Best websites for stunning medical science stock photos

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You’ve written a blog or a new webpage, and you need an image to make it look a bit more interesting. But you’re not looking for just any image – you need something medical or scientific that gets across what your charity does. Stock photography might be an option for you.

In this blog, I’ve gathered a selection of websites to find good quality images related to medical research and healthcare. Some of these are free, and some of them you have to pay for.

But let me start with a disclaimer…

Beware of (rubbish) stock photos

Stock photography gets a bad rep, and sometimes its deserved. Some images can look inauthentic, ‘generic’, or a bit too polished. And it’s very easy to find stock photography which is downright bizarre or hilariously disturbing. Even with professional quality photography, it can sometimes be difficult to find images which fit with the ‘tone’ of your charity’s brand – and it’ll end up sticking out like a sore thumb.

It’s generally better, if you can, to create your own ‘stock photos’. Hiring a photographer to spend a day or so getting the images you need (at a research lab or a hospital, for example) might not necessarily cost as much as you think. The big benefit is that they’ll produce a library of brand-aligned images for your charity to use for as long as you want.

For scientific images – pictures of cells under the microscope, and so on – you could also ask your charity-funded scientists to contribute. As well as being important for their work, they could have enough visual appeal for your needs too.

One important thing to bear in mind is copyright. I’ll confess that I’m not an expert in this – please get advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. But generally speaking, when it comes to images (free images in particular), always check what credit you need to give the image creator, and if there’s any conditions you need to adhere to. 

If you’ve exhausted other options for getting the images you need, here’s a few places you can get scientific and medical photos.

Science and medical images

First up are a few websites which specialise in collecting medical and scientific images.

Science Photo Library – https://www.sciencephoto.com/

A screenshot of the Science Photo Library website

This is the most impressive collection of medical and scientific stock photography I’ve seen. It has an extensive collection of real medical images and anatomy illustrations, as well as microscope and MRI scans. 

The price of the individual images varies, and partly depends on whether you get a ‘rights managed’ or a ‘royalty-free’ image.

Rights managed is when there are certain conditions set on how you use the image, and the price varies depending on what you need. For example, at Science Photo Library the charity price to use an image on a website varies between £110 to £240, depending on where you plan to put the image and how long you’ll be using it for. 

Royalty-free images, however, can be used any way you like.  On Science Photo Library, royalty free images start at £39 for a very small image size (500KB), right up to £350+ for large, high-quality files (50MB+)

Wellcome Collection – https://wellcomecollection.org/works

screenshot of the Wellcome Collection image library website

The Wellcome Collection calls itself ‘the free museum and library for the incurably curious’ (and home to a fantastic café and gift shop, I might add). Their website has an extensive collection of images connected to medicine and health. Since they are museum collections, many of these images are historical, but there are some more ‘modern’ images too. The exhibits at the Wellcome Collection tend to focus on the interface between science and the arts – which means there are plenty of interesting and abstract images available too.

The images in the collection are available on various ‘Creative Commons’ licences, where the images are free but they come with certain conditions. For example, you might be required to give credit to whoever created the image, or not to modify the image in any way.

Science Museum Group – https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/

screenshot of the Science Museum Group collection website

The Science Museum Group – which includes the Science Museum in London, the National Railway Museum in York, and the Science & Industry Museum in Manchester – have made a huge amount of their digital collections available.

Again, as they are museums, most of the objects (and images associated with them) are historical. Nevertheless, there are certainly a lot of interesting images, which are available on Creative Commons licences.

US National Institutes for Health – e.g. https://visualsonline.cancer.gov/

Some of the US National Institutes for Health (government-funded research agencies) have free-to-use image libraries, provided under Creative Commons licences.

screenshot of the National Cancer Institute Visuals Online website

For example, The National Cancer Institute has ‘Visuals Online’, a fantastic collection of scientific and medical images here related to cancer and cancer research.

Other NIH institutes with great free image libraries include:

US Center for Disease Control – https://phil.cdc.gov/

screenshot of the Center for Disease Control website

The US government’s public health agency also has an image library. The images represent a wide range of topics, from ‘infectious diseases’ to ‘healthy behaviours’ and ‘natural disasters’. All the images are free to download.

General stock photography libraries

Many generalist stock photography libraries contain some medical or scientific images. These could be useful for general shots (labs, scientists, hospitals, patients, etc.), but don’t expect to find specialist or technical images.

Pixabay – https://pixabay.com/

screenshot of the Pixabay website

A popular free image library, with some decent images available to use (as well as a fair bit of crap, to be honest).

Unsplash – https://unsplash.com/

screenshot of the Unsplash website

Another library of free images, which I think are higher quality than those found in other stock photography websites. I feel Unsplash’s collection leans towards ‘arty’ and ‘abstract’ images, but don’t let that put you off.

Pexels – https://www.pexels.com/

screenshot of the pexels website

Again, another free image library – I haven’t used Pexels, but the images seem good to me.

iStock – https://www.istockphoto.com/

screenshot of the istock website

A popular image library run by Getty Images. Again, I’ve never used iStock myself, but there seems to be a wide variety of great quality images. You have to pay for almost all the photos here, but prices for individual images start from £7 – hardly breaking the bank. You can also buy images at reduced rates using pre-paid credits or subscriptions.

Other options

These two options I would consider last resorts. If you’ve not any luck with the websites above, and you’re still desperately searching that special something, these might provide the lifeline you need.

WikiCommons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/

screenshot of the Wiki Commons website

Think ‘Wikipedia for images’ – in fact it’s run by the same organisation. To be honest, I find the WikiCommons website difficult to use, and a lot of the images are poor quality. But it has a huge collection of images, freely available to use with creative commons licences. So, if you’re prepared to do a bit of digging, you might find some gold here.

Google image search – https://images.google.com/

screenshot of the google image search website

Clearly you’ve heard of Google, and you’ll probably know about Google Image Search. However, the challenge is trying to find out if you can the images legally. Google Image Search allows you to filter by usage rights (click on ‘Tools’ at the top), as well as by size and so on. But then trying to figure out who you need to credit to use the image can sometimes be a bit tricky. Personally, I’d only use Google Image Search to find images as a last resort.

How do you find images for your charity’s website? What kinds of images do you always seem to be looking for? If you have any resources to contribute, do get in touch!


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