Stock Photos for Writers and Bloggers

If you already know the basics of using royalty free stock images, you can scroll down to skip the rhetoric and go straight to the recommended resources links. 😉

Why Writers and Bloggers Need Quality Images

visualizePictures may or may not be worth a thousand words, but using images is absolutely required for the modern writer.

  • Images draw attention.
  • Images enhance the words.
  • Images pull link juice

Though writers may prefer words, we write for our readers, and most readers prefer images and visual formatting for comfortable reading on multiple forms of media.  This is why writers must also consider fonts, font size, and white space.

Most forms of modern writing also need images either to support or enhance points or to give the eye an expected break.

For the online writer, images are also important for SEO and social networking.  (Make sure images are properly named, tagged, and formatted to generate visual appeal and link juice.)

The bottom line is that Writers and bloggers need good (and affordable) resources for quality royalty free images.

What Are Royalty Free Stock Photos?

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder by Sherry Snider

One of my own images where the shot and text were more important than artistic quality

Ideally, we can create the required screenshots and photos ourselves, but in the real world, most of us are not professional photographers or illustrators.  At some point, we’ll have to defer to online resources to get appropriate and quality images for our work.

Royalty Free means you don’t have to keep paying royalties to the artist every time an image is used or accessed.

It’s important to make sure the photos are royalty free unless you or your company has the capability of paying royalties.

pencil pusher by Zsuzsanna Kilian on Stock.xchng

Pencil Pusher by Zsuzsanna Kilian on Stock.xchng

No Cost?

Royalty Free does NOT necessarily mean “free” to use.  There ARE many free images available for writers and bloggers – either totally free to use as needed, or free to use under creative commons or license agreements – usually with the agreement to credit the photographer or illustrator.

Flickr’s Creative Commons collection briefly describes most of the standard license agreements.

Just as many writers offer blog posts or sample chapters free to readers, many artists offer free images to boost links, name recognition, and to attract other work opportunities.


Kickin Back in the Redneck Recliner WheelbarrowThe price of paying for stock images usually removes the need to credit sources.  You’re paying for the right to use the image as needed.

In my experience, the best quality images are usually on paid/paying sites.  With that said, however, I DO need quality images.  I may NOT need the BEST quality images.

Depending on the specific need or use, I may still choose a quality image I can get for free over a super high quality image that will cost me.   It depends on the project.  If it’s a high profile / high return project, I don’t mind investing a few dollars on a great image by a professional photographer or artist.

Some of the really high quality images can be expensive – beyond the comfortable budget of most writers and bloggers, but most are reasonably priced.  With pay-as-you-go and credit purchasing systems, high quality royalty free images can be purchased between $1-5

Where to Get Stock Photos

There are LOTS of online resources for royalty-free stock photos, both free and purchased.  I’ve experimented and tried multiple stock photo and stock image sites over the years.  As friends and colleagues recommend new resources, I also try those, so the resources listed here may change as I find new options.

I won’t even attempt to list ALL the resources I’ve tried.  Instead, since folks frequently ask me about my favorite online resources for images, I’ll list just those…the ones I still use and recommend.  Then, since we all have different favorites, I’ll list a few links that recommend even more sites.

As with all paid, but especially FREE royalty-free images, DO verify the terms of service and license conditions.  Make sure you ONLY use the images as allowed.

Paid Sources:

To Purchase Royalty Free Images

Always check the specific terms of use for purchased images.

Free Sources:

Under License Agreements, Royalty Free Images

Always double-check for no known copyright restrictions.

Public Domain Clipart Sites

Other Tips and Resources:

When You Still Can’t Find An Image

If you still can’t find an appropriate image or photo, you can use one of the online services to commission a photo or illustration.  Colleagues and I have all had varying levels of success with the following:

I also like to hire local photographers when I need exceptionally good quality photos.  If I need a very specific photo of a very specific item – in a very high quality image, it’s best to defer to the professionals who already have all the proper equipment ready to shoot.

Your Favorites?

How about you?  Do you use the same resources I listed, or do you have other favorites I should try?  How about freelancers on Elance, ODesk, or Fiverr?  Do you have any favorites to refer?

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Stock Photos for Writers and Bloggers — 12 Comments

  1. Great collection and useful. I love Flickr’s Creative Commons and grab images from there (with credit to photographers of course) all the time for blog posts.

    • That’s not a bad plan for sure, but it does have a drawback. When you embed photos from Flickr (which you have to do if you want to use it per their rules), the browser has to go to that server to bring up the photos when someone is requesting your page. That “embed” slows down the load time of the site AND it adds an external link that doesn’t help your overall SEO.

      I’m all for Flickr but advise people to use it sparingly and to avoid using it on hub pages that you’re really trying to get ranked.

      • Yeah. I’m pretty paranoid about checking and double-checking TOS/use permissions. Even images from one central site may have different permissions for use/different contributors, etc. Even creative commons permissions make me nervous since there are various levels of creative commons use. I’m partial to the “safe” sources that explicitly say I can use and/or modify for commercial use.

  2. I like the ones you listed I call them the big three. Istock, bigstock and deramstine. I like you have a long list of free sites some good some not so good. Great blog by the way. I worry a lot when I use free images, I like that guarantee that the big three give. Even then I worry some day some guy or girl will come back and say. Hay that’s my picture and you can’t use it.. LOL!!

  3. Sherry, this is a great post. Thanks for all the resources. I personally either take my own pictures or use

    Lynn Terry has a thread on her main Clicknewz forum called What do you use for pictures? and I’m going to link this over there.

    Good stuff!

  4. Great article. Very helpful. I’ve already passed the link on.

    Thank you and thanks to Angie for posting this in the ClickNewz forum where I picked it up!

    I use all my own photos, especially on my Photography and Transformation blog which is about the photos themselves inspiring the queries and life transitions.

    And, I can see where, in the future, I may have some needs for other photos also, on other blogs, so this is very helpful.

    In the meantime, I’m hoping my own work, not meant for others’ use unless permission is requested, is protected with the © symbol on them.

    Thanks again, Sherry.

  5. Hi Sherry
    Thank you so much for these resources. I had a couple of them, but had never seen the Clip Art ones. This is a very helpful post, thanks!

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  7. I like for excellent free graphics. I used Flickr once, but the time it took to contact the photographer was a bit long.

  8. I have to admit I’ve tired of the “big” stock photo sites because the photos have a “generic” look to them, and the quality is often lacking. I’ve tried a couple of the other resources pointed out in the blog and comments, and lately I’ve been using too. All the photos are available in “extra small” file size that is perfect for blogs and affordable.