The best free and paid sites to find diverse stock photography — and why representation in stock images matters
They’re everywhere in mass media: filler images of nondescript models doing mundane activities (see: woman laughing while eating a salad) used as stock imagery for website articles, marketing, and advertising, etc.
But stock photography, like any commercial industry, has a diversity problem.
When there’s a lack of inclusion in stock photography, it trickles all the way down to the projects they’re used for.
Studies show that when marginalized groups aren’t able to see themselves in the media, it has a drastic and negative impact on their ideas of self-worth.
Not only does this hurt vulnerable communities, but it’s also a missed opportunity to highlight exactly how brilliantly diverse the world is.
When stock photography isn’t done well, it can have truly harmful repercussions. For example, there have been multiple instances in the past where stock photography has unintentionally perpetuated racist, ableist, and overall damaging stereotypes.
At best, marginalized groups are tokenized in stock photography.
At worst, it reinforces violent tropes against some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Ultimately, we take our cues from visual elements and when there’s a lack of representation, it sends a coded message to the audience of who and who isn’t allowed to be seen.
Thankfully, there are people doing the incredible work of making stock photography more diverse.
Some of the links below may be affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a commission at no cost to you. As always, Good Good Good independently reviews and vets all resources we share.
If you’re someone who uses stock photography in your work, here are the best stock imagery libraries where you can make a difference to your audience by using inclusive media:
Free Stock Photo Sites for Diverse Photography:
Unsplash is a popular user-friendly platform that you can use to search for specific tones or concepts.
Photographers are able to directly host their work for free use on Unsplash (via a Creative Commons license) and it sorts by category, collection, and similar imagery.
While it’s one of the bigger free photo platforms out there, with a wide variety of images, it’s worth noting that not all photos are guaranteed to have signed photo releases for models.
You’ll also have to work a bit harder to find photos that aren’t tokenizing.
P.S. Good Good Good shares photos of the Goodnewspaper on Unsplash for anybody to use.
2. The Gender Spectrum Collection by VICE
The Gender Spectrum Collection is a free LGBTQ+ stock photo library featuring images of trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming models that go beyond the stereotypes.
This collection aims to help the media better represent members of these communities as people not defined by their gender identities.
They've also included each model's gender identification in the caption of each other to help editors avoid making assumptions.
Nappy provides free beautiful, high-resolution photographs of Black and Brown people to startups, brands, agencies, and more.
They’re working to help people be more inclusive to dark-skinned people and making it easier for companies to be purposeful about representation in their designs, presentations, and advertisements.
One of photography’s biggest issues is the representation around Africa and Black people that don’t fall into being racist or stereotypical in the way that Africa is typically depicted in the media.
Thankfully, Iwaria is working to fix that by offering a variety of high quality, free African photography that ranges from food, people, landscape, and more.
5. Women of Color In Tech
The tech industry is notorious for not being as diverse as it could be, despite the number of BIPOC women who work in it.
To challenge ideas of who belongs in the tech world, WOC In Tech is asking people to use their photography in pieces about entrepreneurs, software engineers, infosec professionals, IT analysts, marketers, and other people who make up the tech ecosystem. If you work in the tech sector and are looking for images of women in tech, look no further.
6. UK Black Tech
UK Black Tech supports, promotes, represents, and encourages the continued growth of diverse innovators and tech innovation across the UK.
One of their initiatives is to provide free stock photography of Black people in technology that can be accessed and used with appropriate credit.
Regardless of whether or not you’re in the UK, using these images for diversity and inclusion will be relevant to wherever you’re based.
Paid Stock Photo Platforms with Diverse Models
Stocksy is a diverse photography and videography marketplace that ethically and sustainably pays their creators for their work. In contrast to the way many stock photos look like stock, Stocksy focuses on authentic stock photos.
They have a fair pay program where 50 percent of regular purchases and 75 percent of extended license purchases go directly into their creators' pockets.
Their photographs are highly curated for quality — and their diverse creators are located in 75 countries around the world.
Stocksy intentionally seeks out photos that depict a diversity of skin tones, diversity of age, diversity of nationality, diversity of ethnic backgrounds, diversity of ability, and diversity of body sizes.
Pricing is based on licensing use and can range from $15 to $500 per photo.
The founders of TONL, Karen Okonkwo and Joshua Kissi, set out to diversify the digital landscape for creatives after experiencing a real lack of representation online.
Now, TONL seeks to humanize the lives of BIPOC folks and challenge the stale, homogenous look of traditional stock photography by showcasing the many ethnical backgrounds of everyday people.
Their "Narrative" approach includes storytelling stock photos and text that includes context of the models and what they represent — including themes like "Traveling While Black", "Black Maternal Health", and "Active Allyship."
TONL offers a-la-carte pricing starting at $25 — or you can sign up for a monthly subscription plan to get rates under $2 per photo.
By the way, we bought the header image for the top of this blog post from TONL!
Not only does Diversity Photos offer inclusive photography, they also have programs that reinvest back into the BIPOC, disabled, and queer communities they photograph.
Their goal is to help creatives develop additional revenue streams and diversify their portfolios while shooting diverse stock images and video.
Their pricing ranges from $25 to $50 per photo, depending on your plan.
CreateHER Stock is a grassroots resource and digital pantry for inclusive stock photos of women that can be used for lifestyle, business, and everyday content creation for bloggers, creatives, and growing influencers.
They feature primarily Black women — described by CreateHER Stock as 'melanated women' — to humanize their lives and combat stereotypes.
Their pricing options include 4 tiers: blogger ($10/month), brand ($35/month), tribe ($65/month), and influence ($99/year).
While not exactly photography, Black Illustrations provides diverse illustrated images for you to use in your online projects.
Each pack features dozens of images, bundled together in groups like The Disability Pack, The STEM Pack, The Pride Pack, The Afro-Latin Pack, and The Kids Pack.
Downloads include files in PNG, JPG, Sketch, XD, and other formats — all at a cost of $28-$49 per bundle. They also have a number of free packs available to get you started.
Traditional Stock Photo Platforms
But to ensure true representation that isn’t damaging, you need to be intentional with your choices.
This can mean consulting with experts on your team or just being extra careful when finding media.
When in doubt, it’s always better to lean into the winds of caution and do your background research on what is and isn’t harmful.
Hire Creators of Color, Disabled Creators, LGBTQ+ Creators, and Other Diverse Creators
Lastly, a great way to get great inclusive photography is by hiring photographers and artists of diverse lived experiences.
When you hire diverse creators — people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people outside of the United States, people of different ages — you’re supporting diversity efforts in front and behind the camera and leaning into their lived experiences as people of color. This also helps more creators of color get paid and more exposure for their work.
Ultimately, mass media is everywhere and it sends subliminal messages to our brains. If you're responsible for the imagery shown on your platform, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful and positive difference.
When we’re more thoughtful about using inclusive imagery — particularly as we consider race, gender, age, etc — the whole world benefits.