Even though stock images are nobody’s first choice, images are necessary for conveying stories, smart design, and marketing.
Diverse photos aren’t just about seeing people of different colors, sizes, genders, and abilities. (In fact, photos that appear to simply check these boxes are colloquially labeled “the diversity photo,” which can do more harm than good at times.)
To pick stock photos representing thoughtful diversity, look at how a photo is staged and what norms are uplifted. What family and power structures are being communicated? Who’s sitting v. standing? Are there religious overtones? Are activities gendered? Is there whitewashing? Images can be even more powerful than words; we have a responsibility to pay extra attention to what they’re communicating both explicitly and implictly.
Here are 9 image banks that feature diverse images, were created intentionally, and have most or all content available for free*:
- Gender Spectrum Collection
- Lean In Collection
- The Jopwell Collection: Intern Edition
- Disabled and Here
- Images of Empowerment
*There are many other great sites where you can pay for content. I believe in paying people! Much of my audience has to be scrappy, so I focused on free for this post.
There are also a number of organizations that build intentional photography into their work. If you’re searching for photography but not finding the right stock images, consider two options: A) invite a community-based photographer to capture the right images for you, or B) connect with another organization who shares resonant images and see if you can get permission to use some. In either case, you are lifting up a photographer or organization, while also using thoughtful images to tell your story.
Social media is another place to look for real photography of real people. If you repurpose on your social networks, do so with permission and credit. Part of what drew me into weightlifting was the @girlswhopowerlift Instagram account, which showcases all sorts of diverse, strong womxn.
Three final notes on images:
When sharing digitally, use alt text. This is an accessibility practice that describes images to viewers who are unable to see them.
Not all images are taken ethically. Subjects may not know that they’re the subject of a photo, and context may have been omitted by the photographer that the subject might feel differently about. While there isn’t always a way to trace every image, be particularly mindful of sourcing and learning more about an image when you are saying something about specific places, populations, or social justice work.
Check licensing and permissions, and give proper attribution. Make sure you have permission to use an image, pay for an image if you don’t, and give proper attribution always. Especially through social media, people often are not properly compensated for their work. Even for the sites listed above, several have attribution requirements; know them and use them.
Whether your company has a design team or you’re flying solo, more thoughtful stock images are an action you can take today.
[Editor’s note: since this article was published, a new collection of free images featuring women in STEM was launched, which I would have included had it been live at the time.]