Dear Ueno: Where do you find good stock photography?

Dear Ueno is an advice column for people who for some weird reason think we know what we’re doing. Read more about it.

From Aman Chaudhary, a 19-year-old designer:

“I’m willing to pay for good photos. Where can I find good photos for my projects that are not phony?”

Robin Noguier, designer at Ueno San Francisco, says:

When we need photos, we just ask our dear in-house photographer Troy Stains to take them for us. That’s it.

Thanks for reading this article.


We wish it were that simple … but it’s obviously not. Sometimes we do need to spend countless hours looking for the perfect photo in an ocean of weird stock photographs.

These are not even the worst ones!

There isn’t any magical solution: to find good photos that will really match your project, you’ll have to spend time browsing thousands of them until you look like this:

Mom, I did it! I found the photo!

Please avoid the common mistake: the stock photos that look staged and cheesy! (Basically any picture in this article.)

Hi, I’m naturally smiling and not creepy at all.

If you need multiple photos for your project, make sure the lighting and the style is similar across all of them. You might be using stock photos, but you don’t want people to know you’re using stock photos. If you’re using images from multiple shoots or photographers, always do some quick color correction to better match the lighting.

Example of two pictures with very different styles and lighting.

Our go-tos for paid stock photos

To answer your question, we mainly use three different websites to find our photography:


👍 Pros:

  • Most models have natural poses and facial expressions
  • Photos are well-edited and don’t look over-processed
  • The photographers receive 50–75% of the money that you pay for the photo
  • Lots of filtering options (number of people, age, ethnicity, etc.)

👎 Cons:

  • Limited subject matter (mostly landscapes, food, and portraits)
  • Models are usually young and too “cool”
  • Not all photos are tagged well enough for filtering
Example of some pictures from Stocksy. Clockwise from top left: [1], [2], [3], [4][5]


For best results, use the “Signature” filter when searching.

👍 Pros:

  • Good range of model ages
  • Most models look more like “regular people” than cool hipsters
  • Lots of different subjects and concepts
  • Reasonable pricing (usually ~$30 each)

👎 Cons:

  • Most models smile too much (my cheeks hurt just looking through this)
  • Lots of photos have weird lighting — contrast too high, unnecessary lens flares
  • Lots of random crap like vector illustrations
  • Heavy watermark that gets distracting in comps
Clockwise: [1], [2], [3][4]

500px Marketplace

👍 Pros:

  • Some good photos with natural poses and lighting

👎 Cons:

  • Very inconsistent quality, even within the same photographer’s portfolio
  • Photos aren’t linked to photoshoots, so it’s harder to find sets of images that match
  • So much bad stuff to dig through
Clockwise: [1], [2], [3], [4][5]

Free stock photos

That being said, there are a lot of free stock photography sites that are actually pretty good.

If this is not enough for you, you greedy bastard! Check out “Stock photos that don’t suck” by Dustin Senos ✌️.


Have a good week and good luck with your photo hunting!

To submit questions to Dear Ueno, email with the subject line “Dear Ueno” or tweet at us with the hashtag #DearUeno. Include your name (fake if you want), location, and profession.