Walls.io-Logo
Walls.io-Logo
Walls.io-Logo

13 Diverse and Free Stock Photo Sites

Use Free Stock Photos to Create More Diversity

Loading Logo
Recreation of the distracted boyfriend stock photo/meme using plus-size models.

People want to see themselves represented in images they see in the media. Usually, that’s not a problem for white people; straight people; cis men. But for many marginalised people, being invisible in the media is a daily occurrence. It’s free stock photo sites, of all things, that are here to help and make our media more diverse.

Representation fuels change

One way to combat the lack of diversity in our media is to use more inclusive stock photography. We’re working on implementing this here at Walls.io wherever we can. That means ditching the standard stock photography sites and trying to find more diverse visuals for our blog and website.

Fortunately, there are a lot of databases and websites that focus on stock photos diversity. Many cover one specific aspect of diversity because these projects are born out of a community’s need to see themselves better represented. But, more and more, we also see intersectional diversity happening.

How and why to use diverse stock photography

Stock photos don’t just illustrate a subject matter but also shape the perception of communities. They can combat stereotypes and help shape realities. Or they can help preserve the, often discriminating, status quo.

The idea behind diverse stock photography is to not just use photos of plus-size people when you’re talking about body sizes or racially diverse photography only when you’re talking about race issues. We should be using these images all the time when talking about any other topic.

Focus on portraying diverse people beyond the clichés they are usually associated with by showing them at work, at their hobbies, with their partners, outdoors, socialising, etc.

A list of diverse and free stock photo sites

To make things easier for you (and us), we’ve collected a bunch of sites that offer inclusive stock photography. And, even better, they’re also free!

Here’s the list of sites and services we curated for you (in no particular order). Clicking on the links will take you directly to each section. There, you can find out more about what these databases offer, anything especially noteworthy about them, and how you can legally use the photos.

1. Navabi (plus-size people)
2. Allgo (plus-size people)
3. #WOCinTech Chat (women and nonbinary POC in tech)
4. Nappy (POC)
5. The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice (gender diversity)
6. CreateHER Stock (melanated women)
7. The Jopwell Collection (POC at work)
8. Death to Stock “Elevate & Represent” (BIPOC) 
9. Disability:IN (business disability inclusion)
10. Canva Natural Women Collection (women underrepresented in stock photography)
11. Disabled And Here Collection (disabled BIPOC)
12. UKBlackTech (POC in UK tech)
13. Pexels (LGBTQ+ search algorithm update)

Availability: Navabi
Focus: plus-size people
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial
Attribution required: navabi.co.uk/stock-photos/
Search or browse: browse only
Bonus points: while the focus is on plus-size people, the database portrays racial, gender and sexual diversity as well

Who’s behind it

The company behind this photo collection is German plus-size clothing online retailer Navabi, which sells globally as well. They were tired of seeing only thin people in stock photos, so they decided to research the most downloaded stock photos and recreate the themes with plus-size people.

What it offers

Navabi focuses on typical stock photography themes in order to replace them with more diverse imagery. They’ve taken well-known stock photo trends and memes and recreated them using plus-size models. Examples are search strings like “businesswoman”, “women shopping” or “couple break-up”, all of which tend to show only thin women in traditional stock databases.
Most notable among the Navabi recreations are the distracted boyfriend stock photo/meme (see our feature pic up top) and the much-mocked “women laughing alone with salad” trend. The latter was most wonderfully brought to our attention in 2011 by the now-defunct website The Hairpin.

A plus-size woman is eating a salad and laughing. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
One of Navabi’s recreations of the “woman laughing alone with salad” theme. Photo credit: navabi.co.uk/stock-photos/

2. Allgo

Availability: Allgo, Unsplash
Focus: plus-size people
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial
Attribution not required but appreciated: AllGo and photographer Michael Poley of Poley Creative
Search or browse: browse per collection, images are uploaded and searchable on Unsplash
Bonus points: Allgo offers some additional background information and numbers on discrimination against plus-sized people in various environments

Who’s behind it

Allgo is a consultancy firm that specialises in helping companies design with size inclusivity in mind. They initially created the collection to have content for their own Instagram account. But then they realised there was a much wider need for these kinds of images and decided to make them available to others as well.

As they explain on the landing page for the stock photo collection, “We needed photos of plus-size people doing normal things and existing stock photo sites either didn’t have images we liked or the costs were prohibitively high.”

What it offers

Allgo currently offers three collections: The Office Collection, The Swim Collection and The Home Collection. Allgo have added a bunch of well-written background information and statistics about size discrimination to their collections. It’s a super-easy way to educate yourself a bit while browsing.

I also think it’s awesome that they have a whole collection dedicated to plus-size people hanging out at the pool, which is definitely not something we see in traditional stock photography.

A plus-size person is lying on a colourful inflatable in a pool. She’s confidently looking at the camera. Her chin is resting on one of her hands, in her other hand she’s holding a drink in a plastic cup. In the background, other plus-size people are having fun in the water. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: AllGo/Michael Poley, Poley Creative

While attribution is not required, Allgo asks that you credit them and the photographer where possible. They even offer a convenient, ready-made caption for you to copy and paste: “Photo featuring plus-size model by Michael Poley of Poley Creative for AllGo, publisher of free stock photos featuring plus-size people.”

Allgo is doing really well with regards to gender, sexual and racial diversity as well. 

3. #WOCinTech Chat

Availability: WOCinTech Chat, Flickr, Pexels, Unsplash
Focus: women and non-binary people of colour (POC) in tech
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial
Attribution required: WOCinTechChat.com
Search or browse: browse only on Flickr, but the images are tagged for search on Pexels and Unsplash
Bonus points: large number of photos from three separate photoshoots

Who’s behind it

#WOCinTech was founded in 2015 as a Twitter chat to provide women of colour (WOC) and non-binary POC with a safe space to discuss issues in the tech industry. It then expanded into a grassroots initiative aiming to connect WOC and non-binary POC to career and skill-building opportunities in tech.

As a reply to the lack of stock photos showing WOC and non-binary POC in tech, the founders organised three photoshoots, which were in part supported by large tech companies.

#WOCinTech has since shuttered, but the photos are still available on the Flickr page, on Unsplash and Pexels.

What it offers

The #WOCinTech collection offers a large number of photos showing women and non-binary people of colour at work in tech-related settings. They can be seen using tech, studying programming books, having meetings, etc.

Three people of colour are sitting next to each other at a big meeting table. The Black woman with nappy hair in the middle is speaking while the Black woman on her left is looking at her and listening intently. The Asian woman to her right, who’s hair lengths are dyed green, is looking at someone off-screen. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: WOCinTechChat.com

Many settings are shot from multiple angles, making it easy to find an image composition and format that fits your specific purpose and needs.

4. Nappy

Availability: Nappy.co website
Focus: people of colour
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial (license details)
Attribution not required but recommended (credit nappy.co and photographer’s username)
Search or browse: browse all or per category, search feature currently in beta 
Bonus points: Easy way to submit your own photos which means the database can grow and keep evolving

Who’s behind it

Nappy is run by Shade, an influencer management agency for black and brown creators. Like many of the other companies who end up creating their own diverse stock photos, Shade ran into problems when trying to find stock photos of random everyday activities that showed anything other than white people.

What it offers

They’ve purposefully set up Nappy the same way Unsplash and Pexels are set up — as a site that collects stock photos to make them available to startups, brands, agencies, media, etc. and also lets photographers submit their own photos. This allows Nappy to grow and become an aggregator of free diverse stock photos.

Nappy lets you browse within six categories: active, food, people, places, things, work. There’s also a search function. It’s currently classed as beta but seems to function quite well.

The platform has a large number of photos. What I really appreciated was seeing a bunch of photos depicting Black people in outdoor settings. This is one way to counteract clichés and access issues, given that racism is still a massive problem in the outdoor community.

A Black person with a beard is sitting on a hillock surrounded by a somewhat barren mountain landscape. He’s wearing trainers, jeans, a puffy brown jacket and a dusky pink backpack. In his hands he’s holding a pair of white over-ear headphones. In the background, there’s a blurry, snow-capped mountain range. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: nappy.co/Tolu Bamwo

My only two gripes are that the site navigation has its flaws (at least in the two browsers that I tried it in) and that there’s no discernible LGBTQ+ or disabled representation in the database as of yet. But things can and, I hope, will change with a database that is actively growing.

5. The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice

Availability: Vice Genderphotos landing page
Focus: gender diversity
Cost: free
License: share only; non-commercial only (license details)
Attribution required: The Gender Spectrum Collection
Search or browse: Browse only, divided into categories
Bonus points: Vice also contributes an educational effort by explaining why stock photography needs to be more diverse

Who’s behind it

Like pretty much all our other examples, the media company Vice was irked by the lack of diverse stock imagery available and set out to change that. The collection was created by Broadly, which merged with Vice in 2018.

Vice specifically points out that people should use these photos not just to illustrate trans and gender topics but to create a more diverse landscape no matter what topic is being illustrated. They also remind users to consider how their use of these photos could reflect on the trans community. Overall, the helpful usage guideline also provides food for thought and is worth checking out whether you use the photos or not.

What it offers

The intro on the homepage for Vice’s Gender Spectrum Collection pretty much says it all: “The Gender Spectrum Collection is a stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the clichés. This collection aims to help media better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities—people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.” 

You can browse the whole collection or jump directly to each of the seven categories: lifestyle, relationships, technology, work, school, health and moods. I love that the collection makes a point of portraying trans and nonbinary people in healthcare settings. This provides opportunities to change the public’s often binary perception of healthcare.

A genderqueer person in a hospital gown is lying on an exam table and getting a pelvic exam by a transmasculine doctor. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Pelvic exams are not just for women. Photo credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection

The Gender Spectrum Collection portrays a wide range of gender identities while also covering racial diversity. It’s aimed specifically at other media outlets, but any non-commercial use is allowed per the license.

6. CreateHER Stock

Availability: CreateHer website, freebies available here
Focus: melanated women
Cost: paid, but freebies are available
License: share and adapt; non-commercial only (license details)
Attribution not required
Search or browse: search function available
Bonus points: more than just typical work and lifestyle stock photo themes

Who’s behind it

Founded by Neosha Gardner in 2015, CreateHER Stock provides stock photography featuring women of colour. The site is not free, but I chose to include it here because of the ample amount of freebies provided.

What it offers

The website says: “We are a grassroots resource and digital “pantry” for stock imagery that can be used for lifestyle, business, and everyday content creation for bloggers, creatives, and growing influencers.” With 3,500+ images, the database isn’t exactly small, and plans start at an affordable $10 per month. Or you can just stick to the freebies.

The catalogue covers a wide variety of themes and topics, making it easy to find something outside of the typical work and lifestyle photos.

A Black woman in a flowing skirt is sitting on a chair surrounded by a large number of potted plants. She is looking pensive, away from the camera, her head resting on her hand which she is propping up on the chair’s armrest. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: CreateHER Stock

Since I don’t have a subscription myself, I messaged CreateHER to ask them about other aspects of diversity in their photos. I was happy to hear they have some LGBT+ representation in their database: “That was important for us to have. Our focus is on melanated people and within that space, the many aspects involved,” was the reply. They also said they’re hoping to add disability-related content, so there’s definitely an awareness and desire to cover diversity from multiple angles.

You can download the current freebies from the CreateHER website and sign up for the newsletter to be notified of new ones.

7. The Jopwell Collection

Availability: Jopwell Collection
Focus: POC at work
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial 
Attribution required: Jopwell
Search or browse: browse only (search button on the page doesn’t seem to work for photos)
Bonus points: Special collection focusing on Latinx representation in a career context  

Who’s behind it

Jopwell is a career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals that helps companies become more diverse.

In 2017, the company created The Jopwell Collection, to combat the lack of diversity in workplace stock photos and create more visibility for the community of POC Jopwell represents in their work.

Jopwell has since added more and more photo collections, all available on Jopwell’s Pixieset website, most notably a Latinx-focused collection, which was added in 2019.

What it offers

The photos in the various collections feature leaders in the Jopwell community at work, at events, etc. They show all kinds of people in all kinds of careers. You can access the photos directly via the collections or use the filter on the top of the page. Choose from the 11 categories to see the relevant collections for career, diversity, events, intern, millennials, office, POC, sports, students, technology, workplace.

With the Latinx collection, Jopwell offers something that you don’t see much elsewhere. The collection is small but portrays a broad range of Latinx people.

Four people of colour are clustered together in an office, two of them sitting in the foreground, two of them standing in the background. All of them are smiling or laughing. They’re wearing colourful clothing and one has vibrant reddish-orange hair. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: Jopwell

Please note that you have to enter your email address to download images from Jopwell’s collections, but you don’t have to pay and they don’t spam you.

8. Death to Stock’s “Elevate & Represent A Diverse Internet” pack

Availability: Death to Stock’s Gumroad page
Focus: Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)
Cost: free or voluntary donation that goes to KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMP
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial (license details)
Attribution not required
Search or browse: download of 10 images
Bonus points: additional efforts to create a database of BIPOC creatives

Who’s behind it

Death To Stock is an artist-owned coop that provides stock photos and videos with a fresh look. Every month, around 50 new images are added to the database, and premium members have the opportunity to vote on which assets are added to the database.

Death to Stock is a paid service, with subscriptions starting at $12 per month, but the “Elevate & Represent A Diverse Internet” collection is available for free on Gumroad. A voluntary donation is encouraged. All proceeds go to KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMP, an organisation that aims to foster liberation, self-empowerment and wellbeing in Black and Brown communities.

What it offers

The collection consists of ten high-res images showing BIPOC. There is no specific focus on work or other topics. Rather, the images stand out thanks to their creative aspects. They’re striking and a little bit different. Think less stock photography and more art.

A Black person in profile view is almost silhouetted against an orangeish-yellow background. You can barely recognise their features but it’s clear that they’re holding their head up proudly. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: Death to Stock

Death to Stock also started a database for BIPOC creatives, asking people to tag their favourite artists on an Instagram post. The finished database will be shared with the public as well as brands that Death to Stock works with.

9. Disability:IN

Availability: Disability:IN
Focus: business disability inclusion
Cost: free
License: share only; commercial and non-commercial (license details)
Attribution required: Disability:IN
Search or browse: browse
Bonus points: varied representation of disabilities as well as other minorities despite small photoset

Who’s behind it

Disability:IN is a nonprofit that helps businesses be more inclusive and provide opportunities for people with disabilities in the US and worldwide. The nonprofit provides consulting that focuses on company culture and recruitment, but also offers ample online resources.  

What it offers

Among the many resources Disability:IN offers, is the Disability Inclusive Stock Photography collection created to provide companies with diverse visuals for recruitment and marketing materials. The photos are free to use but, unlike most other sources, do not allow modification. Attribution to Disability:IN is required.

The photo set is pretty small, with only 14 photos, but portrays a fairly wide variety of disabilities, going beyond the usual “people in wheelchairs” theme found in traditional stock photo sources. For example, some of the photos show Deaf individuals using sign language, as well as a blind person using a braille display.

Despite the small number of photos, the collection is also surprisingly intersectional, showing a diverse set of genders and races.

Two women are sitting next to each other at a long meeting table, facing each other. The Black woman with short blonde hair is facing towards the camera and using sign language to talk to the woman who has her back to the camera and is facing the one speaking. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
The Disability:IN collection includes several photos that show a Deaf person using sign language. Photo credit: Disability:IN

10. Canva Natural Women Collection

Availability: Canva
Focus: women underrepresented in stock photography
Cost: free (free sign-up required to download)
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial (license details)
Attribution not required
Search or browse: collections are browse only (but you can use Canva’s general photo search)
Bonus points: the collection really does cover a wide range of bodies of all shapes and sizes, races, ages, disabilities, health conditions, etc.

Who’s behind it

Canva is an online graphic design platform that also includes a large database of both free and paid photography that can be used as design elements within the app or downloaded for use elsewhere.

In 2018, Canva’s Marketplace team created the Natural Women Collection to positively influence the types of photos used in marketing and other materials.

What it offers

The Natural Women Collection aims to showcase “everyday women whose personal stories and experiences challenge both societal standards of beauty and gender norms”.

The collection is fairly large and shows a variety of women. It includes WOC, women with disabilities, plus-size women, etc.

A white person shown from the back as she’s stretching her arms up in the air. She’s wearing a racerback top that shows a tattoo on her back and arm as well as her skin’s hyperpigmentation. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.

To download the free photos, you have to sign up to Canva, which has a free version as well.

I have one concern to add, simply because I don’t want to see it go unmentioned: I got the impression that most, if not all, of the women in the photos are cis-gendered. Paired with the name of the collection, this caused me some unease because of how the phrase “natural women” has been co-opted by transphobes. After some research, however, I am fairly certain that the nice folks at Canva aren’t using this language with that in mind, especially since they have explicitly shown support for trans rights in the past. This is why I feel comfortable sharing this stock photo collection with you despite its name.

11. Disabled And Here Collection

Availability: Disabled And Here 
Focus: disabled BIPOC across the Pacific Northwest (US)
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial
Attribution required: Disabled And Here, ideally with link to the project page
Search or browse: browse only
Bonus points: disability-led effort for truly intersectional diversity, accompanied by interviews with the people who are portrayed in the photos 

Who’s behind it

Disabled And Here is a project by Elea Chang. Chang is an artist who is involved in disability justice work and has founded Affect, which creates media campaigns and resources to amplify multiply marginalised people — meaning people who belong to two or more minorities that are being discriminated against. Chang is also the founder of Affect Conf. Disabled And Here is a stock photo and interview collection celebrating disabled BIPOC.

Living in Portland, often dubbed “the whitest city in America”, Chang saw the erasure of BIPOC both offline and online and especially with regards to disability, so she decided to do something about it. The result was the Disabled And Here stock photo collection. 

What it offers

The Disabled And Here collection includes an ample variety of photos in four categories: LGBTQ+, lifestyle, social and work. Notably, it features people with both visible and invisible disabilities, portraying a wide spectrum of disability.

What’s really special about this collection is that it’s incredibly intersectional. It’s disability-led, focuses on the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), but it also takes care not to sideline other marginalised identities. One of the categories of the collection is LGBTQ+, for example.

Five disabled people of color with canes, prosthetic legs, and a wheelchair sit on a rooftop deck, laughing and sharing stories. Greenery and city high-rises are visible in the background. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: Disabled And Here

The collection is accompanied by individual interviews and portraits, shining a spotlight on the people featured in the photos. And the really awesome thing for me and probably every other content creator out there is that Disabled And Here is even providing ALT text for each photo. (Why do we care about ALT text? Because ALT text makes content accessible.)

Good to know: The project is also looking for disabled BIPOC illustrators to expand the stock library.

12. UKBlackTech

Availability: UKBlackTech
Focus: POC in tech in the UK
Cost: free
License: share and adapt; commercial and non-commercial
Attribution required: UKBlackTech
Search or browse: browse only
Bonus points: includes images of children of colour using technology

Who’s behind it

UKBlackTech is an innovation group working to make the UK tech industry more ethnically diverse. One of their pillars is to create more visibility for Black tech professionals and businesses in the mainstream media.

UKBlackTech collaborated with VINE Creatives, a visual communications and brand strategy agency. Together they created a photo collection showing people of colour using various tech items to address that deficit in traditional stock photography.  

What it offers

The UKBlackTech collection currently consists of 50 photos depicting POC using various tech. It shows people at work, having meetings, using computers, VR headsets, gaming controllers, etc.

It also includes photos of children and teenagers, in particular showing their use of technology in an educational context, entertainment devices such as VR, or building robots.

A Black child/teenager is wearing a virtual reality headset. They’re clearly absorbed in the activity. Walls.io free stock photo sites collection.
Photo credit: UKBlackTech

13. Pexels search algorithm update

Availability: Pexels
Focus: LGBTQ+
Cost: free
License: Creative Commons
Attribution not required
Search or browse: You can search or just hit the “discover” section for inspiration 
Bonus points: updating the search algorithm means more diverse photos are served to every user and not just those specifically looking for diversity in stock photos

Who’s behind it

Pexels is a huge database for free, Creative Commons-licensed stock photography and videography. In 2018, they decided to commit to a more diverse experience and updated their algorithm to grant underrepresented people more visibility in their search results.

What it offers

This screenshot from Pexels’ post about the new algorithm shows how the search results have changed. Before the update, the results for “wedding” showed primarily heterosexual couples. The updated algorithm provides a far more diverse search result.

Screenshot of a blog post by Pexels which contrasts the old and new search results for the word “wedding”. The new ones are showing more LGBTQ+ results.

In the blog post, the Pexels team explains how it works: “As with most search engines across the web, our internal search algorithm is programmed to learn from our users, constantly fine-tuning results to provide the “best” possible photos and videos for every search term. This means that our search algorithm, as is the case with many online, will inevitably end up reflecting some of society’s biases.”

To combat this bias, Pexels’ new search feature takes into account what the Pexels curators do, allowing them to boost photos that depict more diversity.

The really awesome thing about Pexels tweaking their algorithm and providing better diversity in search results is that it works towards a change in broader society. You don’t have to actively seek out diverse imagery, going to niche stock photo sites to find it. 

Which means that someone not specifically out to portray diversity will still get served the same diverse results, combatting their own bias. And, perhaps, they will end up using a picture of a queer couple instead of a heterosexual couple which, in turn, helps combat bias on a societal level.

Think twice before you grab an image

Media creators should not have to specifically seek diverse stock photography. But, realistically, we’re not quite there yet. So it’s our responsibility as brands, bloggers, journalists, designers, developers, etc. to actively ensure that the imagery we put out into the world reflects reality. Our planet’s reality is most definitely not white, cis, straight and male. But a lot of the stock photography used makes it look like it is.

So let’s start changing this misconception, one stock photo at a time. Fortunately, the number of diverse stock photography sites is constantly growing, so it’s never been easier to make sure that your websites, blog posts, articles, etc. represent a diverse society.

Feature photo credit: navabi.co.uk/stock-photos/