I have a confession to make.
I'm a little bit of a digital photography hoarder. I have terabytes of photos. Some are my own. Some are from stock subscriptions. Many are from the growing number of sites where photographers give their photos away.
Gorgeous amazing photos that are offered free of charge and free of restriction. If you can't take your own relevant image, unrestricted photos are the way to go.
But there is a method to using these images well. Every image is not equal. Every image is not relevant. Some are beautiful photography, but simply do not fit your brand vibe.
1. Find Your Brand Aesthetic
Before you can find or create images that will fit your brand aesthetic, you have to know what that aesthetic is. What is you signature "look"? Are you moody or airy, minimal or feminine, dark or bright?
Clean + Bright
Vintage + Moody
Light + Airy
There is a reason why we can recognize Anthropologie or Calvin Klein or Target. They have a look. And it is consistent. What is your look? What sets you apart? If you aren't sure or haven't nailed that bit down, pause and go surf Instagram. Take note of the accounts with looks that light you up inside. What about the look stands out to you? Analyze it. Why does it speak to you? Find at least 3 accounts with looks you love, that feel like you'd fit into. Make notes. Then create some aesthetic guidelines for your own imagery. Use these guidelines to determine whether an image is a good brand fit or not for your visuals.
I love Twin Sparrow Co's look. I love it all the way to my toes and back. But it is not my aesthetic. Where as Lisa's look is much closer to my own. (Go follow them on Instagram. They are amazing.)
2. Understand What Types of Images There Are & How You Can Use Them
Gone is the time you can hop on Google Image search and just pull an image out of the internet stratosphere. If you are going to be using images in your social media and in your blogging for your business, it is really important to know how you can use them legally. This is not an exhaustive list, in no way meant to be legal advice or meant to cover every circumstance. That said here are a few of the most common photo usage scenarios.
- PHOTOS YOU HAVE TAKEN: They are yours! You can use them however you like.
- PHOTOS PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE TAKEN: If paid, make sure you have permission to use them online and specify what they will be used for. Get permission in writing. If done in collaboration, again specify what is and is not acceptable, preferably in writing. In both cases, clearly credit the photographer and get permission to edit if you are going to need to do so. Seriously. Ask first.
- STOCK PHOTOS PURCHASED ONLINE: Make sure you read the license agreement and honor it. Most stock photo sites require crediting, though some do not.
- PHOTOS YOU FIND ON PINTEREST: Just nabbing a photo from Pinterest without researching it first is bad form. Find out where it came from and get permission before using it. Make sure you credit it clearly as well.
- PHOTOS YOU FIND THROUGH GOOGLE, FLICKR OR SEARCHES: Unless clearly marked otherwise, assume the image is copyright protected. Some photos will have permissions to share with credit or other qualifications for usage.
- PHOTOS THAT ARE CC0 OR COPYRIGHT FREE: Crediting is appreciate but not required. You can edit these photos and use them however you like! This is where we are going to focus from here on out.
3. Where to Find Amazing CC0 Images for FREE
There is a whole counter stock photography movement where incredible photographers offer gorgeous images free of restriction. They give them away. Below are a few of my favorite CC0 image sites. There is some overlap of certain content but all 3 are worth perusing.
- UNSPLASH.COM: This is arguable my favorite. The images are consistently high quality. Sign up for an account to like photos and organize them into your own collections (like folders). You can also surf other folks collections. It is very easy to get lost in all the beauty.
- PIXABAY.COM: This is largest collection of CC0 images that I am aware of online. There are a greater selection to chose from but the quality varies a bit more. But you can search and narrow results by color, file type and orientation which can be really helpful.
- PEXELS.COM: A smaller collection but absolutely beautiful.
OTHER PLACES TO FIND CC0 IMAGES: These sites have a wide range of quality and subject matter. Always double check the image license if there is any doubt.
- New Old Stock
- Flickr – The Commons
- Negative Space
- Public Domain Archive
- Little Visuals
4. How to Make CC0 Images Work for Your Brand
Here are some tips to make the most out of the CC0 images you find. Some of these also can be applied to purchased royalty-free stock photography, just always double check the usage agreement for any restrictions.
- Edit the tonality, brightness and crop of the image. My aesthetic is very bright and clean, with some pops of color. I use SnapSeed on my phone to do the first round of edits and usually bump up the brightness and highlights of the image at a minimum. The second round of phone edits usually happens in Instagram's native editor before posting.
- Add words using Canva.com or an app on your phone like WordSwag.
- Use the images to tell the visual part of a story and your caption written in your brand voice to tell the rest.
- Create a consistent narrative both with your visuals and your voicing. When in doubt, leave it out.
- Intersperse CC0 or Royalty-Free stock photos with your original content to keep your feed fresh, unique and relevant.
5. Beautiful, Affordable Royalty-Free Stock Photography
These images are gorgeous and won't break the budget. And there are no affilite links here, I'm just sharing what I love.