Where to find great images for social media marketing | ARP Brand Photos
Image of business owner and therapist Lindsey mckeirnan working from a cafe on her laptop, sitting out on the patio. In the image she is working on selecting images for social media for her small business.

Where to find great images for social media marketing

December 21, 2021

Most of us didn’t get into business ownership to be content marketing managers. But, here we are! As CEOs, this is a hat we sometimes have to wear. The struggle for new, relevant, consistent images for social media is real! In this post, we’re going to break down some of the best sources out there for stock images, custom graphics, and commercial use photos. Before we dig in, please note that some of the sites offer different licensing options and terms. You’ll need to read the parameters for each download, purchase, or subscription very carefully.  Mind the legal details, so you don’t end up with fines! As a brand photographer, I’m often coming in to help business owners create their own custom brand imagery after exhausting stock and DIY options. We’ll talk all about when it’s time to transition too! Personalizing your brand is an important part of standing out in your market.

Where to find free images for social media marketing

High quality, free, and commercial use images are hard to find! We’ve rounded up some sites here, but be sure to check the licensing agreements. Terms are subject to frequent changes.

Unsplash

Unplash offers free stock photos and allows you to make an account, save photos, and organize collections.

Pixabay

Similar to unsplash, Pixabay is a standard, free stock photography website. You’ll notice that there are some images that are in libraries on multiple of these sites. Pixabay, Pexels, Canva, and Unsplash have a fair amount of cross-over for related searches.

Picjumbo

Picjumbo is a photographer-owned site that boasts new photos daily. They have great categorization and search tools. When you’re looking for something specific, this is so nice!

Death to Stock

This company recognized the terrible cheesy stock photos for what they were, and demanded better. Death to Stock is committed to quality, variety, and ending bad stock photography. I won’t say they nailed it, but the selection is much more interesting than the other sites. If you have a specific concept, check here!

Jumpstory

Jumpstory offers a guarantee, that they’ve checked the licensing agreement over and you can use their free images worry-free.

Pexels

Looking for free stock photos? Pexels has a great selection! They offer photographer profiles and similar content, so you can find more of what you know you like.

Gratisography

A cute play on words, and also a great place to get fun, free social media images!

Dreamstime

More free royalty-free images to sort through!

Creative Commons

Creative Commons offers openly-licensed work created by artists and professionals with public use in mind. There are lots of different types of content and licensing available here, so be sure to read the fine print and respect the creator’s agreement.

There’s dozens more websites to choose from. Check out this list from Hootsuite!

The best paid stock photography websites

When you start looking for more specific photographs, you may need to upgrade to paid stock photography. Free stock photo sites have limited selection, lots of overlap, and over-used public photos. For specific needs, you may need to consider paying for exclusive use, having your own photos taken, or designing custom graphics.

Creative Market

Creative Market is unique to other paid stock photo sites because it offer exclusivity. The photographer sells the image directly to you, and others won’t be using it. Prices vary by photographer, but start as low as $5 per image.

iStock Photo

iStock has one of the most robust and well known stock photo libraries. They’re also the most over-used, so your content isn’t guaranteed to be unique. Ghetty Images now owns iStock, but their libraries remain separate.

Twenty20

This is a modern stock photography subscription site. We all have that image in mind when we think “stock photo.” It’s basically all white background, someone’s making an over-emphasized expression, and terribly cheesy. Twenty20 offers bright, creative, more natural stock photography for modern businesses.

Adobe Stock

Adobe offers both free and paid stock photo libraries. If you’re already using other Adobe tools, you might have access you didn’t know about!

Shutterstock

Shutterstock is another popular, robust library of royalty-free stock images.

Canva

We’re going to talk more about Canva here in a minute. But, for pro subscriptions, they have a great photo library!

Creating custom graphics and images for social media

There are lots of ways to create your own graphics for social media. Designing custom graphics ensures your brand is unique, recognizable, and consistent. This allows you a lot more control! Here are a few design tools you can use to create graphics for your business.

For the expert, Adobe Creative Cloud

If you already have some graphic design experience, you probably are well aware of Adobe’s design tools. InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Spark offer different ways to create graphics for your marketing materials. They even have mobile apps for your phone! Plus, create from any device with cloud storage.

Canva – easy graphic design tool for business owners

Canva has made it easy to create professional graphics quickly and consistently. They offer a large library of free templates, photos, icons, graphics, and animations in ready-to-use formatting. Just add your business details and go! If you’re up for the paid subscription, you’ll have a deeper library of fonts, images, templates, and more.

Tailwind for Pinterest and Instagram

While traditionally used as a scheduler, Tailwind now offers tailwind create, an in-app content developer. Use Tailwind to create new designs, as well as schedule and post to Instagram and Pinterest. This tool is particularly useful if you are in the wedding and events industry, where your clients are shopping and pinning ideas months before they reach out to you.

PicMonkey

Anyone else used to edit in PicMonkey before Adobe was accessible? No? Don’t make me feel old now! PicMonkey has evolved from a limited (and somewhat terrible) photo editor, to a graphic design app.

Sketch

Sketch is a mobile design app, rivaling Canva and Adobe.

Fiverr

When you can’t find what you need, you can hire a designer to create something for you! Fiverr is named for it’s “five dollar jobs.” Most artists offer affordable pricing for short projects, usually under a couple hours. Connect with a designer to see if they can help you create custom graphics for your business.

What to look for in stock imagery for small business marketing

Licensing

This is worth mentioning twice! Some images are licensed for unlimited commercial use, so you can use them for social media marketing. Others are one-time use, non-commercial only, or are okay to use but only when the photographer is credited. Make sure that you are using the image with permission, crediting the photographer if they require this, and have a license for commercial use.

Branding

Ensure that you keep your brand style as consistent as possible. You want to use images with similar exposure (brightness, in layman’s terms!), contrast, sharpness, and quality. People will start to associate your company with a particular style. Constantly mixing this up can create a subliminal impression that you are inconsistent–not just with marketing, but in general. Consistency builds trust!

Size and Resolution

Each digital platform has different size requirements for the images you use on their sites. A Facebook profile image, post, header image, and event cover photo are all different sizes, for example. You need to make sure the images you download or purchase are the proper resolution and dimensions. I highlighted the most used dimensions below, but here’s a comprehensive guide on sizing images for social media.

  • Facebook: 1,200 x 630 pixels
  • Twitter: 1,024 x 512 pixels
  • LinkedIn: 1104 x 736 pixels
  • Instagram: 1,080 x 1,080 pixels
  • Pinterest: 236-pixel width

More education on brand and marketing imagery

If you found me googling for stock imagery, then welcome! I’m a brand photographer and serial entrepreneur with loads of free resources on photography for your business, small business marketing, and engaging on social media. Your online presence is a sales tool for your business. For a personal brand, that means it should have a recognizable personality! I send a weekly newsletter with robust guidance, insights, and advice for business owners to raise the bar for their brand imagery, allowing them to raise their prices, book ideal clients, and grow their business. Join the list to get next week’s email!

The limitations of stock photography and DIY content

Stock photography is generic. The artists who create for these sites intend to get as much use and downloads out of their photographs as possible, so they work with a large audience in mind. If you’re using exclusively stock photography–especially free stock photography–your content is likely generic too. If competition in your industry is not very tight and you’re able to stay on brand with stock imagery, this might be okay. But keep in mind that people are more likely to buy from business that are relatable, memorable, engaging, and consistent. You can’t tell your whole brand story through stock content, so you’re going to need to produce some original imagery too.

Your time is valuable

Great stock photography takes time to sort through. You’re looking for a specific topic, brand requirements, sizing, and licensing. All that filtering time adds up and takes you away from the work on growing your business. We’ve just scratched the surface on the most well-known sources out there, and the choices are overwhelming. It’s still possible to publish with a specific brand vision in mind using stock photos, but it will take a strong understanding of what imagery meets your brand voice and lots of searching for the right content. Lastly, you might not have unlimited usage. If you are printing larger size items or using an image in multiple projects, you may run into limitations with resolution or license agreement. Also double check the fine print!

Taking your own behind the scenes and branding photos

Hey Amanda, aren’t you a brand photographer? Why would you recommend this?!

Great question! I wouldn’t. But, I recognize that there are people reading my website, emails, and blog that aren’t ready for personal brand photography. I meet business owners at all stages in their journey. Developing a personal brand is still important, even when you’re just starting out and have no budget. People hire businesses that are consistently visible and build connections. It’s never too early to start working on your personal brand, even if that means some DIY effort in the beginning. Just know that when you are trying to grow and scale your business, there are brand photographers out there who can get you to that next level and multiply your results for your efforts.

If you’re taking your own headshots, brand photos, or social media images for your business, start with these tips:

  • Use as much natural light as possible. Open the window shades, turn off your orange overhead lights, and let that sunlight in!
  • Take a blend of posed, casual, and behind the scenes content. Show people what it’s actually like in your workspace!
  • Shoot with your end goal in mind. Need a new blog cover image? Looking for a social media profile picture? Don’t forget those sizes are completely different! Leave room for cropping and white space for text placement. There are dozens of ways to use your brand photos, so make sure to plan for them all!
  • Bring your personality into the shoot! Your family, animals, hobbies, favorite foods, shopping habits. Personal branding is about being yourself!
  • Be confident! If you’re not, fake it! Our feelings and nerves show through in our expressions. You want your images to say “let me tell you more about how I can help you,” NOT “oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re actually interested in this.” You got this!

Knowing when it’s time to invest in professional images for social media

When your online presence doesn’t look as professional as the service and experience you’re offering your clients, then it’s time for an upgrade. If you are moving into scaling your business you are at a point where you know who your audience is, what you are offering them, and what they want from you. This gives us a really good baseline to start building on. I will want to know what your freebies are, what your client experience looks like, and how the behind-the-scenes systems function. We want to capture all of that so that we can incorporate it into your website and marketing campaigns in a purposeful way. Read more on how to know when the timing is right for a brand photography session.

headshot of Vedam of Vee Cullinary, taken outside a building in Wilmington NC

So is personal brand photography really worth it?

The biggest regret my clients have is not taking the leap sooner. Seriously, the sooner you have a professional visual brand, the easier it is for you to gain respect and authority online! Take it from one of our repeat clients, Vedam. He says:

Amanda is so worth it! She listens to you and your vision of your brand, and if you are not sure what that is yet, she can also help you solidify your dream and make it a reality! I have worked with Amanda on two different shoots and will be bringing her along on multiple other events! Having a great photo library of your work is imperative!! And by the way this is completely unsolicited… I just saw her post and wanted to chime in!” – Instagram Comment, Sept 2, 2021. View his brand photography spotlight here!

More brand photography testimonials

Ready to take the leap into custom, personal brand photography?

February and March openings are filling up. If you’re ready to tell the behind the scenes story of your business with consistency, this is the perfect time of year to get started. Take the next step and reach out for a consultation call now. Let’s get your brand ready for the new year!

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