When it comes to branding your business online, visuals are super important. Using great photos has the power to convey the feeling you want your prospects to feel when they first touch your brand. Your visitors’ first impressions will often single-handedly determine whether or not you’re going to make a sale. The nuances of text are important for when your audience is interested in finding out the details of who you are, but it’s the imagery that will hook them.
Why Small Businesses Should Avoid Stock Photos
The importance of making a strong first impression is heightened in the small business world, where distinguishing yourself from everyone else out there is such a key challenge. People choose to give their money to small businesses because they want personality, personal attention and a perspective that’s refreshing. These are attributes that should get center stage on your website, especially in the photos used as illustrations.
Sure, there’s always the desire to make your business seem like a polished and established team rather than a fly-by-night rookie outfit, but don’t let this motivation undermine your credibility. Remember that being true to who you are is going to put you in the best possible position for success. So skip those unrealistic and generic stock photos of glass-lined board rooms populated with airbrushed smiles. When curating photos for your site, your goal is to be as non-generic as possible.
The best way to accomplish this is by publishing original photos of you, your team, your place of business, your products and your customers. But that’s not an option for everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily suit the purposes of every page on your site. This is where other people’s photos come into play.
Stock That Doesn’t Feel Like Stock
Photo services like Shutterstock, Thinkstock and iStockPhoto offer huge troves of images that you can publish, but they do cost money, and depending on what you’re searching for, it can be tough to find material there that isn’t excessively stock-y.
Thankfully, there are many resources out there for images that are royalty-free, free-use, Creative Commons-licensed and/or public domain. Navigating all of the relevant intellectual property laws can be tricky business, so don’t use just anything you find on the web, and make sure to get your photographer credit attribution right whenever necessary.
Here are some of our top picks for sites to go to for finding free photos to publish, along with some tidbits on who they are and tips on how to navigate their troves.
Free Stock Sites Open to All
There are a few free stock photography sites out there that require zero commitment from users. No login, no credit and no link necessary!
Sites like these stay afloat thanks to their affiliate arrangements with the big paid stock libraries, so don’t be surprised to see non-free images promoted alongside the free ones.
The Morguefile, which was founded by designer Michael Connors back when he was an undergrad, does request that you “credit the photographer when possible,” so adding a small notation at the bottom of your page could be a nice, if voluntary, touch.
Pixabay, a German site with over 100,000 copyright-free images, is an amazing resource for publishers. They’re one of the only photo sites that’s integrated into Creative Commons’s search engine.
Managed by the crew from Montreal web design collective Pickcrew, Unsplash is a Tumblr-based stack of particularly beautiful images that look nothing like stock photography. The selection here isn’t huge, but it’s all spectacular and it’s growing all the time, with a new batch of ten images going up every ten days. Shared under a “do whatever you want” license, no less!
Free Stock Photos offers many images with no credit requirements, but pay attention to the license information on the photo pages, as some do use the Creative Commons Attribution license. They do accept donations, as well as optional paid memberships, which come with access to a section of “Bonus Images.”
Members-Only Free Stock Sites
Offering a whopping 400,000 photos, the Stock Exchange requires that you login before you download. Photo credits are required on some of the downloads.
Stock Photos for Free has over 100,000 images on offer. They also require logins, but they also have a nice Facebook Connect integration, which allows publishers to use their Facebook identities instead of opening a dedicated account.
Free Range Stock operates under similar terms, also requiring that publishers link to the Free Range Stock site on pages with their photos.
Mostly a paid site, Dreamstime has a relatively robust free section, with tens of thousands of photos. They also offer phone support to members, which none of these other guys do.
Free Wix Collections
It’s not so prominently displayed on the site, but inside the free Wix editor, you can find nearly 3700 photos to use on your pages, all 100% free and without any credit necessary.
When replacing our templates’ placeholder images using the image picker, simply click over to the “FREE Wix Collections” tab, and you’ll find them all right there – nicely categorized no less.
These images are generally sourced from our graphics studio’s photo archives and shoots, although many are also purchased from photographers and stock libraries, licensed for republication by our community of publishers.
The Flickr Commons
Following a major functionality upgrade earlier this year, Yahoo-owned photo sharing property Flickr is suddenly cool again, and photographers both amateur and professional are sharing their works here by the boatload.
The majority of Flickr’s user-generated photo content is copyright-protected, but plenty of it is uploaded under Creative Commons licenses for commercial use. Publishing these images on your site is fair game. To find them, open the advanced search options, and at the bottom of the screen make sure to select the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” checkbox and the “Find content to use commercially” checkbox directly below.
Depending on what you search for, you should find plenty to work with. Just make sure to cite and link back to the photographer’s Flickr profile page.