It doesn't matter whether you are photobashing, creating a 3d character, layering up a matte painting, or getting your hand dirty with a digital media project, gathering reference is one of the most important steps you need to take. The Rookies has spoken with a number of digital artists and found their favourite free and premium website that help them get creative.

Daniel Liang

Freelance Concept Artist

I'm a 2D artist and I love using Shutterstock. I would definitely recommend it for any artist doing photobashing and matte painting, it's just awesome!

I use it easy to find content for many of my projects. There is such an amazing collection of images to chose from.

I download the images to use for photobashing on my artwork and it works really well. You can find so many diverse photos and they are all great quality. It's a pleasure to use Shutterstock as a Concept Artist.

Check out Daniel's Portfolio of work.

Daniel Liang - Project Fantasy | Heart Recollection

Maxime Delcambre

Concept-Artist at Ubisoft

I tend to use three main sites CG, and Shutterstock for my photobashing work.

The other way to produce art concepts is to make your own 3D bases. I really like this method of creation and I use it when I already have the idea of rendering the final image and I have to create everything from nothing. Shutterstock serves me here to find the textures for my 3D bases.

In the concept art profession, you have to quickly create something realistic by doing photobashing.  So quickly finding good photos, whatever your need, becomes indispensable. It is even with this step that you will begin your work.

Some photos will only give you ideas but others will do 50% of the job! This is the most common creative method I use at Ubisoft for Watch Dog Legion.
I was doing directly photobashing  from nothing, or from screenshots of the game editor.  When the game is at the beginning of production and you have only 3 or 4 grey cubes, having good pictures can help!

We find everything on Shutterstock, in high resolution and it’s well listed, it’s convenient and saves time.

Check out Maxime's Portfolio of work.

Shutterstock images used for photobashing

Gonçalo Silva

Level Designer Fallout

For my projects, once I know it's for a historical project or a medieval setting I do a lot of research in books and look for relevant images. On the internet I usually look at Pinterest, this helps me a lot to find good references, for the 3d model,  lighting reference, medieval architecture, etc.

Of course, this varies from project to project.

There are certain images that are easier to find in books, or sometimes it's easier to take your own pictures. The main two I use are Pinterest and Shutterstock, these websites help me a lot when I need to find high res reference images.

Gus Garcia G

I don't tend to use many stock photos from specific sites, I mostly source from Google or  Pinterest.

Something I do a lot is visit the site Google Arts & Culture... this is an amazing place to see high quality portraits and old paintings that I love and it's free...

Another site that I constantly check is Robophot, I love this site because of the high-resolution pictures, you can see the different levels of colour, textures and pore details of and a wide average of people, it is amazing.

More Top Photo Reference Websites

There are plenty of other great places to find free and premium photo references for matte painting, photobashing, concept art, 3d animation and other creative media projects. Here are some more of our favourite places online.

PixaBay is an international website for sharing photos, illustrations, vector graphics, and film footage under a proprietary license. As of November 2017, Pixabay offers over 1,188,454 free photos, illustrations, and vectors and videos.

Pexels provides high quality and completely free stock photos licensed under the Pexels license. All photos are nicely tagged, searchable and also easy to discover through our discover pages.

Unsplash is a website dedicated to sharing stock photography under the Unsplash license. The website claims over 110,000 contributing photographers and generates more than 9 billion photo impressions per month on their growing library of over 810,000 photos.

Depositphotos is a royalty-free microstock photography agency based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was founded by Dmitry Sergeev in November 2009 in Kiev, Ukraine. The company also has offices around the world providing customers with support in 20 languages.