Where To Find Some of the Best Free Backgrounds for Photoshop

macbook pro on a desk

Those who work with digital art are likely familiar with Adobe Photoshop on some level. This amazing program allows you to create a bit of magic every time you work on a project. The ability to remove blemishes and red eye from portraiture is just the tip of the design iceberg. You can change the color and lighting of literally any object or person, and change facial features. In fact, you can swap out entire faces. With a few clicks of a mouse you can place any object in any setting and adjust lighting, temperature and saturation to make it look completely natural and genuine.

Photoshop is a photographers dream for stitching together a series of photos, although many cameras today have a panoramic feature that eliminates that need. Still, you get glitches and inconsistencies from time to time, and Photoshop is just what the doctor ordered for healing areas that don’t quite gel. Both indoor and outdoor shots can be optimized and treated to become exactly the finished piece you hoped for.

You can also create special effects, such as posterization, lens flare or a Gaussian blur. Turn your photo into a watercolor painting or a charcoal sketch with totally customizable settings. Go from vibrant colors to artistic black and white or a sepia tone. Create shadows or mirror images, and remove objects entirely. There are a host of options for using text as well.  The sky may not even be the limit when it comes to the many ways you can use this program to enhance raw files.

There are many occasions when you need some kind of a background to place a person or object on or in front of. This can present a bit of a challenge if you are not also a photographer yourself or if your project budget doesn’t allow for the expense of paying for the services of a professional photographer. Where do you get the background images you need, and how can you acquire them without breaking the bank? In answer to that question, we have assembled a list for you with several of the best free backgrounds for Photoshop available as well as where to find them.

Our favorite site is Pixabay.com, an online photo service, much like Shutterstock or Deposit Photo. There are literally thousands of great photos that have been contributed by just as many photographers. The big difference here is that these photos are free. That is correct: free. In fact, the glorious fact for designers is that you are not required to attribute the photos to anyone, and they are all licensed as free for commercial use. It is hard to beat a deal like that. You can type in the kind of photo you are looking for and click the search icon. Narrowing the search criteria, you can choose from photos, illustrations, vectors or videos. You may also select horizontal or vertical orientation; a category, such as backgrounds, people, etc.; and pixel width by height. Sorting by predominant color is a great time saver.

Once you have clicked on a probable choice, it will take you to a page where you can download the photo to your computer. It will remind you that it has a CC0 – a Creative Commons license so you can be certain you do not need additional licensing. You will be offered a choice of several file sizes, which you can then view before downloading. In addition, at the bottom of the photo page, you will often find a selection of additional photos, either taken by the same photographer or related to your selected image in some way. You can also get information as to when that photograph was uploaded to the site, how many others have looked at it and how many times it has been downloaded. If that last number is extremely high you might want to choose a less recognizable image.

When selecting background images, keep in mind that, while they should be appealing all on their own, they are something against which to showcase a person, an object or some written information, so they should have some quiet areas where those elements could be placed. Now that we have that hard work out of the way, let’s have a bit of fun exploring some of these great free backgrounds for Photoshop

1. Places

city night lights

Some of these location shots would make great backdrops for travel posters or brochures. Take a look at this amazing shot of Machu Pichu, Peru. Soft clouds float through a vibrant cobalt sky while rays of sunlight break over the mountaintops in the background. The famous Incan ruins lay in the shadow of a nearby peak. This photo is a stunning play of light, shadow and color. You can see options below this photo for a couple other optional views. 

How about this lush and misty view of Redwood National Park in California? Only a winding road that passes quietly through the trees interrupts the curtain of dense trees and underbrush of this beautiful forest. 

Another great choice for a travel piece is this breathtaking shot of the Bavarian Alps. Not only the mountains, but the lush alpine forest, a lake reflecting the blue of the sky, and a taste of historical Bavarian architecture are shown in this photo.

2. Earth, Wind, Fire and Ice

fire place

Nature has an abundance of beauty and there is no shortage of photography to choose from. While not an actual fire, this image captures the flame-like colors of a golden sunset, blurred slightly to offset the grasses silhouetted in the foreground. Another photo, this time panoramic, is all sky. A flaming sunset is reflected on the clouds in a vibrant rainbow of purple, red, orange and golden hues. If you are looking to create a photographic background for your computer, you are in luck, as this one is sized to be used as a wallpaper. 

For something less intense, check out this great shot. Cool greens and browns are warmed slightly by the golden burst of sunlight (morning or evening – it’s your choice) peeking through the trees and lighting up the mossy forest floor. 

If you need a photo for a tree-hugger campaign or any other tree-related project, this photo may do the trick. Imagine lying on your back in a park or the woods and looking up through the canopy of the trees to the sky beyond. If you like that imagery, you will love this shot. 

This photo of a wave breaking on the shore is filled with intensity of color and motion, yet it leaves a quiet area for placing text or objects to one side. Vibrant turquoise and aqua hues contrast with neutral areas for a great, balanced shot that is easy to work with. We can’t believe these are free backgrounds for Photoshop. 

When something more calming is called for, this shot of the softly rippling surface of a deep blue lake might fit your needs. The colors of the sky and reflected light are mirrored on the water for interest. 

An icy image with a bit of glitter, this expanse of sparkling snow adds a wintery or festive feel. There are several more variations on this theme, some with objects in the distance or foreground.

3. Bokeh Effect

Bokeh Effect

That last image leads into what is arguably one of a Photoshop artist’s favorite genres for background images. Bokeh (the “h” was added to aid English pronunciation of this Japanese word meaning “blur”) is pronounced “bow-keh,” not “bow-kay” as so many mistakenly say it. It is not like a Gaussian blur – it creates what appear to be lights, sparkles, dew or whatever term you want to apply. It creates a surrealistic, almost dreamlike quality as a base for your design. You may find an entire image has had this effect applied as in this pale background. It is reminiscent of the snow we saw in a couple of earlier images but not as specific. It could be lights or a reflection bouncing off of a crystal light. 

In this example, we see only a portion of it has had bokeh applied, in order to emphasize a particular element, as in this photo of a bird on a railing. You can see what appear to be blurred trees in the distance, while every detail of the bird from his feathers to the gleam in his eye, as well as the individual snow flakes he is standing on are very clear. In this image featuring a closeup of a mossy tree branch, a bokeh background can still be seen as trees, but allows the focus to be on the clear details of the bark and strands of moss in the foreground. 

This image is all bokeh. The effect gives the dewy grass a fresh, wet feel that carries the feeling of morning dew to your mind, not just the image. It amplifies the emotion of the photo and creates emphasis on the tiny droplets. 

Set a romantic tone with this bokeh background. You will likely think of flickering candles or something similar as lights twinkle against a black ground to simulate nighttime. 

Speaking of the night, this shot may remind you of driving in your car in the dark with raindrops falling on your windows, obscuring the view of the city lights beyond. Vivid colors of billboards and shop signs add a feeling of excitement and movement. 

One last bokeh, another appropriate for illustrating an evening event, carries a spectrum of color in the background, blurred to excite the imagination, and a very focused, detailed wooden boardwalk in the foreground, a great choice for showing off a backlit product or advertising an evening event.

4. Wood, Stone and Textures

Wood, Stone and Textures

The most versatile backgrounds have less interest – photographically speaking – and consist mainly of temperature and texture. You can change the mood by changing the material. Wood, stone, tile, plaster and brick are just a few you can choose from, changing the mood to suit your purpose. Here are some of best free backgrounds for Photoshop applications requiring texture. 

This dark brown wood planking could be interpreted as a deck, a table or even a door. It has a semi-refined texture and rich, warm colorations. For something a bit more rustic, try this image of weathered wood with peeling paint. The wood’s grain has been raised due to exposure to the elements. There are knots and scarring on this character-filled surface. 

River rock never loses its appeal. This background features assorted rocks in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors in mostly grey tones. If you like a bit more color, this collection of colored rocks features a wider variety of color and temperature, going from cool dark blues to warm brown. 

Concrete makes a great background for more urban themes, and this one shows a bit of wear, with a pitted surface and small fractures. It is primarily grey with small fleck of color showing through in the exposed aggregate. Showing a great deal more attitude and texture is this aged brick wall, treated with what appears to be a German shmear, so that only a portion of the bricks are exposed. 

Need something industrial? This sheet of brushed steel should do the trick. It has a lightly reflective surface and some scratches for character. For a more rugged treatment, try this textured steel. It features the same detail you would expect to see in the bed of a truck and a bit of rust for age and flavor. 

Now that you have seen some of the best free backgrounds for Photoshop, try a few on for size. As you will know, the right photo sets the tone for your piece. Whether your finished composition appears sleek and sophisticated, rustic or rugged, or at one with nature depends a great deal on the background images you choose to work with. Quality photos from professional photographers and skilled enthusiasts can aid you as you work your design magic.