The subject matter and style of photography you choose for your website, your social media, your brochures, documents and other marketing materials, says a lot about your business. Think about how you want to present your business and you want others to perceive you.
The best stock photo websites for small businesses
The world of stock images is a bit of a minefield, with many variables around usage and a number of different licenses to drill through and understand. However there are a plethora of websites to choose from with almost limitless options and for small businesses who may not have the luxury to be able to continually capture their own unique images, stock photos and video can be an incredibly powerful tool for your marketing activities.
In this article I’ve broken down what I consider to be the best stock photo websites for small businesses, with some insight into what you can expect from each of them.
Free stock photo websites
For any small business looking to ramp up their digital marketing, your visual elements are of utmost importance, but as is your ability to source them at a good price. These first three websites are all free and are absolutely incredible for any marketing professional or small business owner looking to make their business more visual.
Unsplash is my favourite free website to go to for stock photos. I’m yet to fail to find something that works for what I’m doing on this website. For me the images on here are far superior to all of the other free websites and actually a lot of the paid websites as well. As a creative person, the ingenuity and creativity of the images here are incredible. For a website that is free and grants you permission to use the images in whatever way you like, the selection is broad, covering everything from your generic “business person working in an office”, through to some fantastic works of art.
Unsplash offers a standard Creative Commons license, meaning you can use the images however you wish.
Pexels is similar to Unsplash and is the next place I personally look when looking for stock photos. Again, it offers a broad range of photos across a sizable selection. From what I’ve seen, some of the photography isn’t quite on a par quality wise with Unsplash, but still a very safe bet for anyone looking for images to use for their business.
One differentiator Pexels does have over Unsplash is it’s video library, with an entire section dedicated to stock video clips. It is a photo website first, so the photos selection is far superior, however there are some great clips to choose from and certainly a great place to look if you need something specific for a video you’re creating.
Pexels also offers a standard Creative Commons license.
As with Unsplash and Pexels, Pixabay also offers a great selection of photos, again in my opinion, not quite on par with Unsplash, but still a fantastic library to browse through that guarantees to delight. Pixabay also takes differentiation one step further and also offers video, music and graphics, so it’s a great all round solution for any marketing team working on a budget.
Pixabay also offers a standard Creative Commons license.
Paid stock photo websites
These are all great sources for stock photos but you do have to pay for them. These are all well known, worldwide websites that are used daily by a wide variety of organisations. You may find that some local photographers and creative agencies also have their own small stock libraries that you might be able to utilise, but they naturally won’t have as great of a selection. There are also many other small websites that offer stock photos that you can find and explore online.
One of the most well known stock websites in the world. Shutterstock is one of the more expensive websites for stock photography and you need to make sure you’re purchasing the right license for your usage. If you’re looking for something very specific that you can’t find on any of the free websites, it’s highly likely that Shutterstock has it.
Like Shutterstock, Getty Images is a very well known stock provider and is used by a whole host of large media companies, film studios and advertising agencies. The amount and quality of content available is amazing. Similarly, it is a little on the expensive side, however you will be able to find very specific photographs to suit your unique needs.
iStock Photo is owned by Getty Images, however the photography here is more generic, with less uniquely creative and abstract images to choose from. For those of you looking for quality business-like photos that are safe but slightly different from the norm, then this is a great place to look.
This stock library has been around a little while, but certainly doesn’t have the scale or variety of content as the likes of Shutterstock or Getty. However, the pricing is very affordable and the images are great quality and very creative – something you would expect nothing less from a company whose software is the platform of choice for so many creatives around the world.
For fairly generic stuff, PhotoDune is great. However if you’re looking for something more unique, abstract or visually stimulating, this might not be the right website for you. That being said, the pricing is very affordable for small businesses and marketing teams, with prices starting around $8, so if you do find yourself browsing it’s digital shelves and find something you love, it’s not going to break the bank.
How to get the most out of using stock photography
Don’t just choose the first image you come to that “sort of” fits. It can be really obvious that an image is stock when you choose the first, standard image of a professional looking person sitting at a computer. It’s highly likely that someone else has used it in a similar way and says nothing about your business, your personality or your brand.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are some outstanding works of art across these stock websites, with some truly breathtaking images. We all know that people buy from people and choose to work with companies they feel a connection with, whom they like, they trust and they feel fit their own ideas and values. You can utilise stock in a very powerful way to enhance your own brand.
Use different search combinations. These websites are by no means Google, but they are search engines in some regard, at least for their own content, so the search terms you use will influence what images show up in results.
Let’s say you sell IT and you’re looking for some great images for your website. Your first search will likely be for something like “office” or “offices”, which will obviously come up with a whole host of images. But let’s say you work with more dynamic businesses whose offices are far from normal. You therefore might not want the usual bright, corporate looking office photos, you want something more hip. You therefore might search for “co-working”, “hotdesking”, “boutique office”, “creative office”. It can take a few attempts to find the right search term that begins to show the types of images you’re looking for.
Don’t be afraid to edit and crop the photos. You’ll need to check the license here for the website you used, however assuming it’s ok to do so, just because you’ve downloaded a stock photo, doesn’t mean you’re stuck with exactly how it looks.
For example, let’s say your branding is very black and white and you’re looking for great black and white photos to match it. You may not necessarily find the right images directly, but it’s very quick and easy to download a colour photography with an image that works perfectly and simply convert it into black and white.
The same goes for cropping the image. If you’re using a photograph on your website, or in a brochure, or on social media, it might not quite be the right shape, size or dimensions. Again, just because you downloaded it, doesn’t mean you can’t resize it, reframe it, or crop it to better suit where and how you’re going to use it.
Understanding stock licenses
When it comes to stock, whether that be photos, video or music, there are three types of licenses you need to be aware of. The licenses can vary slightly from website to website, but on the whole this is what they cover.
Standard License (sometimes called Regular)
This covers you for personal, business and commercial use, meaning that you can use the stock for marketing purposes, on your website, in social media etc. Generally speaking the Standard License grants usage to one user inside an organisation. So if you’re the sole marketing person and only you will be using the stock, then this should suffice.
This cover allows an unlimited number of people within an organisation to use the stock in whatever way they see fit. This also often allows you to use the stock in print campaigns and on commercial products that you may be selling such as T-shirts, hats, mugs etc.
Creative Commons License
At its very basis, this type of license allows the original creator of the stock i.e. a photo to retain copyright, but gives permission to others to use the stock for their own purposes without having to pay a fee or credit the original creator. Usually this enables you to use the stock for personal, business and commercial purposes.
What does royalty free mean?
Royalty free is often confused as a type of license, which it isn’t. However what it does mean is that you can use the piece of stock, under the right license, without having to pay a royalty to the creator of the stock.
Stock websites for video clips and music
Although this article is titled “Best Stock Photo Websites”, I have no doubt that some of you may well be creating videos for your business, so it seemed mad to not mention a few great websites for sourcing video clips and music tracks for your videos.
- Artlist – this is music only and comes as a paid subscription, but gives you access to unlimited downloads with a license to use it for whatever you want. The music here is of high quality and a great place to browse if you’re looking for something more unique.
- Soundstripe – this is music only and similarly to Artlist, this is a paid subscription that gives you access to unlimited downloads with a license to use it for whatever you want. The music here isn’t quite as authentic or unique as Artlist, but still high quality and diverse enough beyond your typical corporate style music.
- AudioJungle – this is music only and another paid website, however this time you pay per clip. If you’re looking for something more creative and artistic, this isn’t the website for you, but for the usual upbeat, business-esque music, this is a great place to look.
- Videvo – this is video only and a great place to start for anyone taking their first steps into stock video. The majority of the video clips here are covered with a standard Creative Commons License so you can use them for whatever you like. The quality of the clips is a little hit and miss, but there are some gems if you have the patience to look.
- VideoHive – this is video only and works in the same way as AudioJungle. The video clips aren’t the most creative, it seems more geared around generic business, corporate, office type videos, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s a good place to look.