At The Content Factory, we’re constantly sourcing images for our clients. Whether it’s for blog content, social media posts, or marketing and promotional materials, we need good quality images that are on brand for the client and licensed properly (commercial versus editorial use).
We’re very careful about image selection (because copyright infringement is a very real thing that can get you sued), but we focus on more than just the legality of the photos we choose for any given client.
We’re also very cognizant about choosing images that feature black and brown people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.
As people who create content for audiences across the globe on a daily basis, we feel it’s important to reflect what the world looks like — literally. It’s obviously not just white people in the world (though stock photos featuring only white people are in endless supply), so why are your stock photos so… colorless?
We’ve struggled far too hard over the years to find inclusive images – and we’ve found some incredible sources of diverse images that we’re excited to share with you.
Below you’ll find a list of the best free, free-ish and paid images sources we’ve encountered as an agency.
The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Stock Photos
The importance of inclusivity in the media — art, websites, movies, television shows — cannot be overstated.
If you ask people what it means to them to be represented on screen, they might just tell you it means the world to them. They’ll probably tell you that they rarely see it, and when they do, it’s done poorly.
For example, Raj from The Big Bang Theory and Apu from The Simpsons are often brought up as the only representations of Indian people on television, and they’re both very stereotypical in their depiction.
The good news is that we are seeing more inclusivity in pop culture, though of course, we have a long way to go.
Movies like Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and television shows like Black*ish and Fresh off the Boat have brought minority cultures into people’s homes, giving black, brown, and Asian people a space where they feel not only welcome, but well-represented.
For all its problems (and there were many), Glee featured Asian, Black, and LGBTQ+ characters, a disabled character who was wheelchair-bound, and even a cheerleader with Down’s Syndrome. This is Us portrays a white family raising three children, one of whom is Black, showing the unique challenges of raising an adopted child — and one of a different race, at that.
At this point in history (regardless of whether you agree with their policies or not), we’ve had an African American president, a female Asian American and African American vice president, an openly gay Secretary of Transportation, several African Americans and women holding presidential cabinet positions, and multiple transgender people elected into state congressional seats.
These images hold an immense amount of power. If you’ve always felt represented in the media, it may be difficult to wrap your mind around what it means for people to see themselves in a position that they respect or admire.
When kids see people who look like them on TV or in movies, they can see themselves achieving those goals. They can allow themselves to dream about things bigger than themselves. It helps them see that the dream they have is achievable. They’re no longer wondering how they can do something that’s never been done before, because it’s finally been done.
In the 21st century, if you’re not focusing on finding images that properly represent the diverse world we live in, you’re doing it wrong — and frankly, you no longer have an excuse.
Below are 38 resources where you can find inclusive stock images (we’re such fans of these services, we’re affiliate partners with them).
Please note: to the best of our knowledge, the below info is up to date. The terms and conditions of using these services can change over time – always double check them before using the images for yourself or a client.
11 Resources for Free Inclusive Stock Images
- Unsplash – Unsplash is one of our favorites for a few reasons. First off, their images are often very inclusive. We can always find people of multiple races, and in photos together even. Second, their photos aren’t very “stock photo-ish.”
They’re more artistic on that spectrum, which we always prefer. Unsplash features over 2 million free high-resolution images. In addition to a standard search feature, you can also browse “Collections” of topics curated by users.
- Pexels – Pexels is awesome because they have inclusive stock photos and videos sourced from creators all over the globe.
All content featured on Pexels can be used for commercial purposes (but not political campaigns) and they even offer partnerships to brands and companies.
- Stock Up – What makes Stock Up a great tool is that they index free stock photos (25,000 and counting) from over 30 different stock photo websites.
They obtained permission to do this because they link directly back to their websites, which is where the photos are downloaded.
- Allgo – Allgo is a much-needed plus-size stock photo site. It was founded by a woman who has always been plus-sized. She’s experienced a copious amount of anxiety regarding her size and how to navigate the world because of it.
She says that the goal is not to shrink bodies, but to expand worlds. Photos are free and (like Unsplash) credit is requested, but not required.
- Nappy.co – Nappy is a much-needed stock photo site specifically dedicated to “beautiful, high-res photos of black and brown people.” The photos are all high quality and include many different situations, body types and sizes, and hair styles.
- Public Domain Review – For more serious pieces that may call for images more discerning than glossy fashion photos, Public Domain Review catalogues thousands of images spanning centuries that are now in the public domain.
- Foodiesfeed – It’s not easy to find good photos of food, but Foodiesfeed has you covered here. These images are high quality and look like they belong in recipe books.
- Pixabay – Pixabay is basically a household name among content creators, offering nearly 2 million free high quality stock images and videos. There’s a lot of variety with Pixabay and the images are typically more artistic than “stock-photo-ish.”
- Affect The Verb – Affect the Verb was founded with the mission of “amplifying multiply-marginalized folx and embodying disability justice.”
Their most recent effort is a collection of disability-led photos shot from their own perspectives, featuring disabled Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) across the Pacific Northwest and incorporates LGBTQ+ themes.
- Gender Photos – This collection from Vice features images of trans and non-binary models.
Their goal is to help media outlets “better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities—people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.”
- Burst – Burst is another great resource for high quality images featuring diverse models. Like most other sites listed here, they have curated collections, but you can also search for themes as you need them.
12 Free(ish) Places to Find Inclusive Images
- PicJumbo – PicJumbo offers plenty of free photos without having to sign up for a premium membership, but there’s a whole wealth of options there as well.
One thing we love about this site is that they have an entire collection dedicated to “space for words,” which is helpful for social media graphics.
- Every Pixel – This site searches multiple stock photo sites for you, and you have the option to search both paid and free images. Every Pixel searches through over 50 sites, so if you’re looking for a one-stop shop, this is a good bet.
- PhotoAbility – PhotoAbility is another much-needed stock photo site “dedicated to increasing the usage of imagery of people with disabilities in the tourism, leisure and lifestyle mediums.”
Here, you can find images of people using various mobility devices such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and guide dogs.
- Scop.io – Scopio claims to have the largest collection of authentic and diverse images on the internet, telling stories from around the world — and they’re probably right.
They have more than 300,000 photos submitted from photographers in 150 countries. Scop.io is incredible, and is pretty much guaranteed to find you the diverse photos you’re looking for.
- Black Illustrations – If stock photos aren’t really your thing, but illustrations are, Black Illustrations is the place to go. They feature hundreds of illustrations of black people in a multitude of settings involved in various activities.
- Blush – Blush is another great illustration site that allows you to easily create and customize images made by artists across the globe. Illustrations are diverse and inclusive, featuring people of color and people with disabilities.
- Freepik – Freepik can fall toward the “stock photo-ish” end of the spectrum at times, but they’re great for graphics and presentation templates. They also have really excellent curated collections.
- Ivory Mix – Ivory Mix not only offers styled stock photos, but they offer templates, workshops, and a ton of information on how to up your marketing game. As you might imagine, some of the photos are free, but the workshops are part of the paid membership.
- DepositPhotos – This site is massive and includes 198 million photos, videos and vector images. It’s really fantastic, but as always, pay attention to licensing because they offer images that are only viable for editorial purposes.
- Canva – You’ve probably heard of Canva already, especially if you work in marketing. Canva not only helps you create custom graphics in no time flat, they also provide access to over 250,000 free templates and hundreds of thousands of free stock images and designs.
In our opinion, Canva is a must-have tool for social media managers and communications specialists.
- Icons8 – Your one-stop shop for icons, illustrations, photos, music, and design tools — largely for free. Icons8 also has a large community of users that will help you create icons that are missing from their collection (and you can even submit some of your own).
- Envato Elements – Envato Elements gives you access to more than 54 million photos, videos, sound effects, templates, and fonts. High quality stock video footage isn’t always easy to come by without paying a hefty sum, but Envato has you covered there.
Willing to Pay for Inclusive & Diverse Images? Here are 15 places worth spending your money:
- Death to the Stock – We won’t lie — the name drew us in. As a general note, we can’t stand stock photos. There are just so many terrible ones out there and searching for images for our clients is often an exercise in frustration and annoyance.
But Death to the Stock is specifically curated and operated by artists to make the internet a more natural, beautiful place. With photos and videos, and new work (featuring diverse models) added every single month, this might just be the last stock photo site you ever use.
- Stocksy – Stocksy markets themselves as being “art-forward,” which is a very apt description. Their photos and videos are diverse, inclusive, and artistic. This is a great option for people looking for representative images that don’t look like stock photos at all.
- Diversify Photo – The front page of Diversity Photo’s website says “Diversity is a verb,” and that’s a mentality we should all be working harder on. Not only are their images gorgeous, but you can find photographers near you, so you can feel good about sourcing local talent.
They’ve built a community of BIPOC and non-western photographers, editors, and visual producers who are creating a rich and colorful database of inclusive images. We highly recommend this service.
- Eye for Ebony – Eye for Ebony understands that representation matters and wants to help make that easier for content creators. One thing we love about this site is that you can purchase different bundles, which group photos with common themes together (love, father and son, mommy and me, etc).
- TONL – TONL features culturally diverse stock photos that are sorted through collections, as well as narratives. One of the coolest ones is the Tradition collection, which has photos depicting cultural celebrations from around the world.
This is particularly helpful if you’re writing pieces around the holidays, but want images that represent more than just Christmas.
- CreateHER Stock – This website is specifically dedicated to authentic stock photos of “melanated women.” CreateHER Stock is a great place to go for brands whose target audience is women and want to find natural-looking photos instead of staged nonsense.
- SC Stock Shop – This website features stock photos that are less people and more settings. Think styled photos of desks, hands on keyboards (with varying degrees of melanin), and scenery.
A lot of sites on this list offer the ability to search by color (to fit your brand identity), but SC Stock Shop seems to do better at this than most. Literally, Marie Forleo uses this site – if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for you.
- Bigstock Photos – Bigstock is probably one of the most popular stock photo sites available. They have more than 105 million royalty-free photographs and illustrations from photographers and artists around the globe.
Our only beef with Bigstock is that the photos tend to be a little more on the “stock photo-ish” end of the spectrum. You have to search harder to find more natural-looking photos.
- Shutterstock – Shutterstock is another site that most people are familiar with at this point. They have a massive catalog — more than 350 million images with new photos being added every single day.
One great thing about Shutterstock is their collaboration with ViiV Healthcare, which is intended to show people across the world living with HIV.
- Really Real Resources – As the name suggests, Really Real Resources is dedicated to showcasing what people’s real lives actually look like and includes people of all ages, mental and physical abilities, and skin color. Here, you can find photos that reflect people in all walks and stages of life.
- Haute Stock – Haute Stock curates modern styled images perfect for pretty much any of your marketing materials. Like SC Stock Shop, these images are less people-centric and feature desks, offices, props, etc.
If your brand style is modern and organized, this is a good bet for you.
- Pixistock – Pixistock is geared toward social media graphics and content. The founder is a woman of color (Alicia) with a passion for photography and wanted to help other women promote their businesses.
She knew how long content creation took, so she began curating a photo library full of images women could use instead of taking their own. She has Canva templates and thousands of stock photos, plus a social media content calendar and live master classes.
- Adobe Stock – If you use any programs from Adobe Creative Cloud (CC), you’ve likely seen their advertisements for Adobe Stock. In fact, if you have a subscription to the entire suite, you already have access to Stock.
Adobe Stock is a great bet if you’re already wrapped up in Adobe offerings — it’s seamless and has a large library of inclusive stock photos to choose from. If you don’t want to get the entire CC experience, you can sign up for Stock on a monthly basis.
- Twenty20 – Twenty20 is one of the most expensive stock photo sites, but the reason for that is their selection and what you can use them for.
For example, we typically use this site when we’re writing for our clients that are more on the NSFW side. You have to be really careful when you use images suggesting such activities, and Twenty20 has plenty of options to choose from.
Furthermore, their images are high quality, diverse, and on the artistic end of the spectrum.
- iStock – iStock is from Getty Images, which probably sounds familiar, since they’re one of the most famous providers of editorial images. iStock is a division of the company that offers images, video, illustrations, and vectors that can be used for commercial purposes.
iStock has a large collection of diverse and inclusive images that are perfect for a variety of scenarios.
A Note About Image Licensing
Aside from creating visual content that looks the way the world does (diverse and colorful), the other thing you need to pay attention to is image licensing.
Each site labels their licensing differently, but the important thing to know is that images licensed for editorial use only are meant for news reporting purposes. Typically, they will include photos of celebrities and brand logos (such as a photo of Google headquarters).
If your company is a for-profit venture or stands to get any revenue from your content, you need to use images that are approved and licensed for commercial use. Again, each site will label these differently, but if you have any questions at all, you should contact the site in question about their language.
If you’re looking for assistance with content creation (we know blog content is time consuming), get in touch with us today. We’d love to help you out.