How to Source Website Images like a Pro

A website without images is pretty dull. Good use of imagery can attract people to your website, help them understand what you offer, and reveal your brand personality. So you should definitely include images, but be careful about what they portray, and from where you source them.


Obviously if the images are of things that form part of your actual business – such as yourself, your employees, and in many cases your products – you’ll need custom photos. But in sourcing good quality, professional images, do you need to spend a fortune?


How to obtain quality images for your website


Doing it yourself is an option, if you have some photographic skill and a quality camera (I’m not talking about iPhone shots…). Showing photos of real people and real products adds authenticity. If your own skills or equipment don’t cut it, you could search for, or advertise for, a student photographer to take pictures for you at a much lower price than a professional shoot.


The complete design may also incorporate general images to set the scene and the aesthetics of your website.


General advice is to steer well away from “clip art” (those cartoonish illustrations that come free with MS Office, etc) and from animated pictures (that can instantly turn people away from your website).  These options make websites look cheap.


There is also the option of sourcing stock photos from the internet. Stock images include not just photographs, but vector illustrations and even Photoshop elements. Some designers may scoff at the idea of using stock images, but if you choose carefully – avoiding the really cheesy, posed or clichéd shots – they can save you time and money and still convey the message you want to give your website visitors. It can be fun browsing through the various stock image sites to find that perfect picture. Some sites allow you to filter your search by colour, orientation and other criteria, to get a perfect match. (See below for a list of some such sites.)


Don’t go thinking you can simply search Google for images – most of them will be subject to copyright and just because they are displayed publicly does not mean they are “public domain” or free to use. Sites such as Pinterest and Flickr are not sources of free photos either, despite their apparent shareability. If you search Google for “free images”, you’ll see a lot of results with the term “royalty free”.

copyright flame symbol purchased from stockfresh
Stealing images off the net = playing with copyright fire.

Stock Images and “Free” vs “Royalty Free” – What’s it all mean?


Free means you don’t have to pay anything to download an image. They are only free if the creator has specifically declared the image is free to use. Many photographers and designers will share their works for free under the Creative Commons license – but you must still take note of any restrictions they place on their usage. [Read more at]


In most cases free images are still subject to copyright under a “Royalty Free” (or RF) license which requires that you attribute the image to its source and/or its creator. That is, you must mention in a caption where the image came from, and sometimes you will be required to link to the source.


If you don’t want to do this, most sites allow you to pay for the “royalty free” image instead, and then you can use it as much as you like (although with restrictions around resale, etc). The amount can vary from just a few dollars to hundreds, depending on the source, the size, the quality, and how you intend to use the image. This doesn’t mean that you own the photo, only that you have some rights to use it on an ongoing basis. Royalty free photos can be sold many times over (by the original creator). Hence the same image can be purchased by other people – even your competitors.


“Stock photography” tends to have more exclusivity, but you therefore pay a higher premium. Stock photos may be sold at a higher price, but perhaps only once, or for a limited time. They also tend to have a lot more restrictions around their use.


Where to find stock images:


Some good sites to try that offer quality stock images and royalty free photos for purchase are:


  •  – This site has a really nice interface, some good options in their extended search, and fairly straightforward purchasing (1 credit = $1USD).
  •  – Has a Pay as You Go option which doesn’t require you to sign up, and good search filtering.
  • – One of the biggest companies, globally, but with an Australian site (so you can pay in Aussie dollars). Powerful search capabilities, but you pay a premium.
  •  – Reasonable prices, and they also have a Free section.
  • – Royalty Free Images from $1- $15.


Screenshot of Stockfresh image page showing options
Screenshot of Stockfresh page options when purchasing images. Note the watermark…


There are also a number of free sites, such as:


  • has free stock photos. It’s owned by the vast Getty Images, so be aware that it also shows premium results. Their Advanced Search provides minimal options.
  •  has plenty of photos for free (in small sizes) for which you must publish an acknowledgement to both the site and the image creator. Or pay a very small premium for larger images, and you no longer need to publish attribution.
  •  – This is one of the easiest for finding truly free public domain images.
  •  – Search within the appropriate section, depending on how you will use the image. If a condition of the license is to attribute the creator (as it mostly is), just link to their page on Flickr.


A few things to avoid:


  • Copyright infringement. Never steal images, or even parts of images.
  • Watermarks. Don’t use watermarked images (unless the watermark is your own).
  • Logos. Don’t incorporate a stock image into your logo –it is not usually part of the standard licensing for image use.
  • Low-res for printing. Don’t purchase the lowest resolution option for your website and then expect to use the same image in printed material. Images for print media require higher resolution, for which you’ll need to pay more.
  • Magic tricks. Don’t think that Photoshop can make any image look great – starting with a poor quality shot is not likely to yield high quality results.

Check out my other post on how to size your website images and optimise them for SEO and “pinnability”.
As the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”… Make sure the pictures you choose for your website evoke a good response, rather than leave a bad impression.


Author: RobynRHD

I'm a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: "Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I'd like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it." I'm a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

3 thoughts on “How to Source Website Images like a Pro”

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for the comment. This article is getting a little old – it’s probably time I updated it and included some more resources, like Shutterstock.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *