How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don’t Suck)

It's hard to choose the best photos (that don't actually suck). Where do you start, and how do you find and choose the perfect stock photo? In this post, you'll discover how to find the best stock photos that don't suck by using a few simple tips!

How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Images Sourced from Depositphotos


It can be a struggle to find the best stock photos that don't suck – even with so many stock libraries available. So we asked someone with a background in both stock photos AND photography to write a post to help you. Enjoy!

I’m a stock photography enthusiast. I have a carefully curated collection of excellent shots like this one. And a less neatly curated collection of tacky ones like this one that I hide and refer to for inspiration and giggles at work. 

Truth be told, finding good stock photos that don’t suck is an actual issue for anyone that’s ever ended up browsing stock photography platforms.

When you work for one, as I do, you realize that cliches exist because there’s still enough demand. The Depositphotos library doesn’t hide this, as it’s a beautiful gathering place that’s the best of 3 worlds – images that are too stocky, less stocky, and not stocky at all. 

So what about us enthusiasts that want to find something artistic, creative, and different? Well, for those purposes we created this guide. In stock libraries that are full of clichés, you can stumble on hidden gems if you are in the know about a few tricks and hacks. 

Before we get to it, there’s a well-hidden stock photo secret I’d like to share. 

The Best Kept Stock Photo Secret

Depositphotos Image by Ryhor - How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Image source: Ryhor

It hurts me to say this but – photographers don’t think like clients. Trust me, when you’re creating content, the last thing on your mind is calling the product of your genius ‘summer’, ‘family’, or ‘fun’. These are typically the keywords most users will use when they want to find an image on microstocks. 

And they end up disappointed with millions of search results that don’t seem right. This article will help you avoid that, empower you with skills, tips, and hacks to reduce your search results, and find much better images in the process. 

Here’s how photographers usually work with stock photos …

When you’re a photographer devoted to your work, you describe the image in the best way you can, as you see it – ‘Young happy woman with her cute little son having fun near a bright wall in Dubai, UAE’. Or something of the like. No jokes, this is an actual photo description and you can find it here.

I looked at some other images in my ‘Favourites’ folder on Depositphotos. Here is another description: ‘A close up of hands holding plastic flowers on a bed. With a soft pastel edit.’

Image by Raggedstone, Depositphotos - flowers on bed.
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Image source: Raggedstone

Pastel edit! Photographers will go as far as to even tell you the editing style. Because they’re the creators, not the consumers. 

That’s really the first hack – use the right vocab. And be descriptive! Chances are, you’ll find something super niche no one’s used before since most people settle for 1 keyword strokes of luck. 

Now for the other hacks and tips. Let's get to it.

6 Ways to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)

Let's kick it off with a solid tip for hacking your search when choosing the best stock photos for your project:

Stock Photo Search Hack #1

Find Your Target Keywords and Brainstorm 

As an extension of the secret I’ve given away, I wanted to show an example of why keywording is so important. 

I recently needed an image of an empty gallery to digitally showcase some artworks. I was the victim to the biggest mistake in working with photo stocks. If you come searching for the best stock photos with just idea, the generic results will stare right back at you and you’ll close the tab before you even let out a sigh. 

My product of genius for this search was the keyword “empty gallery”:

How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck) - Empty Galler - Image by Aviany, Depositphotos
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Image source: aviany

I didn’t need a gallery space a computer regurgitated, so I tried again with the keywords ‘modern empty gallery’: 

Image by Sokolova - Modern Empty Gallery, Depositphotos
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Image source: Sokolova

This is hardly exciting. So my third attempt was “contemporary art gallery mockup”. I’ll explain why in a bit.

How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck) Contemporary Art Gallery - Image by Kantver, Depositphotos
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Image source: kantver

Much better for my project on showcasing images in an empty space. The thought process here was that I needed more of a mockup for an empty gallery, than a gallery itself. I threw in ‘contemporary’ (trendy black interiors), ‘art gallery’ (need the atmosphere), and ‘mockup’ (empty frames). 

The lesson here is vocab. Specifically, the right vocab for better search results. 

The silver lining in all this is that you have to use target keywords and brainstorm for ideas if you want to stumble on the best stock photos and images. This means turning to photo stock with ideas, not just 1 general, obvious, and generic keyword that’s overused. Think deeper – think in symbols, try emotions, atmospheric adjectives, basic photography vocab etc. 

This brings us to point 2. 

Stock Photo Search Hack #2

Narrow Your Search and Don’t Settle for Page 1

I did not find the stock image I needed on the first page. Don’t settle for page 1. It’s easy to resort to the easy solution, lazily hover over an image that is ‘okay’ and then download it, because it’s quick. 

Maybe I can instil some fear by telling you that you can actually see how many search results come up for your request in this corner:

How to search on Depositphotos
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Do you want to go through all of them? Major anxiety incoming. 

There are almost 200,000 images that fit the general idea of an empty gallery, and that might be overwhelming. Narrowing down my search to something very specific (like in my previous example), lowered the search results to just 1,000:

How to search on Depositphotos (narrow the search fields)
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I was able to find what I needed on page 3 – because I am not too lazy to spend an extra 3 minutes surfing a photo stock past page 1.

To sum it up, a narrower search gives you less search results and the images will likely be in line with what you need. If your search results produce millions of results, the way some typical keyword would, you know you’ll find all the generic images gathered in 1 place, like this:

Generic Search on Depositphotos
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This is getting fun, here’s the results for ‘happy family’.

What this hack tells you is – try harder. Get back to your desk, start brainstorming, test keywords, watch for those numbers to fall, and browse through a few pages before you settle. Try more diverse and descriptive words if you’re unhappy. 

With the first 2 tips combined, you’re also more likely to find niche content no one’s discovered. You’re welcome. 

Speaking of undiscovered….

Stock Photo Search Hack #3

Make the Most of Advanced Search Options

The most basic filters you can use are the ones below the search box: best match, popular, newest, and undiscovered. They’re all self-explanatory but they are a quick maneuver for a diversified selection of images. 

This is where you can apply minimal effort for better results. 

So what are the advanced search options? You can find an advanced guide to the Depositphotos search in this article, but let’s have a run through some of the main filters that will propel you into a new world of excellent stock photography (that doesn’t suck). 

Take a look at this magical side menu: 

Advanced Search Options in Depositphotos - How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Advanced Search Options will give you surprising results!

All the Advanced Search Options:

Here’s a detailed breakdown of all the search filters on Depositphotos, which is the platform I’m using as an example. Keep in mind that every stock photography platform has similar options and even different criteria for search. The key here is to explore the advanced search options:

  • Extras: Choose if you want outdoor or indoor shots, filter by isolated backgrounds, with backgrounds, with or without renders.
  • Orientation: Choose image orientation – horizontal, vertical, square, or all orientations.
  • People: Find images with people (and by the number of people), without people, no faces, by gender, age, or ethnicity. 
  • Category: Select an image category to narrow down your search. 
  • Contributor: Find images by the same photographer or artist if you have a reference to find their portfolio. 
  • Image size: Set the preferred width and height of your image in pixels, centimetres, or inches. 
  • Editorial: Filter all editorial images, or exclude all editorial images from your search. 
  • Exclude keywords: Select Editorial Only option to browse all the editorial files on the topic, or exclude this category of images altogether. 
  • Color: Literally pinpoint which color hue you’d like the images to be in. 

So there you have it! Nine search filters that will narrow your search to something so specific, that you’ll find the perfect image in no time. Remember that advanced search filters are available on most stock photography platforms. Be sure to explore them before diving into the search. 

Use the filters wisely. It’s easy to get lost in ultra narrowing down of your query, so pick and choose the filters that apply to the visuals you have in mind. 


Next we'll take a look at what you can do if you see that perfect image online and want to find an image exactly like it. Don't use an image straight from Google or you'll be risking potential lawsuits. But you can find the next best thing. Let me show you another search filter that will help you out. 

Stock Photo Search Hack #4

Use Reverse Image Search

Many stock photography platforms offer reverse-image search for when you desperately want to find a particular image type. Sometimes you have the perfect image and you need something of the like or at least close to it. 

Let's say you find a typical lovely (and atmospheric shot) of a remote landscape in Bali somewhere online. To find images just like it, simply right-click to save it or copy the image address like so: 

Searching for reverse images on Depositphotos - How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Right-click on the image to copy the image address.

On the Depositphotos website, find this little icon and click on it.

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Look for the camera icon…

Upload your saved image from Google or paste the link that you’ve copied into the search bar (remember, don't use the image anywhere online. This process is just to find a similar image).

Search by Image in Depositphotos - How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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The result is a whole page of similar search results on a stock photography platform where you can purchase images instead of stealing them from Google. 

Depositphotos reverse image search
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Need a particular image? Use Reverse Image search to find one!

Would you look at that? The first image found with reverse image search is actually the exact image I was searching for. That’s a score. As a bonus, you get lots of similar ones in case there’s something better in store for you. 

I love reverse image search because sometimes when curating content, I use Pinterest for inspiration. Pinterest has a particular aesthetic that I like, and sometimes you can even capture fragments of images and search for similar ones on micro-stocks. 

Are you paranoid about copyright yet? I clearly am. But reverse image search is a safe way to find just the image you want, while avoiding any copyright infringement.

Stock Photo Search Hack #5

Mastering Consistency with Three Filters

There’s another major problem with selecting images for social media, or for your blog (for example). You can find one outstanding image, but then you have a whole article to illustrate. Nobody is going to come and rescue you, aside from these 3 filters maybe. 

Filter 1: Find Similar Images

I know, sometimes you find that perfect image but you need more. By clicking on ‘Find similar images’, you get redirected to dozens of pages of similar-looking images, or images in the same style, like this:

Find similar images in Depositphotos - How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Use “Find Similar Images” to look for more choices.

Filter 2: Same Series

If you’d like something of the same series, or with the same people, click on ‘Same series’. These search results will find more images taken during the same photo shoot.

For example, this dog with his owner is an image I’ve been obsessing over, and turns out there’s another image from a different perspective that I like even more. 

Searching for similar photos in Depositphotos
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Images the same series might turn up something even better.

Filter 3: Same Model

If your article calls for such consistency that using a different person doesn’t make sense, no problem. Try finding other images with the same model by clicking on the filter “Same model”. The search that comes up below will show you other photoshoots and scenarios with the same person.

Searching for similar models in Depositphotos
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Use the Same Model feature to search similar images.

Stock Photo Search Hack #6:

Search Photo Collections – an untapped resource

If I could just draw your attention back to the very first stock photo secret in this post… about photographers not thinking like clients. There is still a big problem on the market – clients think that they know that photographers know that clients know how to search for images. 


Sometimes it’s simply hard to find something for a niche theme. Part of my mission was to make all the best visuals from the Depositphotos library even more accessible to clients (that sometimes have trouble finding what they need). 

In the Depositphotos blog, you will find hundreds of photo collections for every imaginable topic out there. It's an excellent untapped resource. The best part? It’s already hand-picked content, done with love and care by professionals who truly want you to discover outstanding content. 

Depositphotos blog - photo categories
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Using a curated photo collection can save you hours!

In a way, these photo collections are like sifting through dozens of pages of stock photos that (you guessed it) don’t suck. 

Bonus Tip: Avoid Clichés (or see them in action)

Look, many stock photo libraries will feature clichés. Clichés make the world go round because they’ve become like a universal language. Sure, they’re corny, but people with a trained eye are truly entertained by them. 

If you don’t believe me, here is some evidence of Emilia Clarke (aka GOT Emilia Clarke) going out of her way to recreate stock photos and put a smile on our faces:

Hats off to Emilia Clarke for an amazing performance. 

The video is about images you definitely shouldn’t ever use. The featured clichés are fun, but really make some of the more outdated content fun and laughable – paired with some satire. 

A Final Word of Wisdom For the Road

Equip yourself with the right knowledge, like these 6 simple stock photo search hacks, and you’re on the road to not only finding stock photos that don’t suck, but developing a trained eye for better stock photos.

Why? Because when you mix them with your own photos, you can promote a more trendy aesthetic that can help your social media account, blog, or website (or even your whole business) flourish with better visual content. 

Never undervalue the power of excellent visuals. Because on a more serious note, trendy aesthetics and better visual content strategies always = more views, more traffic, more conversions, and ultimately more clients. 

Over to You

How do you use Stock Photos in your business? What tips do you have for finding the best stock photos?

How to Choose the Best Stock Photos (that Don't Suck)
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Images Sourced from Depositphotos
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Sandra Iakovleva is Creative Editor at Depositphotos and a photographer. She studied at the University of Arts London and has a distinct passion for art and design. At Depositphotos, she curates Depositphotos’ creative projects such as the annual visual trends forecast. She also writes and edits content on the topics of photography, design, and marketing for the company blog and other online media.

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