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These are our top 5 image banks

In an earlier blog, we explained why we believe it’s so important to use high quality images in your work. One of the ways to get those awesome pictures or illustrations is through online image banks.

Picture @NappyStock

Today the Internet seems too full of them, so our intention is not to cover them all. Instead, we’re going to share our own top five resources. When combined, they offer you a solid base for pictures, icons, backgrounds and symbols that are culturally representative and of high quality.

Dive in to discover some extraordinary creatives from Africa and abroad.

Quick note on licenses

All of the image banks below offer visuals that are free from copyright restrictions or licensed under creative commons public domain dedication. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, all without asking permission.

That also means that photographers, graphic designers and illustrators have put their heart, effort and time into creating these awesome images, for free. Show your appreciation by attributing an image each time you use it.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into our top 5 image banks.


The image bank we use the most (including 80% of the images on Yenna) is Unsplash. It’s an amazing source counting over 210,000 contributors and millions of high-resolution photos.

Although the focus is on photography, Unsplash also contains a lot of illustrations and more conceptual background images. Over the years, they’ve invested in diversity and cultural representation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Unsplash supported the United Nations response with a call for creatives. The result was a collection of wonderful illustrations and pictures that were used all over the world, including as part of IOM’s regional response in West and Central Africa.

The Noun Project

Second in line is The Noun Project. Although an interesting collection of photography was added recently, the focus of the Noun Project is on symbols and icons. They’re great if you’re looking for icons for a presentation or symbols to use in an infographic.

All images on The Noun Project are available to download free of charge, under the condition that you mention the author. They offer the possibility to purchase a royalty-free license to support artists and get more options (royalty-free, unlimited downloads, additional colours, and more).

Black Illustrations

Now that we’ve covered pictures and symbols, let’s go to a place where you can find completed illustrations. Our team recently purchased illustration packs from Black Illustrations. With a clear focus on digital projects, the website created different collections (such as education, outdoor activities, and office work) featuring people of colour.

You can download some of the illustration packs for free, others range from USD 9 to 38. All images are available in source files, so you can edit them yourself in Photoshop, Illustrator or other editing software.

It’s a great way to build your own infographics, social media images, or website designs, without having to start from scratch.  

Nataal bi

Whereas the first three resources are international (with managing teams residing in Europe or the US), African image banks are on the rise! To address the lack of high-quality pictures from the continent, artists and creatives have joined forces to fill the gap online.

One of these initiatives is Nataal Bi, a collection of stunning, royalty-free images from the region. Here you can find pictures of food, money, monuments, and nature, all adapted to the cultural context of Western Africa (mostly representing Senegalese culture).


Our latest discovery is Nappy. The founder of this image bank says that although she loves Unsplash, Pexels and Shot Stash, she’s noticed that their content could be more diverse.

For example, if you were to type in the word ‘coffee’ on Unsplash, you’d rarely see a cup of coffee being held by black or brown hands. It’s the same result if you type in terms like ‘computer’ or ‘travel’. You may find an image or two but they’re pretty rare. But black and brown people drink coffee too, we use computers and we certainly love traveling.

That’s why she decided to launch Nappy; to provide beautiful, high-resolution photos of black and brown people and help you to be purposeful about representation in your designs, tools, or presentations. Isn’t that all you ever wanted?

Extra: IOM Media Library

We couldn’t write this blog without including our own IOM Media Library. We’re looking for pictures on migration, after all.

All pictures in the library are uploaded by IOM staff or consultant photographers. Create your own profile to start putting together a personal collection, which you can download anytime. The pictures are available in different sizes, according to the quality you need.

All pictures in the library can be used freely if you attribute copyright to IOM and mention the author of the picture in the description.

What else?

There we are, we’ve unveiled our secret. That doesn’t mean that’s all there is, or that your options should be limited. We’ll keep updating this post with new discoveries. Here are some additional places to look for original visual content:

  • Zouzoukwa is a series of African emojis and stickers for WhatsApp that you can send to your friends or use in social media posts. They’re created by O’Plerou Grebet, a 21-year-old from the Ivory Coast. You can download them here (Android).
  • Jolixi is another African image bank that offers mainly paid content at affordable rates. It’s great if you’re looking for royalty free images but you don’t own a credit card, as the platform also accepts mobile money applications like Orange Money.
  • In the same category as Unsplash, you can also find Shot Stash and Pexels. They’re websites for creative professionals where you can find interesting visuals, although at times a bit limited in their (geographical) application.
  • Picha is an image bank for “Modern Afrocentric Stories curated from hundreds of creatives from Africa and abroad”. Most content is behind a paywall, but they offer some free collections and a starter’s pack. Worth the try!
  • Some other United Nations agencies have image banks to share their pictures with you, such as the World Bank and UN Women.

Thanks for taking our advice on using the right images 😊. Please share yours too! Drop us an email at [email protected] to recommend your favourite resource, or if you want to write a blog post for Yenna. We’re excited to find out what you can teach us!

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