Oct 3, 2016

Our Favorite Stock Photo Resources

October 3, 2016

Our Favorite Stock Photo Resources

Written byHighway Twenty
Categories: Content Strategy

Forced to use stock photos? It’s key to look to the right sources.

There are entire websites dedicated to mocking the stock photo. Cheaper than custom photography, but much less authentic, stock photos are often hated by graphic designers but loved by everyone who has to set and stick to a marketing budget.

We believe that every social media or blog post is an important opportunity to communicate about your brand visually, in addition to what you say. In fact, images are likely to grab attention because our brains process visual information faster – by some estimates, 60,000 times faster.

This is why we typically recommend investing in custom photography that perfectly reflects your brand. But when you’re stuck using stock photos, it helps to know where to look to get the best shots.

A quick note before you download:

Many stock photographs are free from copyright restrictions, or they are licensed under the Creative Commons public domain. This means you can copy, modify and distribute the work — all without asking permission. However, some photos may require attribution. Don’t forget to check a site’s license before you download.

Here are our recommendations:


Stocksy is our most-used stock resource, and has many fresh, modern images for any type of communication. A co-op site run by artists, Stocksy includes several search filters that make it easy to search by the gender, age, and/or ethnicity of the models.

We love this resource because it helps us ensure that our photos represent the diversity of the organizations that we work with. Stocksy also has a wealth of images that look like realistic moments versus staged scenarios. Stocksy contributors are likely using models, but the results look more like real life, and that makes these images stand out from typical stock photos.

Death to the Stock Photo
This is another one of our most-used resources. Death to the Stock Photo offers creative photos (like the one on this post) both on their site and through email. The title really says it all: this isn’t your average stock photo collection, and the site isn’t typical either.

You can’t search by age, gender or ethnicity filters here. What Death to the Stock does best is provide beautiful photography that can be helpful when searching for images to communicate broader concepts (i.e. collaboration, technology, people, travel).

Hit or miss but give them a try (also, 100% FREE)

These sites have some good free options, but there are some caveats. Both Unsplash and Pexels often yield similar search results and they may give you images that you’ve seen online before, or feature outdated images (hello photo of an iPhone 4). This is the downside of the images being free for all.

However, we frequently search these sites for good photos of people, nature, or abstract textures to use in the background of a slide, website, etc.

The Usual Suspects

We debated including these sites, since most people are familiar with them already. There are good photos in these libraries but you have to spend time searching. Avoid everything that features: fake laughs, office mates posing on escalators, group high fives, or solitary ladies with huge smiles eating salads. These are the cliches that give stock photos a bad name, and these sites are full of them.

Operated by Getty Images, iStock offers one of the broadest collections of stock photography. The downside? Buying from iStock can be pricey, which is why we like browsing their collections for creative inspiration when we have time.

A collection of both iStock and Getty Images, Thinkstock allows you to browse through millions of photos from both collections at once.

Adobe Stock
Integrated with all of Adobe’s creative programs, Adobe Stock makes it easy to find stock photos within Photoshop or Illustrator. Not sure if you want to purchase an image? The site allows you to preview watermarked stock photos within your design.

Before you buy

Don’t forget to check the photos for authenticity. If the situation wouldn’t occur in real life, then it’s probably best to find a better alternative. Before you click the download button, check that every photo feels true to your message and brand.