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How to find free stock photos that don't suck

How to find free stock photos that don't suck

Let's be honest: stock photos can have a bad rep. Cheesy, posed, overused, inauthentic; there are a lot of ways that stock imagery can go wrong. That said, there are a ton of amazing free images out there, and if you can find the good stuff, free stock can be an invaluable resource for your brand. So before you turn your nose up at the first mention of "stock", keep reading to learn how to filter through the crap and start uncovering some free photographic gold. 

Know where to look

There are actually a ton of free stock websites out there these days, which is both great and challenging at the same time. You can easily spend hours searching through page after page of subpar or off-target imagery and only come up with a few worthy photos for all of your troubles. If you want to avoid this kind of time sink, the first step in finding gorgeous free images quickly is knowing which sites it’s worth spending your time on. Avoid cheesy and overused photos by starting with our curated list of the Top 10 Sites for Gorgeous Free Stock Photos. (We’ll be putting together a post for paid stock resources in the near future… stay tuned for that soon!)

Top 10 sites for gorgeous free stock images

Get creative with your keywords

If you’re serious about finding the best free stock photos out there, going with your first keyword instinct simply isn’t going to get the job done. To do a proper deep dive, run multiple searches with multiple keywords and keyword combinations. For example, let’s say you’re a yoga instructor putting together a yoga retreat for the first time, and you need some images to build out your website with. Run a search for “yoga retreat”, and you’ll get fairly limited results that actually fit the bill. Don’t give up here. Instead, try search terms like, “yoga instructor”, “outdoor yoga”, “outdoor exercise”, “self-care”, “wellness retreat”, “wellness woman”, “wellness man”, “movement”, “healthy lifestyle”, “tropical escape”, “tropical resort”, etc. 

Here’s another example: you own a line of skincare products and are building your brand identity. You need some lifestyle photos to complement your product shots. Start with the obvious: “skin-care”, but expand from there. “Beauty routine”, “beauty” “facials”, “self-care”, “close-up woman”, “moisturizer”, "washing face", “product”, “product outdoors”, “product outside”, etc. Are you after a beachy summer vibe for your brand? Add some texture to your visual language and try “black and white beach”, “saltwater”, “fresh air”, “whimsical”, “summer”, “playful” to pair up with whatever amazing skin-care-specific shots you find. This is how impressive image libraries are built.

Lastly, don't forget to search by the feeling you want to convey with your brand or your project. Maybe you search for "fresh" or "whimsical" or "moody". By running all of these searches in tandem, you'll end up with gorgeously diverse collections of imagery rather than a bunch of photos that just hit one single note.

pexels search bar


Hone in on artists you like

Where one gorgeous image exists, others often follow. Notice if you’re saving several images from the same photographer, and if so, click into that photographer’s profile and browse their entire library of images. This is a great way not only to find great photos, but to end up with a collection of photos that all work well together, as well. Photographers often have distinct photographic styles or aesthetic vibes, and you should definitely be using that to your advantage! Bonus: when using platforms like Unsplash and Pexels, take advantage of their ability to follow artists. This will pump a whole bunch of high-quality free stock images directly into your home feed, helping you cut through the clutter by only being shown images from photographers you already know you like. 

follow artists


Let AI help you

When a cool photo shows up in your search result, if you just download it directly from the grid page and move on, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to fine even more great imagery. Be sure to click into each photo you find, and then scroll down. Most of the larger stock photo platforms will display a set of similar images directly below it. This is a great tool for discovery and it often turns up gorgeous images you wouldn’t have found otherwise. 

related photos


Utilize collections

Collections are one of the most useful tools on the free stock websites. This is where the rabbit hole begins, and where you start to uncover some truly awesome shots that haven’t already been used everywhere. You’re also leveraging the work other people have done to find the best free photos out there, meaning that’s less work for you to do yourself. 

On both Unsplash and Pexels, you can browse through photographers collections of photos, as well as collections that users have compiled themselves. At the bottom of each collection is a suggested list of additional similar collections, and on and on the rabbit hole goes. (While this can be a great way to find a whole slew of images in one fell swoop, just remember that collections can be created by literally anybody, and that not everybody has the same criteria or eye for design that you might want to bring to your work. So, remember to be picky here. Just because it made someone else’s collection doesn’t mean it’s worthy of using). 

related collections


It’s not just the big players that offer this functionality. Kaboompics, a lesser known but incredibly high-quality free stock site, lets you browse by photo shoot, which a great way to get a curated and cohesive batch of imagery all from one place. This is a great design tool for building a brand vibe around quickly.


Have someone do the hard work for you!

This list wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for our own curated collections! We’re the only service out there that does the stock photo research for you, and this by far the most cost effective and time efficient way to find the best free stock photos on the internet. All those steps we listed above? We’ve already done them. We’ve already found the good stuff; we’ve already curated it together into gorgeous, vibey, inspirational image collections that are ready to use in your website designs, brand identities, social media feeds, and more. Unlike the stock websites above, we offer the ability to browse by vibe, and when you’re dealing with imagery and building creative or even entire businesses around it, feeling is everything. Consider Mosaic very inexpensive outsourcing to your own personal creative directors, and instead of spending time searching for photos, spend your time creating and doing what you do best. Why work harder when you can work smarter!

mosaic collections

Happy searching! 

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