Whether you’re planning to DIY a book cover or make smashing social media graphics to promote your new release, you’ll need images!
If you enjoy taking photos and have the equipment and skills needed, you can always use your own. Not everyone is a photographer, though, so you’ll be using stock images.
If you’ve ever done an image search, you’ve probably run across stunning stock images from places like Getty Images that are crazy expensive to license. Ouch.
The good news is, there are perfectly legal and incredibly affordable ways to get stock images for your projects.
Let’s talk briefly about using images legally
You cannot use an image you find on the internet without permission. That’s just a blanket rule that is always true.
Permission to use an image can look like: the image being in the public domain, licensed under one of the many Creative Commons licenses, or a paid license obtained from a reputable stock photo site.
It is important to note that there are additional rules that should be followed when including an identifiable person on a book cover. You should be sure to have access to a signed model release. This is a document signed by the model (or their parent/legal guardian) giving permission for others to use their likeness, even for commercial purposes.
Sounds complicated, huh!
Don’t worry, most stock photo sites with paid licenses require their photographers to upload model releases along with their images. The site keeps them on file in case there’s ever a question. If they don’t have a model release on file, the photo will be marked for editorial use only.
To make it simple: don’t use images of identifiable people from free stock image sites. If you need a person on your cover, get it from a paid stock site so it will be model-released.
One other thing to note
Whenever you use stock images in your cover, you run the risk of discovering another indie author has licensed the same image and used in their cover as well. It’s just a fact of using stock images and it’s very normal. If this really bothers you, the best thing to do is to save up for a custom, exclusive photoshoot with a photographer and model or hire an illustrator. If that’s too far outside your budget, go ahead and use the stock images, but make as many unique changes to the image as possible and try to combine a couple images rather than just using a single image as-is.
Okay, on to the sites! (Note that all prices mentioned are subject to change at the whim of the respective sites. Also, these aren’t affiliate links. Just places I’ve used and found useful as a cover designer.)
Top 6 Sites for Free and Inexpensive Stock Images
“All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. Attribution is not required.” –Pixabay homepage
I go to Pixabay quite frequently for all kinds of photos. From beautiful landscapes to a vase of flowers, or a pair of shoes to a patterned background. They have an excellent selection!
“It’s hard to understand complex licenses that is why all photos on Pexels are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.” –Pexels license page
Again, this site has an excellent selection of gorgeous images. It may be even more extensive than Pixabay, because it seems to draw from several smaller Public Domain / CC0 image sites. Definitely one I visit often!
I always recommend this site because of it’s convenient pricing structure. Many stock photo sites want you to buy a monthly subscription or a large package of credits (which is probably overkill unless you’re a designer). Canstockphoto offers both options (and their smallest credit pack of 12 credits is extremely affordable at $9!) as well as the option to simply pay the exact dollar amount for an image you’d like to license (appx. $7 for a large image).
No monthly commitment, no leftover credits sitting around.
Yes, you’ll save money by buying the credits, especially if you’ll need more images for making promo graphics. But the option to just pay for the one or two images needed is perfect for many people designing their own book cover.
I have been really enjoying Depositphotos’ selection lately for client projects. I also like their pricing structure. Unlike other sites that require more credits for larger image sizes, Depositphotos will let you download any size image for the same price. If you get their smallest package, you can download 10 images for $49 (that’s $4.90 each!)
But what to do with 10 images? If you use a couple images for a cover, you can get through the covers for a trilogy (be aware, though, that these download credits do expire after a year). Or, if you will be marketing with social media you can use the leftover downloads to make super awesome, eye-catching promo graphics!
123RF has a nice selection of images. There have been several times I can’t find what I need on another site and 123RF comes through for me. They offer several different ways to license images. You can download 5 images of any size for $39 or buy as few as 10 credits for $13 (remember it will take multiple credits to license an image large enough for a cover design). There are other packages that are a better deal per image, but may too large-scale depending on your needs.
Stockfresh is another good site to check when looking for something in particular. They have a nice selection and offer credits in addition to their subscriptions. The smallest pack of credits is 20 for $18.99. They say depending on the size you need, the image could require 1-10 credits. Like Canstockphoto, they also allow you to bypass paying for a pack of credits and simply pay $10 for an XL-sized image.
Do you have a favorite free-and-legal or inexpensive stock photo site? Share it with us in the comments!
Perry is a 20-something author with a lot on her plate. She’s wife to Tyler; mom to four little boys, two dogs, one cat, and 12 chickens; and author of five little books. She’s the admin of this site, as well as a freelance book designer and the creator of the WriteMind Planner for authors. She lives in the sunny southwest.
Offers: cover design and the WriteMind Planner at perryelisabethdesign.com