Did you know you can use those expensive stock photo sites even if your budget is totally busted? Many designers and developers are limited by small or non-existent budgets and are commonly forced to rely on using free source for their stock photos.

While there are tons of great free options with more and more popping up all the time, it can be challenging to find exactly the right image. Here is an easy hack that has worked well for me.

First of all, instead of bouncing around the web looking at multiple sites, try one that allows you to search multiple free stock photo sites simultaneously. I always start my searches on EveryPixel.com.

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Search Term Considerations

Here are a few considerations for search terms that can help you find what you’re looking for.

Subject – This one is probably obvious and a common starting point for most people. What do you want a photo of? Think of things like a house, computer, business people, office building, etc.

People – What type of people do you want in the photo? Men, Women, Children, Executives, Corporate, Family, etc.

Places – What is the setting or location? Think about searching for significant places, streets, towns, cities, countries, regions, etc Or more generically office, home, school, factory, outdoors, etc.

Type of Photo – Are you looking for something with a particular orientation (portrait/landscape) or style (macro, black & white, sport, street, abstract, etc.)

Adjectives – There may be times when you need photos of a specific color or that show how something feels, looks, sounds, tastes and acts

Concepts – Similarly, you might need to illustrate a concept like joy, sorrow, success, failure, environmentally friendly, businesslike, etc

Find New Search Terms From Paid Sites

If you’re still not having any luck finding the right photo, try doing your search on a paid stock photo site and browsing the tags associated with the photo results you like the best. I find that I’ll usually find new search terms that I’d never come up with on my own.

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Now go back to Everypixel or whatever site you’re using and try your search with your newly discovered search terms. Like many things, this trick isn’t 100% guaranteed but it is rare it doesn’t work for me.

I use either iStockPhoto or Shutterstock simple because those are the ones I’m most familiar with. I’m sure other sites with tagged photos will work too. (The more and better the tags, the better your results will be.)

Give it a try the next time you strike out in your quest for free stock photos. And I’d love to hear if you have any luck with it or what other suggestions you have for finding exactly the right photos for your projects.