The Top 10 Best Alternatives to Stock Imagery

in Design, Graphic Design, Webdesign

This article has been contributed by Sarah Bay.

Many website owners rely on stock photographs, and while this is the standard method, it’s not necessarily the best.

Those stock images will cost you – especially if the nature of your license requires you to pay for each individual image, or even for each page visit that features the image. An annual license is a more cost effective method, but there are other ways to acquire top notch imagery for your website.

Also see this ultimate guide to imagery here.


1. DIY Photography

Since most phones have a high quality camera built into them, you can turn into an amateur snapper, and begin to collect images yourself as you’re out and about, and ask friends and family member to do the same. It might not be possible to take photographs that pertain exactly to the subject matter, but anything in a related field can be utilized.

2. Infographic

Rather than a photo, you can design a unique infographic for your site. A good infographic contains imagery and text, combined to convey a message in a visually memorable and effective manner. You can have a crack at designing one yourself, but it’s usually better to employ a graphic designer and retain the copyright on the image.

3. Images Without Copyright

Photo sharing websites are a visual treasure trove, and there’s no reason why you can’t use this to your advantage. Visit a site such as Flickr, and search for images covered by an Attribution License, which are free to download and use, so long as you credit the creator of the image.


4. Contract a Student Illustrator

If you’re on a budget, you can inexpensively and easily obtain original illustrations for your page. You might want to advertise for student graphic designers at your local college, who will be able to do high quality work for a minimal fee – they might well be happy for the professional experience. Be careful of your legal obligations, since you do need to pay the minimum wage.

5. Contract an Offshore Illustrator

Websites such as Upwork (formerly Elance and Odesk) allow for the easy sourcing of high quality contract workers, and depending on their location, they can undertake the work for a fraction of the cost of a local contractor. You don’t need to fly blind – select an online contractor with a portfolio and a high quality rating from their previous assignments.

Holly Conger Illustration

Illustration by Holly Conger

6. Free Image Libraries

Yes, the majority of images on these sites are stock photos, but the great thing is that they’re all free! You can find a list of some of the best sites here, but each site and image has restrictions on the context they can be used on, so read the terms and conditions carefully. Also see stock photos that don’t suck.

7. Doing Without Images

Consider a website overhaul to something that follows the tenets of Flat Design, which has minimal imagery and is based on the strength of its simplistic, straightforward design, using block colors and a segmented layout. You will still need imagery or icons for some sections of your site, but this will at least reduce the number, and therefore, will reduce your cost.

8. Videos, Not Photos

Rather than use a photo, imbed a YouTube video instead. You’re better off selecting relevant videos that have been on the site for a while, since it means they’re infinitely less likely to have any copyright issues. Watching a clever, funny, and yet apt video also means that browsers will spend more time on your site.

9. Top Quality Stock Photos for Free

Getty Images is perhaps the world’s foremost provider of photography for online and print media, with a price tag to match. It seems they’re in a giving mood, since they’ve released 35 million stock photos to use for free. The catch is that the images can be used for non-commercial purposes only, and as such, can only be used if you’re running a charity or a blog that has not yet been monetized. See the below image for a live example of this.

10. DIY Drawing or Illustration

If you can draw a reasonable picture yourself, then consider creating something for your own website. You don’t want it to be amateur, so if your scribbling skills aren’t up to scratch, then consider running it through Photoshop or a comparable program in order to “fancy it up” to make sure it doesn’t look like something your parents put on the fridge when you were five years old.

11. Bonus: Free High Quality Stock Photography Sites

If you really need to use stock photography, here are a few of the best free stock photography sites out there.

Have any other stock photography alternatives to share?

This article was written by Sarah Bay, who works as a web designer and content manager for the infographics company Pelicanforce.