For this guide, we tested more than 30 stock photo sites, and we think Shutterstock is the best stock photo site to buy images for commercial use. We chose Shutterstock because it has the most stock images, affordable pricing, and a 30-day trial period with 10 free stock images. However, we don’t like the limited on-demand buying options. If you’re a graphic designer, we recommend Adobe Stock because it integrates with Creative Cloud, has a better free trial, and better on-demand options. If you prefer premium images, we recommend iStock, which sells them with subscriptions, making them very affordable. Depositphotos’ small subscription plans are the most affordable if you’re a blogger or don’t need a lot of images. Lastly, if you’re on a tight budget or a beginner graphic designer, we recommend Canva.
Things to consider
Quality & Variety
How good the images look and how many you can choose from should be your top priority when choosing a stock photo site.
Lower pricing can mean lower quality, but there’s no point in overpaying for stock photos. Look for subscriptions.
How much legal coverage ($10,000+) and how broad the license is tells you a lot about the stock agency.
Having more tools at your hands is always welcome when you try to set up your workflow and create visuals quickly.
- How our picks compare
- Why you should trust us
- Who should get stock photos?
- How we picked
- Shutterstock: Best overall
- Adobe Stock: Best for graphic designers
- iStock: Best for premium images
- Depositphotos: Best for bloggers and SME
- Canva: Budget pick
- Other notable stock photo sites
- What about free stock photo sites?
- License comparison
- How stock photo sites work
- How stock photos work
- How stock photo licenses work
- Tips for comparing stock photo sites
- How to buy stock photos
- Types of stock images
How our picks compare
|Images||395 million||279 million||148 million||395 million||110 million|
|Free trial||Yes (10 images)||Yes (10, 25, 40 images)||Yes (10 images)||Yes (10 images)||Yes (30 days)|
|Customer support||Excellent live chat, quick over email, phonecall||Good live chat, ~2 days over email, phonecall||No live chat, poor email, phonecall||Excellent live chat, ~2 days over email, phonecall||Long email, phonecall|
|Additional features||Creative Cloud plugin, Image Editor, other helper tools||Native Creative Cloud integration||Creative Cloud plugin, VisualGPS Insights||Cloud-based graphic design platform|
Why you should trust us
To understand which stock photo sites are the best and which are not worth spending money on, we tested, reviewed, and then tested again every stock photo site: Shutterstock, the best overall stock agency; Adobe Stock, the best stock agency for graphic designers and anyone using Adobe’s apps; iStock, a great place to buy premium images at affordable prices; Depositphotos, the best source of stock photos for small businesses and individuals; Getty Images, a premium stock agency with a long tradition and the best source of editorial images; and over 20 others, like Alamy, 123RF, Vecteezy, YayImags, Bigstock, Dreamstime, Offset, Photocase, StockUnlimited, CanStockPhoto, StockPhotoSecrets, and PxBee. This holistic approach, combined with years of experience in stock photography, gave us the opportunity to write the most comprehensive guide on the best stock photography sites—the one you’re reading now.
The writer of this article, Matic Broz, has been passionate about photography for over 2 decades and is now specializing in stock photography and the use of images in marketing, graphic design, and websites. Through years of experience with stock agencies, he knows all of them inside out. He tested each with several accounts (we know that one review is not enough!), while also consulting with other experts in the field.
The article is also regularly fact-checked by stock photo site representatives, who ensure that the data is 100% correct. However, the opinion remains our own because we understand that our editorial integrity is the reason you trust our reviews.
How we picked
We looked at over 30 stock photo sites, both free and paid, commercial, premium, cheap and expensive, legit and scammy—we checked them all, so you don’t have to.
Here are a few features we focused on:
- Number of photos: We wanted a stock photo site with a large number of images (over 100 million). The number of images is crucial when choosing a stock photo website because if you need thousands of images, you can quickly run out of fresh photos. We checked the databases of each stock photo website and took notes on the number of images.
- Quality and variety: To check for quality and variety, we searched each stock photo website for over 50 keywords and analyzed the results. Both metrics were qualitatively assessed based on our expertise and experience. The quality review covered technical quality, including exposure, sharpness, grain, saturation, color temperature, and impact. The diversity review focused primarily on what percentage of the images were from the same photo shoot or were very similar to each other.
- Pricing: Affordable image pricing is important for a stock photo site. All our picks sell stock photos for as little as $0.26, or even less, and never more than $20 (except for premium stock photos). We also paid attention to the pricing of the extended licenses, focusing on stock agencies that sell them for less than $100 (iStock is an exception). In addition to the prices, we took into account how many buying options there are—the more, the better. We checked whether the stock photo agency offers subscriptions, on-demand options, and in which sizes and durations. Having a free trial is also important as it allows customers to get an insight into what they can expect.
- Licensing: A good stock photo site needs broad but simple licensing terms, meaning fewer licenses with high legal coverage (indemnity) and a higher reproduction limit. We compared them based on how many copies, reprints, and impressions they allow, whether or not you’re limited by your budget, and their indemnity value. We also considered how many licenses a stock agency offers because, in our experience, customers prefer fewer licenses as they are easier to understand and don’t require complex comparisons. So, the stock photo companies we recommend offer two main types of licenses (standard and extended).
- Additional features: and tools are meant to simplify or enhance a customer’s workflow. We reviewed and tested all the additional features where possible. Since some are limited to enterprises, or we couldn’t get in touch with the support team, we asked the customers with access to the additional features for their opinion. All our picks offer various integrations, plugins, built-in tools, helper tools (converters, resizers, upscalers), team collaboration tools, admin dashboards, APIs, and customer insights.
- Customer support: When something goes wrong or you need a refund, you contact customer support, and not getting a response for a long time gets very frustrating. This is why we picked stock photo sites with great customer support (except for iStock, which makes up for it elsewhere) and multiple channels of access. Crucially, when testing customer support, we didn’t tell them who we were, so we got treated like every other customer. We took notes of the response times, contact options (live chat, email, and telephone), and the usefulness and kindness of the support teams.
Shutterstock: Best Overall
- 396+ million images.
- Ten free images during a 30-day trial.
- Great image quality.
- Limited on-demand options.
- Not the best for videos.
Number of images: 396+ million | Pricing: $0.22–$14.50/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)
Why we picked it
With over 396 million images in the database, another 200 thousand added weekly, and strict technical standards, you’re guaranteed an endless supply of beautiful and professional photos, vector graphics, videos, and music of the highest quality. This, combined with affordable pricing, makes Shutterstock our number one choice among stock photo sites. Having launched as a subscription-only site in 2003 (adding on-demand options in 2008), subscriptions remain the most popular buying option, providing affordable prices and reasonable licensing terms.
You can choose between different purchase options, from image and video package subscriptions to unlimited music downloads, mixed downloads, and editorial content packages. Images cost $0.22–$4.90 with subscriptions, but they get more expensive ($9.16–$14.50) if you buy them on demand. There’s also a 30-day trial period where you can download 10 free images worth $29.
All Shutterstock licensing is royalty-free, with two types of RF licenses: Standard and Enhanced (extended). While both licenses have decently broad terms, we expected higher indemnity for both, especially the Standard License, which has $10,000.
Shutterstock also has a pretty good support team you can reach via live chat, email, or phone. Live chat is our favorite because it responds within minutes, but email is also pretty fast, as you’ll usually get a response within 24 hours.
Who It’s For
Because of its versatility and because it is one of the best stock websites, Shutterstock is suitable for almost everyone. However, we recommend it specifically for medium-to-large businesses, corporations, graphic designers (Adobe Stock may be better), and individuals and bloggers who can afford to spend at least $29/month on images.
Shutterstock sells stock images, videos, music, and editorial images with subscriptions and image packs. Most of the content is available with the cheaper and more general Standard License and the more expensive Enhanced License.
Image subscription plans come in four sizes (10, 50, 350, and 750 monthly downloads), costing $25–249/month (or $0.22–$4.90/image) and offering three payment options (monthly, yearly, and yearly upfront). The annual subscriptions require a 12-month commitment, but they save you 40% compared to the monthly options. This makes them an excellent choice for those who need stock images for at least 8 months (buying an annual subscription despite needing it only for 8 months is more cost-efficient than buying 8 monthly subscriptions). Subscriptions are also a way to get the free trial which is available with the 10 downloads per month plan.
With a subscription, you only get access to a royalty-free license, which is sufficient for most uses (more on that later). However, if you need extended rights, you must purchase the Enhanced license, which is only available with image packs. Image packs come in three sizes (2, 5, and 25) and cost more than subscriptions—$29–$229 ($9.16–$14.50/image) for the Standard license and $199–$1,699 ($67.96–$99.50/image) for the Enhanced license. As we mentioned earlier, we’re not fond of Shutterstock’s image packs because although they’re quite affordable, they are very inflexible. You need to buy a separate image pack or each type of license, which gets even worse with video packs that come in three sizes, three resolutions, and two licenses, giving you 18 unique video packs.
Speaking of videos, you can get them with video subscriptions in sizes of 5, 10, and 20 monthly downloads and the durations, costing $79–669/month ($8.35–$37.80/video). A neat option if you need stock images and videos at the same time, is the FLEX25 subscription plan. With it, you get 25 credits per month, costing $42–69/month that you can use to download either images or videos. Each image costs 1 credit and each video costs 8 credits. What makes this plan so versatile is that you may use the credits in any way you want.
But 25 credits per month (that’s 3 videos) is probably not enough for most of you. So we reached out to Shutterstock customer support and asked if they offer larger FLEX subscriptions. They told us that you may get a highly customized plan based on your needs, but so that you get an idea of what to expect, here’s what they offered us: A FLEX Premium plan for $5,000/year, which comes with 1,000 credits annually, allows unlimited users, and gives you the Enterprise license. Image, footage, and editorial images cost 5 credits, while music costs 20 credits.
Like most stock agencies, Shutterstock offers coupons to give you the best prices. We browsed dozens of coupon sites and sieved through hundreds of coupons to determine that the highest discount you can get at Shutterstock with coupons is 25%.
Shutterstock offers many licenses for its content, but for most users, the most important are the Standard and the Enhanced licenses. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the Shutterstock licenses, we want to emphasize that all Shutterstock licenses are royalty-free. In short, it means you may use the images perpetually, without geographical restrictions, and you only pay a fee the first time. We also checked with Shutterstock whether getting a rights-managed exclusive license is possible since it’s not advertised on the homepage: Yes, you can get an exclusive license, with the price starting at $10K.
The Standard license is the cheapest and most basic Shutterstock license. Costing between $0.22–$14.50/image, it allows unlimited web distribution, 500K prints or copies, a $10K video production budget, and provides $10K legal coverage. You can get it with subscriptions and the Standard image packs. It’s best used for personal projects, blogs, social media posts, and graphics.
When you need more rights, such as unlimited distribution, $250K legal coverage, the allowed use in merchandising and templates, or an unlimited video production budget, you should get the Enhanced license. You can get the Enhanced image packs costing $67.96–$99.50/image.
Another quite popular license, especially for media houses, is the Editorial license. It’s similar to the Standard license, except it may be used for one purpose only, costs $99-$199/image, and provides $25K of legal coverage. Lastly, there’s also a Premier (Enterprise) license, but most of its characteristics are tailored to each company, so we won’t get into that. However, if you need help with negotiating with Shutterstock or choosing the rights terms, get in touch with us and we’ll help!
Responsive and helpful customer support is a rarity but it’s vital in the selection of the stock photo site. Shutterstock offers four options for customer support: (1) A Help section with dozens of answered questions, (2) live chat, (3) phone call, and (4) email.
We have thoroughly tested all of them to verify how fast we could get help and how useful they were. The live chat customer support is our favorite because we usually get the first response within 2 minutes. The team behind it is knowledgeable and willing to verify information when they’re not sure, which is a big plus because we believe that waiting for the right answer is better than getting the wrong one immediately. If you request a custom plan, your information is forwarded to the email customer support, from which you usually get a response within a couple of hours, but always before 24 hours.
Most customers view Shutterstock only as the source of stock photos, but it offers many free tools and integrations. Starting with the simplest and most obvious, Shutterstock provides an image resizer and file converter, which help you quickly adapt the images to your current project without having to buy 3rd party software.
Graphic designers can also benefit from the Creative Cloud integration, which natively integrated Adobe Stock, but Shutterstock provides a plugin that lets you integrate Shutterstock’s image database in the most popular CC apps. This includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere.
If you don’t want to use 3rd party apps to create graphics, the most popular of which are Canva and Adobe Express, you can use Shutterstock’s Editor. However, it’s not as sophisticated as some alternatives, so you might not be able to create the same beautiful graphics.
For web developers, there’s also a WordPress plugin that lets you use images without ever leaving the WordPress editor. However, this feature is not useful when you need to edit the images first.
Adobe Stock: Best for graphic designers
- Superb image and video quality.
- Offers templates, 3D objects, and fonts.
- More than 1 million free images.
- Creative Cloud integration.
- Works with Photoshop, Illustrator, & others.
- More costly than some alternatives.
- No promo codes or coupons.
- Expensive premium content.
Number of images: 297+ million | Pricing: $0.26–$9.99/image | Free trial: Yes (10, 25, or 40 images)
Why we picked it
Adobe Stock is Adobe’s stock agency, which leverages its customer base using Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere to deliver high-quality and unique stock assets. While it’s a relatively new agency (founded in 2015), Adobe Stock has a long tradition, since it’s the successor of Fotolia (founded in 2005), which Adobe acquired in 2015. Since then, Adobe Stock has grown into one of the stronger Shutterstock alternatives and is our top choice for graphic designers.
Adobe Stock is the best stock photo site for graphic designers, thanks to its excellent integration into the Creative Cloud. It works well with Adobe applications and allows users to try out the photos in their designs without buying them. This way, you only pay for the photos you use in your project’s final version. With this feature alone, you can save much of your budget and time.
You can buy stock photos, videos, and other assets with cheap subscriptions or more flexible credits. With monthly or annual subscriptions, you can buy images for $0.26 to $9.99, which is slightly more expensive than Shutterstock. However, the on-demand options aren’t only cheaper ($8.00-$9.99) than Shutterstock, but also more flexible. Of particular note is Adobe’s generous free trial, which lets you download 10, 25, or 40 images for free. The number of images you can download for free depends on the subscription you choose.
We also recommend Adobe Stock for its versatility and excellent licensing terms—it’s one of the two agencies (the other is Getty Images) that offer unlimited indemnity, which we deem one of the most important trust signals.
Who it’s for
Adobe Stock can be used solely as a source of stock images, videos, and other assets, but it’s particularly for designers and everyone using Adobe Creative Cloud. It’s also great for students and teachers, who can get a 60% discount on Creative Cloud (but not Adobe Stock).
Adobe Stock’s pricing is far simpler than Shutterstock’s despite being slightly more expensive. It consists of 8 subscription plans and credits, which come with credit packs.
Subscriptions, costing $29.99–$249.99/month ($0.26–$9.99/image), come in four sizes (3/10, 25, 40, and 750 monthly downloads) and two durations (monthly and annual). What we like most about Adobe Stock subscriptions is the versatility of the content (dubbed “assets”) you may download. You can download all standard assets, which include photos, vectors, illustrations, templates, 3D, and music tracks. Instead of standard assets, you may use subscription downloads for HD videos, which consume roughly 8 downloads.
For those who need even more flexibility, we recommend credits, which you can use to buy any asset at Adobe Stock. These also include the assets you cannot get with subscriptions, like premium images, 4K videos, and the Extended license. You can get credits with credit packs that come in sizes of 5 to 150 credits, costing $49.95–$1,200.00 ($8.00–$9.99/credit). Then, you can use the credits to download any asset, which cost anywhere from 1 credit for the standard images, up to 20 credits for 4K videos (check this table for full credits pricing).
The star of the Adobe Stock pricing is the free trial, which gives you the first month free of the 10, 25, or even 40 downloads plans, effectively saving you up to $99.99. This makes it the best free trial we tested. However, Adobe Stock never offers any coupons or promo codes; the only way to get a discount is with seasonal offers.
All Adobe Stock licenses a royalty-free but they differ in the pricing, the reproduction limit, and in the manner which they can be bought. There are the Standard, Enhanced, and Extended licenses. Before we get any further into the licenses, let us point out that Adobe Stock is one of the few agencies that provide unlimited indemnity for its content, as long as you used it with respect to the guidelines.
The Standard license ($0.26–$9.99) comes with every standard asset you download, which you can do with subscriptions and credits (and the free trial). It gives you unlimited web views, 500K copies or prints, and unlimited legal coverage. But you may not use it for resale or product where the asses have the primary value. The Enhanced license is very similar in the rights it gives you, with the exception of giving you unlimited reproduction. You get an Enhanced license with the premium assets, such as 4K videos and premium photos, which you can buy with credits only (costing $96.00–$119.88).
The Extended license serves the same purpose as the Extended licenses at all other agencies–it gives you the right to use the asset for resale and in products where the asset is the primary value. You can get it with credits and it costs $79.99. No license gives you the right to distribute the stand-alone file. To do this, you must get the copyright holder’s permission, which is usually not worth the hassle.
Adobe Stock offers customer support over live chat and forums, neither of which we were too happy with. The community forum rarely helps you find the answer, as it is mostly answered by amateurs and not Adobe employees.
On the other hand, the live chat can help answer your question but the experience is all but pleasant. First, you need to talk to the AI and explain your problem; however, if you go in-depth, it won’t understand you. So, it’s best to be quite vague and reply with something like “I need help with buying.”, otherwise, it won’t understand you and will keep asking to rephrase your question.
When you successfully get past the AI, you will be quickly connected with an employee. However, first, you will get a general Adobe assistant, who, in our experience, knew a lot less than we did. If they cannot answer your question, you will be reconnected for the second time to the Adobe Stock expert. In our experience, this person was knowledgeable, but neither of them was kind and their language skill was lacking, thus making the conversation more difficult.
Overall, the Adobe Stock customer support will resolve your question, but the experience might not be pleasant or speedy.
Adobe Stock is packed with features that are going to make your workflow easier and more enjoyable. Because we use Creative Cloud ourselves to create graphics for Photutorial as well as for personal life, we’re very comfortable recommending it to you as well.
The most important feature of Adobe Stock is its integration into the Creative Cloud, which is Adobe’s suite of apps. This integration allows you to access all Adobe Stock assets without leaving apps, which is very useful if you want to test an image or a video before purchasing it. In fact, you may use as many watermarked assets as you want and pay only for those that you use in the final version of your project (we also explained how it works).
On top of that integration, everyone can download free files from the free collection of 1+ million assets.
iStock: Best for premium images
- 140+ million images.
- The signature collection is of superb quality.
- Competitive prices.
- 10 images with the free trial.
- Signature images are a lot more expensive.
- Expensive extended license.
Number of images: 140+ million | Pricing: $0.22-$9.90/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)
Why we picked it
iStock, formerly iStockphoto, is the best stock image site for commercial purposes because of flexible subscriptions at very low prices and high discounts with promo codes. It’s worth noting that iStock is not great for merchandise because of expensive extended licenses for which Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Depositphotos all prove superior. In January 2022, iStock introduced its free trial, which is available only in certain countries.
iStock’s pricing is similar to the one we described with Adobe Stock, but with one caveat: it has subscriptions for premium images, while Adobe Stock sells them on-demand only. You can save up to 20% with iStock coupons or $40 on the first month with the free trial.
Subscriptions are divided into Basic, Premium, and Premium + Video, each available on a monthly or annual basis and in three or four sizes (10, 25, 50, and 750 monthly downloads). The division between Basic and Premium subscriptions is based on the division of stock images at iStock into Essentials and Signatures. The main difference between them is that the Essentials are standard images, while the Signatures usually carry a higher value.
Basic subscriptions ($29–$199/month or $0.22–$4.00/image) give you access to the Essential collection, which currently contains 124.4 million images. Premium subscriptions ($70–$399/month or $0.44–$9.90/image) give you access to the Essential and Signature collection, which currently contains 23.3 million images. Finally, the Premium + Video subscriptions ($99–$349/month or $5.30–$14.90/download) let you download any of the 124.4 million Essentials, 23.3 million Signatures, and 12.9 million stock videos.
Credits are ideal when you don’t need images or videos regularly but only occasionally. Using credits, you can buy any asset at iStock, but it’s generally more expensive than buying with subscriptions. The way this works is that you buy credits first with credit packs, available in sizes from 1 to 300 credits, costing from $8 to $12 per credit. When buying with credits, Essential images cost 1 credit or $8 to $12, while Signature images cost 3 credits or $24–$36.
iStock sells images and videos with two royalty-free licenses: the Standard and Extended licenses. You get the Standard license when downloading content with subscriptions or with credits, while you can get the Extended license with credits only.
The Standard license comes with $10,000 legal coverage, 500,00 print runs, 1 allowed user at a time and unlimited web distribution, but the resale or use in templates are not allowed. In contrast, the Extended license costs a lot more ($144–$216), but it allows unlimited prints, unlimited users (within the same legal entity), and use in resale. It also comes with higher legal coverage of $250,000.
iStock’s customer support is quite poor, particularly when compared to the support of Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Depositphotos who reply within minutes. The main downside of iStock’s support is that they don’t have a live chat function, which significantly slows down receiving an answer.
This way, the only two options of getting in touch are through an email ticket, which sometimes takes days to get a response, or through a phone call, which is available from 9 am to 5 pm CEST.
Like Shutterstock, iStock can be integrated into the Adobe Creative Cloud with a plugin. It works well together with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. In addition, iStock works with DropBox, a popular file hosting service. Besides integration, iStock also offers a Video editor, but on August 24, 2022, iStock is going to retire it for good.
Another new popular feature is the VisualGPS Insights, which helps you understand where consumers are and where they’re going. This helps you create more effective visual graphics that can either inspire your target audience, create deeper connections, or make your value proposition stand out.
Depositphotos: Best for bloggers and SME
- 224+ million images
- Good image quality
- No daily limit
- Reverse image search
- Great customer support (phone, live chat, and email)
- A collection of free images
- No custom packs (only available for enterprises).
- Limited flexibility of on-demand options.
Number of images: 224 million | Pricing: $0.22–$14.00/image | Free trial: Yes (10 images)
Why we picked it
Depositphotos is an RF microstock photo agency based in Florida. Its collection of images contains 224 million files of high-quality photos, vectors, videos, and illustrations. Since it offers incredible e-commerce stock images at very affordable prices when bought in small packs compared to the competitors, it’s a great option for bloggers and small businesses. Like other of our picks, Depositphotos offers a free trial for 10 free stock images, but it lasts only for 7 days, which can go by very quickly.
Depositphotos offers prearranged subscriptions and on-demand packs for individuals and teams of up to two members. Larger teams and corporations must get in touch with customer support to get a quote. In this post, we focus on the individual pricing, which is available with subscriptions and on-demand packs for images, videos, music, and SFX.
Image subscriptions come in sizes of 25, 30, 75, 150, and 750 monthly downloads, costing $24.92–$199/month ($0.22–$1.44/image). We don’t recommend getting the 150 and 750 monthly downloads at Depositphotos because they are priced the same as at Shutterstock, but you get a smaller variety of images and a worse license. However, the subscriptions of 25 to 75 monthly downloads are by far the cheapest among stock photo sites, which makes them a great choice for bloggers, entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses, and even for personal projects.
On-demand packs for images are, as expected, more expensive than subscriptions but still super cheap when you buy in bulk, but not when you buy a few images. For example, when you buy 25 images with the Standard license, you pay for them at $3.96/image, while this costs $9.16/image. Naturally, Shutterstock comes with almost twice as many images and better licensing, but if you don’t care about that, Depositphotos is much cheaper. On the other hand, the image packs for the Extended license are not any cheaper, yet the legal coverage remains too low ($5,000).
Videos can be bought with subscriptions and on-demand, but they are no cheaper than competitors. In addition, the on-demand packs are even more fragmented than at Shutterstock, about which we already complained. Finally, the music and SFX are sold with unlimited download subscriptions, which just recently saw a 31% price increase.
If you’re not 100% sure about Depositphotos, you can grab a 7-day free trial available with subscriptions that lets you download 10 royalty-free images of your choice. You can also download 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.
Like all the top aforementioned stock agencies, Depositphotos licenses its images, videos, and soundtracks with two royalty-free licenses—Standard and Extended. The licenses also have similar rights and terms, where the Standard License serves as the general, cheaper license used for smaller commercial campaigns and personal projects, while the Extended License needs to be bought for resale, merchandise, and large commercial projects. Both are also similarly priced to their competitors, with the Standard License ranging from $0.22 to $14.00 per image and the Extended License from $63.96 to $89.00 per image. However, the extraordinarily low indemnity of both made us wonder why Depositphotos doesn’t trust their own image acquisition since they cover $5,000 at most.
Depositphotos offers one of the best customer support among all stock agencies, available through live chat, emails, and phone calls. Live chat answers almost immediately, usually within two minutes, and the experts are also very knowledgeable. A couple of times it happened that the customer assistant didn’t know the answer or wasn’t authorized to answer our request, in which case our inquiry was forwarded to other experts and we received an answer via email within 24 hours.
What stands out, even more, is that Depositphotos answers all customer reviews on sites like Trustpilot, both good and bad, thus thanking their satisfied customers and solving the issues of dissatisfied customers. They are one of the few stock agencies who do this, and their PR skills positively surprised us.
Depositphotos offers a couple of features but none of them are groundbreaking. You can use the background remover, image upscaler, and the free graphic design platform with around 80 million stock images-VistaCreate.
Canva: Budget pick
- 30 day free trial
- Inexpensive subscription
- Intuitive and super easy-to-use
- Huge built-in stock photo library
- Prompts team-work
- Bad at photo editing
- No one-time purchase option
- Can’t use it offline
- Lacks advanced design options
Number of images: 110+ million | Pricing: $9.99-$30/month | Free trial: Yes (30 days)
Why we picked it
As an all-in-one stock image website and a graphic design platform available at surprisingly low prices, Canva is our go-to recommendation for beginners on a budget or those looking for a simple workflow solution. For $9.99 per month, you get access to the entire platform, including a simple drag-and-drop editor, over 500K templates for pretty much any graphic, and over 110 million stock images. If that’s too much for you, there’s a 30-day free trial and a permanent free account that limits lots of Canva’s functionality.
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 access 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.
Other notable stock photo sites
Number of images: 185 million | Pricing: $150–$499/image | Free trial: No
- Exceptional image quality.
- Unlimited license reproduction.
- Great for editorial images.
- No free trial.
- Very expensive.
- No subscriptions.
- Completely unresponsive support team.
Getty Images is a premium stock photo website best for editorial content with over 157 million editorial images. It’s a site with a long history of first-class and vintage photos for commercial purposes, including exclusive images from worldwide. In addition to a very broad royalty-free license, it sells images under a rights-managed license that you can tailor specifically to your needs. However, it costs a lot more than a royalty-free license—from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars.
All images are sold on-demand under a royalty-free license – you cannot purchase a rights-managed (extended) license. Getty Images sells images in packs that significantly reduce the overall price. A single image purchase costs $175 for a small image/low-res video and $499 for a large image or a 4k/HD video.
If you want to reduce the cost of images, purchase packs of 5 or 10. The price will drop to between $150 and $425 per download. Sadly, Getty Images does not offer a free trial, nor can you purchase a rights-managed license.
Number of images: 185 million | Pricing: $0.225–$51.78/image | Free trial: Yes (watermarked only)
- Up to 30% discount.
- The cheapest extended license.
- Extended licenses with subscriptions.
- Often overedited images.
- Poor variety.
- Free trial images are watermarked.
Dreamstime is the cheapest stock photo site for extended licenses that you can buy for as low as $26. However, we are not convinced by its image quality, which is usually subpar. We also don’t like the “watermarked images” free trial and shady websites promoting their free trial.
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.
Number of images: 180 million | Pricing: $0.36-$11.80 | Free trial: No
123RF stock photo site isn’t as good as Adobe Stock, but it’s larger than Canva’s. It’s also integrated into Designs.ai, an online graphic design suite based on AI similar to Canva. However, it’s quite slow and a lot less intuitive than Canva. In addition, it’s more expensive than Canva and even Adobe.
- Subscriptions ($0.36–$3/image): Available in sizes of 10, 50, 150, and 350 monthly download 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.
- 180+ million images.
- Good image quality.
- Unsophisticated photo editor.
- No one-time purchase option.
- Requires internet connection.
Offset (by Shutterstock)
Number of images: 2 million | Pricing: $221.90–$349/image | Free trial: No
Offset is Shutterstock’s stock photo sites for premium stock images. It’s quite expensive and has only 2 million images, but the high pricing gives you special perks, such as broad licensing terms, premium support, and unlimited indemnity.
Offset sells images in two sizes: Large (300 dpi) and Small (72 dpi). The Small images are on average 30% cheaper than the Large images. You can buy images separately or with packs of 5 or 10 images. Downloads are valid for one year after the purchase. Coupons work on single image purchases only. You can get larger image packs by getting in touch with the sales team.
- Premium content and support
- Very broad license
- Excellent image quality
- No subscriptions
Number of images: 1.8 million | Pricing: $15–$125/image | Free trial: No
Stocksy is a premium stock photography agency, best for book covers thanks to simple licensing and beautiful images. While its library doesn’t contain many stock images, the ones it has are top quality. Because it has only on-demand options, Stocsky is more expensive than some other stock photo sites. If you want to buy stock images for a book cover, first find the image you want, click Add to cart, and proceed to the checkout. If you need exclusive rights to the image, Stocksy can freeze the market for you, meaning it won’t sell the images to anyone else in the meantime. This costs from $1,2500 for half a year to $9,000 for 5 years.
All content (images, videos) can be bought on-demand only, making them more expensive. Royalty-free images cost from $15 to $125 based on the size. Extended licenses for images cost $100 for multi-seat, $300 for an unlimited print run, and $500 for product resale. “Market Freeze” is an option for Stocksy to stop selling the image, thus giving you exclusive rights. This costs from $1,250 to $9,000 for half a year up to 5 years.
- Superb images and image value.
- Royalty-free and rights-managed options.
- No subscriptions.
- Moderately expensive.
- No free trial.
Number of images: 72 million | Pricing: $0.14–$7.50/image | Free trial: No
CanStockPhoto is the overall cheapest stock photo site with pricing starting at $0.14/image. However, this price is available only with the largest subscriptions of 50 images per day for 12 months. So, if you don’t need that many, we recommend getting a better alternative, like Shutterstock or Depositphotos.
Subscriptions ($0.14–$7.50/image) are available with daily download only. They come in sizes of 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 downloads per day. You can also choose image sizes, subscription duration, and the number of users. Credits can be used to buy images ($0.80–$4.00), footage ($6.00–$60.00+), and enhanced licenses ($14.00–$70.00+). All licenses cover only $10,000 in legal indemnification. Enhanced licenses must be stacked to get a true extended license, which costs more than elsewhere.
- Pricing starting at $0.14/image
- Over 120 different subscriptions combinations (length, number of photos, photo format)
- The cheapest stock photo site
- All subscriptions come with daily downloads that expire within 24 hours.
- Incorrect information throughout the entire website.
- Only $10,000 legal coverage with Enhanced licenses.
Number of images: 111 million | Pricing: $0.157–$12.00/image | Free trial: Yes (35 images or videos)
Bigstock was acquired by Shutterstock in 2009, but the agency never really took off. Despite being the second cheapest stock photo site, Bigstock is rated very low on the Photutorial scale. The website is very slow and is sometimes delayed by poorly timed pop-ups. The support team is virtually unresponsive (we’ve reached out multiple times but never received an answer). Despite the medium-sized stock photo database (110 million images), we can hardly find usable images because they either look too stocky or low-quality. Also, the cheapest images are available with the enormous 50 images/day plan.
The verdict: If you value your budget, stay clear of Bigstock.
- 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: /
- The reason it was not included: Completely unresponsive support team, poor image quality, outdated website.
- One of the cheapest stock photo sites
- 111 million images
- Good free trial (35 free images or videos)
- Completely unresponsive support team
- Low image quality
- Almost no new images
- Lowest prices only with a very large plan
Number of images: 13.5 million | Pricing: $8.00–$11.99/month | Free trial: No
YayImages is with 13.5 million stock images, the best stock photo site for unlimited downloads. Although you can’t expect the same quality as at Shutterstock, it’s a good option for beginners with a small budget. Overall, the image quality is quite low and the little variety can quickly lead to the running of fresh downloads.
An unlimited plan ($8.00–$11.99/month) can be purchased on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. It gives you unlimited downloads of all YayImages assets, including extended licenses. However, the unlimited downloads have a rate limit, meaning you may download only a certain number of images each day. Lifetime Membership ($199) is a one-time purchase plan that gives you 10 downloads per day forever.
- Unlimited downloads
- Overall very cheap
- Low image quality
- Iffy image acquisition and policy
- Support team doesn’t reply at all
Number of images: 56 million | Pricing: $16.50/month | Free trial: Yes (7 days)
Envato is a fairly inexpensive source of unlimited downloads of stock images, videos, music, and fonts. However, compared to other stock photo sites, the content isn’t licensed under a royalty-free license. Instead, you aren’t allowed to use the download quota after your subscription expires. However, you may continue to use the final products that contain the content. For example, after you cancel your subscription, you may no longer create new graphics with the images, but you may use graphics that you created before you cancel your subscription.
Individuals get unlimited downloads for $14.50/month. This includes 50+ million stock photos, graphic templates, video templates, music tracks, and web templates. Students can get a 30% discount, resulting in $10.15/month. Everyone is eligible for a 7-day free trial. Teams can save up to 35% with a Teams plan, which costs $9.45 per month per member.
- Simple licensing.
- 50+ million stock images with ulimited downloads.
- Cancel any time without hidden fees.
- 7-day free trial
- 30% off for sutdents.
- You may no longer use images after you cancel the subscription.
- No on-demand options.
Number of images: 2.2 million | Pricing: $9.00–$14.00/month | Free trial: No
Vecteezy is a freemium stock image site that lets you download all content for free but then requires attribution. If you want to use the images and videos without the credit lines, you need to buy the Pro subscriptions, which costs $9.00–$14.00/month.
You get access to all resources even with a free account, but then 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.
- Access to Vecteezy editor.
- Unlimited downoads with the Pro plan.
- Full of sponsored images on a free account.
- Only 100,000 impressions with the standard royalty-free license.
- Free account requires attribution.
Number of videos: 31 million | Pricing: $8.35–$19.99/video | Resolution: SD–5K+
With 31.5 million stock videos and 50 million images of excellent quality, Pond5 is the best stock photos site if you also need videos. The videos are available on-demand and with subscriptions. You can save up to 20% by purchasing credits in advance, but the best value comes with a Membership subscription. To complement the clips, Pond5’s marketplace offers music, after-effects, sound effects, and 3D models. Although it’s not the cheapest, Pond5 has unique videos that you cannot find anywhere else, making them one of the best in the industry. In addition, Pond5 matches all competitors’ prices if you find the same content cheaper elsewhere.
- Price ($8.35–$19.99/video) with Membership; $20+/video with credits; $25+/video on single purchases.
- Subscription ($8.35–$19.99). Subscriptions, dubbed “Memberships”, grant you 10 monthly downloads for $199/month or $999/year, but you can pick only from a small portion of the content.
- On-demand packs: Pond5 doesn’t bind you to any contracts with subscriptions. Instead, you can save by buying credit packs, which give you a 25% bonus. For instance, if you buy a $250 pack, you get $275. If you buy a $2,500 pack, you get $3,000.
- Individual license: A royalty-free license for 1 individual and a $15K indemnification.
- Business license (+$60): For up to 5 individuals and $250K indemnification.
- Premium license (+$120): For everyone on your team and up to $1M in indemnification.
- 31 million videos.
- Bonus credits with credit packs.
- Price matching.
- Excellent quality.
- Subscriptions give access to a small portion of the content.
Unlike other stock photo websites, Photocase builds its library based on the motto “quality over quantity”. The photos aren’t only of high quality, but also of the highest technical and artistic level. There are no subscription plans at Photocase, but there are numerous credit bundles that offer a generous bonus of up to 45 percent. You can buy images on demand for as little as $6.24. You can either buy images with cash or credit bundles and then use the credits to download images. The latter is cheaper because credit bundles offer a massive discount of up to 40 percent.
The reason it was not included: Getty Images is better.
Alamy was founded in 1999, and ever since, it has been known as one of the great stock photo sites. Alamy’s library has grown to 288 million editorial and creative photos, vectors, videos, and 360-degree images. Alamy offers quality stock images with RF and RM licenses on-demand only. As a result, you can’t get low photos prices, like at Adobe Stock. RF images cost from $6.96 upward, while extended license images cost between $19.99 and $199.99.
The reason it was not included: No subscription plans & expensive for no reason.
Storyblocks (formerly Videoblocks) sells stock video footage, photos, audio, and sound effects. Its content is available with unlimited downloads plans that cost from $10 to $30/month. Storyblocks licenses photos under two licenses. An Individual license is ideal for individuals, while organizations need a Business license. Nonetheless, both are RF licenses, allowing unlimited distribution and covering $20k and $1mil, respectively.
The reason it was not included: Best for video so there are not enough images.
Stock Photo Secrets
Stock Photo Secrets is a small stock image site with a relatively small library of 7.7 million images with little diversity. So, Stock Photo Secrets is fit for anyone looking for cheap stock photos but not as great for anyone who needs image variety. While the images are quite cheap (from $0.167) the lack of quality and quantity makes them virtually unusable.
The reason it was not included: Too few images, low quality, awful website.
StockUnlimited is a small and little-known stock photo site. According to their website, StockUnlimited has been used by Discovery Channel and Royal Caribbean. The motto behind their work is, “Simple license model. No complicated licenses. No daily limits.” You can get unlimited downloads for as cheap as $4.89/month, but they’re still not worth it–unlimited downloads don’t help when there are very few good images.
The reason it was not included: Support doesn’t respond, too few images.
What about free stock photo sites?
Number of images: 4+ million | Pricing: Free | Free trial: No
Unsplash is the best free stock photo site with over 4 million Creative Commons images that you can use even for commercial projects without attributing the author or Unsplash. Unsplash is one of the faster-growing free stock photo sites, with almost 100k files added last month.
You can use all their photos for free, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. What is more, you don’t even have to ask permission or provide credit, although it is appreciated. You can read more about Unsplash License. Since virtually anyone can post on Unsplash and no commission is paid to the author of the image, finding a good picture that perfectly satisfies consumers’ needs is challenging.
Even though Unsplash is an incredible free stock photo website, we recommend you use a site like Adobe Stock or Shutterstock for commercial purposes. Over 4.5 lifetime downloads of Unsplash content, which is around 35 per second.
- Surprising diversity for 4 million images.
- Free even for commercial use.
- Doesn’t require attribution.
- Some topics lack image coverage.
- No indemnification.
Number of images: 3.2 million | Pricing: Free | Free trial: No
Pexels is one of the strongest Unsplash alternatives among free stock photo sites with over 3.2 million stock images. Like Unsplash, it doesn’t require attribution and all images can be used for commercial purposes. You can also browse among thousands of free stock videos.
Pexels photos and videos are all free to use. Attribution isn’t required. It’s not necessary to credit the photographer or Pexels, but it’s always appreciated. Pexels photos and videos can be modified. Let your imagination run wild and edit them as you see fit.
It’s prohibited to portray identifiable individuals in a negative or offensive light. A photo or video should never be sold in its original form, whether as a poster, print, or other tangible good. Don’t suggest that your product is endorsed by people or brands by using the images. Don’t sell or distribute the images or videos on other stock photo or wallpaper platforms for a fee or profit.
- Beautiful images.
- Free even for commercial use.
- Doesn’t require attribution.
- Full of sponsored photos from iStock.
- Sometimes slow.
Number of images: 2.6 million | Pricing: Free | Free trial: No
In addition to the free photos and videos, Pixabay also offers free music and sound effects. That makes it a perfect free stock photo resource for those who need a variety of content. Free stock photos, illustrations, vectors, music, videos, and sound effects.
Anything you find on Pixabay may be used free of charge for commercial or non-commercial purposes in print and digital media unless prohibited in the “What’s Not Allowed” section of this page. You don’t have to credit the source. Crediting the artist or Pixabay isn’t required, but is always appreciated by our members and visitors. Pixabay content may be edited.
If you want to republish or sell Pixabay content, you may not do so on other stock or wallpaper platforms. Also, if you want to sell an exact copy of a stock photo as a poster, print, or physical product, you may not do so without permission. As a rule of thumb, don’t make fun of people who can be identified. Don’t use content with identifiable people or brands to create a false association between a product or service and its associated brand.
- Free stock images, videos, music, and sound effects.
- Commercial and personal projects.
- No attribution.
- Somewhat poorly designed website.
- Filters are not pleasant to use.
StockSnap.io has a large collection of entirely free high-resolution and high-quality stock photos. It adds hundreds of new images daily, rapidly expanding its selection of photos. All photos are released under the creative commons public domain, meaning that you can use them in any way you want without any attribution required. StockSnap.io also tracks the views and downloads throughout the site, it’s always recommending you the most popular photos.
Founded in 2018, Reshot is one of the newest players in the free stock photo world. The Reshot website is based around a search engine with an increasingly popular minimalistic design. It focuses on finding high-quality images for its library. Like other popular free stock photo sites, Reshot is not based on boring or cliché stock photos, but instead adopts the style of providing beautiful and inspiring images.
As the name suggests, Foodiesfeed is the perfect free stock photo site for a food blogger, hobby or professional photographers, or even passionate foodies. Anyone can join its community from all around the world to share and download photos under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. In the three years of its existence, almost 4 million photos have been viewed, more than 1.6 million downloaded, and 110k+ viewed every month.
Picography offers a small number of high-quality and professional photos. All photos are licensed under a CC0 license. Popular searches on Picography include technology, scenery, business, and people. Interestingly, you can search by hashtags, such as #architexture, #urban, and #building. As with any other free stock photo site, Picography appreciates attribution but doesn’t require it.
Who should get stock photos?
Looking for quality images to make your website or designs more appealing? A stock photo site can give you a quality supply of visual content created by professionals. A stock image supply is convenient and cheaper than hiring a photographer or taking the photos yourself. Here are some reasons you may want stock photos:
- You want to save your budget. Buying stock photos is severalfold cheaper than hiring a photographer, buying them from a private gallery, or getting a camera and learning photography from scratch.
- You need images fast. Stock photos are available to you at the tips of your fingers, compared to having someone take them for you on-demand, which can take days or weeks.
- You need photos of a remote place. Going to a remote location like the Amazonian rainforest to take a couple of shots isn’t practical or feasible. For that reason, we use stock photos of photographers who have been there.
Stock photo sites are great for always having images, videos, music, and other fonts at the tip of your fingers. But they are not an answer to every problem, especially when having authentic images is a must. This applies to eCommerce stores, author headshots, reviews, and any circumstance where you need educational graphics.
Stock photos are a great solution for those who need images regularly, cheap, and need a variety of motives, especially those that would be difficult to attain.
Here we compare the licensing terms of the 10 best stock photo sites. If you’re unfamiliar with stock photo licensing, scroll down to our guide on the licenses.
Standard license comparison
A standard license is the simplest form of royalty-free (RF) license. Each stock photo agency has a different name for it. Some call it Standard, others Individual, some name it after their brand, while others call it a royalty-free license.
Standard licenses typically cost between a few cents and a few dozen dollars. They’re most commonly used for small print runs (up to 500,000) or on the Internet, allowing an unlimited number of impressions. You can also use them for social media, personal projects, and commercial purposes.
- Price: this is the amount you pay to get the license, allowing you to use the stock image.
- Get it with: the buying options, which grant you the license (image).
- Copies/reprints: the number of allowed copies or reprints. Note that the online impressions are usually unlimited.
- Indemnity: the legal backing provided by the stock photo agency in case the image wasn’t properly licensed. It only applies when the stock photo agency makes a mistake. If you misuse the license, you’re not eligible for indemnification.
A standard royalty-free (RF) license (described above) is what you’re going to use most of the time. When choosing a stock photo site of an RF license, consider:
- How you can get it (for example, do subscriptions work for you?).
- How many reprints, copies, and impressions do you need.
Extended license comparison
An extended license is also a form of a royalty-free license, but with extended rights. Its primary role is to give you an unlimited reproduction rate compared to 500,000 of a standard royalty-free license. In addition, it grants you the right to use the stock photo for resale, such as for packaging and wallpapers, which is not allowed with the standard RF.
Finally, the extended license usually comes with a higher indemnification value, making it more suitable for commercial purposes, especially larger campaigns. Consequently, it costs more than the standard license.
Adobe Stock and Getty images are the best sources of extended licenses because they guarantee unlimited indemnity, meaning they are confident in the authenticity of the images.
How stock photo sites work
The idea behind stock photo sites is simple: When you buy a photo, you get the right to use it. The stock photos are supplied by photographers who permit you to use them for your projects. The stock photo sites act as mere mediators between you, the customers, and the artists, the suppliers.
- A photographer uploads a photo to a stock photo site. Before uploading it, the photographer (or an artist for vectors) edits the photos and makes sure they’re technically flawless.
- The stock photo agency reviews and adds the photo to their collection. All uploaded content, including photos, goes through careful examination by an experienced review team that checks the photos for technical quality. Depending on how strict the review team is, a stock photo site may have more low-quality or fewer high-quality photos.
- You search for stock photos. The best way to find the right picture among millions of others is to enter your search phrase (i.e., “office meeting”). Then, you can narrow the search with filters such as the resolution, whether there are people in the photo, and the dominant color.
- Choose the license. Which license you choose depends on how you use the photo. A royalty-free video license is the best option for most people because it’s cheap and covers most of the usage. You should get an extended license when you need the photo for resale or require more indemnification.
- Pick a buying option. How you pay for the photo depends on how many images you need and how you need them. Your choices include subscriptions, credit packs, and single purchases, but more on this in the next chapter.
- You use the photo. All you need to ensure is that you use the photo in a way that’s in line with the license you bought.
You pay for a stock photo for which you receive a license that gives you the right to use it according to the license.
How stock photos work
A stock photo is an image available for purchase and can be used for commercial or editorial purposes. Stock photos are often used to fill in gaps in a project where taking photos yourself is not possible or practical due to high costs. Professional photographers sell stock photos on stock photo sites.
When you buy a stock photo, you aren’t actually purchasing it but the right to use it in a certain way and for a particular purpose. The photographer who took the photo remains its rightful owner. Therefore, you must consider the license, as it specifies exactly how, how often, and how long you may use the photo.
In other words: a license is a legal agreement between you and the photographer. It’s essential to read the license carefully before buying a photo so you know what you can and can’t do with it.
How stock photo licenses work
You must get the right (called “license”) to use stock images because you are using someone else’s property. Without acquiring a license before using an image or using it outside the scope of the license is a copyright infringement. We distinguish three types of stock photo licenses based on the rights you get, price, and legal indemnification.
|License type||Public domain||Royalty-free||Rights-managed|
|Best for||Personal projects||Commercials, blogs, social media||Commercial campaigns that require exclusivity|
- Public Domain (PD). A public domain (PD) license is a type of license that allows anyone to use copyrighted material without asking the owner for permission. This means that you can use the material for any purpose without paying royalties or fees. The Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license is the most common public domain license that allows anyone to use a work for any purpose without asking the copyright owner for permission.
- Royalty-free (RF). A royalty-free (RF) license for stock photos allows the buyer to use the photo indefinitely in any medium without paying royalties to the photographer or copyright holder. However, some royalty-free licenses limit you to 500,000 copies. In contrast, a royalty-bearing license requires the buyer to pay a fee each time the photo is used.
- Rights-Managed (RM). A rights-managed license (RM) ensures exclusivity and unlimited reproduction. Each RM license is tailored to an individual campaign and may not be used for other projects. Hence, it’s limited to a particular location, timeframe, and project. RM licenses are appropriate for large projects, costing hundreds of dollars.
A stock photo license is an agreement between you and a stock photo agency (which represents photographers, artists,…) that allows you to use the photo even though you don’t hold its copyright. In other words, it a contract with which a photographer lets you use their photos in exchange for a small fee, mediated by a stock photo agency.
Tips for buying stock photos
Consider these tips when comparing stock photo sites:
- Evaluate your image needs. Most stock photo websites offer several purchase options, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you need a certain number of images each month, it’s best to choose a subscription, which usually has the lowest price. If you know you’ll need the images for at least a year, you should opt for an annual subscription, which is even cheaper. If you only need images occasionally, you should consider credit packs, which offer you a certain number of credits you can use whenever you want.
- Consider what you need the images for. You’ll need to purchase an appropriate license depending on how you want to use the image. In most cases, a royalty-free license is sufficient. However, if you need an unlimited number of reproductions (instead of 500,000), a higher royalty, or the right to resell, you must supplement the royalty-free license with an extended license. These are more expensive but better suited for commercial use.
- Search for the topic you need. If you know in advance that you need a lot of images for the exact search term, it’s a good idea to look up what you can get.
- Look for discounts. Many stock photo sites offer discounts in the form of seasonal promotions or coupon codes that can get you between 5% and 30% off stock images.
How to buy stock photos
You can buy stock images in many ways, and which one you choose depends on how many clips you need and how often you need them. Here we explain the different options and which is the best in every situation ordered from the most expensive to the cheapest.
- Single purchase. The simplest way to buy stock images is as a single purchase. It’s the same as buying any product in a grocery store—you pay for it once and can use/eat it. While this is the simplest and most convenient option, it’s also the most expensive. It’s best when you need only one image and won’t be needing more any time soon.
- On-demand. An upgrade from single purchases is on-demand. These come in image packs and credits that give you some downloads. The larger the pack you buy, the more cost-efficient it is, meaning the lower the price per image. These are the best options when you need content occasionally, but you’ll use it within a year because most image packs and credits expire after a year.
- Subscriptions. Subscriptions are the most popular choice. You pay a monthly fee for which you get a certain number of downloads. Similarly to on-demand, the larger the subscription you buy, the more cost-efficient it is. You can save even more by purchasing an annual plan, which is usually 20–50% cheaper than the monthly plan. Subscriptions are the best option when you need images regularly.
- Unlimited downloads. These are also monthly subscriptions, but instead of getting a certain number of downloads every month, you can download any number of images (there’s usually a soft limit of 50-100 downloads/day to avoid stealing). These are your best options when you need a lot of images regularly but don’t have the budget to buy a large subscription plan.
Types of stock images
There are four types of stock images:
Photos or photographs are a visual representation of an object, person, place, or idea. Photos convey information about people, places, objects, and ideas. They can be static or dynamic, still or animated. You can take photos by taking them yourself—you need a camera, a lens, and a lot of time. Stock photos are cheaper and time-saving alternatives; you pay a few cents for a professional photo.
Illustrations are drawings that depict objects, people, places, or ideas. They can be static or animated, created with pen and ink, pencil, brush, crayon, marker, charcoal, pastels, crayons, watercolors, gouache, graphite, chalk, or any other drawing tool. Like photos, illustrations are also available in stock image libraries.
Drawings are the simplest form of illustration. They can be drawn by hand or created using software like Adobe Illustrator.
Graphics are images that are simplified to where only shapes and symbols remain to represent the subject. They’re simple enough to be easily understood by anyone.
Best Stock Photo Sites FAQ
Which is the best stock photo site?
According to our research, some of the best stock photo sites are Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, and Depositphotos. The best stock photo site provides a good mix of high-quality stock photos, several pricing options, a free trial, outstanding customer support, and additional tools or integrations. We have also discovered that stock photo agencies that take good care of their contributors generally provide better customer service.
Is it illegal to use stock photos?
Stock photos are legal to use as long as you use them according to the license. That means you first need to acquire a license through payment and then abide by the license’s terms and conditions. Generally, you can legally use stock photos for commercial and non-commercial purposes within certain limits.
How can I legally use stock photos?
To use stock photos legally, you must first acquire a license. Which license you choose depends on your project requirements. A royalty-free license covers most projects, but when you need resell rights or unlimited reprints, an extended license is a must.
Are stock photos free to use?
Some stock photos are free to use – these are licensed under a Creative Commons 0 license. For promotional purposes, royalty-free stock images are the best choice, as they guarantee safe use. An extended (or rights-managed) license is the best option for more extensive campaigns.
Where is the best place to get free stock photos?
All Stock Photo Sites We’ve Tested
- Shutterstock – Best overall
- iStock – Best subscriptions
- Depositphotos – Best for bloggers
- Adobe Stock – Best for graphic designers
- Canva – Best all-in-one
- 123RF – Best Canva alternative
- Getty Images – Best for editorial content
- Offset (by Shutterstock) – Best for premium stock photos
- Stocksy – Best for book covers
- CanStockPhoto – The cheapest
- Bigstock – Overall cheap
- Dreamstime – Cheapest extended licenses
- YayImages – Best for unlimited downloads
- Envato Elements – Best for all-in-one unlimited downloads
- Vecteezy – Best freemium
- Unsplash – Best free
- Pexels – Best free for commercial use
- Pixabay – Best free all-in-one
- Pond5 – Best for stock photos & videos
Next Up in Stock Photo Sites
- Cheapest Stock Photo Sites
- Best Stock Photo Sites for Graphic Designers
- Best Stock Image Subscriptions of
- Best Stock Photo Free Trials
- Best Free Stock Photo Sites
- Best Cheap Stock Photo Sites
- Wikipedia contributors, Stock photography, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, July 7, 2022
- Kate Harrison, Picking Perfect Stock Photos For Your Holiday Ads: 7 Great Tips, July 8, 2022
- Stephani Clifford, For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path, The New York Times, July 9, 2022
- Michael Keenan, 41 Best Free Stock Photos Sites to Get Free Images, Shopify, July 9, 2022.
- DeFiillippi, R.; Wikstrm, P. International Perspectives on Business Innovation and Disruption in the Creative Industries, 2014.
- Wikipedia contributors, Shutterstock, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, July 12, 2022.
- Shutterstock License Agreement(s), Shutterstock, Updated May 17, 2022. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
- Adobe Stock Additional Terms, Adobe Stock, Updated January 29, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
- iStock content license agreement, iStock, Updated January 2022. Retrieved July 17, 2022.