It would be great if we could shoot all of the nice-looking photos we need for our marketing, but alas, that’s not likely. We don’t all have the time, skills, or ability to create stunning photos whenever we need them. That doesn’t mean you must use dull, generic, possibly expensive stock photos. I’ll share some helpful sites so you won’t have to use low-quality, unrelated, unimaginative photos in your future projects.
As a frequent user of quality images and a serious student and practitioner of photography for more than 30 years, I can tell you there are better sources than many of the paid, royalty-free stock sites you’re probably familiar with. Most of the sites I’m recommending here offer photos freely, mostly under Creative Commons licenses (CC0; https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0). I’ll note in the description if it’s a site with different terms or if it’s one of the few paid sites I like.
Unsplash: This was a side project started by artists, designers, and photographers years ago; it’s grown to be one of largest free photo sites (with some of the most gorgeous shots, in my opinion). Tagging and metadata could be better, but the quality makes up for it. Creative Commons CC0. (www.unsplash.com)
Pixabay: This site offers photos, illustrations, scalable vector graphics, and some video clips; they’re well-tagged and easy to search and filter. The quality varies, as anyone can submit collections or items. Creative Commons CC0. (www.pixabay.com)
StockSnap: The people who run this site curate photos from around the web and from selected photographers in their network (some photos have come from other sites, such as Unsplash). All photographers are identified for each picture. It’s from Snappa, creator of a cloud-based graphic design tool. Creative Commons CC0. (http://stocksnap.io)
picjumbo: This pet project from a young Czech photographer has resulted in thousands of photos that are free to use anywhere, in any project (although the site doesn’t mention CC0). It also has a premium membership, starting at $10/month, which offers thematic collections and other extras. (www.picjumbo.com)
Gratisography: Here’s another pet project from a professional photographer who’s offering his photos free under CC0. (Note: Make sure the photos you find in search results are from his free offerings, not ones that come up from his affiliate deal with Shutterstock.) (www.gratisography.com)
Death to the Stock Photo: This oddly named project offers a monthly set of 10 themed, free images via a free email subscription. It also offers paid packages that give 10-plus photos every week and/or access to all photos in its library. Not every month will yield photos that suit your needs. (http://deathtothestockphoto.com)
Pexels: This site curates photos from other places on the web and has about 30,000 right now. Photographers can also contribute directly to site. Creative Commons CC0. (www.pexels.com)
Simple Icons: This site has free SVG (scalable vector graphics) icons for popular brands, tools, apps, and websites. (https://sim pleicons.org)
Iconfinder: Search more than 1 million icons, or browse by type, category, or a set of related icons. The collection includes free and paid icons. You can filter the search to include only free icons and only certain design styles, such as “flat icon.” (www.iconfinder.com)
#WOCinTech : The Women of Color in Tech stock photo collection finally gives us a set of photos that represent women in all aspects of technology work. Available under a CC (Attribution) license. (www.wocintechchat.com/blog/wocintechphotos)
LibreStock: This site searches other free, non-royalty photo sites. (http://librestock.com)
Depositphotos: This service offers paid, royalty-free stock photos, vectors, and high-def video clips. I find this collection to be fresher and less boring than those of other paid stock houses. (https://depositphotos.com)
Some Photo Tips
If you want a photo to use on something that you’ll be selling or distributing physically (e.g., T-shirts, mugs, or posters), you will likely need a commercial license. Royalty-free images aren’t for putting on T-shirts to sell. Double check the usage conditions before you print and sell anything.
Get out your thesaurus (or your favorite dictionary app), and make a list of synonyms for your key search terms. Photo sites aren’t cataloged as well as libraries, and the way a photo of a book is tagged on one site may have little to do with how a similar (or even the exact same) photo is tagged on another site.
Think about where you will be using a photo before you start searching. You may want very different looks for photos you plan to use for background images versus web banners versus printed brochures versus blog posts.
When selecting stock photos for a project, think beyond images that are directly representational. It’s OK to use more artsy shots.