photos that are unique and don’t look like typical stock photography.
If you’re looking for photos to use in commercial or marketing projects, make sure you select the appropriate usage license.
Flickr allows photographers to assign a Creative Commons license to their photos or to make their photos available for purchase by licensing them through Getty Images.
Best platform for high-quality photos: Getty Images
Getty Images is one of the largest and best-known visual content providers. Here you’ll find premium and exclusive creative and editorial content from photographers and photojournalists around the world.
From Getty Images: Photo by Solovyova
You can search for high-quality photos, videos, and illustrations by keyword or browse one of Getty Images' many beautifully curated collections.
Looking for historic photos or archival images? Getty Images has millions of images dating back to the beginning of photography.
Getty Images also owns iStock and Unsplash, so you have options at every price point. iStock offers videos, photos, illustrations, and music at affordable prices. Unsplash offers high-resolution photos that are free to download.
From Unsplash: Photo by NEOM
Best platform for creating collections: Popsync
Earlier I mentioned how you might use an internet-wide search engine (like Google, Bing, or Yahoo) or you might search a specific site (like Getty Images or Flickr).
Popsync is an image search engine that allows you to do both: search other image search engines and popular image sites at the same time.
Searching on Popsync.io gives you breadth and depth. Select as many image sources as you like, and you’ll see results from all of them at once. Then, get more results from any of the image sources you selected by hitting the “Show more” button.
Popsync image results for “astronaut in space”
Above are Popsync search results gathered from Google, Unsplash, Pexels, and Getty Images. This is an easy way to search everywhere all at once without having a dozen tabs open.
When you find images you like, you have the option to add them to a collection. Doing this creates a canvas where you can view all your favorites, move them around, mark them up, and download the ones you want to use.
You can save your collection in a workspace and share it with others or continue adding images to create a mood board.
Ultimately, the best image search engine depends on your needs, preferences, and where you are in your creative journey. When browsing for inspiration, you might simply open your favorite browser. When searching for photos to use in projects, it helps to have several options.
Now that you know the best places to search, hone your craft by applying creativity and logic to find the perfect image.