Why it’s time for you to use stock photos featuring people of colour {+ free vs royalty-free licensing}

Why use stock photos featuring people of colour, more people of color are needed in brand photos
12.5 min | Diverse Stock Photos Series Part 1

Photos tell powerful stories which our ideal clients and wider audience can relate to on a visceral level.

Visual content gets much more engagement than posts without {source: HubSpot} but, as small business owners and solopreneurs, we have to handle a master juggling act on a daily business. I want to make that easier for you, so here’s my ultimate list of where you can find diverse stock photos.

Why diverse stock and not general stock?

The short answer is that there are more people of colour* {POC} in your audience than you think –  — or could be.

Whether you’re a locally-based business or 100% digital, your website and social media are online platforms with a global reach.

Secondly, when you add up the populations of POC in white-majority countries, you soon realise that stock image sites are deeply imbalanced when reflecting global and regional marketplaces. Never mind the emerging markets in Latinx, Asian and Black -majority countries!

For example, when you search “woman smiling” or “woman typing”, most stock photo sites bring up rows upon rows of white women. And, while these images are often beautifully shot and featuring beautiful humans, as a woman of colour, it’s frustrating and disappointing to find clichés, stereotypes and sexualized photos of women of colour and little else.

So, I went on a mission.

I wanted to bring balance back into my own media + encourage others to do the same.

And, guess what? I was pleasantly surprised – whatever your budget, there are LOTS of photos of WOC* IF you know where to look.

Here are the fruits of my 7 days of research.

Please note, that while I searched for other marginalised communities, this series focuses on women of colour in stock photos which are suitable for female-identifying, socially conscious, ethical and creative business owners & bloggers.

*When I say “people/women of colour”, I’m referring to non-white people, including, but not limited to: First Nations/Aboriginal people {ie Native American, Maori, Pacific Islander, Inuit, etc}, African diaspora, Black, African American, African, BAME {Black Asian minority ethnic} Latinx {incl Hispanic}, Asian, Middle Eastern, mixed race, biracial.

FYI, While some stock sites include flat-lay images, I don’t cover flat-lay styled stock photos in this article – I’ll write another post on those. What I’ll cover is…

Series Contents

PART 1: Why it’s time for you to use stock photos featuring people of colour {+ free vs royalty-free licensing} This post

  • Why representation matters
  • My criteria to establish diversity for this series
  • When to use free vs paid stock photos
  • The different licences – free vs royalty-free vs rights managed

 

PART 2: The 15 BEST places to find diverse stock photos for ethical, style-savvy businesswomen & bloggers

  • Why support businesses founded by people of colour
  • 10 fantastic paid stock image sites founded by people of colour & featuring POC
  • 1 special mention for stock photos of Native American people & culture
  • 4 excellent free stock image sites founded by people of colour & featuring POC

 

PART 3: 8 marketplaces for stellar diverse, affordable & creative stock photos {+ 9 premium sites}

  • The 9 most creative & diverse premium stock photo sites
  • The 8 most diverse, creative and affordable stock marketplaces on the internet

 

PART 4: The top 17 free and freemium stock photo sites, in order of diversity

  • Series recap
  • 17 great free + freemium sites, in order of diversity
  • Where to find more great stock photos

BTW During each post, I’ll link to my Ultimate List of 121+ Diverse Stock Photo Resources spreadsheet.

 

If you care about diversity, share this post.

 

This is a mammoth series, my dear – as in, 7,000 words long {over 4 separate posts}!

But, guess what? You can skip it and download the guide below {because I look after my peeps!}

49 top places to find brilliant diverse stock photos

 Bookmark this post or  download your copy of 49 Brilliant Places to Find Diverse Stock Photos & more in the Members’ Only Vault.

Don’t want to subscribe? Access the spreadsheet without opting-in.

 

Why representation of diverse cultural backgrounds and different skin tones is important

We humans come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colours and flavours!

Representation in the media of people of colour is a VITAL part of eradicating xenophobia, exotification & othering, racial stereotypes, racial hatred, institutionalised racism and racial violence.

A major part of the problem is the lack of diversity and positive role models in our media. #diversitymatters Click To Tweet

Yes, race is a social construct, but it has centuries of history and continues to exist, oppressing far too many people and killing them too.

YOU are a part of this social construct, whether you like it or not and, as a business owner, your contributions DO make a difference – what you publish on your blog, website, social media, and printed materials; who you follow, support and invest in; and so on…

Underneath our melanin-tinted skin, we have the same colour of blood, same hearts, bones, brains. We love, argue, grieve, seek safety… we just. want. to. LIVE.

And for the majority of business owners, the essence of our ideal client is based on values and pain-points, not skin colour.

As ethical entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to reflect the diverse, global audiences we serve.

If you’re white, you benefit from white privilege, and if you’re silent – if you do nothing – you are complicit in white supremacy.

Yeah. I went there.

And before you object, I’m Scottish and my heritage is Black “Out of Many One People” Jamaican + white British/Scottish{Irish}. I’ll write about my experience of privilege, race and identity in a separate post, but I want to be clear:

White supremacy, white privilege, racism and the concept of race are centuries old. They are the result of the 300 years holocaust of hereditary Chattel Slavery AKA New World slavery AKA The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade + ego, greed, and centuries of ignorance through lack of education selective and erased history.

If we are silent, if we do nothing and refuse to acknowledge the reality of our fellow humans who continue to suffer the results, on a daily basis, we are complicit in white supremacy.

Even if you’re not racist, even if you don’t want your white privilege, even if you think you understand intersectional feminism, even if you’re in the business of empowering women

If you believe in human rights, you have a duty and an opportunity to help liberate humanity from white supremacy, and, eventually, the whole concept of race {while helping to dismantle xenophobia and racism}.

Today, I’m asking you to pledge one small action:
Use more photos of people of colour in your media
Choose to celebrate diversity
– it’ll make more difference than you know

This isn’t about bringing politics into your business, this is about seeking a genuine representation of your very REAL audience, because we’re still conditioning people to aspire to a certain type of beauty – a certain shade of “normal”. It needs to end.

Look, I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a massive, systemic issue and that we need much more than diverse brand images to make a difference.

What I can tell you is, you are in a special, leadership position as a business owner and this one simple measure will have a knock on effect, for example {in addition to everything I’ve already said}:

  • Opening up new opportunities for your business
  • Growing your audience based on shared values, ethics, pain points, solutions & desires
  • Helping people with ALL skin colours see darker skin as normal, without fear & prejudice
  • Influencing others to do the same and mix-up their brand photos

 

Change has already started. Even some huge global brands are shifting to a new world view – a more inclusive one.

 

Take the pledge & share online

Today I pledge: I'm going to use more diverse & POC photos in my business. Will you join me? #diversitymatters Click To Tweet

Pledge to use more diverse & POC photos in my business

Pledge to use more diverse brand photos

Pledge to use more brand images with people of color

I’m joining you in this pledge

In 2015 I discovered intersectional feminism and began coming to terms with my own complicity and privilege as a light-skinned, “mixed race”, cisgender woman. So I’m making this same pledge to myself as I continue my own journey of being not Black enough for Black folks and a “safe” Black person for white folks. But that’s a conversation for another time.

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Now let’s get to the action, yeah?

 

49 top places to find brilliant diverse stock photos

 Bookmark this post or  download your copy of 49 Brilliant Places to Find Diverse Stock Photos & more in the Members’ Only Vault.

Don’t want to subscribe? Access the spreadsheet without opting-in.

 

Criteria

In my study, I looked more at diversity than skin tone. In addition, I rated sites on the representation of older women, LGBTQIA, body size and disability – see the full list of criteria below.

While stock photography has come a long way in recent years, the leading stock marketplaces only have 1.48% – 4.36% of their catalogue featuring Black women – that’s not enough!

In the main white-majority countries, 11.11% on average are WOC {women of colour}, though the numbers span from 5.6% in Canada to 20.67% in the USA. And that’s not including the male-identifying population.

Diverse stock photos criteria

To decide on my choices in this post, the criteria I used was:

  • % of catalogue with women of colour, based on “black woman”.
  • Quantities of the following search terms:
    • Black woman
    • Black businesswoman
    • Mature woman
    • First Nation, Aboriginal, Native American {most had some cultural appropriation}
    • LGBT[QIA]
    • Plus size woman
    • Disability
  • Creative quality – artistry, style, emotion, vibrancy and uniqueness
  • Levels of naturalness, such as how relatable, real, positive & empowering the images were
  • Cultural awareness, for example, the presence of First Nation people vs aboriginal cultural appropriation {eg white adults dressed in Native American headdresses}
  • Suitability for socially-conscious, ethical and stylish small business owners, bloggers and entrepreneurs who are female-identifying
  • Choice of images and elements available
  • Ease of use, including the search facilities – some enabled searching via ethnicity, age & more
  • Cost of the service
  • How much the photographers/creators received in commission/royalties

In addition, I awarded:

One star for sites or photographers making an effort in the areas of skin tone and age diversity.

  Two stars for sites with a large range or over 100,000 empowering and natural diverse shots.

BTW, it wasn’t possible to search through every single photo on every site {of course!} – usually the first few pages, sometimes jumping to the last few pages.

 

When should you use free vs paid-for images?

When there are so many free stock photo sites, why bother paying for your photos?

The main benefits of using paid stock photo providers are:

  • Fewer people buy images, so there’s less chance of your customers, readers and followers seeing that same image elsewhere.
  • You won’t need to give a photographer credit {though numerous free stock sites allow no attribution, it’s polite to give one, if possible}.
  • You can build your own collections.
  • Many paid-for sites come with legal protection: signed model and property releases, and legal indemnification {avoid free stock photos with products where you can obviously see brand logos}.

Here’s a rule of thumb – if you must use free images, use them for:

  • Social media posts
  • Blog post images
  • Tertiary web page images
  • For everything else, buy image licences, especially for things like:
    • your core branding, ie: logo, email header banner
    • products, services & programs your selling
    • sales and lead pages
    • printed media

 

Questions to ask yourself when choosing stock photo services or a monthly subscription:

  • How many images do you need a month?
  • What kinds of images do you need for your blog, website, social channels, etc – do you want flat-lays, portraits or editorial photos {or a mix}?
  • How much do you mind if other biz owners use the same images?
  • How much are you prepared to spend?
  • Would you prefer to support independent businesses?

 

What the hell does royalty-free really mean? A note on licences and copyright

Whether you acquire free work or you paid for it, all literary, artistic and IP work automatically has copyright at the moment of its creation in the majority of countries.

174+ Berne Convention parties and 99+ World Intellectual Property Organization parties; see copyright law by country on Wikipedia.

But it often falls on the creator to ensure their work is not misused and deal with copyright infringement. In 2016 I updated my client contracts and website T&Cs to give my clients a customised commercial licence to use my work.

When it comes to photos {and other stock materials}, different sites and images come with different licences. It’s important to support our fellow creative business owners – photographers, graphic designers, etc – so please double-check the rights on the content you’re using, before you download them.

  • Royalty-free (RF), does NOT mean free to use! It means you do not pay royalties, so you can use the image in perpetuity. There may be different prices for different sizes of photos.
  • Rights-managed (RM) means there are increasing prices, depending on the end use of the work. Some sites offer two options, a standard licence and extended use licence – technically this is an RM item, even if the site doesn’t use that terminology. Other sites may offer a sliding scale, for different end uses, from webpages to quantities of print runs.

In addition, some sites have site-wide licence policies, whereas others let the photographer decide.

Typically, for any one stock item you buy, including RF images, you are licensing that one item for one end product, whether that’s on your website, an eBook up to 500 sales, a magazine for 5 years, a broadcast over 10,000 views, unlimited print runs.

Again, always check the licence agreement for each site you use and image you purchase. Where possible, I’ve linked to each site’s licence agreement/options on my spreadsheet.

Please note the prices and statistics may change from those listed – they are correct at time of publishing.

 

What’s covered in Part 2…?

Up next I’ll share:

PART 2: The 15 BEST places to find diverse stock photos for ethical, style-savvy businesswomen & bloggers

  • Why support businesses founded by people of colour
  • 10 fantastic paid stock image sites founded by people of colour & featuring POC
  • 1 special mention for stock photos of Native American people & culture
  • 4 excellent free stock image sites founded by people of colour & featuring POC

Still to come:

PART 3: 8 marketplaces for stellar diverse, affordable & creative stock photos {+ 9 premium sites}

PART 4: The top 17 free and freemium stock photo sites, in order of diversity

Or you can skip the series & download the PDF…

 

49 top places to find brilliant diverse stock photos

 Bookmark this post or  download your copy of 49 Brilliant Places to Find Diverse Stock Photos & more in the Members’ Only Vault.

Don’t want to subscribe? Access the spreadsheet without opting-in.

 

So, what are your thoughts?

Are you ready to make the pledge?

Already use an even proportion of skin tones in your brand images? Do you feel limited by your target market? What’s been your experience?

Please share your story &/or pledge in the comments below – it may help someone who’s on the fence! And…

If you care about diversity, please share this post.

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