How to Use Inclusive Stock Photos That Represent Your Community

Representation matters.

Most traditional stock photography resources offer images that use almost exclusively white, young, thin, traditionally attractive and non-disabled people. While many of these stock photos are beautifully shot and composed, you should stop to ask yourself…

Do stock photos accurately reflect the diverse community around me? Do they represent my customers?

More and more people are asking–or rather, demanding–better practices from the companies they do business with. Whether that’s ensuring equal pay, better corporate social responsibility, or–you guessed it–representation.

No matter what kind of business, nonprofit organization, or side hustle you own and operate, your customers are likely not one-size-fits-all cookie cutter copies of one another. They probably run the gamut of size, shape, skin tone and more. After all, we’re each unique. But marketing can often fail to speak to people in this way.

Of course, the best way to accurately represent your customer base is to use, well, photos of your actual customers (provided you get their permission, of course)! If that’s not an option, there are several resources online that offer free-to-use or royalty free images.

Here are some inclusive stock photo resources to help you get started

Embed from Getty Images

1. The Getty Images Project #ShowUs

Getty Images recently teamed up with Dove and Girlgaze to present Project #ShowUs – “a ground-breaking library of 5000+ photographs devoted to shattering beauty stereotypes by showing female-identifying and non-binary individuals as they are, not as others believe they should be.”

Photos on Getty Images are under a royalty-free license with a one-time payment required.

The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice | Image by Zackary Drucker

2. Vice’s Gender-Inclusive Stock Photo Library

Vice describes their Gender Spectrum Collection as a “stock photo library featuring trans and non-binary models that aims to help media better represent members of these communities.” It is a photo library of over 180 images of 15 trans and non-binary models. You can read more about how the library started, as well as recommended usage guidelines, here.

All photos within the Gender Spectrum Collection are free to use with credit.

The Take Collection by TONL


TONL was started by Karen Okonkwo, a Nigerian-American social entrepreneur who struggled to find diverse stock photos to display on her own blog, and Joshua Kissi, a Ghanaian-American photographer. TONL’s mission is to “transform the idea of stock photography by displaying images of diverse people and their stories around the world” and “challenge the stale, homogenous look of traditional stock photography by showcasing the many ethnic backgrounds of everyday people.”

Images on TONL are available for individual purchase or via a monthly subscription plan. TONL’s Take collection also features a selection of free photos.

Natural Women Collection by Canva | Image by Elle Hughes

4. Canva’s Natural Women Collection

The team at Canva grew tired of “overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes” and suddenly the Natural Women Collection was born. “We’ve put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty,” Canva shared in an article. “Every woman in this collection reflects an important yet under-represented minority in stock photography. Women whose distinctive body shapes, facial features, or tattoos may not conform to the traditional norms of beauty, but who deserve to be seen and given proper representation.”

Each image in this library is free to download and free to use.

Nappy by SHADE

5. Nappy

Nappy’s founders realized that finding stock photos for coffee, computers, or travel is easy, but you’ll rarely find people of color in the search results. “But black and brown people drink coffee too, we use computers, and we certainly love traveling,” they share on their why Nappy? landing page. Nappy was launched to “provide beautiful, high-res photos of black and brown people to startups, brands, agencies, and everyone else. Nappy makes it easy for companies to be purposeful about representation in their designs, presentations, and advertisements.”

Photos on Nappy are free to download and free to use.

Image by B Forrester for PUSHLiving Photos

6. PUSHLiving Photos

PUSHLiving Photos was started by Deborah Davis, a wheelchair user since the age of 18. The site’s about page mentions that they represent “one billion persons with disabilities spending billions in travel and lifestyle dollars in economies all over the world” but who are “rarely seen or acknowledged in advertising and editorial images.”

Photos on the site are available for purchase through a monthly or credit-based subscription.

Free Photos by CreateHERstock | Photo by I’sha Gaines

6. CreateHERstock

CreateHERstock is the “destination for images featuring women of color.” While working on a blog post, founder Neosha Gardner struggled to find an image to use. She began to question whether there were any resources that “catered to women who look like [her]” and she decided to change that. CreateHERstock was launched in July 2015 and features over 2,500+ images spanning wellness, business, lifestyle, and much more.

CreateHERstock includes premium options as well as a selection of free photos.

Being conscious of your photo choices, and language can help you stand out and reach new demographics

There is power behind seeing someone like yourself in an image. If your business is using only traditional stock photos, you may be causing your customers who don’t relate to these photos to feel that your business just isn’t for them. Also, remember to be aware of the language you are using on your website, within your social media posts, and more as words also carry weight and power. Show that your business is welcoming and inclusive by representing your community in each of the photos, and words, you choose to use.

Did we miss a resource that you think should be included?