Top 7 Image Sources for Authors


If you’re in the business of words, you’ll need pictures to sell them.

Images provide a quick, visceral snapshot of the world your pen promises: as far as your readers are concerned, an image can be the difference between a purchase and a pass. So, whether it’s a book cover, blog banner, or insta-quote, at some point, you’re going to need quality images to catch the ever-roving eye of potential readers.

Fortunately, it’s 2017, which means we’re spoiled for choice. More and more royalty-free image sites are cropping up every year, and the quality is astounding. I could just list fifty of those sites and leave it at that, but given the sheer volume of great content out there, I figured it would be more useful to share my personal Top 7, paid and unpaid. These are the sites I use for EVERYTHING. Book covers, marketing materials, social media – you name it.

So here goes!

Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

Free Images

Everybody likes freebies, and I regularly use them for social media & blog posts (including this one). They’re perfect for stuff like that.

Occasionally, I’ll also use them for background shots on book covers. This depends on the quality and appropriateness of the image (and of course the usage terms), but I’ve found more than one cityscape or grungy building that works just great.

Here are my go-to sites for free images, in order of preference:

Pixabay  (this one has a filtering option, which I like)



Gratisography (this is a ‘bonus’ site, with lots of fun & quirky shots that you won’t find on many other sites)

Image from Pixabay

Paid (Stock) Images

So why would you ever pay for images when there are so many gorgeous freebies out there? There are several reasons, including the following:

  • A lot of photographs on free sites are ‘ready-to-go’. This means they’ve been carefully composed and treated with various filters. This is perfect if all you want to do is place your own text over them … but if you’re composing your own image from various elements, you’ll want something raw to work with. You don’t want desaturation, or blurring, or boosted contrast, because you’ll be adding those things yourself.
  • You’re after a crisp studio portrait (these can be tough to find on the free sites)
  • You want the extra protection and peace-of-mind of a purchased image license

Bearing all that in mind, these are my go-to paid stock image sites, in order of preference.

Adobe Stock

  • Great for single-image purchase
  • Unlike most other stock image sites, Adobe doesn’t force you to buy credits or bundle deals, or bump up single image purchase by a ridiculous margin. This allows you to pay a reasonable price for the image you actually want – and nothing more.
  • They offer decent plans
  • Saves time (if you use Photoshop). If I’m logged into my Adobe account, I can sync a watermarked preview from Adobe Stock to my Adobe Library, then open Photoshop and use that preview to create a mockup. If I like that mockup, I simply click purchase from within Photoshop, and BOOM – it simply SWAPS OUT the watermarked image for the real one. No need to go back to the stock site and purchase, download, and manually place the image on the canvas. No need to reproduce any effects, masks or transitions applied during the mockup process. Your file is DONE. Just polish and export.


  • Very wide range
  • Excellent low-cost plans for bulk purchases

iStock (by Getty Images)

  • Good plans for bulk purchases (little more pricey than Shutterstock)
  • Some additional images that I can’t find on Adobe or Shutterstock, including some unique portraits and people. If I have a very particular idea in mind, I often find myself on iStock.

What about Non-Stock Images?

I wrote this post with the budget-conscious author in mind. Most indies don’t have the budget of a major publishing house, and set their financial limit at a good-quality stock image.

Having said that, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t purchase an exclusive image license direct from the photographer. Single images start at around $500 (although they are typically over $1000, depending on the type of shot). These kinds of deals are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, so if this is the path you wish to take, it requires a bit of legwork to find the photographer, model and image you like. But if you have a particular vision and brand strategy in mind, it may be ABSOLUTELY worth the initial outlay.

What about Licensing?

For paid images, the sites I listed have very clear T’s & C’s, and I would strongly recommend you read them before purchasing anything. At the time of writing this article, the Standard License (included with image purchase) is just fine for self-published authors, and includes unlimited digital reproductions. There’s also the option to upgrade to an Extended License at a later date (this may be required if you hit the big time and find yourself making >500,000 physical reproductions of the image).

With respect to the free sites I listed, most of their images are offered free and unencumbered, although a few photographers may request attribution. Just check the licensing agreement before hitting download.

What do I charge my author clients for images?

All of my book cover designs INCLUDE stock image fees. Yep, all of them. So if you just want to pass on the cost and hassle to me – and get back to writing – that’s also an option!

That’s it for images!

So those are my 7 go-to sites for image sourcing. Got any alternatives? Think I’m taking crazy-pills?

Hit me up on Twitter, and let me know what you think!

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