As a journalist, I’m always looking for new public domain and creative commons image databases. When students come to the library services desk asking for help with finding photos for a project or presentation, I am eager to offer recommendations—and probably provide more than necessary. And many of my favorites are those that feature and highlight diversity.
We consume media in so many aspects of our lives, providing many opportunities for better inclusion of race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, and disability. The minority population is growing by about half a percent every year in the United States, and makes up nearly 40% of the population, according to 2017 data from UCLA. It’s estimated that minorities will become the majority in just a couple of decades.
Yet, there’s still an imbalance in media representation—and it can be a major impact on kids. Many studies have shown evidence that observing diversity in media is important to youth development and social identity. The news is no exception. In January, the Associated Press cropped out African climate activist, Vanessa Nakate, from a photo featuring five other activists, including Greta Thunberg, at a news conference in Switzerland to discuss climate change.
“When I saw the photo, I only saw part of my jacket. I was not on the list of participants. None of my comments from the press conference were included,” Nakate later told The Guardian. “It was like I wasn’t even there.”
The Associated Press issued an apology and is expanding its diversity training. It’s just one example of the media’s omission of minorities and its impact on readers and the public.
Additionally, it’s a well-known issue that stock photo databases are often unrealistic portrayals of our world. They can consist of limited diverse imagery, featuring predominantly white, male presenting subjects. But there are organizations and media groups that are working to change the landscape. For instance, Broadly launched a gender-inclusive stock photo library featuring trans and non-binary models called the Gender Spectrum Collection, a direct, proactive solution to journalists’ struggles and frustrations with finding good inclusive photos. Learn more about how the image library came together.
It’s never too early to start practicing inclusive representation in your media, whether it’s a lesson plan, presentation, dissertation, or a post on social media. If you want to get started, here is a list of free online resources that I draw upon regularly!
The Gender Spectrum Collection: Stock Photos Beyond the Binary
From The Gender Spectrum Collection. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Created by Broadly in 2019, this photo library curates images of people of color and LGBTQ-presenting individuals and couples in the office, at home, at the doctor’s office, and more. The photos are available for free to use under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.
From Nappy. Public Domain
Nappy is a collection of high-res photos of black and brown people for anyone to use, completely for free. The database makes it easy for people to be more purposeful about representation in their media. Read the story behind the creation of Nappy.
From WOCinTech Chat. CC BY 2.0
While #WOCinTechChat bid its farewell in 2016, its stock photo library of women of color technologists lives on. Its collection, on Flickr and free under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license, increases visibility of women of color engaging in technical tasks. Learn more about how it was created.
Disability Inclusive Stock Photography
From Disability Inclusive Stock Photography. Disability:IN/CC BY-ND 4.0
Disability:IN offers disability inclusive stock photography to the public in an effort to achieve disability inclusion and equity. The photos can be used under a Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 4.0) license.
Plus-Size Stock Image Collection
From Plus-Size Stock Image Collection. Public Domain
Despite the fact that two-thirds of women in the U.S. are plus-size, just 2% shown in media are plus-size. The Plus-Size Stock Image Collection is intended to be used by a wide variety of content creators—not just those addressing plus-size issues. This photo collection is created, completely for free, by AllGo.
Bonus Science and Health Image Libraries
From The American Academy of Pediatrics' Immunization Image Gallery, Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine.
There are also a plethora of science-specific image databases that can help you visualize your research responsibly and creatively. Many of the images in the following databases are free or under creative commons license, but be sure to see the rights information listed on images or on the page before using.
- Climate Visuals: For evidence-based climate change photography.
- Immunization Photos, from Self Magazine and the American Academy of Pediatrics: For accurate and responsible portrayals of vaccination.
- Public Health Image Library, from Centers for Disease Control: For medical and health images.
Do you have a favorite free photo database not listed here? Comment below!