Where to find erotic stock photography for your book covers

UPDATED 2ND JULY 2014

For many authors, writing erotica is the easy part. But books need covers, and dammit Jim we’re writers, not photographers! (Other than those writers who are also photographers. I declare shenanigans. Being multi-talented is cheating).

If you’re even slightly au fait with Photoshop, GIMP, or another image manipulation program then half the battle is already won. But you are going to need some pictures to put under the title and author’s name, and finding them can seem pretty daunting to the new erotica writer.

You may feel the temptation to pinch pictures off the internet. Do not do this. Why not?

  1. Theft is bad. You don’t need me to tell you this, do you?
  2. The photographer and / or model may not have intended their work to be used for erotica.
  3. If someone stole your book you’d be up in arms. Don’t steal other people’s work either.

If you intend to write professionally, behave professionally.

Free Erotic Stock Photography

There are some sites which offer stock images for free. Largely you get what you pay for, and the majority of these free images are either of amateur quality (not necessarily bad, but don’t expect Victoria’s Secret models or breathtaking composition) or are so heavily overused around the world because they are free. With that caveat in mind, let’s see what erotic stock photography you can get for the grand sum of zero moneys!

stock.xchng: Now owned by Getty Images, this site offers premium results first, but scroll down a little to find free images.

MorgueFile: This is the granddaddy of free image sites. All images are for reference only, meaning that you must modify them in some way before using them for your covers. Still, if your digital image editing skills are pretty sharp, this is a very handy resource.

DeviantArt: DA has a Stock Images section, but every artist’s licensing agreement is different, so you must read the licensing information carefully before using any image that you find.

Flickr: This is another needle in a haystack option, but there are images on Flickr waiting for you with the right licensing options if you have the time and patience to search for them.

Free Erotic Stock Photography

This is the search result for “erotic” on MorgueFile. Don’t get your hopes up.

Paid-For Erotic Stock Photography

If you cannot find what you need for free, you’re going to have to pay for it. That’s just a fact of life, let alone a fact of stock photos, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Prices vary widely, and again you tend to get what you pay for. There are authors who double as photographers, sneaking off to their BatCave at 3am with sexy-as-hell models and snapping absolutely flawless shots because, as writers, they already know what you are looking for. Then there are photographers who hire cheap models who don’t take direction well, and upload their flat-eyed, bored-looking images to every stock site out there. You’re going to be doing a lot of searching, I’m afraid, but to help you get started:

Erotica-Specific Stock Photography Sites:

Save time by going to a site that sells exactly what you need. The trade-off, of course, is that these images are what you’re looking for, so will cost you a price which reflects that (not that $10-$35 an image is actually bad value at all – it’s incredibly good value). But if you’re just starting out you might not actually have the funds to throw at this just yet. Once you get off the ground, though, the time you will save will be of far more value to you than the extra bucks each image costs.

I should hope it goes without saying, but the sites in this part of the list are very NSFW.

Erotic Stock Photos: By an erotica author, for erotica authors. Here you can find BBW models, gay couples, BDSM gear and more for $10 each.

Hot Damn Stock: Beefy chaps and busty ladies, for $20-$30 per image.

Jenn LeBlanc: A wide variety for $20-$35 each, with exclusivity as a $400 option. Jenn will also discuss custom photo shoots if you require something not on her site.

XXXstockpics.com: There are a lot of images here which are just flat-out blockable if you try to use them as a cover on Amazon, B&N, and some other storefronts, but there is a great selection. Use common sense. If you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s ever-changing cover rules, I wouldn’t go here until you’re more aware of what is and isn’t likely to get accepted.

Adult Stock Photo: Extremely high quality images, and many of them will pass muster at Amazon! Again, use your knowledge of Amazon’s reviewers to see what you can get away with before you buy.

DirtyPlace: A good variety of erotic images. Caveat emptor: If you don’t know what Amazon will allow, learn before you buy.

Erotic Stock Photos

Suddenly we’re cooking with gas!

General Stock Photography Sites:

More generic stock photography sites can be tremendous bargains, but they’re a bargain for a reason. Needle in a haystack doesn’t even begin to cover it. Most of these sites offer photography which is uploaded by the creator, and the photographers don’t necessarily use English as their first language, so often mis-spell their keywords. Even worse, most of them will slap any old keyword on a photo just to get hits. While you can’t really blame them for this, it does make it frustrating when a search for “handsome male model” turns up a ninety year old bearded lady. It’s up to you whether your time is worth the money that you save. You’ve also got to be extremely diligent with the monthly subscriptions – they’re relying on you forgetting a day or two.

I strongly recommend that should you choose to use from these sites, you work hard to obscure the identity of the model. There is a reason so many erotica books are faceless or headless torsos: do not risk upsetting a model by letting his or her family see their face on the cover of “Werebadger Gangbang”. Also see the comments section below: both Bumbi and Kyla Li have been extremely helpful in finding out which sites do and do not allow use of images for erotica covers.

CanStockPhoto: Great for the newbie erotica author, CanStock offer a $39 1-week subscription which allows you to download 10 images a day.

iStockPhoto: Also owned by Getty Images, but not nearly as expensive as using Getty Images themselves. iStockPhoto have confirmed via email that their images may be used for erotica so long as the image is tagged as sexy / erotic, and so long as the book contains a disclaimer stating that the model does not endorse or condone the book’s contents.

ShutterStock: Shutterstock’s cheapest subscription is over $200, but that is 25 images a day for an entire month.

DepositPhotos: Mid-range, both in price and quality. However, every few months there is an offer on MightyDeals where you can purchase an image pack which will last an entire year for a very good price.

Fotolia: Pretty nice pricing, and their download limits are per month, so no need to remember to log in every single day.

Dreamstime: Dreamstime offer both free and paid-for images, but are a little on the pricey side.

ingimage: Another “you get what you pay for” example – a little pricey, but if you search for “erotic” your results aren’t a page of bored models or naff vector images.

CanStockPhoto

Speaking of naff vectors…

Ready-Made and Custom Covers

“But Scarlet,” you cry, “I suck at design!” Have no fear. There are plenty of people out there who don’t, and some of them specialise in creating book covers for the erotica market. These may seem an expensive option, but these covers are phenomenal. There are some very talented people out there waiting to help you!

You could always hire me: Yes, I now offer cover design services. It could be what you’re looking for!

Cover Design from PubYourself: The extremely talented Aubrey Rose has been designing erotica and romance covers for authors for a long time, and she has serious skills!

eBook Indie Covers: Melody Simmons designs all kinds of covers, including erotica and romance, and some of her earlier designs are available for only $16!

GoOnWrite: Another very versatile designer who offers erotica covers among a far wider portfolio. Stunning designs with an extremely professional look.

Indie Author Services: A very nice selection of covers across several genres – including erotica and romance. $30 each.

Fantasia Frog Designs: $40 for pre-made covers, $50 for custom requests. Fantasia Frog also offer website banners and buttons.

Alice Xavier: Alice is a professional graphic designer who creates covers for traditionally published books, and also offers erotica covers from $30, or $25 if you are providing your own stock photo already.

Aubrey Rose's Covers

A thousand times yes! Curse your skills, Aubrey!

I need more options!

Heavens above! Well, thankfully there are more options. This is a subject others have blogged about, and you will find many more stock sites, pre-made covers, and custom cover designers out there. Here are a couple of excellent lists to get you started:

J. M. Madden lists 10 sites for pre-made covers.

Melissa Johnson’s also accumulated a fantastic list.

* Warning: I would warn anyone – not merely erotica authors – away from BigStockPhoto. Their business practices are questionable, and I have heard one too many tales of their “free trial” charging you for a full month after only three days of the trial, and the subscription not being cancelled despite repeated attempts to do so. They cancel your free trial the second that you cancel the automatic “renewal” onto the $49 monthly subscription. This leads you into a “free trial” which does not last the full seven days, because you are charged only three days into it and if you cancel in under three days to prevent this happening you don’t get the free trial at all. In short, you get at most three days of the seven day free trial.

Let me know if you have a favourite site that I’ve missed out on!

 

31 Comments:

  1. I know that this is going to prove to be a true time-saver. Thanks for posting. Crossing fingers here, hoping that I use that saved-time productively.

  2. John&Shauna Michaels

    Thank you so much for this post! Helpful information! The others are right with the agreements, which we’ve been worried about but the tip to not show faces is particularly helpful, as are the erotic stock sites. Thanks! :)

  3. Yesterday (5/22/14), I contacted the following stock photo companies: Shutterstock, Fotalia, 123rf, Dreamstime, and Canstock.

    I identified myself as an erotica author, “meaning I write books containing graphic, hardcore,sexual encounters.” Each one of these companies wrote back to me and said that I was not allowed to use images from their companies for erotica fiction.

    I currently have emails out to Erotic Stock Photos and Hot Damn Stock — while they would seem to be a little more lenient, their licensing agreements use exactly the same language as the other companies who have already turned me down.

    • Hy Kyla,

      That’s extremely useful to know, thank you.

      • I heard back from Hot Damn Stock and Erotic Stock Photos. They both allow licensing for erotica, I’ve included their replies below.

        HOT DAMN STOCK:

        Hi Kyla –
        I spoke with Kim (the owner) about your email.
        She said she thinks most of our images will not be an issue but
        if you could link or send me the Image # to the one(s) you want to
        purchase, we will confirm you can use them for any BDSM, erotica etc
        covers.
        Some of our models are younger so we’d just prefer they didn’t get used.
        However, most of our models are well above 21 yrs and it should be fine.
        Just send us the numbers, we’ll take a look and confirm you can use them for
        whatever you’d like :)

        Thank you!
        Jenn

        EROTIC STOCK PHOTOS:

        Correct, but it’s different. Most stock companies have photographers work for them, whom get the model to sign a release form. People have so many problems with purchasing them and using them for covers because the MODEL doesn’t know about it. All of my models are accepting of any content being used on “adult books” which isn’t the same as film. All of my photos may be used on covers, just not on the inside of the book. Soon these terms will be rewritten to have the difference outlined.

  4. You should be aware that this article is a bit misleading and could cause some serious legal trouble for authors if they are unlucky. None of the Stock sites you mention (shutterstock, 123rf, canstockphoto and so forth) allow images to be used on explicit erotica covers by their TOS. (confirmed with these agencies) Even more important is the fact that it is the publishing author who is ultimately responsible for their publication. The stock agency are only a distributor of images and not legally responsible. If a model can recognize her/himself on such a cover and the author has not gotten a special permission of the usage from the photographer/model, he/she could face some serious trouble in a worst case scenario. Do not show faces of people on erotica covers and if you do, get written permission from the photographer/model first. Just saying.

    • It’s a point well worth making! I always advise any erotica author to obscure the face unless they have obtained the image from a site which specializes in images for this particular purpose for this very reason.

      • In general how do you suggest obscuring the face– or do you have any cover examples you might point to?

        Thanks!

        • Hi there,

          I’m always sure to buy the largest available version of an image that I can. This allows me to move and resize as required without losing image quality.

          Careful purchasing is essential. Images with the model’s face front and centre are largely unsuitable; I look for images where the model’s head is at the top of the image, and not obscuring shoulders or collarbones.

          If there’s an image I’m really sold on, I will use gradient shading and text placement to ensure that the model’s face cannot be seen clearly. For example, my Groves’ Anatomy series uses this method.

          Otherwise I will place the model’s face out of the image frame. The Abominable Dr. Forbes series uses this technique instead.

          I hope that helps :)

    • Bumbi, have you had luck with requesting permission for models with hidden faces?

  5. I don’t need the covers just pictures

  6. I was just going through Shutterstock to look for an image for my erotic book I’m putting out soon and their new terms state that the image can’t be attached to something considered immoral… so you think that cuts them out of the mix for erotica?

    11.

    Use an Image together with pornographic, defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or immoral content.
    The use of the word “immoral” is so subjective… thoughts on this?

    • Hi Ivy,

      That clause has been there for as long as I can remember. Immoral is wholly subjective, and that’s why they use it – it devolves responsibility.

      Basically so long as you use it for erotica it should be fine, but the moment you use it for taboo subjects like PI, Dubcon, and so on it heads into questionable territory.

      Your best bet is to ensure the model’s face isn’t visible. Problems usually only arise when the model finds him or herself on the cover of an erotica book and becomes concerned that people might think that s/he personally endorsed such a use.

      The majority of models on these stock sites are the photographer’s friend, sister, cousin, brother… Basically most models on there aren’t professional models, and they don’t think sexy pictures of them in a lacy pair of knickers could possibly be used for an erotic purpose anywhere!

      When you pay more for your images, you move into the territory of professional models who work with professional photographers, and those images become available from sites which specialise in stock for erotica. But when just starting out it’s well worth grabbing a ton of cheap stock and just taking care with faces :)

  7. Extremely useful information. Once again, another great post! =^.^=

  8. A bit late to the discussion, but one question, while obviously no erotic writer is going to deliberately select an underage subject even for a cover, I’v enoticed that canstockphoto doesn’t give you the age of the model when you buy the photo. Granted, I’m a bit sensitive about this, but is it an issue?

    • I can’t say that I’m aware of any erotica writer finding this an issue; it’s mostly self-resolving, inasmuch as we’re hunting for large cleavage or well-defined abs, neither of which are generally possessed by young adults.

      The CanStockPhoto model release form requires that the model be 18 years or over, or that a legal parent or guardian sign the release form should the model be under 18. I would like to think that this means nobody’s signing release forms for their teenage children to run off and do glamour shots :(

      Ultimately I think that if we see someone on a stock site who does not look old enough to be posing in a lingerie or lounging seductively in their underpants, it’s our responsibility to report those images and at least have the image in question queried by the retailer.

  9. Hi There!

    A great resource list for erotica authors! Please do note that Amazon has become very strict with covers lately and nudity has to be kept to a bare (or rather dressed) minimum – not even thongs or a side-breast sticking out will pass anymore. Also, on stock sites one cannot just use any image for an erotica book – one has to choose appropriate images that will not offend an innocent model that does not pose for sexy-type images.
    Thanks for mentioning my site. Yes, once in a while I move out a couple of older covers to my sale section ($16) but usually my premade covers are $40 and I do custom covers too.

    Thank you!

    Melody

    • Hi Melody,

      Yes, Amazon are growing ever stricter. Even thumbs in the waistband are a no-no.

      I think cover image selection is a skill, and will take a whole blog post of its own, including taking care not to use images which clearly aren’t for erotica purposes. It’s one thing to use a shot of an oiled-up beefcake making come-to-bed eyes, and another entirely to use pictures of people who are clearly posing for other purposes entirely (fashion shoots, business stock imagery, and so on).

      Thank you for stopping by!

  10. Very helpful resource– I use canstock, but GoOnWrite has a quick turnaround.

    • There really is something to be said for a quick turnaround on a complete cover rather than spending half a day searching for stock then more time creating a cover from it!

  11. This is a great resource! Thanks for putting it together, Miss Scarlet!

  12. You’re welcome, Tara! Thank you for providing a vital service! :)

  13. 123rf’s standard licensing does NOT allow you to use it as your eBook cover. You have to buy an extended license for EACH image you want to use, meaning anywhere from $60 – several hundred dollars per image. And once you’ve purchased credits, they won’t refund you. I learned this the hard way.

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