You’re working on developing a brand new website for your nonprofit. You’re feeling great about your message and content, but something is missing. You notice that the missing puzzle piece is imagery. Your words tell your story wonderfully, but your organization just doesn’t have many images to enhance your message in a compelling way. Hiring a professional photographer might be out of the budget. You may be on a deadline, and not have the time to coordinate a full-fledged photo shoot.

What do you do? How do you get quality photos to help tell your nonprofit’s story? Stock photography to the rescue!

Stock photography sometimes gets a bad rap for being cheesy and ineffective, and it absolutely can be both of those things. For as many terrible stock photos that exist in the world, however, there is an equal amount of great ones. You just have to put in a little leg-work and do some manual filtering. While an exact recipe doesn’t exist to define a good quality stock photo, follow these tips to determine what photos can effectively help tell your organization’s story.

Unique Perspective

Look for photos that are taken from a unique angle. Photographs that are taken from a bird’s eye or worm’s eye view can put an unexpected twist on a seemingly ordinary photo.

The example on the left of a person hiking on a trail looks epic and exciting taken from this low, worm’s eye view, while the example on the right is taken from a more traditional perspective, giving the photo a more static feel.

Perspective Example

Photo 1, Photo 2

Depth of Field

Finding photos that portray depth is a great way to create a sense of interest and quality. Depth of field is a photography term that is used to describe the focus in a photo. Shallow depth of field is when one particular plane is very sharp in focus, and everything on differing planes is soft and out of focus. Deep depth of field refers to when most or all of the image is in focus. While both are appropriate at times, a more shallow depth of field tends to create very interesting and rich images, giving viewers a specific focal point.

In the photo to the left, you can see that the furthest bubble from the lens is in focal point of the image. All bubbles in front, and the girl’s face behind the bubble are soft and out of focus. In the photo to the right, the depth of field is much deeper. All of the bubbles, as well as the girl are crisp and in focus.

Depth of Field Example

Photo 1, Photo 2

Candid Moments

Try stepping away from images that have people staring straight at the camera and smiling. Images that look posed often look uncomfortable and too staged. Try to find images with people living in the moment, working, playing, or simply not paying attention to the camera. While there are certainly great posed photos, candid images can create a believable emotional scenario and be a key part in telling your organization’s story.

Check out the difference between the family playing together vs. the family looking straight at the camera smiling. Both picture a “happy family,” but one certainly shows it in a genuine and dynamic way, while the other is considerably more static and scripted.

Candid Example

Photo 1, Photo 2

Lighting and Processing

Lighting and processing play a huge role in creating a quality image. Lighting can range from soft and fresh to bold and dramatic. Whether you prefer a more natural mood, or something more dramatic, it’s also important to recognize the difference between quality lighting versus dull, uninteresting lighting.

Compare and contrast below. The photo on the left is bright, warm, and has nice contrast between the shadows and lit areas. The photo on the right is a bit too blue making the girls’ skin tone look off, and the foreground could stand to be brightened just a bit.

Lighting Example

Photo 1, Photo 2

Processing refers to how a photographer edits their photos after a photo shoot. Some photographers might create a vintage look with various filters and effects, while others alter their images very little.

The examples below demonstrate two very different styles of lighting and processing. Whatever your preference, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re choosing images with a similar mood to ensure a cohesive look throughout your website.

Processing Example

Photo 1, Photo 2


Images come in all shapes and sizes. The orientation of a photo refers to whether it is in a vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) position.

Let’s say you’re searching for a header image. Chances are that this space requires a landscape photo that will span the width your website, and is probably not very tall. In this case, it’s important to choose a photo that will crop well to this proportion.

A tall portrait photo would not fit in a space like this. You would need to be looking for something in a horizontal orientation.


Photo 1, Photo 2

Where to Find Stock Photos

There are tons of stock photography sites out and about. They all charge different prices for various licensing options, so definitely pay attention to what you’re paying for. Some sites may require you to renew the license every few years, and some you have for life.

Some popular stock sites are:

Another way to find great photography is via Creative Commons, where photographers of all skill levels can offer their images for free under various licensing rules. Some images you can use for commercial purposes as long as the source is credited. Some you can manipulate. Some you cannot. It’s important to pay attention to the licenses to make sure you’re using photos legally.

Have you used stock photography before? Were you able to find some great photos that represented your organization well? What complications did you run into? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Header photo courtesy of Nicolas Alejandro


  1. Great piece! I’ll definitely keep those tips in mind when I make my collateral materials 🙂 I’d also recommend nonprofits to check out Pexels or Unsplash for beautiful, CC0, stock photos.