As content creators, it’s important to make sure that the visual elements included in our work help to generate engagement and interest and add to the overall experience we want our readers to have. The photos and graphics we use should be relevant to what we’re sharing, high quality, accessible and inclusive.
If we’re not able to use our own photos, finding appropriate stock images is the next best thing. There are many curated collections online that are copyright free and/or licensed under the creative commons public domain dedication that allow us to copy, modify, distribute and use images without asking permission (although some may still require attribution).
When using any kind of graphics, illustrations or photos on our site, we should make a point of always adding alt-text to each image. It not only explains the content of images that get blocked or fail to load properly but also enables screen-reading tools to describe them to visually impaired visitors. Accessibility is key to making sure that anyone who wishes to interact with our work can freely do so and, frankly, it’s best practice.
Something else that I personally believe is the best approach when using photographs of people in our articles and blog posts is to ensure our choices and representations are as all-embracing as possible. Humans are remarkable, we are diverse and beautiful and go far beyond restrictive (often White, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heteronormative) beauty norms. Sharing visual design that is inclusive of all bodies, identities, genders, ages, races and ethnicities should be standard but it must be done with sensitivity and responsibility — our editorial decisions must avoid clichés or perpetuate stereotypes.
So what are some of the best free stock photo sites to use? Here are five of my personal favourites …
This is just an outline of each collection so please make sure you check out each site’s licensing policy and terms and conditions before use.
BURST | This resource from Shopify is extremely well-organized and offers diverse, inclusive high-resolution, copyright-free images for personal and commercial use. Attribution is unrequired but encouraged, and you can crop, resize, add text and filters, or otherwise modify their stock photos as you see fit. Another reason that makes Burst one of my top picks is that every image includes a sample of alt-text that can be copied, thereby taking the guesswork out of what to write.
UNSPLASH | You can download and use all the images curated on this site for personal or commercial use with no permission needed for usage and no attribution required (although it is appreciated). Unsplash includes a vast array of high-quality photographs that have been carefully sorted into various searchable categories, making it very easy to find what you need.
PIXABAY | A great range of high-quality photos, music and videos for commercial and non-commercial use that can be modified and don’t require attribution (but they recommend you do). The media on Pixabay is easily searchable and includes illustrations and vector graphics so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find what you’re looking for.
THE GENDER SPECTRUM COLLECTION | With the aim of better representing transgender and non-binary people in stock photos, this resource developed by Vice was carefully created to provide authentic imagery that helps to “… chip away at harmful stereotypes, pushing more accurate perceptions and understandings to the fore.” While you may copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, the photos must include attribution, be for non-commercial use and cannot be modified. The high-quality photos are sorted into seven categories (lifestyle, relationships, technology, work, school, health, moods) and a guideline page is included (which I recommend you read thoroughly) to help better understand how/when to use the images so that you don’t perpetuate stigma, prejudice or harmful stereotypes.
PICSPREE | Available for personal and commercial use, and backed by Getty Images, Picspree has a decent range of high-resolution photos, illustrations and vector graphics that do not require attribution or permission (unless there is branded or copyright-protected content included in the image — you can find more about that on their license page). Each image is easily searchable and can be found in one of the many categories that are included.
An extra bonus for high-quality royalty-free photos is Desygner; who offer both free and paid plans that give you access to tools for content creation and thousands of pre-designed templates (you gain access to many more if you manage a paid plan). The free option offers quite a decent number of perks like one-click design resize, PDF editing and millions of free images and icons.
I hope you found this useful — now go create some visually stunning, informative and inclusive content!
The following, and much more, are available to read via Stocksy’s Educational Archive …
Everyday People: How To Better Represent Disabilities In Our Media
Everyday Bodies: How Your Media Choices Can Influence Body Inclusivity
Speaking of Gender: How To Be Inclusive In Your Messaging
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