Need Stock Images?

[updated Oct. 6, 2009]

OK, you want to liven up your web content but you don’t have a photo of every topic laying around. Stock art is a good way to go. There are even free and cheap options for photos and other images.

Can’t I Just Grab Something from Google Images?

Winter yard by Val Nelson

Copyright should be assumed even without obvious copyright mark.

No. Unless it’s clearly marked as available (such as with a Creative Commons license), it is copyrighted material that is illegal to reproduce.

It’s easy enough for people to track down illegal uses of their content and for it to backfire on you. It could even end up hurting your website’s rank in Google.

Believe me, I know from personal experience that you wouldn’t want your original work to be copied by someone else for their own uses. Do unto others… is still a good rule.

So, you have to find legally available images. Either pay a photographer, take photos, or obtain stock art. And it can be free or cheap to use stock art.

Pros and Cons of Free and Cheap Stock Art


  1. It’s free or cheap — and easy.
  2. Selection isn’t too bad. You’d be surprised how many people just want their photos out there.


  1. Selection is limited, but it’s worth a shot.
  2. You won’t be the only one using the same image.

Recommendations for Free or Cheap Stock Images

Here are the options I’ve found most useful for going free and cheap:

  1. EveryStockPhoto – a search engine for free photos on the web
  2. Public Domain Pictures – all pictures are free for commercial use
  3. iStockphoto – affordable and good selection of photos, illustrations, and videos
  4. Big Stock Photo – affordable and good selection of photos
  5. Bring your camera everywhere you go and get creative.

Useful Lists of Stock Art Sites

Before You Upload Any Photos: Shrink ’em!

Before you upload any photo to your website or blog, you should optimize (or compress) it for the web. Or select the low-resolution (typically 72 ppi) version  when you download your stock image.

A photo from your camera or any high-resolution image (typically 300 ppi) will be too big of a file for a webpage. Don’t upload the original to your website! A large image file can slow down the loading time of your webpage. (Many visitors won’t wait and Google might lower your rank too!)

A good photo editing program, like Photoshop, will have a way to compress your image. (Look for something like “Save for Web & Devices” in Photoshop).

Free photo editing tools like Picasa sometimes include this compression feature but it’s not as straightforward as Photoshop. (See Picasa resizing instructions for details.)

If you’ll be doing your own image uploads, please take a moment to educate yourself on how this works. Here’s a user-friendly guide to optimizing images.

Share Your Tips

I would love to hear about your solutions for images on your website. Post comments below.

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