In the first post of this two part series, I talked about using free and low cost stock images to supplement your custom professional images.  I also higlighted the importance of knowing when stock works, and when stock sucks!

If you’re keen to find out more, read on…

Paying for images, versus free options

Stock images are submitted to paying stock photo sites by professional photographers as an extra income source. They are high quality images, and will have been carefully styled and lit, often using professional models. You’ll commonly find the same subjects in difference poses or compositions, a versatile solution if you have a specific scenario you’re looking for. These sites can afford to carefully curate (select groups) which makes browsing easier, and their keywords are carefully targeted.

Typically a stock image is priced according the to the pixel size, although it’s not always straightforward to work out how much you’ll be charged if you are buying, so read the small print, and buy the right size for your needs (800px is going to be fine for most web usage, but check with your developer if you’re not sure).

The free sites tend to be a little more freeform and artistic, they’re often supplied by a single photographer, or a small collective of visual artists as a showcase of their work, so if you’re looking for something a little creative or unusual, you might like some of these. There’s unlikely to be much curation, keywords can be a bit hit and miss. Some of the free sites give you the option to make a donation, or ‘buy me a coffee’, which is a nice thing to do if you appreciate their work and have used it.

potter whell hands stock image alison read business photogrpahy blog post

Understanding licensing and copyright

You may be thinking ‘I’ll just google what I need, see what Google Images comes up with, save one of their pics to my computer and use that.’

Doing that is likely to put you in breach of copyright, which is effectively stealing from the creator of that image, not cool. If you get found out, which you might, you could face a hefty legal bill. It’s just not worth it!

Paid stock images are usually licensed as ‘royalty free’ (RF) which means it’s fine to use them across multiple media and in multiple applications. Free stock images are likely to be released under Creative Commons CC0 which means the uploader has waived their right to copyright and you can use the image however and wherever you like (although it’s always nice to give credit if you are in a position to do so).

Before downloading and using an image, always check that you understand the licence implications that you’re agreeing to.

Ilustrations, clip art, and alternatives

The other thing to mention is ‘vectors’, which are computer illustrations, rather than photos. The good thing about these is that they’re scalable (ie they don’t lose quality if you make them larger or smaller, unlike most photo files). Many of the following sites offer vector graphics, as well as video, audio and other file types too.

vector image of italian hillside

Site listings

Below is a small selection of some of the many stock images sites that are available, starting with the paid options (most of which also have a limited selection of free stock available to members).

Be creative with your searching, as most images will be loaded with keywords to get the maximum coverage, for example ‘happy business people eating a healthy lunch’ or ‘opportunity knocking on a door’, or try a conceptual word like ‘motivation’. You’ll be surprised what you can find!

Favourite of web developers as it’s easy and cheap. Offers a clear pricing structure, from just 80p per image, and has over 64 million files, including photos, vectors, infographics, video and audio.


Heavily promoted and probably the best known paid stock site with a huge 100 million pieces of content! Not the cheapest though, and if you’re only after a few downloads it could cost you around £6 per file.


Billed as ‘the world’s largest online stock community’ – 16 million members accessing over 49 million photos from 300,000 contributing photographers. Images are priced from around £1 each if you buy credits, but check carefully, as the more popular ‘level 5’ images that land at the top of your search will cost you more than if you dig a bit deeper. Also has a limited free stock images area if you sign up.


A slightly different approach, this is a marketplace for photographers, so you can request a specific shot and photographers will submit images, and if you like one you buy it. A good approach if you want something very specific geographically or culturally that might be difficult to commission a local photographer to do. There is a stock library too, with images from around $10.


Probably the most comprehensive of the free sites with 75,000 images, and well curated collections. Pixabay has a good collection of mainstream ‘corporate’ type images, useful if you’re selling to businesses. There’s also plenty of vector graphics. A good place to start, chances are you’ll find what you need here for free. (Most of the images in these two posts are from Pixabay.)

Image from Pixabay


I like this a lot, it has a nice user interface, no sign up required. There’s not as many files as Pixabay, but still lots of great, good quality images. One nice bonus is you can download over a thousand of their best images in one go for a pay-what-you-want price of at least $15.

The owner says ‘I don’t take photos to make money; I make money to take more photos’, which seems like a nice philosophy.

Image from Picjumbo



Arty collection of often unusual images. Lovely to just browse through like a coffee table book! The people in the images are often hip and young, and the locations exotic and dreamy, or urban and gritty. Good for lifestyle photos.

Image from Unsplash



The work of a single photographer, with a wide range of quirky often surreal images.  Definitely worth a look if you’re after something a little different.

Image from Gratisography


There are many other sites available if you search. Stock photos can save you time and money when you’re getting started. However, as your business grows, it really does makes sense to invest in professional photography of your own. If you’d like more information on sourcing the right images, or you’d like to discuss your business photography needs, please get in touch, let’s have a chat!

Update – Feb 2016

Thanks to Stuart Miles for getting in touch to suggest his site BlogPiks.  Stuart says ‘All images are free from copyright limits and totally free for commercial use.’  It does look good. Thousands of images, mostly illustrations and clip-art, rather than photography, particularly useful for presentations.  Includes lots of interesting ‘word clouds’ such as this one.

Success Words Meaning Succeed Triumph And Text
Free Image From

How to save money on your business photography
Tagged on: