Where to find stock photos for white papers and B2B marketing

At That White Paper Guy, we really like using stock photos, both in white papers and in our social media.

When you find realistic-looking stock photos, they can retain readers who would otherwise be put off by a wall of gray text.

To help you make your content more interesting, we’ve done some research on the best stock photo services out there.

A word about photo choices

But first, some advice: Be sure not to fill up your white papers with “smug shots”.

That’s what we call those cloying photos with fake happy-faced people looking like they just walked out of an ad—or maybe off of an alien spaceship, bent on infiltrating our culture.

Here’s a good example of a smug shot:

stock photo of smiling faces of executives

(No, we didn’t pay for this photo—and we recommend you don’t either.)

Rather, your images should illuminate your content. Or depict your target reader, or the problem you’re discussing. A light image can even play off your content.

Take a look at a few of the images That White Paper Guy has found and used in white papers in the past:

stock photo of computer screen stock photo of sprocket stock photo of vintage car

Where to find photos? We did the research.

Looking for stock photography can be a little overwhelming, with 369,000,000 results in a Google search for stock photos.

So how do you find the best place?

We recently explored several stock photography websites. We looked at how many images the site has, the index quality, and cost.

We also ran identical searches, when possible, for photos that could be used in white papers. Our search term was “cloud computing” and we’re sharing the first three images that appeared for each of our searches.

Here are our results.

iStock www.istockphoto.com

Selection: Many millions of images + vector illustrations, videos, music, and sound effects.
Index quality: Easy search function with option to find similar photos, or search by orientation (horizontal, vertical or square)
Search term results: 2,200 images
3 stock photos found for search term "cloud"
Cost: 1 credit=$13, 3 credits=$36, 18 credits=$188
Cost for each of the images above is 3 credits, or $36. All sizes are the same price.
Notes: iStock is a well-established source where smaller photos were once available for about $5. Costs have gone up dramatically in the past year.

Your costs can now escalate quickly if you add several images into a white paper.

Shutterstock www.shutterstock.com

Selection: 40 million images, including graphics
Index quality: Easy search by keyword or category
Search term results: 1,270+
3 stock photo samples of hand in cloud
Cost: 2 for $29; 5 for $49; 25 for $229 so the cost of any image above would be $15.
Notes: Pre-paid credits must be used within 12 months of purchase date.

Bigstock www.bigstockphoto.com

Selection: 23+ million photos, videos, and vectors
Index quality: Simple interface for both keyword and category searches
Search term results: 66,000+3 stock photos of cloud computing from Bigstock photosCost: 10 credits=$35, 25 credits=$49, 100 credits=$169
You can buy the first photo (above) at medium size (5.3″x2.8″/300 dpi) for 2 credits = $7 or less. Most small images start at 1 credit.
Notes: Owned by Shutterstock. Site features one free image each week.

Dreamstime www.dreamstime.com

Selection: Approaching 30 million images in early 2015
Index quality: Search tool offers extensive search features. Site also features a tracking tool for account holders on its main page.
Search term results: 5,000+3 Dreamstime stock photo samples of hands with clouds
Cost: 11 credits=$15, 5 images per month for $45 Images start at 1 credit. Cost of the first photo (above) at medium size is 16 credits (about $20).
Notes: Credits expire after one year. There is a “free” section, but it didn’t give any results for our search. For free images, the site requests users give credit to the source, as indicated on the download page.

Stock Free Images www.stockfreeimages.com

Selection: Claims to be the largest collection of free images on the web, with 1+ million images, royalty-free photos, and illustrations.
Index quality: Search by keyword or select a category. Photos that turn up in results are not all free.
Search term results: First row of images that came up were from Dreamstime. The second row included two free images that didn’t really satisfy the search term.three stock photos from a search for the word, "cloud"Still, a search for the term “cloud” brought up more than 33,000 free images.
Cost: Free, as long as the photos are from this site. Search results will include images from Dreamstime.com that cost money.
Notes: Owned by Dreamstime. Linkbacks, preferably in html format, are required.

Fotolia www.fotolia.com

Selection: 36 million royalty-free images
Index quality: Search by keyword, multiple terms for advanced searches
Search term results: 39,688

3 sample photos depict hands on desk, holding a tablet and cupped under a cloud image

Cost: Credits start at 10=$14; 26=$35 or set a custom amount. Monthly subscriptions start with 10 medium images at $25 per month. Cost of the first photo (above) is 6 credits for small = $8.40.

Notes: Offers free images of the week.

Deathtothestockphoto www.deathtothestockphoto.com

Selection: Small library of 400 (as of early 2015) and growing
Index quality: No index available
Search term results: Not available. Free photos are sent by e-mail each month. We selected the first 3 images in our free photo pack to demonstrate the type of photos available.
3 sample stock photos depict whats available at this site; wine carafe, hand on computer mouse, hand holding pen with envelope, glasses and phone on tableCost: A $10 per month premium membership gives access to the library, all packages online, and an extra package each month. Sign up and receive a link to access 14 free images.
Notes: This site was created when a group of owners decided to share the photos on their own laptops.

75 Free Stock Photos from Hubspot http://offers.hubspot.com/free-stock-photos

Selection: 75 free stock photos
Index quality: 5 categories: Experience, Working Hard, Laptop Work, People Together, and Silly Photos
Search term results: No search available. Here’s a sample of photos from 3 of the categories.
3 stock photos; hand draws cloud with goal inside, woman in front of wall with question marks, and woman smiling at computerCost: Register and then download images for free. 
Notes: If you’re on a tight budget, these images may work just fine for you.

Saving the best for last?

Just as our search was winding down, we came across a very interesting stock photo site.

The Stocks http://thestocks.im/

The site claims to have the best royalty-free stock photos in one place.

Royalty-free generally means the photo is free to use as often as you like once you purchase, but these images appear to be entirely free.

While The Stocks doesn’t have a main search engine, you’ll find various search tools ranging from keyword queries to grids within the pages of each of 16 or so contributors.

Don’t be surprised to find a popup telling you your search might go better at iStock Photo, though there’s no visible sign of any connection between the two.

A quick search found photos of clouds though they didn’t fit our “cloud computing” search term.
three sample images of stock photos of clouds
The fact we stumbled upon The Stocks at the last minute is a testament to the ever-changing world of stock photography. While we’re not declaring this one to be the best stock photo site, it’s definitely got some great free photos and we’ll be investigating it further.

With so many sources of inexpensive stock photos, there no excuse for any more “walls of grey.” It’s time to liven up your white papers with images.

Just be sure to read the fine print on the terms of agreement for every site.

In the end, you’ll get better results if your content features some lively images.

Have you got a favorite stock photography site? Share it with us in our Comment section below.

6 Comments

  1. joe on February 26, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Go to bing.com, click on images put in term, under a tab of “license” select free to use commercially. Easy, free and usually gives you quite a selection. Learned from bmyers.com

    • Pauline Clark on February 26, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      We’ll check that out. Thanks, Joe!

  2. Kim Gray on February 26, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I use 123rf.com and love it. They have a great search engine, various sizes and on-demand pricing. You can pay $38 for 40 credits and get 40 images!

    • Pauline Clark on February 26, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      That sounds like a great deal, Kim. Thanks. We’ll check it out.

  3. Apryl Parcher on February 27, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Dollarphotoclub.com is another one that we use a lot and recommend to our clients.It’s a membership site, but the price is right and the quality of the images is very nice.

    • Pauline Clark on March 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      Hey Apryl…we’ve been a bit swamped here but we’re going to check that out too! Thanks for the tip

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