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Last Updated on November 30, 2022
The era of cheesy, expensive stock photos is over! Here are some of the best stock photo sites we’ve used and loved (plus our two favorites). Many reputable companies offer amazing stock photos for free — so you can peruse and choose images for your website, blog posts, newsletters, and emails that feel right on target for you and your business.
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If you’ve been around the Internet (especially Internet marketing) for any amount of time, you probably remember the bad ol’ days of super cheesy, totally cringey stock photos.
Somehow, these stock photo companies thought that what we needed most were images of just-barely-out-of-their-teens, blond-haired, blue-eyed, suspiciously-smiley people awkwardly doing business-y things — or even completely un-business-y things like leaping in the air together. Nothing against young, pretty, caucasian business-y people, truly — but I think we can all agree it’s a relief to see that era of stock photos like the one below behind us. It’s enough to make us leap in the air for joy:
Not to mention that ALL of these old school stock photo companies charged for every single photo you used. You would think with what they were charging they could have at least given us some more inspiring options!
The new era of stock photography has arrived, and it’s beautiful, more diverse, and interesting — and the great news is that many of the best stock photos sites offer genuinely gorgeous stock photos for free.
Before we dive into the best stock photo sites, let’s start with just a few quick tips on how to choose the best stock photos for your marketing.
Once again, let me drive home the importance of knowing your ideal client – at least as well as you know your best friend, maybe even better!
If your ideal client is middle-aged, conservatively dressed, high-earning, professional women, you probably want to avoid pictures of bikini clad, 20-somethings joyfully plugging away on their laptops on a tropical island. While this group might indeed dream of the laptop lifestyle, they aren’t going to see themselves reflected in these photos. Think specifically about how they would like to see themselves and find images that evoke that emotion in them. What would your ideal client put on their vision board? Give them that.
I recommend creating brand guidelines around what sort of stock photos you use to ensure that all your visuals support your brand.
Your brand guidelines can be a simple list of dos and don’ts when it comes to choosing the best stock photos (e.g. Never use cheesy, awkward photos. When choosing photos with people in them, aim for diversity to represent our clients as best we can. Use bright, cheery colors that fit our color palette.)
For example, both of the images below are in the “business” category of stock photos in Canva. But can you feel how different they are? They each tell a unique story — and depending on your business and your target audience, it would matter which one you chose.
Quick tip: To find better photos, refine your keywords to focus in on what you’re looking for. That means, if you want business stock photos that resonate with your biz and your target audience, be really specific. Some examples: Asian woman in a business meeting, or worried woman in the office, or women working together. The more specific, the more it’ll get you the photo you want — PLUS bonus if the color/theme of the pic is also aligned with your branding!
When you’re choosing photos for your marketing, consider the overall layout of the page and what orientation or overall subject matter will fit best. Most stock photos sites allow you to search by vertical or horizontal orientation and different ratios (think square vs. long, tall rectangle, etc.).
As already mentioned, there’s no shortage of beautiful, free stock photos sites on the Internet these days, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll always be able to find exactly what you’re looking for on one of the free sites.
The premium stock photos sites aren’t terribly expensive per individual photos, but the cost of stock photos can add up quickly if you’re paying for every single one.
On the other hand, because free sites often include a HUGE range of styles, sometimes it can take more time searching for just the right photo on the free stock photos sites. This can end up costing more in human hours, especially if you’re paying someone else to search for you.
I recommend setting aside some money in your marketing budget so that you can afford to at least occasionally pay a premium price to get the best stock photos for your project.
Please don’t ever use stock photos that don’t belong to you unless you have explicit permission. Firstly, it’s against the law and you can end up paying HEFTY fines, and even if you were never going to get caught, it’s unethical and bad karma to steal another person’s work.
Many of the online business owners we serve as clients are accomplished artists in their own right. They’ve dedicated years to honing their craft. They devote hours and soul to bringing beauty into the world. Part of how we support each other as entrepreneurs is to give credit where credit is due and to compensate people fairly for their labor.
Just in case any stock photo you use is ever questioned, I highly recommend you create a folder in your system where you keep a digital record of where all the stock photos you use came from and either a receipt for the purchase, or a screenshot of the page showing they were from a free stock photos site.
I find it’s super useful to have just a few go-to free stock photo companies so that I’m not spending hours deep in the weeds (and oh how deep the weeds can get). As you explore different sites, you’ll start to get a feel for their vibe and their aesthetic, and you can decide which ones suit you best. Here are some we like:
Besides beautiful, free stock photos, Pexels offers some unique features that make it a great place to source your stock photos.
Once you create an account with Pexels, you can follow Creators that you like so that you’re notified when they share new work. Once you find a Creator whose vibe matches your brand, this can be a great way to save time searching for stock photos — they’ll be delivered right to you on your Pexels homescreen.
Fun feature: You can filter photos by a specific hex number, too, which means you can search for images that are within your brand colors.
Another useful tool in Pexels is their Leader Board which shows you the most popular users over a given time period. This can be a helpful clue as to what photography style or subject matter is currently on-trend or resonating with the most people.
There is also a Popular Searches section that can give you clues as to what other users are searching for. Whether your brand is about appealing to the most people or about setting yourself apart from the masses, knowing what people are looking for will help you steer in the right direction for your brand.
Unsplash is one of the biggest and most popular marketplaces where you can get stock photos for free. The site itself is beautiful, and a pleasure to use. You can use the search feature and type in exactly what you’re looking for, or if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you can use the Explore feature or check out Trending Searches, Topics, or Collections to find out what’s hot.
Unsplash shows you the downloads and likes on every photo — valuable information to gauge appeal, or if you’re looking for unique photos that haven’t already been used by thousands of other people.
Each image on Unsplash has a few clickable tags underneath it that allow you to narrow down your search further if the current results aren’t quite right — another way Unsplash helps you find the best stock photos for your brand.
Gratisography is not the ideal stock photo site for everyone, but if you ever find yourself in need of something truly unique when it comes to stock photos, it’s the place to start. Gratisography was created by photographer and creative Ryan McGuire and all of the photos on the site are his. They are also all completely free.
Gratisography claims to be the world’s quirkiest collection of stock photos, and it’s probably true. If you’re looking for stock photos that are creative or even a bit weird, gratisography is the place to start. The biggest downside is that there aren’t a ton of photos available.
It’s also a great site to find some inspiration or even just a smile. With categories like Mischievous Men and Whimsical Women, it’s a joy-filled site worth taking a peek at.
With over 250 million photos (and an additional 200,000 more every day!), Shutterstock is one of the oldest and biggest stock photos sites. This massive library makes Shutterstock a great option if you need enough stock photos to warrant signing up for a monthly subscription. With this many stock photos available, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your needs.
Their pricing is competitive, and along with subscription options, you can purchase packages of photos (and videos and music).
Shutterstock is also one of the best stock photo sites for photographers, meaning they pay one of the highest commissions to the photographers on their site. You can feel good about supporting a company that supports artists and creatives.
I believe the folks at Death to Stock would whole-heartedly agree with my introduction to this blog post. They were born out of the desire to beautify the Internet by taking it back from “cheesy and overused stock photos.”
Their photos (and videos) are beautiful and unique and their subscription model is different from anything else currently out there. For a relatively small monthly subscription fee you get unlimited access to everything on their site.
Death to Stock is also very committed to supporting their artists, so you can feel good knowing no artists were exploited for your stock photos.
If you aren’t quite ready to commit to a monthly subscription or you’re not sure you need enough photos each month to justify the cost, you can sign up for their mailing list to receive occasional sample photos and a regular dose of creative inspiration in your Inbox.
The last two sites to wrap up our list of the best stock photo sites are what I think of as hybrid, one-stop-shop creative hubs. They both offer affordable stock photos, but also additional creative resources and tools that we are constantly using on Team KK.
Think of Creative Market as the Etsy of the digital design world. It’s a marketplace for artists and designers to share stock photos, graphics, website themes, fonts and more. So, in addition to great stock photos, you can find pretty much anything you could ever need for your digital marketing on Creative Market.
With over 3 million products from independent artists and designers from around the world, you’re almost sure to find whatever it is you’re looking for. Pricing varies, but most things are very affordable.
One thing to be aware of is that Creative Market is a third party platform allowing people to sell on their site, so there are no guarantees about consistent quality. It can also be a little overwhelming to sort through the massive amount of products available. But once you get your rhythm down (just like with Etsy), you can navigate it with ease.
If you’d like to take Creative Market for a test drive, each week they offer four free design assets that you can download and play around with. It’s a great way to get a feel for what they have to offer.
We love Canva so much! Most of the graphics you see on our site and in our emails were designed in Canva Pro.
Canva is a free, online graphic design tool. They basically took the best, and most used features of PhotoShop and made it available to the masses. Canva design is easy for anyone to use — even if you have zero design experience, you can jump on Canva and create something beautiful in no time.
The free version of Canva is quite robust, but they also offer a Canva Pro subscription which gives you access to additional features, as well as one-time purchases of certain design elements like premium fonts, graphics, etc.
You can also import your own graphics or stock photos into Canva to use in your designs. But we LOVE Canva the most because of the WIDE array of beautiful stock photography included in the membership, which is super affordable, that features diverse representation and so many choices. As with Pexels, you can search images by hex color to get photos that match your preferences and style guides. Most of our stock photos come from Canva Pro.
One extra thing we LOVE about Canva Pro: you can create a full presentation right inside Canva, similar to a PowerPoint presentation, but much more design-friendly. Then, you can select “Presenter View” —which allows you to have your notes visible as you present while the audience only sees the slides. If you participated in our SEO Workshop last month, Kate was using this feature live!
Choosing the best stock photos and design elements for your site, blog, newsletters, and emails is one of those areas where it pays to be picky.
Your site is the representation of you and your work out in the online world. It communicates your energy, your style, your aesthetic — and it is a way to very effectively attract your ideal clients.
Because the cost of even the highest-quality images is quite affordable these days, you have every reason to be selective. Notice what you’re drawn to, what excites you, and what feels most aligned with who you are. It pays off in confidence and in the quality of your message!
You’ll be AMAZED at all you get and what you can accomplish in just 30 days with the right guidance, personalized coaching from our lead coach Rachel, Q&A sessions with Team KK, and solid community support.
We love Canva Pro and Creative Market! Not only do they offer beautiful stock photos, they also provide a variety of design elements that are lovely and useful for us. Canva Pro offers amazing design options without needing to be an expert in extremely complex and expensive programs like Photoshop. Many of the images, banners, and composite blog images you see are the result of Canva design.
Either one can work — it all depends on your needs and your budget. The good news is that even many of the premium stock photo companies are very affordable, and many of the free stock photos sites offer genuinely gorgeous images.
Yes we can! In January, we’re launching the Incubator 30-Day Sprint. It’s one month of concentrated, focused coaching and guidance so that you can clarify your offer, get your site launched with all the tech in place, and finally start selling in 2023. You can learn more and register here.
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We are an LGBTQIA-affirming, interfaith-oriented, diverse organization. We are committed to social and environmental justice, including civil rights, dismantling systems of oppression like the Patriarchy, White Supremacy and Diet Culture. We believe Black Lives Matter.