How to find the best stock photo sites in 2020

When you need a solid supply of stock photographs for your blog or social media channels, it’s easy to get lost as you navigate the many sites that proliferate today. There are a lot of them out there and some, quite naturally, are much better than others.

Strong images are an integral part of social media and social media is an integral part of marketing in today’s digital landscape. If don’t run a business which needs a photographer on staff, or you’re not yet established enough to take one on, then access to free or affordable stock photographs is an important part of running your enterprise.

You’ll need to work out which websites are best for free stock images for commercial use. And then, how to choose and upload the images in the right format to best showcase your business.

Whether you want the option of free or paid images, you’ll certainly want high quality and you’ll want lots to choose from. A wide selection of images is absolutely vital in the digital arena. Pulling your reader in with a great photograph is all part of the battle after all.

However, the search can be problematic because sometimes, stock photo sites aren’t what they appear to be. Some have hidden rules regarding the use of images whilst others only pretend to be free.

However, we can’t all be amazing photographers. If we were, then there’d be no need for photo sites. As content creators, we need to access high quality images on a regular basis. No matter whether you’re creating your own blogs, or other social media content, images are at the top of the list when it comes to ensuring your work looks professional.

Why great images are vital for your social media channels

It’s not quite enough to know that imagery is important. You need to know why. Understanding the psychology behind the rules means you’ll be better equipped to make great choices that drive your brand in the right direction.

Here are some useful statistics to help you begin to make the right choices from the best stock photo sites out there.

  • People only remember around 10% of what they hear or read but 80% of what they see and do
  • Google+ posts are 3 times more likely to be shared when they include an image
  • 60% of consumers are more likely to consider local search results which include images

So choose carefully but never miss an opportunity to share an image on your social media channels.


Best stock photo sites

We can’t all be brilliant photographers – that’s what stock photo sites are for

How to choose great images for your social media

It’s not as simple as choosing a pretty picture. Your images should relate to your content and be arresting without being too distracting or random. Try to abide by the ‘rule’ of good design and consider the dominant colors within each picture. Choose images which work well together if you’re adding multiples.

Social media pages are driven by images. This applies to Instagram mostly but also to Facebook and Pinterest. Intersperse your blogs with high-quality images to allow the reader’s eye to rest. It’s important to choose well.

When choosing images to support your website or social media for your business, think carefully about your branding. If you’re a dentist then it’s of no use choosing crazy, offbeat images to go on your social media. You’ll need clean images which help your audience to understand that your post is about a clinical subject.

The same rule applies to businesses which sell or produce food. There’s a reason a lot of food packaging is in shades of green brown and orange. Those colors are natural and organic. They make people feel that the food in the package is wholesome. Vibrant, crazy colors are generally for candy, cosmetics and fashion – but remember that rules are meant to be broken by creatives!

Another useful tip is that people respond well to images of people. Especially if there are clear emotions visible. This is a classic way to get a positive response from your audience and it does work. Think about very well-known brands and how they utilise people in their campaigns. It’s easy to find images of people smiling, laughing, looking happy or satisfied on social media. And that’s ultimately because those images work well in marketing.


Best stock photo sites social media

Social media is driven by images


Create a brand mood board

If your business is already up and running and you don’t have a brand mood board, then it’s time to create one! A brand mood board is a visual aid which helps you market more effectively. You can find inspiring images all over the best stock photo sites, you only have to look!

A brand mood board is basically  a guide, somewhere to turn when you’re trying to create content. Which color should your background be? What about your packaging? It’s all important when it comes to attracting customers.

Here’s a useful guide from Canva on how to create a brand mood board. The great thing about this is that you can create a mood board digitally or in the old-fashioned way with glue sticks and imagination.

Once you have a brand mood board and know what your visual assets should look like, you can go crazy choosing images for your website and social media as well as any print media you use.

So here is a list, just for you, to make it easier for you to find the best stock photo sites in 2020. We’ve compiled this list with an eye on the details – highlighting the features that matter and pointing out the sites which are especially good for particular platforms. Organised into sub-categories, this list will be your best friend when you’re looking for images to use for free.

Let’s begin!


Best stock photo sites

A mood board helps clarify your brand message

Best free stock photo sites

1: Unsplash  Undoubtedly the tops for anyone looking for aesthetic and stylish images to use on their social media without breaking the bank. Unsplash is really easy to navigate and very well presented. I find that the breadth of images is extremely wide – one search term gives multiple styles, moods and color options.

The homepage has a bar at the top which lists different areas in which to search, for example “interiors”, “textures”. “architecture” and so forth.

The main search function is easy to use too; searching for a simple term such as “green dress” throws up a lot of options but even better, there’s an additional suggested search terms feature which pops up with potentially related terms, helping you to widen your search.

Clicking on an image brings up a larger version of the picture and beneath, more examples by that particular photographer. I really like the fact that in addition to showing similar works by the same photographer, the site shows similar images by others – this offers more inspiration for your search. The download options are clearly presented, as is the chance to thank the photographer.

2: Pexels  A lovely looking site with an option to search a leader board. This gives the option to immediately access the most popular images and this of course, usually means the images with the most quality.

Pexels also offers free videos and regular challenges for photographers. The challenges pay out cash prizes which of course, mean that Pexels has a constant stream of high-quality images to offer to visitors.

3: Pixabay With over a million, high quality free images on the site, Pixabay is huge and popular. Offering a great selection of free images, there are also videos, vectors and illustrations of particularly high quality.

4: Gratisography Quirky images and fun layout, this is a good site to visit when you want to find an image that depicts something unusual or funny. There are lots of the usual city shots and pretty shots too but the fact that there’s an entire section dedicated to ‘whimsical’ images means that you can easily find more off-beat stuff too…and all for free!

5: Lifeofpix  A huge range of images here and some very high quality pics to be found. Navigation is easy and the site has a different featured photographer each week which is a nice way to promote the talent.

Best culturally diverse photo sites

6: TONL  TONL offers free, culturally diverse photographs to help content creators become more inclusive. The photographs are of high quality and the site is very easy to navigate. What’s really great about TONL is the fact that the images are separated into well-thought-out sub-categories.

These are Taste, Today, Tone, Tradition, Travel, Trend,Take, Trust and Technology. It’s super-easy to locate the right image because each sub-catagory is clearly described. For example, Tradition is described as follows; “In this collection find images that encompass all things related to culture & family! This includes how various different cultures embrace their tradition when it comes to rituals, food, and clothing and different family households.” Whilst Today is described as “This collection consists of every day life. The things that fall in between of the other categories. Examples of that include a normal work day, conversing with friends, attending a group gathering, studying and the list goes on.” It couldn’t be easier to sort through the pics on TONL.

7: Dragonimages  Dragonimages create a huge range of photographs with an “Asian flavor”. There are masses to choose from and a highly talented team behind the enterprise.

8: Iwaria This fabulous and free site specializes in African imagery and offers high quality photographs of both people and of places.

Best stock photo sites social media

Ensure that you choose images which represent the whole of society

Best premium photo sites

8: Canva Pro – If you’ve tried the free version and liked it, Canva Pro is next-level. There are many excellent images in addition to graphics and tools on offer. Easy to use and affordable, this is a good place to go when you want to level-up.

9: Getty Images – Perhaps the best known royalty-free image site out there, Getty Images offers an enormous range of images of the best quality.


Best all-round photo sites

10: Pikwizard  Pikwizard offers a brilliant selection of natural, human-centered photographs. It’s not just about people though; there’s a huge range of urban photographs too.

11: Negative Space  Negative Space is open to any photographer so amateurs can showcase their work here too. It’s based in the UK so is great for any project which requires English, Welsh, Irish or Scottish imagery.

12: Picography  Particularly beautiful images to be found here. Picography’s photographs are organized into clear subcategories and once you decide which image you want to use, download is easy.

13: Freerange  Freerange is another completely free site with a wide selection of photographs. It’s particularly good for diversity and features people of all races and cultures.

14: Rawpixel  With a choice of free, premium or public domain on offer, Rawpixel has a great mix on offer. There are urban views, people, animals and objects to choose from and in differing styles.

15: Picjumbo  Well organized and with a great homepage which sorts a selection of pics to choose from ‘type’, Picjumbo is the kind of site where you’ll keep returning because not only are there a lot of good images but download is super-easy too.

17: Bigstock This site offers a free week’s trial so you can get a real feel for what’s on offer before committing. The images are great; varied, well designed and easy to download too.


Some stock photo sites ask for nothing but a thank you


18: Reshot Prides itself on being ‘non-stocky’ and for a good reason. The free images here are fantastic. There are lots of fun and off-beat images, themes and styles to choose from.

19: Stocksnap Great, large site with clear instructions and a good mix of high-quality images.

20: Burst Created by Shopify, this is a fantastic resource. You don’t need to be a Shopify user to take advantage of the many gorgeous images here.

21: ISO Republic Particularly good for food related images, ISO Republic is another free site. Great quality photographs all for the taking.

22: Flickr The well-established photo sharing site has tens of billions of photos and two million groups. It’s a brilliant resource with the stipulation that images shared from here must link back to the source.

23: Shutterstock Paid but brilliant – there are a lot of images to choose from, topical, timely and beautiful. There are often free trials to take part in on Shutterstock and with these, there are a limit to the photographs you may use but it’s a great way to trial the site.

Extra tips to take away

Ensuring you make the best of your images from the best stock photo sites is easy when you follow a few simple tips.

  • Customize – Make those images your own. It’s easy when you use websites like Canva. Stamp your mark images when appropriate. Use strong images to make announcements or updates.
  • Choose quality – A good image should be crystal clear and bold with good color contrast and composition.
  • Unique – Don’t be tempted to go for those images which you see everywhere else – look out for something different, something which will help your brand to stand out from the crowd.

Your chosen photographs should be linked to the main topic of what your blog post or other post is about. It’s of no use choosing an image unrelated to what you’re drawing attention to just because you like it or think it’s inspiring. People want to see what you’re posting about – if it’s furniture, then make sure there’s some in your image! If it’s something more flexible, you can still ensure your image is relevant by using careful searches on the stock photo site you’re using.

On a blog, choose a strong image for your featured photograph. This is the first image your audience will see when they’re browsing. If the image has a clear message, then it’s more likely to gain attention and grab a click. Make the image not relevant or choose an image for shock value, then your audience will move away quickly.

If an image is strong enough and gives a clear message, people will be far more likely to share your post too.

Read the rules

Remember that each site tends to have its own rules with regards to how you may use the content. Unsplash for example simply invites you to share the love by crediting the photographer – but you don’t have to.

Make sure to read the rules and guidelines very carefully before you begin downloading and using the images from the best stock photo sites. It’s important to abide by the rules so you don’t land in hot water! Once you get going, you’ll enjoy researching images and selecting the best.

Here at Speedlancer, we have a number of talented social media experts for hire should you need support on your journey. We work with the best in the game so if you are looking to hire a social media manager, then check out our talent and teams here.


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