Finding Images for Your Brand: 12 Stock Photography Sites

Images from istockphoto

Feeling Good About Your Brand Images

Working with images in all their forms (photos, illustrations, symbols) is one of the most enjoyable parts of building a visual brand. Who couldn’t spend all day looking at beautiful photos of beach sunsets, smiling babies, and ice cream cones?

Choosing just the right photos and illustrations can play a huge role in how your brand feels to your ideal clients, and how you feel about your brand.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some resources for finding photos and illustrations for your brand. We’ll look at: paid stock photography sites, creative commons licensed images, free for commercial use sites, public domain images, and free illustration/icon sites.

Then, I’ll circle back and talk about how to select the best types and styles of images for your brand. If you need help figuring out what images would best fit your brand there’s a step-by-step discovery process included in Online Branding Basics.

Paid Stock Photography Sites

Let’s start by looking at stock photography sites where you can purchase images.

Stock photo websites compile a huge inventory of photos and illustrations (and video clips) in a wide variety of styles. You can purchase rights to use those photos, illustrations, and videos in your marketing and branding materials.

Understanding Licensing

There are two main types of stock photos licenses you can purchase: royalty free and rights managed.

Royalty free images:
you pay once to use the image.

Rights managed images: you pay per view or use (for example if you want to use an image on a t-shirt to sell you have to pay more).

Always check the individual licensing agreements for each stock photo service before you purchase! Each stock site has different terms of use.

Pricing and Cost Considerations

All stock photo services also have different purchasing processes and prices. Some sites offer package pricing, others offer monthly/yearly subscriptions, and others allow you to purchase images one-at-a-time.

When you’re deciding where to purchase images, you’ll want to consider your budget, the number of images you need, whether you need high resolution images (for print projects), and whether the site’s image style matches your branding.

Pros and Cons of Using Stock Images

Pros of using stock images

1) Professional looking images at lower cost than hiring a professional photographer.
2) Easy to search and find images.
3) Lots of variety of images.
4) Good quality images, available in high resolution.

Cons of using stock images

1) License restrictions can be prohibitive.
2) You’ll see the same images used by other brands.
3) Some stock photos have a certain look that says “stock” perfect smiling faces, for example.

12 Stock Sites to Explore

Can Stock Photo
Getty Images
Corbis Images

Search Tip: When you’re looking for the perfect image search more than one stock site to find a better selection.

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  1. Megan Flatt on at

    I’m so excited for this series on photos. I get so confused on the legalities of stock photos or I don’t want them to look cheesy, I end up using poorly snapped iPhone photos. This is a great resource, can’t wait to read more, especially free options (those really confuse me!!)

  2. This is a great article that I think most small business owners struggle with! I’ve known my fair share to get in hot water regarding the licensing as well. Great information! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Dave Conrey on at

    Great post Christie. Funny, I was thinking of writing something similar, but now I’ll just point to your post instead. 😉

    A couple other sites I’ve run across recently are and, both being on the lower cost level.

    Also, an interesting “free” content resource is You have to sift through some clutter, but being totally free (needs photo credit), it’s not a bad deal.

    • christie on at

      Thanks for those extra resources Dave! Always on the lookout for new resources. I’ll be talking about Morgue File in an upcoming post about free resources.

  4. Christie, I loved this post. I have spent so much more on pictures this year than I ever even would have wanted to think about before. I am pretty excited now, I got a year membership to Shutterstock (because I need them for programs and my new website)…it is so much fun to get to download those huge pictures and not feel guilty! I can make some pretty awesome quote boxes now! I bought many from VEER…then moved up to IStock when you told me about that. I really like the quantity and quality of Shutterstock…I can’t wait to browse Getty for a SUPER important photo. As always, thanks for a good blog!

    • christie on at

      You’re welcome Cathy. Lots of options to choose from to keep things fresh and within budgets!

  5. Cassie on at

    Thank you for the tips, Christie. I have never used a paid stock photography site before. Most of the time I source free photos from or use my own. I am going to bookmark some of the sites you mentioned above so that I know where to get quality photos for my projects at reasonable prices.

    • christie on at

      Great Cassie! I’ll be continuing the series with even more free and open source resources.

  6. Christie, I was just doing a search for this during the past week or so! I naturally didn’t do the search for very long so I’m soooo thankful that you wrote this post and provided some links to check out!

    • christie on at

      Glad to help out Bianca!

  7. jasmaine on at

    WOW! This was right on time. I was putting together my ebook and wanted some photos and felt… ahhhh… I don’t know how this world works! I am so happy that you gave so much awesome info and tips. The most useful is about the licensing… demystifying! Thanks.

  8. Leah Shapiro on at

    I love that you are doing a series of posts about finding the right images. I need it!

    In my world- finding images to use on my site is totally stressful!! It starts out nice but then it quickly goes into overload and I get caught up looking for the “perfect image”.

    It is a huge time-suck for me.

    It’s not that I don’t like looking at the images….it’s finding the PERFECT one that drives me batty.

  9. Mindy Crary on at

    Ugh, after committing to being online for my business only 2 years ago, I am FINALLY starting to understand the nuance of photo usage–sometimes I don’t like how slick iStockphotos look, so I am experimenting with creative common licenses. Can’t wait to read more from you on this!

  10. eyenie on at

    An answer to my visual prayers! HA! You are one amazing resouce, Mz. Christie! I am definitely one of those people who gets sucked in when looking at images, but then I start feeling overwhelmed, and can’t seem to find something that really resonates. Thank you so much for sharing these–I will definitely check them out! YAY! 🙂

  11. Great stuff – I shall look forward to the next installment. This is something that I wrestle with on my own site! Branding has never been my strong suit, although I like things to look nice!
    I love the professional images, but finding the right one at the right price can be such a minefield!
    I’d heard of a couple of those sites before, but now I’m going to have a good trawl through that whole list and see what’s out there.

  12. Ohhhhh! Love this concise list and favorite-ing this post for future reference!! xx

  13. Thanks, Christie! I’m bookmarking this page.

  14. Christie.. this is such a great tutorial and even though I know some about this topic I didn’t know all of it… so helpful to have it spelled out plus have the list of recommended resources. Always grateful for this kind of post.
    Love to you,

  15. James Cooper on at

    For professional or occasional use I always prefer Shutter-stock than other sites. But as they are paid version so for regular use I just prefer to get images from Flickr and Google itself.