How to Find Free Stock Photos That Don’t Suck

More often than not, when uttering the phrase “stock photography”, fellow marketers will fall into one of two bandcamps: the nevers and the always. From one extreme to the next, you’ll find brand teams that absolutely refuse to put stock photos (or video clips) to work for their creative, and those that see no other option but to do so exclusively.

Those that shutter at the idea of everything stock photos represents doesn’t necessarily come from an unjustified place. After all, take into consideration this photo. Or this one. It’s tough to unsee this guy.

The point is, the stock world is host to everything from the generic to the downright disturbing. And when too many marketers make use of all of the above, audiences start to get wise. Your brand cannot truly differentiate itself when relying on as-is stock photography alone to shape its identity.

At the same time, it’s not exactly easy or viable for a team of marketers to snub the world of premade altogether. In fact, there are a number of scenarios in which it might make sense to seek out stock photography options. Better yet are the free stock photo websites that don’t suck to pull them from.

When Does It Make Sense to Use Stock Photos?

As previously mentioned, there may come a time when stock photos prove not just a nicety but necessity. Sometimes, it just makes sense. Besides, it comes down how they’re used that matters most (rather than the fact that they’re being used in the first place).

You’re On a Budget

Look, not everyone is lucky enough to operate under large-scale budgets. And honestly, having money at your disposal doesn’t always guarantee homerun results. If you’re tight on cash, stock photos provide a low budget, low-barrier means of entry into the world of high quality production. You just have to be intentional with how you choose to define “quality”.

You’re On a Tight Deadline

Sometimes project timelines are underestimated. Sometimes roadblocks prevent original plans from being executed. Sometimes your boss has a “good idea” epiphany Sunday evening and wants to see it come to fruition by end of day Wednesday.

Whatever the case may be, deadlines have a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect them. In those cases, turning to stock creative frees up production hours and makes room for resourcefully completing a project that’s both on time and well executed.

You’ve Exhausted All In-House Assets

Having a portfolio of in-house photography to pull from is definitely ideal. However, exhausting those assets because you refuse to incorporate stock photography isn’t necessarily the formula for top notch creative. No one is finding motivation in the posting and reposting online of Diana from Finance posing with your company’s product.

You’ve Learned to Make Them Your Own

Depending on licensing arrangements, many stock photos will allow for minor and major alterations. Be sure to reference these before taking to Photoshop, but if in the clear, there’s no reason you can’t transform a premade photo into something that feels brand new and totally unique to your brand. Resourceful doesn’t just mean finding the cheapest option possible; it comes down to making the most of what’s in front of you that’ll help in achieving your business goals.

How to Find Free Stock Photos That Don’t Suck

So now that we know you won’t be shunned from the marketing community for putting stock photography to work for your business, where should you source them from?

Needless to say, household names like Shutterstock and Getty Images are always available to pull from. Shutterstock even hosts a contributor community for brands looking to take advantage of custom content.

These options can get pricey though, so when in doubt, give these free options a whirl:


Pixabay essentially curates all of the royalty free photos, vectors, and drawings that are public domain and high in quality. Their search functionality also makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for and stay in the know on attribution requirements.


The community of photographers that contribute to Unsplash are as unique as the photos they offer up for use, for free, no questions asked. The assets are high resolution and broken out by photographer. So, if there’s a general style you want to come back to time and time again, it’s not entirely difficult to do.


The dreamy photos you’ll find on Magdeleine cover a range of subject matter, from architecture technology, animals, to abstract. For each photo, they’ll also provide you with a color palette and information around the equipment used to capture it. All of this can be useful information for future shoots in-house done to capture similar looks.


If you’re looking for the bit off-kilter, Graitsography is the site for you. The database to pull from isn’t huge but the quality’s there and new images are added weekly, so you can always check back in for what’s new and improved.


The more niche your brand and needs, the more difficult it may be to find stock photography that applies. Luckily, more and more businesses are emerging to cater to the ever-growing base of content creators. CreateHER is one such site that provides relatable imagery for “female bloggers, creatives, and online influencers of color.” They even offer free photo packs monthly to download and work with.

Missing something? Where do you turn to when downloading stock creative assets? Let us know in the comments below!