10+ Best Alternatives to Stock Imagery (2024)

10+ Best Alternatives to Stock Imagery (2024)

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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.

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In this post, we look at the best alternatives to stock imagery.

10+ Best Alternatives to Stock Imagery

1. DIY Photography

The best alternative to stock imagery often stems from our own experiences. Given that we are now in the era of high-quality cameras in most smartphones today, one can effortlessly transform into an amateur photographer, capturing authentic moments while navigating through daily life.

DIY photography not only lends a personal touch to the visuals but also enables us to curate a unique collection of images that resonate with the essence of our subject matter. 

We encourage collaboration with friends and family members, enlisting their help to contribute to this expanding visual tapestry. 

While it might not always be the best tool to capture images precisely aligned with the exact subject, we can enhance anything within a related sphere.

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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. This collaboration also ensures that you retain copyright control over the resulting image, preserving the uniqueness and exclusivity of your visual content.

We can attest that an infographic is a compelling alternative to stock imagery. Including custom-designed infographics in your content arsenal provides a dynamic and engaging dimension that stands out amidst the sea of generic stock visuals, cementing a distinct identity for your brand or project.

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.

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Additionally, there are specialized platforms like Unsplash and Pexels that offer a vast array of high-quality images with permissive licenses, often under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. 

These platforms provide stunning visuals across diverse categories, granting you the freedom to utilize these images without any attribution requirement.

It’s like having access to a curated gallery of professionally captured photographs that can seamlessly enrich your content.

It’s important to note that while these images are more accessible than traditional stock imagery, they’re still employed by many, so it’s worthwhile to add a touch of personalization. 

Consider overlaying text, adding filters, or blending multiple images to create a distinctive look that aligns perfectly with your brand or narrative. This approach not only enhances the visual appeal but also reinforces the uniqueness of your content, setting it apart from the ordinary.

This can be a win-win situation, providing you with affordable, original illustrations while helping the student gain valuable real-world experience.


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 with the professional experience. Be careful of your legal obligations since you do need to pay the minimum wage.

Additionally, by contracting a student illustrator, you’re supporting young talent and contributing to the growth of the artistic community. This can be a rewarding feeling, knowing that you’re helping someone develop their skills and pursue their passion.

Finally, having custom illustrations allows you to tailor the visual elements of your project to your exact specifications. 

This level of customization can enhance the overall impact of your project, making it more engaging and memorable for your audience.

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.

Hiring an offshore illustrator allows you to tap into a diverse range of artistic styles and cultural perspectives. This can be particularly valuable if you’re aiming for unique and culturally relevant visuals that resonate with your target audience. 

Additionally, offshore illustrators can offer quick turnaround times, leveraging time zone differences to your advantage. While you rest, they can work on your project, leading to faster completion and delivery. This efficiency can be crucial when you have tight deadlines to meet.

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 in which they can be used, so read the terms and conditions carefully.

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, reduce your cost.

8. Videos, Not Photos

Rather than using a photo, embed a YouTube video instead. You’re better off selecting relevant videos that have been on the site for a while since that means they’re infinitely less likely to have any copyright issues. It is also essential to know how to copyright and trademark

Watching a clever, funny, and yet apt video also means that browsers will spend more time on your site. Purchasing design templates or graphic kits from platforms like Envato Elements, which can be customized to fit your project’s needs.

9. Top Quality Stock Photos for Free

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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 for free. The catch is that the images can be used for non-commercial purposes only, and as such, they 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.

12. Templates and Kits

Purchasing design templates or graphic kits from platforms like Envato Elements, which can be customized to fit your project’s needs can be a smart way to go. These resources offer various pre-designed templates, ranging from presentations and infographics to web design and social media graphics, catering to diverse project requirements. 

One of the main advantages of using templates and kits is their versatility – they can be easily customized to align with your brand’s identity, project theme, or specific messaging.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there cost-effective options for custom illustrations or graphics?

Yes, you can often find cost-effective options by hiring freelance illustrators or graphic designers, especially for students looking to build their portfolios. Freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr are great places to find skilled artists at various price points.

How can I ensure that custom visuals align with my project's style?

When working with custom visuals, whether it's a photographer, illustrator, or graphic designer, provide a clear and detailed creative brief. Share examples of your preferred style, color scheme, and the overall message you want to convey. Regular communication and feedback during the creative process are essential.


Best Stock Photo Alternatives Summary

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Websites need imagery and often stock imagery is the default. But this doesn’t have to be. We hope these alternatives to stock images will aid in your search!

The diverse alternatives we’ve discussed hold the potential to infuse your marketing content with a personal touch, foster authenticity, and captivate your audience.

Have you explored these alternatives before? What has your experience been with them? We want to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comment section below.

Have any other stock photo alternatives to share? Let us know below.

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20 thoughts on “10+ Best Alternatives to Stock Imagery (2024)”

  1. Nice article.
    In regards to the Getty free images offer, keep in mind that Getty also can, at any time, embed their own ads to the images you use without the need of your approval.

  2. This is My initial time visited here. i suppose I’m not the sole one having all the enjoyment here! carry on the great work.

  3. Nice article, I used to photograph all the photos on my blog so i didn’t need to buy photos from stock sites. I also do some infographics on my own, that’s the best solution for me.

  4. Interesting article.
    Recommending outsourcing work may be a double edged sword. While it may be ok for you to recommend Elance or Odesk for adding pictures to your site, your readers may find that they likewise can get cheap branding and other design there without knowing the difference…

      • Sabine and Nora,
        I think there is a marketplace for all types of design but you have to be smart about it. Checking references, past projects, their portfolio and price are all good indicators of the quality you will get. But you are right, some may not be able to distinguish the difference.

        Thanks for the other links Nora.

  5. With companies like Getty (and more everyday) demanding big bucks for copyright violations, creatives and our clients need to be more careful than ever before. I would never recommend Getty as an option simply because they are causing great harm to creatives overall in the name of protecting us. I’m not talking about them going after people who knowingly violated copyright law – I’m talking about going after minor violations and situations in which people had no clue they were violating anyone’s rights and were never given a chance to rectify the situation without paying more than the cost of licensing the image.

    For this reason, I don’t recommend using “free” photo sites unless you have (and keep for your records) a license that gives you permission to use the image. A lot of those “free” images are either currently being sold on stock sites or will in the future, leaving you in a bad situation if you can’t prove that you have the right to use it. If you’re going to buy licenses from a stock photo site, make sure it isn’t a predatory company and read the actual license terms so that you know for sure that you are using it within the license allowances. I also check Google Images to see where an image is being used before I buy a license or use an image.

    DIY, going without, and making infographics and other visuals to avoid using images… all solid ideas whenever the situation allows. Another option is to pair up with a photographer and trade images for whatever services you can offer. I’m a designer, so maybe I pair up with a local photographer who wants a strong brand and updated collateral. Just make sure the photographer gets model and property releases and that you get a license for each image!

    Using student artists can be problematic because people so severely devalue their work. It isn’t ok to take advantage of students unfairly. If you’re going to use a student, be willing to pay a fair amount – less than you would pay for an experienced professional, but not so little that it’s disrespectful of their time and skills. Negotiate with them with the desire to come to a compromise that is fair for both of you, not just with the goal of getting work for as cheap as possible. Ask to look at their work just like you would any professional. It isn’t worth it for either of you if they don’t have the skills to do what you need.

    I have mixed feelings about outsourcing. Yes, it’s a way to get creative work for less. However, it also takes work away from people in your home country. When we don’t invest in our workers, we all suffer. At the same time, the people who are typically cheap enough to do this are problematic clients anyway and many of us avoid them. Again, mixed feelings.

  6. I am puzzled at the emphasis in this article towards either not paying for design and art services or paying as little as possible. A business person starting a business needs a professional website. The business person intends, I assume, to be paid for their work and to at least attempt to make a living from this business. So why is it assumed that all the artwork and design that positions the business to do this, to be “professional” should be basically “free?”

    Design and art at a professional level deserves to be paid for. Articles like this seem to be part of a cultural and economic trend to devalue all creative work and amateurize the skills that take years and perseverance to hone, not to mention vision and talent.

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