You don’t have to settle for schlocky stock photography

Stock PhotosWe’ve all seen them and maybe someone you know has used them…

The excited business team high-fiving, the woman laughing alone with salad, the endless word clouds, some with hands across the sea like fist bumping.

It doesn’t have to be this way, people.

First, why images?

And an image need not be a photo. Vectors, videos, graphs, graphics, infographics — they all speak directly to — and engage — the brain in a way text can’t.

According to, an SEO agency, “The human brain can process visuals up to 60,000 times faster than text.

Tweets with images receive up to 5x times the engagement of those without. Articles with visuals receive 94 percent more views.”

So, any old image will do right?

Yeah, no.

Bad, schlocky stock is recognizable because it’s cheesy and unnatural. It does little to enhance the content it is paired with and that’s the job of said image; reinforce what you are saying — or selling.

So, what’s a budget conscious solo-preneur to do if they want to stand out?

Scroll through this list of sites, (not a list of every stock site on the planet. I didn’t include any not worth your time and I will likely have missed some good ones.)

Why they made the list

The images are creative, include a broad representation of humanity — read “not just white young people” — and the sites are easy to navigate and filter searches. Where they fall down in most cases is search results.

For instance, I typed “boomer women” into Unsplash’s search bar and got back all kinds of young women and one midlife looking couple kissing. Even though Unsplash is one of the best free sites for artistic images, their search is pretty awful. did a slightly better job with a mixture of women of a certain age mixed in with youngsters, but all the images look staged and uninteresting.

Almost all of the sites here require a subscription or a pay-per-image business model.

How to choose which site to spend your money on can be a time suck so get clear on the following before hitting the rabbit hole that is image search.

  • How many photos do you need per month?
  • What’s the vibe of your brand?
  • What are you using them for? Some images have use restrictions, but they are usually for things like book or album covers and commercial media use.

Knowing that the right image could get you 5X the engagement, it might be worth it to ransack the couch for coins or give up that $30/month membership that promised to send you “the most AH-mazing” self-care products. How many bath bombs can you use?

Let’s start with a pay-per-image site, Stocksy. Prices are $15 for small (867 X 577PX) $30 for medium (1733 X 1155PX) $75 for large (2925 X 1949) and $125 for X-Large (5472 X 3648PX). Pricey yes, but they nail the diversity and pro photography piece. Easy to filter search, so more targeted results.

If you are looking for a site exclusively featuring “beautiful black and brown people, for free” as they say in their header, then is your kind of site. The photos are professional, natural, diverse, and FREE!

Their photos are best searched by their categories but from there it’s scroll baby scroll. If there is a way to filter, I can’t find it.

Another free site featuring people of color is

Here’s how they describe themselves:

We are a coop of stock image photography. We recognize that most other FREE stock image sites have very few or no images of people of color. We sought out to create a space where publishers, bloggers, website owners, marketers, designers, graphic artists, advertisers and the like can easily search and find diverse multi-racial images. The majority of people in the world are of color so there is no reason why stock imagery shouldn’t include them.” Their filters are limited to categories.

Burst by Shopify is also free and their site includes tips and resources for starting a business on Shopify. Search is by category. Some interesting photos but I can only think that a bunch of other someone’s are tapping into this resource for their stores or blogs. by photographer Lindley Ashline is for people whose bodies don’t conform to the norm of thin, abled, white, “normal.”

Her bio says, “I’m a photographer, fat activist, writer, cat mom and houseplant collector. Feed me sour gummy candy and I’m happy. Photography sets my soul on fire because through my work, people who don’t see bodies like theirs represented anywhere else get to reclaim their self-image.”

Her images are purchased by credits. The more you buy the less each print will cost you. Credits do expire after 30 days.’s site says Boost your content library with unlimited access to millions of high-performing & authentic stock images, videos, vectors and icons for just 12 USD/month.” It’s the “millions of high-performing” images. I took the free trial and was instantly frustrated by search results. Categories were full of the usual bland fare. I’d skip them, especially when a subscription is $25/month unless you want to pay for the year, then it works out to $12. bills itself as “an alternative to conventional stock photography.” They are a German company, so some of their categories are in German but most of the copy on the site is in English. They also have a credits system. Buy enough for a pic or buy a bundle. I’d say 50% of my search results were more creative than most stock. Images will run you $15/$30/$45/ for small, medium, large. may be the best of the giant stock companies when it comes to creativity, search results, and choices. It is pricey. Royalty free images, meaning use them forever in multiple ways, run from $49 for extra small (no dimensions given) to $365 for XX-Large. You can also buy 360 images for $675. This is the best deal of course, but a big outlay at one time. has some great lifestyle type images. You can download millions at no cost. A subscription for business use is $15/month or $9 when you pay for the year. Glad I found them for this round up as I’ll be moving some of my marketing dollars to them.

One last free site worth a mention that might not have shown up in your searches for “free stock photos.” This is a free site sponsored by iStock. More creative than some others and their search engine works better than most. You can add color as a filter and orientation as well as keywords.

By now you are likely looking for a cold adult beverage. Wish I could help. Instead, may I suggest a laugh break. Stock photography is so hated there is a subreddit called “shitty stock photos.”

Those are funny but these from of “bad stock photos of my job are gut-ache funny”.

Laughing in the middle of a long workday is scientifically proven to make you more money.


Scrolling endlessly through bad photos? Just stop that. You no longer have to settle for schlocky stock photography.

You’re welcome.

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