Finding cheap stock photos has always been every marketer’s dream. As creatives, the beginning of microstock has already been a blessing, reducing the price per photo from hundreds of dollars to sometimes just a few cents. But just because you found the cheapest stock photo site, it might not mean that it’s worth paying for. Why? The cheapest options often come with worse pricing, sometimes dubious acquisition methods, and overall lower photo quality and variety. As someone who has been on a tight budget before, here are the best sites for getting cheap stock photos.
Top 10 best places to get cheap stock photos
- Shutterstock: Best overall
- Envato Elements: Unlimited downloads per month
- Adobe Stock: Best for graphic designers
- Depositphotos: Best for bloggers
- iStock: Best cheap premium images
- 123RF: Similar to Depositphotos
- Dreamstime: Cheapest extended licenses
- Bigstock: Overall cheap
- Vecteezy: Best freemium
Let me explain each pick. Shutterstock is the father of subscriptions in stock photography, introducing the first one in 2009. So, it comes as no shock that it’s the best stock photo subscription even today. Shutterstock recently rebranded its subscription plans to FLEX, which now enables you to download images, videos, and audio tracks under a single plan, making it extremely versatile. It also harbors the largest collection of stock images at 434 million—of all the stock photo sites I’ve used (and I’ve used a lot), it’s the easiest for me to find a good photo here. If you’re just warming up to the idea of using Shutterstock, I recommend you start with the 30-day free trial or a 15% discount if you’re ready to buy.
Just because I like Shutterstock, it doesn’t mean it will suit you. If Shutterstock is too expensive for you, consider picking a budget pick like Envato Elements. It has a smaller collection of stock images (434 million), but you get unlimited downloads for a small monthly fee of $16.50. Alternatively, you can get our in-house discount of 70% off for the first month.
On the other hand, if you’re a graphic designer or someone already invested in the Adobe ecosystem, Adobe Stock should be your go-to option. It’s a close second to Shutterstock in terms of image quality, but it’s natively integrated into Adobe’s Creative Cloud. This means you can access all its photos from your favorite programs, like Photoshop and Illustrator. Give it a go with the 30-day free trial of stock photos and a complimentary 7 days free of the entire Creative Cloud suite.
Why are stock photos so expensive
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another while sifting through stock photo libraries, particularly when we stumble upon a single image with a price tag that would make even a seasoned marketer raise an eyebrow: Why are stock photos so darn expensive? To the untrained eye, these are just pictures, right? Well, to unravel the mystery, it’s important to dive a bit deeper into the intricate world of stock photography.
First and foremost, you should understand that behind every stock photo is a complex web of professionals, equipment, and logistics. The photographers who produce these images are often highly skilled, with years of experience and costly gear in their toolkits. Capturing a high-quality, unique image isn’t as simple as snapping a photo on a smartphone. Lighting, composition, and post-production editing play pivotal roles. So, when you’re purchasing a stock photo, you’re not just buying an image; you’re compensating the photographer for their expertise, the time they spent, and the equipment they used.
Moreover, the subjects of these photos often require investment. Think about those perfectly poised models, the picturesque locations, the props, and sometimes even animals. Each of these elements can come with its own set of costs, from model fees to location permits. Photographers or agencies might also have to obtain releases or permissions, ensuring that everyone and everything in the photograph is legally cleared for commercial use. This legal safety net is another key reason why these images fetch a higher price.
But what about the stock photo agencies themselves? These platforms serve as intermediaries between photographers and buyers, providing a searchable database, a payment system, customer support, and marketing efforts. The infrastructure and technology necessary to smoothly run these platforms, along with the staff to maintain them, add another layer to the final price of a stock photo.
Now, consider the exclusivity factor. Some premium stock photos are priced higher because they offer exclusive rights or limited usage, ensuring that the image won’t be seen on a competitor’s billboard or website. In the cutthroat world of advertising and branding, exclusivity is a prized commodity.
Lastly, we should acknowledge the value of time saved. Searching for and securing the rights to images independently can be a daunting task. Stock photo platforms streamline this process, offering many options at your fingertips. For businesses, convenience and speed can justify the cost, especially when weighed against potential legal troubles or the effort of producing original content.
So, the next time you come across a seemingly overpriced stock photo, remember: what you’re seeing is the tip of a very intricate iceberg. Beneath that price tag lies a world of expertise, effort, logistics, and the peace of mind that you’re obtaining a quality, legally secured asset for your project.
How to find cheap stock images
While the costs behind premium stock photos are justified, it’s understandable that not everyone has the budget to splash out on high-end imagery. Especially if you’re a budding entrepreneur, freelancer, or simply working on a personal project, every penny counts. But don’t fret; there are ways to navigate the expansive realm of stock photography without burning a hole in your pocket. Let’s explore some savvy tactics to find those wallet-friendly gems.
- Bulk discounts: Many stock platforms offer reduced rates for bundle purchases. Buy more at once to lower the average cost per image.
- Annual subscriptions: Instead of buying piecemeal, opt for monthly or yearly subscriptions. This spreads out costs and often reduces the price per image.
- Coupons and promo codes: Keep an eye on newsletters and social media channels of stock photo platforms. They often announce deals and discounts there.
- Lesser-known platforms: Don’t just stick to industry giants. Explore smaller platforms for unique images at competitive prices.
- Free stock image websites: Check out sites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. They offer a range of quality images for free. Just be mindful of licensing details.
- Negotiate with photographers: Found an image that’s slightly out of budget? Contact the photographer. They might offer a deal or suggest alternative options.
Summary of the best cheap stock photo sites
|Stock photo site||Number of photos||Rating||Price||Free trial|
|Shutterstock||390 million||5.0/5.0||$0.22–$14.50/image||Yes (10 images)|
|Adobe Stock||295 million||5.0/5.0||$0.26–$8.00/image||Yes (10, 25, or 40 images)|
|Depositphotos||224 million||4.8/5.0||$0.22–14.00/image||Yes (10 images)|
|iStock||140 million||4.8/5.0||$0.22–$7.00/image||Yes (10 images)|
|Canva||110 million||4.6/5.0||$9.99–$30/month||Yes (30 days)|
|Dreamstime||185 million||3.9/5.0||$0.225–$51.78/image||Yes (15 watermarked images)|
|Bigstock||111 million||3.1/5.0||$0.157–$12.00/image||Yes (35 images or videos)|
Where to find cheap stock photos?
- Subscriptions ($0.22–$4.90/image): Subscriptions are available in four sizes (10, 50, 350, and 750 monthly downloads) and with three payment options (monthly, yearly, and yearly upfront).
- On-demand ($9.16–$14.50/image): On-demand packs come in three sizes (2, 5, and 25 images). Enhanced license images come in the same sizes but cost $67.96–$99.50/image.
- Royalty-free license ($0.22–$14.50/image): Unlimited web distribution, up to 500,000 prints or copies, and up to $10,000 in legal indemnification. Learn more
- Enhanced license ($67.96–$99.50/image): Unlimited web distribution, unlimited prints or copies, and up to $250,000 in legal indemnification.
- Free trial (10 images during 30 days): Be careful, though, because you must cancel the trial 2 days in advance. Learn more
- Coupon code (25%): Using the 25% coupon code, you get royalty-free images for $0.165. Learn more.
2. Adobe Stock
- Subscriptions ($0.26–$9.99/image). Subscriptions are available monthly (more expensive) or annual commitments and come in four sizes (3 or 10, 25, 40, and 750 monthly downloads). You can access standard images, templates, 3D elements, and music tracks with subscriptions.
- On-demand ($8.00–$9.99/image). Using credits, you can get premium images that are unavailable with subscriptions. They cost $96.00 to $119.88.
- Royalty-free license ($0.26–$9.99/standard image). Unlimited web views, 500,000 copies or views, and up to $10,000 in legal indemnification. Adobe’s royalty-free (dubbed “Standard”) license applies to standard assets.
- Enhanced license ($96.00–$119.88/premium image). Everything royalty-free license has + unlimited copies or views. Adobe’s Enhanced license applies to premium assets.
- Extended license ($79.99/image). Everything the Enhanced license has + unlimited merchandise.
- Free trial (10, 25, or 40 standard images). Adobe Stock’s free trial gives you the most downloads of any stock photo free trial.
- Coupon code: Adobe Stock offers no coupon codes.
- Free collection: You can also download free files from the free collection of 1+ million assets.
- Additional features: Integration into the Creative Cloud.
- Subscriptions ($0.22–$4.00/Essential image; $0.44 to $9.90/Signature image): Subscriptions are divided into Basic (for Essential images) and Premium (Signature images). Both come in four sizes (10, 25, 50, and 750 monthly downloads) and are available with month-to-month and annual plans.
- On-demand ($8.00–$12.00/image): iStock offers ten credit packs (1 to 300 credits) that you can use to buy photos, vectors, illustrations, and videos at the following prices.
- Royalty-free license ($0.22–$12.00/image): Unlimited web distribution, 500,000 copies or prints, and a $10,000 legal guarantee.
- Extended license ($79.99): Unlimited web distribution, unlimited copies or prints, $250,000 legal guarantee.
- Free trial: 10 free stock images with the 30-day free trial. Learn more
- Coupon code: You can get up to a 20% discount with iStock coupons.
- Subscriptions ($0.22/image) are either monthly or annual (14% cheaper) with 30, 75, 150, and 750 monthly downloads. You get the best price ($0.22/image) by choosing the largest plan for a full year. But you can use my 15% promo code for Depositphotos and pay only $0.197/photo.
- On-demand plans ($2.99/image) are available in sizes of 3, 10, 25, and 100 images. You can choose between a standard license and an extended license. Choose the 100 image plan for $2.99/image to get the best price. In contrast, the smallest 3 images cost $14.00/image.
- Extended license ($63.96) is available with on-demand packs only, costing $63.96–$89.00/image, based on pack size. Thus, the best investment of your money is buying a 100-image plan, compared to buying 25 images four times.
- Free trial is not available at Depositphotos. To get Depositphotos’ free trial, sign up and wait a couple of hours to get an invitation to a 7-day free trial of 10 photos via email.
- Free photos from a collection of 70K free files similar to what Adobe Stock offers. Furthermore, Depositphotos lets you download watermarked images, giving you a chance to test the image in your design or project before buying it.
- Price: $0.00 for Free; $9.99/month for Pro; $30/month for Enterprise.
- Subscriptions: $9.99–$30.00/month. Canva’s stock photo library is integrated into its editor, so the only way to get access to the images is to buy a full subscription.
- License: Canva offers multiple licenses based on the source of images. For its Pro content, a form of a royalty-free license applies, which gives you a perpetual, non-exclusive, and non-transferable, worldwide right to use the content.
- Free trial: There’s a 30-day free trial for the entire Canva suite (tools + photos).
- Coupon code: /
- Additional features: The entire Canva stock photo library is integrated into all of its tools.
- Subscriptions ($0.36–$3/image): Available in sizes of 10, 50, 150, and 350 monthly downloads with the monthly and yearly (25% cheaper) options. There’s no daily download limit.
- On-demand plans ($2.69–$9/image) are available in sizes of 3, 10, 25, and 100 downloads, but you can also get a custom pack of up to 1,000 downloads.
- Extended licenses ($59–$130) are sold based on the required extended use.
- Free trial (10 images) lasts 30 days and is available with the subscription of 10 monthly downloads.
- Subscription plans ($0.158/image) are available in six different sizes: 5, 10, 15, 25, 100, and 750 monthly downloads. By prepaying for the entire year, you get a 23% discount. I partnered with Dreamstime to give you an additional 30% discount connected to a link. This link allows you to get the best stock photo prices possible. With the largest plan, you will get stock photos for as low as $0.158/photo.
- Credit packs ($8.00/image) come in ten different credit sizes that you can use to buy images. However, the pricing of images depends on the image level. The higher the image level, the more credits it costs. To determine which level the image falls into, click on each image and check manually. Furthermore, levels change every day because they depend on image popularity and age. The credit prices range from $0.616 to $9.54 based on the credit pack you choose.
- Extended licenses ($16.10/image) are uniquely sold with subscriptions at Dreamstime. This results in the best possible price in the industry – $16.10 for an extended license. Of course, you can buy an extended license on-demand for 50 credits or $62.50.
- Free trial (15 images), but they will be watermarked.
- Price: $0.157–$12.00/image.
- Pricing options: Subscriptions, on-demand.
- Free trial: 35 images or videos during the first 7 days.
- Coupon code: /
- Additional features: /
- You get access to all resources even with a free account, but you must give attribution.
- Vecteezy’s standard royalty-free license allows only 100,000 copies and sales, which is very low compared to 500,000 other stock photo agencies.
- With the Pro plan, you access the SVG editor, which is good, but not as good as Adobe Illustrator.
What’s the difference between the “cheapest” and “best cheap” stock photo sites?
Because we wanted to be thorough, we covered both topics, despite how similar they may seem. The main difference is that the cheapest stock photo sites are ranked purely based on increasing pricing.
In contrast, we ranked the best cheap stock photo sites (the current post) based on the quality of service measured with our ratings. However, we listed only the sites we deemed affordable, meaning those within reach also for users on a tight budget.