Copywriting Q&A: 5 Places to Find Photos for Your Spec Ads

5 places to find photos for your spec workWhen you’re creating spec ads, whether on your own or with a design partner (recommended!), you’ll need to find images to use. And, since it’s bad karma to steal other people’s pictures, you’ll need good places to find them. Read on for five great resources…

Today’s question comes from Matthew Y., who asks, “Where can I find good pictures for my spec ads? And ones that aren’t crazy expensive?”

Now, obviously, you can do an images search on Google and get tons and tons of results in return. The problem is that using many of these images in your projects equates to stealing other people’s work for your own purposes.

Now, practically and pragmatically, there’s probably very little chance of you getting caught. Probably. By why worry about it? It’s often just as easy to find the kinds of images you need on sites that will allow you to use them legally.

Here are five resources (most are free) to get you started on your hunt for fair-use images.

1. Flickr If you’ve just been “borrowing” other people’s pictures up until now, you’ve probably already filched a few from Flickr, but there’s also a way to do it that’s both fair and legal. Head over to their “creative commons” section to find images that the photographers are more than happy to let you use.

2. (IM FREE) Though the selection is somewhat limited, the images on this site are realistic and may work very well for some spec pieces. The best part? They’re free, as long as you attribute them. Also, it’s worth noting that the site is relatively new, so the selection is likely to grow.

3. This website is based on the idea of being good to photographers and good to the photo users. Though the images are for online use only, you can use them for free with attribution or pay by the number of people who see the image. It may not quite work for all of your spec projects, but it’s worth checking out.

4 stock.XCHNG,, and True, this are actually four separate sites, but they’re very similar in what they offer: free photos. On a couple of these sites, you don’t even have to have an account to download the images. Easy!

5. iStock is, as the name implies, a true stock photo site: It sells professional-quality photos. I mention it, however, because some of the photos can be purchased for as little as $6 for the smallest (but still pretty big) size.

Your turn! What other resources have you or your design partners found? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Richard DeJoseph (@Shmoobuster311) says

    This is great, especially when Google’s results aren’t a good fit for your vision. Bonus points for using “filch” in your explanation flickr, which is an awesome alternative to Google in terms of breath of options.

    • Nicki says

      Hi Rich,

      Haha – thanks! And yes, there are lots of great options out there for images once you get looking.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. says

    I have more of a question than a comment.
    Do most people include pictures in their spec ads?
    I’ve done a solid amount of research on how to format a spec ad, and so far they only mention a headline, a possible subhead, and your copy. Is it more professional to include images? If so how “finished” do these spec ads need to look? Are we talking a full blown design, or are we talking through and through framework that would then be collaborated on with a graphic designer?



    • Nicki says

      Hi Collette,

      Yep, you definitely want to have images. A spec ad really has two goals: 1) to show a prospective employer that you understand how to wield copywriting techniques and tools to write effective copy and 2) to show a prospective employer that you know how to collaborate well with a designer. Your spec ads should be complete and final ads.

      Remember though, that while you’re new(ish? 🙂 ) to copywriting and need to build up your portfolio, there are plenty of designers out there who are newish to design and need to build up their portfolios too. These are the people you should be collaborating with!

      Did that help a bit?

      Thanks for commenting!

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