Tools We Use: Free Stock Photos

This is the fourth in an irregular series of blog posts about the tools we use to design, develop and maintain websites and the digital products we create. We’ve previously written about the Pingdom Website Speed Test, Sprout Social and Chrome Developer Tools.

As a person who likes and wants to make things, I try my best to avoid using stock photos.

Something custom made is almost always going to look better than something stock, as pointed out very well in this article by Neil Calcutt at Recruiting Daily.

But, sometimes for time or budget reasons, I have to use stock photos.

A few months back, I wrote a blog post about finding stock photos that don’t suck. In it, I mentioned a few best practices for how to look for quality stock photos and some sites that offer free, high-quality images.

This post shares some of the specific free stock photo sites that we use for our designs.

Focusing on abstract subject matter is a good strategy.

One site that we have found ourselves using quite often is PicJumbo.com. The site lets you search its photos by category, making it easy to (for example) look through their collection of abstract photos. You can see how we used one of their abstract photos on a site that we recently published for The Foresight Alliance.

Finding good lifestyle stock photos is always a huge pain.

Often, we have design projects that need to illustrate a specific kind of person or situation. I’ve really started relying on Unsplash.com for photos like these.

While the site doesn’t have a search function, it does have an archive page to quickly browse through thumbnails. Their photos do tend to look a bit “hip“, so they aren’t right for every project. But they are all shot in very high resolution, and with a creative approach to the topic you are looking for you’re bound to find something useful here.

A well-composed, high-quality photograph often compensates for a lack of good subject matter.

There are times when a required topic falls in the middle area, where we can’t use an abstract photo, and we don’t have a budget for paid stock photography.

One site we’ve started using is IM Free. It has a good search functionality and their photos tend to look a little more professional, which means that we can use them for more traditional projects where a wackier, or overly-stylistic photo won’t work. (Although I am dying for the opportunity to use this photo when it’s appropriate.)

Our Free Stock Photo Sites

Here’s a list of the sites we go to for free stock photos.

Jason Forrest
About Jason Forrest
Forrest began his career as a staff designer at a futurist consultancy in Washington DC, and since then has worked for clients both large and small in a wide variety of industries. He received his BFA from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.