How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy


Marketing Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Marketing pros

Monday, December 16, 2019

When it comes to finding photos for a major project or a piece of content, we often settle for stock photography that is cheap and cheesy.

Article 7 Minutes
How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

It’s frustrating when all you can find is low resolution amateur photos of groups with huge phoney smiles or images that pretend to be action shots but look too unnatural. These are not the messages you want to be sending out to your clients or customers.

It’s commonly thought that good, professional stock photos come with a high price tag, but this is no longer the case. For every poor stock photo you find, there are an equal amount of great photos available right under your nose, and a lot of them are completely free.

What makes a good stock photo?

Considering how important strong imagery is to every piece of marketing content, and how big an impact it can have on user attraction and engagement, it's useful to have some quality guidelines in mind when you're looking for stock photos.

Here are some specific image characteristics that could help to guide and narrow down your search:

A unique angle

One of the most common drawbacks of stock photos - and possibly the key problem you’ll want to avoid in all imagery accompanying your content - is that they come across as clichéd and unoriginal.

You can refine your search for images by looking for those that have something particularly distinctive or unique about them. Elements that immediately jump out at you or grab your attention are likely to have the same effect on other viewers.

"Use a different point of view, different colors, different lighting, different prop or clothing styling, different poses, different crops. Buyers look at the same subjects and themes over and over again, and they get tired of looking at similar photos and want to buy something new and fresh." - Professional photographer Andrey Popov


Consistency with content

It's important that any stock photo you're thinking about using won't feel out of place with the content it's accompanying.

Think about the tone, style and overall message you're trying to convey with this particular asset - whether it's a blog post, a downloadable guide or an email newsletter - and ask if the image matches those aspects.

Visual impact

As obvious as it might sound, it's important to remember that every stock photo you use needs to make an instant visual impression on the viewer.

Whether it's vibrant colors, impressive landscapes, experimental compositions or a combination of objects that wouldn't normally go together, look for something visually arresting and memorable that will instantly capture people's interest.

"The colors should also be part of the concept; sometimes it is better to make them complementary, and sometimes the contrast between the colors can create an atmosphere." - Professional photographer Maglara


A clear message

The strongest images are those that send a clear message in a powerful way. Photos that are too busy or cluttered could be visually overwhelming, or will fail to complement the rest of the content because the primary subject of the shot is unclear.

Furthermore, on a purely practical level, using images with a lot of free space gives you the option to add copy where you feel it's needed.


People who spend a lot of time looking at content online will be extremely good at spotting contrived or untruthful images, such as those that have been obviously staged or composed in an unnatural way.

For example, a shot of a group of models trying to look like they're having a good time on holiday, might come across as fake and artificial to some people, instantly putting them off your content.

Look for photos that carry a level of authenticity and feel real to the viewer.

Why do good stock photos matter?

When you pick up a magazine, a newspaper or any piece of content, you were probably drawn to it because of the image that was used. The photo is the first thing we see, then the headline, then the text and that’s it; you’re hooked.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, our brains identify photographs much quicker than reading or processing text and we can process a dozen different images in only a fraction of a second. A team of neuroscientists from the institute found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds, far faster than the 100 milliseconds suggested by previous studies.

When you consider that content with images get 94% more views then those without, and over half (60%) of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business when an image shows up in local search results, it becomes clear how much of an impact images can make on your business.

Don’t forget about color either, as Xerox suggests using color on pieces of content can increase consumer readership by 80%.

5 websites for free, non-cheesy stock photos

Quite a lot of stock photography sites are either too expensive or too cheesy. So why pay a ridiculous amount when these 5 websites are offering amazing, non-cheesy stock photos?

1. Death to the Stock Photo

How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

After noticing too many brands, bloggers and creatives struggled to find high-quality images that fit their ‘vibe and tribe’, Death to the Stock Photo was born. Members receive a patch of free images every month via email and accumulate a wide array of images ready for use.

If you have a bigger budget, you can buy a Premium membership which provides you with 400 stock photos a month. Plus, a percentage of the profit is used to fund photography trips to keep the resources going.

2. Negative Space

How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

Negative Space updates its free stock photo gallery every week, meaning there are hundreds of high resolution images available to use. You can easily search through these and get exactly the right image you’re looking for, by category and color.

All the photos and raw files on the website are distributed under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) creative commons license, meaning you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

3. Pexels

How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

Described as the ‘best free stock photos in one place’, Pexels adds new high-quality images daily from alligators to hot air balloons. These images are also under the CC0 licence and can be used for any legal purpose. The only restriction is that identifiable people should not appear in a bad light or in a way that they may find offensive, unless they give their consent.

If you have trouble finding the right size photos, Pexels allow you to specify the size you need, down to the exact pixels, so you don’t have to spend additional time editing it in elsewhere.

4. Stokpic

How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

When photographer Ed Gregory decided to make use of the images that were hidden away on his hard drive, he decided to give them all away for free. Stokpic was essentially something that started as a weekend project, but soon turned into thousands of downloads and Ed now takes photographs specifically for the website. His full high resolution images have their own Stokpic license which he describes as an exclusive club, made only for those who know about it.

Ed noticed he was making more money from the advertising then it cost to run his website, which inspired him to start the Stokpic Sponsored Photographers Program. This uses the money to help fund photographs carry on creating great quality images.

5. Stocksnap

Described as ‘the best place on the internet to find beautiful free stock photos’, Stocksnap offers high quality pictures of the highest resolution and is updated daily. Using images from selected photographers and the best stock photos on the web they can find, there is a great range of pictures available to use with no permission needed.

How to Find Stock Photos That Aren't Cheesy

Whilst the importance of good, relevant images has never been more crucial in the creation of content, it’s never been easier to find photographs that fit the bill. Using these stock photo websites gives you a library of photos instantly without an ounce of cheese, hassle free, no attribution required and complete free.

Marketing Insights for Professionals

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals



Join the conversation...

13/10/2020 Marcos