9 Great Places to Find Imagery for Your Designs

Before we begin, we should figure out what kind of project you’re creating. I’ve never seen anyone write about this topic before but it’s important.

There are two types of projects you will do as a designer, mockup work and real work. Because they have different end goals, the types of images you can use for each are different. This can actually be liberating as you'll see.


1) Mockups

Mockup designs are never intended for a mass audience. Because of this, you can grab and use images from almost anywhere. As long as the final pieces will only used for a client pitch or for your own private portfolio, it’s ok*. Some companies like Getty Images encourage this by giving agencies access to high resolution images in their catalog. Getty figures that if their images are used in a successful pitch, there’s a good chance the designer will want to purchase it for the real project. Often that's true.

Here are some types of mockup work:

Class assignments

When designers first come out of design school the majority of their portfolio consists of class assignments. This may also include self-assigned projects if you're out of school. Here's a little secret: some of the great work you see on Dribbble and other portfolio sites wasn't really client work, it was done for self-promotion.

Unpaid Pitches

This is when the client invites you to pitch your ideas with the understanding that if you do a great job, you'll win their business. It's usually a limited scope of work. If you're pitching a website, you might design the homepage and three or four other pages. If you win the pitch then you can go and actually build it. Unpaid pitch work is more common in advertising, and designers sometimes do it too, but generally they have a strong resistance to it.

Paid Pitches

I’ve been at some places where the client will pay for a limited amount of creative work to see if they like what you come up. Here the client relationship is usually more established and no other firms are competing for the business. It’s not quite pitch work because the agency gets paid, but it’s not a real project either.

Here are some of my favorite places to get imagery when doing mockups:

Bernstein & Andriulli

http://www.ba-reps.com
This is my go-to site. This is a rep for some amazing photographers. The images are nice and big. You can search by category at the top and the lifestyle section in particular is excellent.

Trunk Archive

http://www.trunkarchive.com
This is a little more high fashion. They have a pretty good search tool and you can also filter the images by orientation (horizontal or vertical).

Google Images

https://www.google.com/imghp
Seriously! You can leverage the tastes of certain publications to find Illustrators. For example if I knew I needed a really good infographic, I’d do a Google image search for “GOOD magazine infographic”. They do great infographics so by perusing their old work, I might find an Illustrator I like.

“Monocle magazine illustrator” is another good search term.

Recently I Googled “New York Times editorial illustrator” and discovered the work of Andrew Colin Beck. I then used his work in some designs I did for a pitch. The client loved his style so much that we hired him to do Illustrations for the entire site.

One final word on having mockup work in your portfolio. I've noticed the advertising world has less of a tolerance for it than the design industry. I think it's because a large part of advertising is convincing the client to buy your idea. So if you show work that wasn't actually made, it's less impressive. So if you're creating work for any audience besides ad people, I say go for it!


2) Real work

Real projects are those which have a launch date set and you’re the one to design it. A large audience is likely to see it. Because you're using other people's creative work you're more limited in what imagery you can use. Here are some great places to find great imagery for real work:

Stocksy

http://stocksy.com
Cost: $
Stocksy is one of the first places I go when designing a real site. Their photos have an authenticity that is often missing from traditional stock photography websites.

The Noun Project

http://thenounproject.com/
Cost: $
This is a great place to find icons. They're free with accreditation, or a dollar or two without.

Unsplash

https://unsplash.com
Cost: free
Beautiful images are that mostly nature themed. High-res and completely free!

Death to Stock

http://deathtothestockphoto.com
Cost: free
These guys send out a monthly email with images. You can’t search for stuff on their site but the emails have good stuff in them.

Superfamous

http://images.superfamous.com
Cost: Free + attribution
They have lots of nature photos.

Getty

http://www.gettyimages.com
Cost: $$$
I’ll occasionally find decent photos on Getty because of it’s sheer size. There is some bad "stocky" stuff on there too so you just have to be discerning.

Hopefully these resources will help the next time you need to find imagery!

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* This is standard practice in the industry, though I can't comment on the legality of it. In my opinion it's a weird middle ground that copyright law doesn't really account for.