The Best Stock Photo Sites For Your Marketing Campaigns

What do you think of stock photos?

They save the day when there are no resources or time to create an original set of photos. But a lot of them carry a cheesy, staged feel about them. And we’ve all seen examples of marketing gone wrong because of stock photos that just don’t work. So, what to do when you’re in a pinch and need some photos, stat?

Well the good news is you don’t have to completely rule out stock photos. You’ve just got to source the ones that fit your marketing well. And as luck would have it, there are a bunch of sites where you can download authentic and creative photos. 

Before we get on to some of your options, let’s take a moment to consider why it’s worth all this effort to find the right images and how they can make a difference in your content.

  • Images can convey the meaning of the story you are trying to tell faster than the text. In fact, it’s a whopping 60,000 times faster. That’s how the human brain works.
  • Images can break long chunks of copy, making it more interesting and easier to read.
  • When it comes to gaining and retaining the attention of the audience, images work far better than text.

What To Look For In Your Stock Photos

Relevance To Your Message

The images you choose should always complement your message and enhance it. You can’t use a picture of jungle safari to advertise your beach resort just because it popped up when you searched for vacation photos. And you can’t use a picture of a beach in Thailand to advertise your resort in Miami. While these may seem like obvious examples, it’s usually harder to see where we go astray with our own branding. Be sure you think critically about each image you include, and how it aligns with the message you want to share. False impressions will lead to a loss of trust.

Reflection Of Your Brand

Use stock photos with visuals and colour themes that convey the values of your brand. While you don’t have much flexibility with what’s in the frame, you don’t have to rule out images that don’t have quite the right colour combinations. You can ask your designer to help you with colour corrections or editing images to better suit the look and feel you need.

High Quality For All Your Placements

Let’s say you found the perfect picture that compliments your message and reflects your brand. But if the image is low quality, it’s just not worth it to use. Rule this option out and move on to your next best option. Not sure what the next best option is? Try a Google Image Search. You can also right click while browsing and select “Search Google For Image” to help you find more ideas.  

Suitability For Your Preferred Format

 What are you going to be using your stock photos for? Brochures? Posters? Instagram posts or Facebook ads? Think about the different platforms and formats you’ll require your images for. And choose them according to the look and feel you are going for on each. In some cases, you might be adding a lot of text or additional elements. So you’ll need images that provide you with a layout that allows for this. In other cases you may need certain alignments because of how your picture will appear in different ad placements. Consider all of this before you make your final call.

Stock Photo Licenses & How They Apply To You

Some stock photos are free for you to use however you’d like. In other cases certain attributions are required when they are used. Or there may be outright limits on using them in certain applications. Below is a brief snapshot:

Royalty-Free

Free isn’t exactly free when it comes to an image marked royalty-free. But usually, it’s just a matter of making a one-time purchase of an image and the rights to use it. After that, you can use it as you please, as many times as you’d like and don’t owe royalties to the owner of the image.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that aims to make it easier to share and access creative and academic work. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses that you need to know about, which require various forms of attribution. Public Domain Dedication or CC0, however, allows you to use an image with no attribution, in any application you’d like.

Some Great Options For Your Stock Photos 

Burst by Shopify

Burst is a free stock photo platform created by Shopify with entrepreneurs in mind. The images are both free and royalty-free. Some images have the CC0 license, but all are permitted to be used in commercial applications without attributions. The site also has a collection of business ideas and tips for ads that you can take inspiration from. Like other stock-photo sites Burst does permit pictures to be used for unlawful purposes or depicting individuals in ways that might damage their reputations.

Death To Stock

Death To Stock was founded by two photographers. Today it’s advertised as an “Artist Owned Coop” that provides you with unlimited downloads, with new work added monthly. They offer a free 14-day trial. And they have 3 membership packages you can choose from, ranging from small businesses, to freelancers and agencies, and enterprise. These options begin at $12/month. Also, they have no restrictions whatsoever on the photos they provide. So you can use them as you need in commercial applications. As an added plus point, they fund various art projects around the world from the money they make.

Envato Elements

Envato Elements offers not only photos, but also graphic templates, music, videos, sound effects, fonts, web and CMS templates. All these files are gathered across the market places they host on their site. You can choose from 2,200,000+ files and subscription options of $29/month or $228/year. New elements are added all the time, so you’ll have plenty to choose from with Envato. And they offer a “future-proof commercial license” that covers every item in their collections.

Gratisography

Branded as quirky, creative and always free, Gratisography is another stock site that has its own license. The license is quite similar to CC0 with the exception that the images cannot be sold as is, endorsements which do not in fact exist should not be implied and those pictured in the images should not be represented in negative manners. As with all the sites that have their own licenses, it’s mentioned that images should not be used in any unlawful ways.

Kaboompics

Kaboompics is Karolina Grbowska’s labour of love. It’s a free stock photo site that has its own license. The terms are similar to CC0 except that you are not allowed to redistribute the pictures. A fabulour feature of this is that you get a complementary palette of colours that can be downloaded with each photo. The palettes are generated based on the photo and provide the corresponding HEX colours. You can also search by orientation AND colour which makes it a lot easier when you’ve got a specific image in mind!

Negative Space

Negative Space provides 100% royalty-free stock photos. All of their images are CC0 licensed so they’re free to use in any kind of application. They have a collection of categories that range from nature, sports, landscape, abstract, food, and city to typography. And they also have an option to filter your searches by colour, which is great when you have a very specific look in mind. Negative Space’s collection is updated weekly, giving you plenty of options to choose from.  

Pexels

Pexels is another great option for stock photos. The site has its own license which is very similar to the Pixabay license. You can essentially use the photos for free in commercial and non-commercial applications. However, you cannot misrepresent any recognizable individuals and show them in a bad light. And you also can’t be implying endorsements which don’t exist or selling the images as is. Which is fair enough. 

Pixabay

Pixabay is another completely free stock photo site with fresh photos that have the CC0 license. You can use pictures from Pixabay in commercial or non-commercial applications, however the site does note that images should not be used in ways that mislead people to believe in endorsements or associations that don’t exist. And attributions, while not mandatory, are mention as nice-to-haves if you feel like shouting out a photographer. Pixabay has over 1.7 million creative pieces of photography, vector illustrations and videos. 

StockSnap.io

StockSnap adds hundreds of new images every week and they’re all under the CC0 license. So you can download, edit, and use the images in both commercial and non-commercial projects. Search by using keywords, browsing categories, or scroll through their home page for some inspiration. Though it isn’t required, StockSnap allows you to favourite photos if you create an account. You can then save all your favourite photos to refer to as you need, without having to download them in one go.

Unsplash

Unsplash is one of the most popular free stock photo sites. And for good reason! It started as a Tumblr blog that offered leftover photos from custom shoots for free. Today Unsplash has a collection of over 1 million images from a community of over 150 00o photographers. The Unsplash license allows you to use images in any commercial or non-commercial application. The only limitation is that you can’t start a competing service with the images. 

Premium Stock Photo Sites

Shutterstock

Chances are you’ve heard of Shutterstock. And for good reason. As a stock photo site started in 2003, Shutterstock is one of the most established. It has the largest photo library, including 190 million files and counting. Shutterstock offers a free trial and offers a few different options for subscriptions and on-demand packs, starting at $49/mo and $29/mo respectively.

Getty Images

Getty Images is marking its 25 year as “the world’s best photo library of creative stock photos, vector art illustrations and stock photography”. They have packages that vary from $150 to $500 per month for a combination of royalty-free images, video and editorial.