Finding just the right stock photos for content – e-books, social posts, blogs, etc. – is important, but I often find myself dreading the task. (Seriously, I would avoid it like the plague if possible.) However, marketers and designers alike must embrace the search as a necessary evil, because images are one of the keys to great content.

Why? When 65 percent of people are visual learners, images assist in simplifying more complex concepts and conveying ideas that would otherwise take more time to read and digest. On Twitter alone, Buffer found that tweets with images received 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets than those without images.

Yet when I’m working on designing an e-book for a client, the last thing I want to deal with is hunting down stock photos to fill it. This is especially true when searching for insurance or technology industry-focused photos, with so many shots of people smiling so much that their faces look frozen. They are painful to look at, because they rarely seem real or relatable.

Why are they smiling? What is happening here? Nevermind, I don’t want to know.

As funny as they sometimes are, these unnaturally stiff, overexaggerated tableaus are giving stock photo websites a bad reputation.

But not all stock imagery is awful – you just have to know where to look. So, I would like to share a few of the best stock photo websites that I love to use when I can.

1. Death to the Stock [freemium]


Death to Stock is a personal favorite of mine. The photos are always beautiful and one-of-a-kind – unique to their site alone. And overall, their free, themed photo packs always feel like a little present when they arrive in my inbox each month. I get super excited about them, and spend at least 15 minutes just poring over a new photo pack, imagining all the great possibilities for each new photo.

While the monthly packs are free, you can also pay for their premium services if you want instant access to the entire Death to Stock photo collection, plus exclusive premium-only packs. The money then goes to support the photographers who travel and work to create the images for the photo packs.

2. HubSpot PHOTO PACKS [free]


Image licensing can be tricky, and HubSpot knows this firsthand. Because of this, they had a photographer come into their office and create a collection of over 550 images that they could use for their own marketing and distribute freely to their audience – that’s us!

Most of the photos are great for when you need natural-looking business or office environment photos. The photo packs capture a wide variety of workplace visuals, from coworker interactions to desks and computers to their very own PubSpot kitchen bar.

3. Stokpic [free]


Stokpic is another great photo pack subscription service, and they deliver 10 new photos every two weeks! Plus, you don’t have to pay to access their entire gallery of photos; it’s all right there at your fingertips. And, of course, it’s completely free to use. All hail the beautiful, cheese-free stock photos!

4. Unsplash [free]


Unsplash is as straightforward as you can possibly get, and they say so right off the bat: “Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos. 10 new photos every 10 days.”

Every single gorgeous image in their collection is free, and it’s so easy to search the site and find an image to suit your needs. One small warning: You won’t find fake smiles and awkward poses here. Unsplash photos are much more nature-based and conceptual, and I love them for it.

5. Yourself!


Last, but not least, try taking your own photos!

If you are already hiring a professional photographer to take employee portraits, get them to take photos around the office. Or maybe someone in your office has a keen eye for photography already. Even a smartphone camera can be perfect for capturing simple blog or social images.

Whether these photos are of everyday office objects or of employees working, they are sure to be more natural and will fit your brand perfectly, because it’s your people and not some random stock business team.

These photos may not cover all the eclectic needs you may have for stock imagery. But it will be start that is 100 percent unique to your organization, eliminating the need to worry about your competitor using the same photos.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be mindful of licenses! Every website has different usage rights for the photos they offer, and you are often better off paying for the rights to use a photo.

That said, it doesn’t matter if the photo is free or not, you must always follow the rules laid out in the licenses.

Many free image licenses require that you credit the photographer or the stock photo website, and there may be rules regarding how you use the image – commercial vs. editorial – as well as whether you can modify the image or not. Then there are some sites, like Unsplash, have no rules whatsoever!

…but not always literal

If find yourself struggling to get the right image, take a step back and try to approach your search from another perspective.

Try the abstract concept instead of the literal image. A photo of a towering ocean wave can convey strength and power. An image of a lighthouse at night can show that you are offering a guiding light, or a bright solution to a problem. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using cheesy stock photos when you’re mining same, tired photography sites and concepts, so try to start your search thoughtfully.

Sometimes, finding the perfect photo just takes a little time and dedication, but searching for images is just another essential step in the content creation process. Putting in the effort to uncover those images that are clever and well-thought-out will ultimately help to captivate your audience and help them understand the great content you’ve created for them.

And if you know of any other great stock photo collections, please let me know! I always love to learn about the other great resources that are out there for marketers.

Read more: Photography Advice From Photographer Maria Martinez-Cañas