How freelancers find great images

Last week, I asked a client if he had a secret stash of awesome images he could give me access to better illustrate the articles we write for his company. They make a product which is really popular, but horrifically difficult to illustrate. The answer was, of course, no and what’s more, he asked me if I had any ideas for getting fresh, interesting images to use in blog posts and articles.

Have a great stash of images? Going to keep it a secret?

Have a great stash of images? Going to keep it a secret?

We've written an updated article about 5 things every online image needs - check it out now!

How to get great stock images

Luckily for him, I do. That’s what I’m going to tell you today - how to get the best possible royalty-free photos that you can use, well, wherever you want. More or less, we can divide them into these 5 categories:

 - Free stock images

 - Paid stock images (own account/credits)

 - Paid stock images (client’s account/credit)

 - Client-supplied images

 - Your own photos

Ideally, any one project will be amenable to a mixture of all five, but there's a clear lesson in all the choice - always, always find out before agreeing to the terms of the project. If the client wants 500 words beautifully illustrated with high-quality images of the product/classy, clever pictures of abstract feelings/shiny pictures of his cat, but feels that finding them is 100% on you, well…you might want to think twice before accepting the project (or charge double the price to cover your costs - see point 2).

Free stock images

This is where most people start - for ideas, click here! Two words to the wise: firstly, remember that when you start swimming in the same sea, all the fish begin to look the same, and secondly, keep reading all those “best stock image articles” because although many are rehashes of things that have been said before, new gems pop up all the time and you don’t want to miss any. 

Paid stock images (own account/credits)

When you’re super-rich and famous, or just sick of having to do so much legwork, you might choose to pay for the perfect image. That’s fine: make sure you find a good service, and then make sure to add the cost onto your prices, but if you’re just starting out, or not sure you can afford it, don’t worry too much - there are some awesome ways of getting stock images - and for free. 

Paid stock images (client’s account/credit)

If your client is used to working with freelancers and understands the necessity of awesome images, you might have the great luck to be given access to/credit for a stock image service. There are some good ones, and some cheap stock image services and the variance in quality is immense. Sometimes, the cheap ones are so rubbish, you’d be better off looking to one of the great free stock image services that we talked about above. 

Client-supplied images

The bigger the client, the better, in most cases, as they will already have their own corporate image bank and with any luck, they’ll give you access. This can range from fairly boring product shots to some pretty snazzy versions that might include anything from corporate bio pics (great for interviews) or even images of people using their product in situ. You might even get photos of their staff being productive AND photogenic in their own, Googlesque offices. As long as you’ve got permission to use them, they can be a great source of inspiration.

Your own photos

There are two options here, you can take them yourself if you have any talent, or pay someone to take them for you. This isn’t an option that will be immediately open, or useful, to many freelance content creators, but if you have a niche, the skills, the photographer, and a plan, it can work beautifully. 

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This post was originally published on in April 2015. It was moved to Clockwork Blog and edited for coherency on 31/10/17.