Stock photos have come a long way since the “women laughing alone with salad” days - now you can find stock imagery that's sleek and shot to Instagram posting perfection, and available in many cases free of charge.
Whether you’re creating an editorial calendar for a client, or you need an aesthetically pleasing image to punch up a blog post, stock images have never been more accessible, or cooler than they are now.
So where can you find the most enticing, “like” inducing images? Are there any underground sites on the rise to know about?
I got the scoop from bloggers and social media specialists on which free stock image sites to start using, as well as some insights into paid sites that are worth the investment.
Billed as “beautiful free images and pictures,” Unsplash enables users to explore and search for free photos. Collections range from "Nature" to "Architecture" to "Food and drink", and they're all available in high-resolution.
If you find a great image, you can download it and use it anywhere you like. Credit is encouraged when sharing these images, but not a requirement.
Nearly everyone I spoke to referred to Unsplash as the ultimate resource for artistic, creative stock photos. Katie Bonadies, a content and social media strategist at Berxi, exclusively uses Unsplash. Bonadies cites Unsplash's constantly growing library of images and the free tools on offer which enable you to resize high-resolution downloads for social media channels as key benefits on the site.
“I’ve always been able to find pictures that aren’t just visually appealing, but fit nicely within my brand’s style guidelines. With other stock image sites, both paid and free, I’ve spent hours going through pages of overly posed or cheesy photos to find one halfway decent to use.”
In addition to free stock photos, Pexels takes it up a notch with free videos shared by talented creators.
Marketing and branding consultant Grace Everitt says that she visits Pexels at least four times a week, and she always finds a wide variety of new, beautiful stock imagery which she can easily download and share via social postings.
Attribution is not required by Pexels, but users have the ability to buy sponsored photos. Partners provide photos to the website - if you like what you see, you can click the photo and get redirected to their website to buy directly from your favorite photographer.
Created by Shade, an influencer management agency for creators of color, nappy was launched to provide startups, brands, and bloggers with "beautiful, high-res photos of black and brown people."
These images enable companies to be purposeful about representation, while they also avoid overused tropes frequently seen in traditional stock imagery - like executives high fiving each other and the skyline of New York City.
Marriott uses photos from nappy on her blog and her Instagram account. Their diversity, and the genuine look and feel of the pictures, matters.
“As a blogger of color, representation is a huge factor when I’m searching for stock imagery - I want the pictures I use to not only feel authentic, but to reflect what my audience looks like.”
Need a vector graphic? Freepik has all the right resources for vector images, plus additional photos and PSD downloads. It’s the number one free stock image site for Olivia Newman, a content marketing assistant at Giraffe Social Media.
Users have the opportunity to download vector, stock photos, and PSD files for free. Freepik also offers the opportunity to go premium and get access to even more imagery with a paid monthly subscription.
Newman says that the subscription is well worth the price, and notes that the varied vectors and imagery make it an ideal stock resource for graphic designers, too.
What About Paid Stock Image Sites?
Aside from the aforementioned Freepik, which stock image sites are worth paying to play?
Several social media pros I spoke to recommended sites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock for royalty-free, high-quality images. The paid favorite - especially for users that struggle to find the perfect photo - is iStock by Getty Images.
Digital marketing assistant Katharine Pebworth works at Alexander Advertising International - she says they prefer to use paid stock imagery sites when the budget allows for it. They utilize iStock, where the site’s many filters make it easy to narrow down images to fit their exact needs.
Pebworth also thinks the best visual option isn’t always found on a stock image site.
“If possible, take original photos. No stock image, free or paid, is as good as taking original photographs.”
Of course, great, original photos are always the ideal, but they're also not always possible - be it due to time, skill, or resource constraints. When that is the case, these platforms will help you locate high quality visual content for your posts and website.