10 Best Places to Find Free and Paid Stock Images

Let’s start by saying that as a web design agency we have seen pages upon pages of awful, inexplicable and frankly confusing examples across the vast Internet.

They’re so bad, that they’ve actually gained a sort of cult following on popular platforms such as Buzzfeed. We’re talking about some really strange stuff:

So, naturally, we get a fairly substantial amount of questions from clients regarding the proper use of stock images, which we are here to answer today.

The bottom line is, not all stock images are bad — it just takes a keen design eye to be able to portray the right experience of your brand. This is time-consuming for a reason…it’s extremely important.We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, humans are visual creatures — and images have the power to convey messages and sway emotions beyond words alone.

A WORD OF ADVICE: MIX IT UP

Regardless of the purpose of your website or what you’re selling, it’s generally true that customers appreciate authenticity and want to learn about the humans behind the brand. After all, people aren’t restricted to their work lives, so they need to know that you aren’t either. Companies such as Salesforce have done an incredible job of this and have won big by showing off their lifestyle.

This is a major reason why custom photography is a quickly growing trend in digital experience design for 2015. So if you can allocate the budget or in-house resources, we recommend mixing stock photography in with custom imagery. For example, at Vordik we like to use some real photos (such as this one of our office); Subtle reminders that we’re people too!

On that note, without further ado, here are some stock image resources we encourage you to leverage:

FREE STOCK IMAGES

Cataloguing a whole website’s worth of stock images can get pretty pricey, so it’s good to know that you can put away your wallet without sacrificing quality from time to time.

Unsplash

Licensed under creative commons zero, all photography on Unsplash is completely copyright-free, including for commercial purposes. What you’ll find on Unsplash is an endless-scroll of impressive high-res imagery of just about everything from pets to technology. Most of the images go for a similar dewy look and have a Tumblr-esque mood. The only downside is there isn’t much of an organization system, so be prepared to scroll.

IM Creator

Although the selection is a little lacking, what you’ll find under IM Creator’s free section is a range of images categorized by lifestyle (rather than by topic). The difference between this website and some of the others is that the imagery can be a little bit quirky, so depending on your brand personality this could either be a very useful site or a waste of time. However, with some super specific images, you’re unlikely to see them pop up all over the web.

New Old Stock

We have one word for N.O.S.: Vintage! While perhaps this isn’t a great resource for a software startup, those companies looking for authentic copyright-free vintage photography should try it. Most of the pictures here are b&w, with some dating back to the early days of photography. With New Old you’ll not only get to download and use the images, but you can also read a small description of each piece — there goes your boring Friday afternoon!

Pixabay

Psst, guess what? There’s a place you can go to get free technology images that don’t look like they’re from the early days of the modem, and it’s called Pixabay. Business imagery is one area this company is particularly good at keeping stocked up and up to date. If you’re interested in another category, however, we might recommend one of the other resources listed here.

Dreamstime

All the royalty-free goodness of stock images collected in one place can be found on Dreamstime. Although the website will require a quick subscription in order to download, the free section is kept fairly full at all times and is updated often. Unlike Pixabay, the selection of imagery that will appeal to lifestyle brands is pretty vast.

PAID STOCK IMAGES

One of the hardest parts of finding quality imagery can be getting photography specific enough to describe what your company does, curating appropriate business photos or getting images that represent the exact essence of your brand. In any of those cases, it’s best to steer away from free photos and spend a little cash on something truly unique and spectacular. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources that won’t bust your budget.

Cheapest Option: Photodune

Photodune operates on a royalty-free model, and with image prices start at $1 it is definitely one of the cheapest options available in stock photography. This is a great option for large companies and corporations that want to portray a serious image and a formal environment. Photodune is also great for images in a range of traditional industries from fitness to construction.

Largest Selection: iStock

This one is definitely one of our office favourites. That being said, as a web design agency we’re always looking for flexible packages that allow us to buy in bulk. For that we’re thankful for the existence of services like iStock. Much like at Chuck e Cheese (we all remember), iStock has a credit system with flexible packages. With so many industries, categories and styles it can be worth purchasing many credits in advance.

Most Authentic Images: 500 Pixels

If you haven’t heard of 500px yet, we think you’ll like it. This company was the first of its kind to use the P2P sharing model, which is definitely on the rise. With all of the photography curated from individual professionals across the world, the great news is you’re likely to get images with a truly unique perspective. Like a specific photographer? No problem, each one has a profile with a portfolio.

Most Innovative Platform: Snapwire

Snapwire’s model is slightly similar to that of 500 px, but its catalogue is built with a twist. Every week Snapwire issues a challenge that photographers can choose to participate in. The challenges are based on specific topics to ensure that there is an even amount of images in each category and users can up-vote or down-vote images in a sort of social game. This has proven to be a wildly successful model, with the number of images in the catalogue reaching 500,000 in October of 2014.

Most Flexible Pricing Model: Bigstock

Bigstock, a subsidiary of well-known Shutterstock, is another great resource for those looking for a large quantity of images on an ongoing basis. Pricing plans are charged on a monthly basis, with the only limitation placed on the number of photos you can download per day. Although iStock now offers a monthly plan option, Bigstock definitely gives them a run for their money.

These are just a few of many resources we utilize across the web. Of course, if you’re looking for specific advice, design is kind of our thing…so don’t hesitate to give us a shout and we’d be happy to answer any web or graphic design questions you have!

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