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Stock Photos That Don’t Suck (medium.com)
568 points by Redsprows on Apr 19, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments

Wikimedia Commons has a large set of curated, high-quality, free photographs: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Featured_pictures, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Quality_images.

There are also many, many gems among the 20+ million other free images at https://commons.wikimedia.org.

The site has an extensive category system that complements keyword-based search, e.g. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Fruit.

note that a large portion of the wikimedia commons is licenced under some terms requiring at least attribution. Make sure you're checking the licence before you use images from the commons.

(not saying you shouldn't use wikimedia commons, it's a great resource. just don't use it blindly)

I have few issues with this post:

1 - The quality of images are not that good. Some are okay, but overall not that good.

2 - Many microstock sites have large volume of decent looking images and you can always find something decent.

3 - You end-up spending more time on these sites trying to find a decent image than you save money.

4 - Photography (quality) is arts and craft. Because of the higher supply the price have come down but they still need to make money.

5 - Model release? Just looking at one of the sites [1] one of the images had a photo of a skater [2]. I'm not sure if the skater had given a model release or not. But at least with more reputable stock sites you know there is always a model release required.

[1] http://unsplash.com/

[2] https://s3.amazonaws.com/ooomf-com-files/7erBZvZMQ2mmuFQ10vc...

edit: formatting

I thought in general the technical execution was quite good, but they tend to be over processed like 90% of all photography on the web.

> 3 - You end-up spending more time on these sites trying to find a decent image than you save money.

This is the real kicker. I found the same with stock icons and vectors. You might get lucky with the free stuff but if you have any needs that aren't completely generic you are better off going to a paid side, spend $20, and save yourself a ton of time.

Looking at some of the links on this site to supposed "stock photos that don't suck".. they are just awful in quality. Many are underexposed, poorly composed & out of focus. Also some of those sites ask for an email address so they can spam me with few pics they select every week. I just want to find a pic today that I want not something sent to me what someone else wants. Just awful.

Having been an istockphoto photographer/contributor since 2005, I can tell you that to be an istockphoto or getty photographer/contributor the bar is high. You need to pass a photography test and every photo uploaded is scrutinized by pros so it doesn't suck. So that it's exposure, framing, quality etc is top notch. Therefore guaranteeing quality at a price.

If you want free photos, you have a better chance of finding ok photos on flickr. When you find one you like contact the photographer and ask if you can use their photo giving them credit on your site. Just be careful with faces in a photo. Sites like istockphoto force all photographers to sign a Model Release form which means no surprises for the people appearing in a photo.

Unfortunately, free stock photos do suck.

I've known about unsplash and most of the other resources for a while. This weekend I needed to find some images for a landing page I was creating.

The photos you find on websites like death to the stock photo are better quality than most pictures any of us will take. They also have that hipster feel that a lot of start-ups go for with their visual communication. The problem, as semerda has already mentioned is that you have to wait periods at a time to get a small collection of photos. Unless you are extremely lucky, none of those photos will match what you require.

The other problem is that ostensibly, photographs with people and face convert far better than images of landscapes or abstract imagery, which is what most of these websites provide. If they do happen to have people then the uncertainty of release is in question (again, already mentioned in this thread).

Searching for good photographs is really hard. Especially if you don't want to lax your visual requirements. I ended up spending 4 hours searching for a good image to use on Fotolia, a professional paid-for service. If I stuck to free services, I'd still be searching.

What DOES suck about stock photography is understanding the licensing with paid-for sites. A lot of it seems riddled with ambiguity and legalese. For instance, the photos I paid for yesterday - I downloaded them but wasn't asked to provide a domain. Should I be expecting a copyright infringement notice when their bots scan my website? I'll then have to prove I bought the license to use that image. A bit of an inconvenience and sometimes a scary affair.

Another thing that sucks is the ubiquity of white people in stock images. Being in South Africa, and trying to serve the South African market as my primary market, I wanted to find great photos of black people. I'll tell you, it's not easy. Also, comparing about 100 photos, I can anecdotally say that images of black people usually cost less credits than those of white people.

What I do think they are great for is imagery to use for blog posts. I often use them [1] for blog posts that I write. Just shell out some money for paid photography if you're serious about using photos properly.

[1] http://blog.mybema.com/2014/04/10/improving-Mybema-test-suit...

They also tend to be tagged poorly while on the paid sites the owners are highly incented to properly tag the pictures to increase search hits.

Resembles an older post by Dustin Senos with almost the same list and the title.


Uh oh. It really does look like [1] is ripping off [2]. They've reordered the list a bit and added a couple.

If all other things were equal, [1] might be slightly more substantive. But not if they ripped off another post. HN has a strong bias in favor of original sources (and simple fairness!) so I think we'd better change the url. If anyone wants to make a case for the opposite, we can always change it back.

[1] http://designrope.com/design/find-stock-photos-dont-suck/

[2] https://medium.com/design-ux/62ae4bcbe01b

Edit: there is other, much more obvious blogspam at [1], so I think this is the right call. Thanks dirtyaura.

I watch TV and I believe that the ethnic mix of people on TV (in the UK) is fairly representative of the mix you would find on the train going in and out of London.

I look at marketing material prepared with stock images and fashion catalogues. What do I see? Lots of white faces. Maybe there is a picture in there somewhere of some black girl playing with young Tarquin (who is obviously white). The word 'tokenism' springs to mind.

I don't believe most people care less about what colour people are, however, if you use a lot of stock photography, step back, look at the body of your work and wonder why all the faces are white. It happens. Sometimes all the images that are supplied are of white people, yet you may not notice this until, for some random reason, you get a person of colour showing up. Then the '98% white' trend is revealed.

The thing is that not everyone wants to be white. People might want to be young, thin, beautiful, with a full head of well groomed hair - that is aspirational. So you can keep the old, fat and ugly people out of the marketing material - that is fine. But to consciously or otherwise end up with only white faces is where TV was more than a generation ago. We should have moved on, perhaps even more so than TV as the internets is global rather than parochial.

In the case of race, I don't think it's mostly about aspirational choices-- it's about who audiences relate to. There are some pretty good studies that show you inherently trust people more if they look like you (skin color, hair color, style, etc). Makes sense, right?

Now pretend you're in charge of marketing for a company to folks in the US. Pretend your product is aimed at middle-class and up (which a lot of products are-- especially the ones we at HN interact with). What skin color do you choose? If you want your marketing to perform, the faces you use should reflect pie chart of your prospective buyers. For reference, Asians, African Americans, and Hispanics each make up 5-7% of the top quintile in terms of wealth. Whites make up 80%.

I want to see this change, but the change isn't going to come from marketing departments.

The main issue is simply availability in stock photos. The young white hipsters taking stock photos of their friends simply don't have that many non-white friends.

I month or so ago, I met a guy who designs the "Opulent 3BHK now available, 1-3 crore" billboards. For those unfamiliar with Indian advertising, such billboards will typically feature a photo of a white lady doing yoga or perhaps in an evening gown. Perhaps a man will be present, admiring her. The actual apartment being advertised is rarely displayed [1].

I asked him why this is the case. The answer is simply availability of photos - shutterstock just doesn't have Indian yoga ladies/dinner party ladies/etc. Of the ones you do find, most are aesthetically unsuitable.

Here is shutterstock: http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?searchterm=yoga+woman&...

Maybe 2 black women, one or two more of questionable ethnicity, and a bunch of white chicks. Searching for "yoga woman indian" gets you a few results, but not exactly a wide selection. A search for "yoga woman desi" gets spelling-corrected to "yoga woman desk".

[1] Most of them are generic unappealing post-Le Corbusier concrete block structures. Think council housing (UK) or housing projects (US). On the rare occasion that the apartments actually have a moderately appealing appearance, you get to see a picture: http://www.phoenixfountainhead.com/

I don't see why young faces everywhere is all right. Racism is horrible, and so is ageism.

Nobody is physically young forever and you can't help that - being young is definitely not aspirational (and neither is a head full of hair, by the way). You can't work hard and "earn" your youth, or "earn" your hair. Physical fitness is another thing though, and a person doesn't have to look young in order to look healthy and attractive.

I don't understand the outcry at "ageism" in advertising. The point of advertising is to address your target audience, not everyone.

The vast majority of products simply do not cater to every demographic. Racism might at least be reasonably considered inappropriate unless you're marketing a product that specifically targets some races and not others, but ageism? It's highly likely that whatever it is you're advertising does have a well-defined audience in terms of age.

This is just another rung on the political correctness ladder. Expecting everyone to include every possible demographic in every conceivable advertising campaign is idiotic.

Making it about "what people want to be" (from GP) misses the point as well. If you're not aiming your advertising at your target demographics, you are failing either yourself or your client. That's not discrimination; it's business. Discrimination is "you're not pretty, you don't get a discount or aren't allowed to use this service."

If it's just about target audience, then I wonder why all these companies seem to target detergents / toothpaste / toilet paper exclusively to 25 year olds...

In addition to the habit-forming age (if cigarette users are aged 16-60, rational advertising would target 16, not 60), a point is that you don't show your target audience as they are, but you show your target audience as they wish to be.

If you target average 65 year old women, then you show gray-haired above-average-health 55-year women.

If you target average 45 year old men, then you show slim (but not too slim) fit (but not too fit) 38 year old men - that might plausibly be average 45 year old men, but are very much skewed towards the idealized goal.

If you target very overweight people, then you show people that are visibly overweight, but particularly good looking for that weight.

That's what works best, that's how homo sapiens are most receptive to be influenced.

I'm 36 and I've already decided on my brand of toothpaste, toilet paper detergents years ago. I will not buy another brand as long as these brand exists with the same price and quality level. I would be a very bad target for advertising.

Just going from my understanding, which could be wrong... Many people find a household goods brand they like and stick with it. For example, once you decide that Crest toothpaste is good enough for you, you'll likely continue buying it for many years without ever thinking twice about it.

So it makes sense for these household goods brands to target young adults, to become their "go-to" choice for decades to come.

Being young very much is aspirational. The fact that you can't do something has no bearing on whether you wish you could (and let's also look at hair transplants and face lifts while we're at it).

Hm. Racial and gender diversity good, but old, fat, and ugly (whatever that means) people bad. OK.

Like any other element used in well-designed communication, the stock photography choice should be appropriate. If you live in Japan for any serious length of time, you might start to yearn for more handsome white guys in your ads. (Plus what's this stuff about old, fat, and ugly? That's kind of a weird one to see in a post here.)

I live in Shanghai -- there are plenty of ads using Asian models, but (to my mind) a weirdly high number using white models.

I wouldn't say that a photo like [0] sucks any less than something like [1] at all. In fact the images listed on http://littlevisuals.co/ are just plain bad imho.

The only difference I see is that the images listed in this article come with 'filters' already applied. I think for most use cases this is actually a negative; I would never consider using an image like that for something serious - it comes off as really cheesy, even more-so than the shutterstock photos. At least with those I am in control of the post-processing.

[0] http://designrope.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/stock-photo...

[1] http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/637321/1...

I would like to point out that you are assuming the person using these photos is able to post-process in such a way as to make them more presentable for their purpose. For many people this is not the case - they don't actually know how to make the images better. I would argue that for them, these kinds of sites are a great benefit and make their lives much easier (and cheaper).

Secondly, using one photo from each is hardly representative of the whole. Many of the simple stock photos that are found can be rather cheesy.

Actually (and I am being ultra-critical here, but that's sort of the point of this, right?), [0] sucks a lot more than [1]. On [0] the white balance is all fucked up and the composition is lazy, there are also some annoying (yet easily fixable) technical issues due to the resizing (like the banding in the sky color).

I built a search engine for flickr CC images. Most of them require attribution (the license is up to the photographer).

Flickr's search is not perfect (it is based on "interestingness" over relevance), but after a page or two typically the results are passable.

It provides some nice default attribution HTML. Basically I was just scratching my own itch. YMMV.


This is really neat thanks for sharing.

I've always wondered what the copyright law was surrounding these sites.

These sites get submissions from artists who are granting them a license to distribute and offer these images royalty free. Great.

But what if an artist uploads an image to which they don't actually own the copyright. I presume that these sites are protected under copyright laws because they're not liable for content distributed on their networks but what happens to the person who used the image? I understand that they wouldn't be protected and still be liable.

Well, the site would have to react to any DMCA takedown notices immediately, but wouldn't be liable for any infringement (so-called "safe harbor" rule).

But you ask a very good question with regards to the spread from there. I suppose, as long as you complied with an cease-and-desist orders, you'd be demonstrating a good-faith ... aaah, I'm just throwing words at a screen now. I'm not a lawyer. The law is often arbitrary and confusing from my perspective.

Caveat emptor seems to always be on order.

>but wouldn't be liable for any infringement //

You're apparently assuming the sites are all hosted in USA, not an entirely terrible assumption. [Though there is a similar Electronic Commerce Directive in Europe and probably other similar laws in other jurisdictions]

As I understand it DMCA Safe Harbour is for sites where they transmit media without interaction, users upload but the site is there to simply serve the media. If the site were selling the media (direct financial benefit) or offering a commercial license for it then Safe Harbour doesn't seem valid? Applying a license would possibly be considered transformative? Similarly if the site is selecting the images to meet their requirements - using a [partially] manual method then it seems DMCA Safe Harbour wouldn't cover it.

Similarly IANAL.



A surprisingly good list. I expected the usual CC galleries on Flickr or elsewhere, or Getty Images' new (and free) embedding option.

As mentioned by someone else, I don't get the "photos sent to you weekly/monthly" sites. Why? I can't picture (har har) someone needing a photo for some design, but thinking "Welp, nothing good on the web... I'll wait to see what comes along next week." Unless it's just aimed at photography enthusiasts who enjoy seeing beautiful photos, with no intent to use them for something.

I'll also add that if you're looking to add photos to your content, consider being different and using a funny cartoon drawing instead, like Jason Cohen, 42Floors, and others have been doing. Here's a stock cartoon site I created just for that purpose: https://www.gagcartoons.com

Bloggers. I use photos every day for my blog (usually screen shots I take myself, or Flickr cc) but getting free stock photos emailed to me weekly is an interesting alternative. I've signed up for a couple of these sites based on this list. Thanks to the OP.

Totally agree about the weekly emails. Unless I was using stock photography all the time (in which case I'm less likely to need the free ones) this would be no use. I was searching urgently for a good free stock photo a while ago and these sites just made me screw my face up.

To make matters worse, there doesn't even appear to be any way to get the back-catalogue of most of these sites. Death to Stock gives you a collection of photos when you sign up, but it's just 10 sample images.

Very confusing.

Probably the avenue for monetization would be access to the back catalogues. Which in turn eliminates the free part of free stock photography.

While this may seem ludicrous (eliminating the appeal of your free stock photos over paid ones) this is common practice after a series of emails looking to elaborate on this point with a few of the services.

The whole thing seems a bit flimsy to me though: (1) Don't provide free stock photos at the time that people want them. (2) Later doe provide stock photos at the time that people want them, but no longer for free. (3) Profit!

Interestingly, this business model incentivizes subscribing to every such website's mailing list you see on the off chance you might need the photos later.

The thing about creative inspiration is that you never know where it might come from. Having a little random piece of beauty fall into your lap when you aren't expecting it could be just the thing to make an unusual connection in your brain.

The thing is, I don't want to receive stock photos daily/monthly. I want to be able to search through stock photos to find RELEVANT ones to my needs. When I need them.

I mostly use flickr and check creative commons and all the right radioboxes in the search. But yeah most of the time they suck.

Ha, I had just put up my launch page [0] yesterday using the blue mountain image. It was kind of weird to see it on top.

This article seems directly copied from this medium post [1] I found a while back, except for the addition of paid stock photo sites.

[0] http://www.wanderdash.com/ [1] https://medium.com/great-reading-for-startup-founders/62ae4b...

I think the key thing is to not underestimate what you can use for imagery. It's just not necessary to have people standing around a conference room table with a Cisco phone in the middle that they're all leaning towards (except Carl in the back, dammit Carl) when talking about business services.

From all of the things I've ever read or written, nobody cared what the pictures were, unless the pictures were explicitly diagrams or illustrations. Otherwise, it was almost white noise.

I say "almost" because, apparently, they still want for a picture, any picture, in the slot. I don't get it, what is the point of having a picture if the reader never shows a discernable reaction to the content of the picture. But you need to have a picture there. It could be a picture of a pie. It could be a picture of your city's skyline. It could even be a cat (actually, it probably should be a cat, you will probably get more hits). But A) it needs to be there, and B) it doesn't matter what it is.

For that reason, I have a strict "no purchase stock photography" rule. I have in the past, and it just wasn't worth the money. I can throw together what I need in so little time that it's not worth the money. And I'm not a graphic designer, this is just how unimportant the content of the image is.


EDIT: okay, the person I replied to deleted their post. I can see why, as they had replied directly to something I had edited out of my original post, on account of me trying to cut back on my DCQ (daily cynicism quotient). No hard feelings. Anyway, uhhh, not sure if my post makes much sense now, but I'll leave it in anyway.

Heh, I'm always interested to see the ways people internalize my username. It's meant to be a personal reminder "there is always someone smarter than me, and I'm not entitled to my job." It's meant to be a foil against my cynicism, thus why I put it in my username, which I see every day. But cynicism is really just ugly criticism, and if I recognize it in time, I can turn it into constructive criticism.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting just tossing a blurry cat photo on to everything (though in the right way it could be done... I digress). But the barrier to entry for creating decent-enough photos has dropped significantly in the last 10 years.

You are right, you have to ask yourself what you want to get out of the photo.

As a photographer myself, I don't think my time is worth anything. The value of my photography is not a function of the time I put into it. I might need more time to take a certain photo of a certain quality than another photographer, or I might need less time. That doesn't change the value of the photo. We're not talking about factory work. All creative work is valued independently from the time and effort spent on it. While we can make rough correlations between "time spent" and "quality", the two are not linked one-to-one, certainly if we're considering a marketplace of creative workers and the output they produce. One person's 15 minutes could eclipse another person's 1 week.

There are differences that the artist cares about and there are differences that the consumer cares about. And it hurts to hear it, because we've spent thousands of dollars on camera gear, but most consumers just don't care about the technical quality of the camera, beyond a certain point.

There are some who do. But I'm not convinced most do.

Most people do not see photography as art. They see it as another form of diary keeping. I get this all the time when I'm out with my camera. "Why are you taking a picture of that bug, who wants to see that?" or "Why don't you want a picture taken of yourself to commemorate the moment?" I see it constantly, most people (except other photographers) are completely perplexed by my photography motivation. "You've got hundreds of gigs of storage space, why wouldn't you take millions of photos?" Because then I'd have to look at millions of photos, and they'd mostly be junk.

One particular moment stands out in my head. I was in the Galapagos Islands, and we were near the end of the trip. Our guide took us on a tour of a research center on the main island. We had just spent two weeks looking at iguanas and turtles and lizards in the wild, and now we were in a glorified zoo to look at iguanas and turtles and lizards. Now, I don't mind getting to look at more animals, but I left my camera on the boat for this trip, and didn't regret it. The rest of the people were almost freaking out, "how could you leave your awesome camera behind? I bet you're kicking yourself right now." Why? We're not seeing anything new, and I can't take an interesting photo of an animal in a cage. (I'm not saying it's impossible, I just know that I can't for the parameters of the situation).

Most people, even people with expensive cameras, don't understand photography as art.

Look at the wedding photography industry. I am willing to bet that the people who pay for expensive photographers (who do spend a lot of time working, I do not doubt that) are either sinfully rich and make a habit out of buying the most expensive things, or are photographers themselves, amateur or professional. I did, because I knew I would care about the quality. Most of my friends did not, and freaked out about what I would have considered even cheap prices. They wanted a log, not an art book.

We can see the quality difference between a blog on Medium with a really nice photo that was taken with care. We can say "yes, this is good". But for every one of those, there are probably 10 teenage girls on Tumblr who is posting grainy iPhone photos of their cats with twee sayings MS Painted on top, with 100,000 followers each.

So back to my point: if what I want to get out of my photo is "drive clicks", it doesn't really that much matter. If what I want to get out of my photo is "sell units", it's actually better to have a lot of photos than it is to have great photos. If what I want to get out of my photo is "respect as a photographer", then of course, I will spend time on it.

But I don't confuse that for "selling units".

A newly discovered favorite of mine is http://stocksy.com - As far as I know it's invite only and/or has a pretty strict approval process for photographers that want to sell on their site. From what I've seen, the quality is often higher than your typical iStock. It's probably a little more expensive than iStock, but nowhere near the cost of Getty where you can spend several hundred to thousands of dollars per photo. The biggest downsides I've noticed so far is that their search/refinement filters are not the best, and they don't have the quantity that other larger stock photo sites do.

Here's an example:




"Ethnic people around whiteboard, discussing important business things" -- artist unknown

sxc.hu which recently changed to http://www.freeimages.com/ has a decentish collection. been using it for years when quality isn't too important.

but i tend to use photodune.com for anything a bit more serious, the images vary from $1 to $5, and they have many to choose from. But if they don't have anything good enough then its over to istockphoto.

of course there is also the getty embed thing they announced a while ago (http://www.gettyimages.com/Creative/Frontdoor/embed) which might be handy if you just want small blog content.

Alternatively, if you want to search for a more specific image, this is pretty convenient: http://nuggety.com/u/nuggety/top-image-search-engines

One of the things which we decided when started up was to not use any stock photography. I think we have mostly managed. Instead we focused on taking a lot of pictures. It feels to us, and we hear a lot from others, that it gives a genuine voice to our comms work. Which is really important for us. The photography is spread over a number of Flickr accounts, but we know where it is.

My colleague Mark has a bunch of it: https://www.flickr.com/photos/charmermrk/collections/7215760...

The photos from deathtothestockphoto look decent, but I see no central place to search through them. You can only get them by email. Their Instagram feed only has 46 photos. The rest of these look like the usual generic photos.

However, it is refreshing finally find some sites that actually offer free photos. Most sites that pop up in a Google search have a few free ones, then billions of affiliate links to Shutterstock. Nothing against Shutterstock, but it does get frustrating to search for free images and constantly end up on a page requesting payment.

Not free, but high quality and much cheaper than shutterstock etc: http://yaymicro.com/view.action

Thanks for recommending yaymicro. Glad you like it. I work for the company behind yaymicro.com. They just launched a new subscription service. Yayimages.com is "spotify for stock photos". The idea is that you can stream unlimited images (the same 4 million+ images as yaymicro) for $10/mo. Just wanted to share with you guys and hopefully get some HN feedback.

"They" Are you working for Yaymicro or not?

I have nothing to do with yay or yaymicro, just read about it a while ago, thought it relevant. geir said he works for the company behind yaymicro.com...

Yes, I am working for them part-time. Let me know what you think about the service if you try it. Would love some feedback.

Say hi to Oddbjørn :)

Not free, but I've found that http://photodune.net has good stock photos that aren't too expensive ($1-$5 per image and usually the $1 or $2 image is large enough for a website). They are much cheaper than istockphoto, and they are priced in dollars, not credits, and they allow you to buy a single photo without subscribing to a monthly plan, buying lots of credits in bulk, etc.

Cool. Several were new to me. Here's another good one: http://www.morguefile.com/

Here is the original article that I assume this Medium post was based on. Seeing as they essentially share the same title. http://designrope.com/design/find-stock-photos-dont-suck/

Not free, but Dollar Photo Club (www.dollarphotoclub.com) seems to be one of the more cost-effective offers I've come across in recent months. Certainly cost-effective for anyone requiring a steady stream of stock photos for blogging or some other purpose.

I created http://picmint.io just as a place to keep photos I have taken that may come in handy for projects and as a way to tinker with IFTT. Free for anyone to use if you see something you like.

I'm surprised 500px wasn't on this list.

Anyone know of a clip-art (non-photo illustration) version of this list?

Try openclipart.org.


This post has been getting a lot of mileage on both HN and layervault. Perhaps disproportionately.

I was surprised, when I finally clicked through after the link stayed on the front page for several hours, to find what looked like a link sharing site. Basically just an ad and nothing more? Why would people unvote an ad?

dang mentioned the voting ring detector recently, I wonder if there might be some of that going on here?

Stock photos suck by definition. They give an unrealistic and overly edited/positioned view of reality. If you are using stock photos, you are in line with infomercials and false claims.

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