How we test stock photo sites: our methodology for testing and reviewing

Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Photutorial. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.
How we test stock photo sites

Reviewing a stock photo site can be tricky. With a plethora of platforms available, each with its own unique features and capabilities, it can be challenging to decide which service is the best fit for your needs.

In this post, we’ll outline the key factors we consider when testing and reviewing stock photo sites. We’ll walk you through our methodology, from evaluating the site’s selection of images to assessing the platform’s user experience and customer support.

It’s worth noting that this is just a brief overview of our process. Depending on the platform, we may delve deeper into areas such as licensing agreements, image quality, and pricing structures. However, this guide should provide you with a solid foundation for understanding how we assess stock photo sites and ultimately determine the top performers in the industry.

Our approach to testing stock photo sites

At the heart of our testing methodology for stock photo sites is the goal of providing you with a comprehensive evaluation of the service. We take into consideration the different aspects that are important when using a stock photo site, and we strive to give you a detailed understanding of what the provider has to offer.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to stock photo sites. What works for one person may not be the best option for another. That’s why we focus on assessing a wide range of factors, including the site’s image library, pricing, licensing options, and search functionality, to name a few.

We understand that some features may be more important to you than others, which is why we take a comprehensive approach to our testing. Whether you’re a professional photographer or a business owner looking for images to use in marketing materials, we strive to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

So, whether you’re interested in learning about the quality of the images, the ease of use of the platform, or the customer support offered by the site, we’ve got you covered. Our goal is to make sure that you have all the information you need to choose the stock photo site that’s right for you.

Gathering information

When evaluating stock photo sites, we start by collecting information from their website about the service and its features.

We pay close attention to the size of the site’s library, as well as the quality and variety of the images available. It’s also important to understand the licensing options and pricing structure, including any subscription plans or pay-per-download options.

In addition to the number of images available, we also check to see how easy they are to find and organize, whether there are helpful search and filtering options, and whether there are tools available for creating and sharing collections.

We evaluate the site’s compatibility with different devices and operating systems, as well as any integration with other software or platforms. Some stock photo sites offer plugins for popular programs like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft PowerPoint, while others may have partnerships with website builders or social media platforms.

It’s also important to understand any restrictions or limitations on the use of the images, such as copyright or trademark issues, and whether there are additional fees or requirements for commercial use.

We take into account any additional features or services offered by the site, such as image editing tools or access to exclusive content. We also evaluate the quality and responsiveness of customer support, including any resources or tutorials available on the site.

Overall, we aim to provide a comprehensive picture of the site’s offerings, strengths, and weaknesses, giving you the information you need to make an informed decision about which stock photo site is right for your needs.

Quality of Images

The quality of the images is one of the most important aspects of any stock photo site. Customers expect high-quality images that are both clear and authentic. At our testing facility, we evaluate the quality of images using several criteria.

Resolution and size: Resolution and size are important factors when it comes to evaluating the quality of images. We test the images by downloading them and analyzing their pixel dimensions. We also check if the images meet the minimum requirements for print and web use. We understand that customers have different needs, so we take into account the different resolutions and sizes available for each image.

Quality and clarity: The quality and clarity of images are also crucial. We evaluate images for sharpness, focus, lighting, and contrast. We want to ensure that the images are clear and will be of high quality when used in a variety of contexts, such as on a website, in a print publication, or on social media. We also look for any image artifacts, such as noise or distortion, that might detract from the overall quality.

Authenticity and diversity: Stock photo sites should offer a wide range of authentic and diverse images. We evaluate the authenticity of images by assessing whether they look natural and unposed. We also check the diversity of images, making sure that they represent different cultures, ethnicities, and lifestyles. We believe that stock photo sites should offer a range of images that reflect the diverse needs of customers.

Image editing and customization options: Some stock photo sites offer editing and customization options for images. We test these options by trying out different filters and effects to see how they impact the image quality. We also check if the customization options are easy to use and if they allow for enough flexibility to make the images unique.

Exclusivity and uniqueness: Finally, we evaluate the exclusivity and uniqueness of images. We understand that customers want images that are not widely available elsewhere, so we check if the stock photo site offers exclusive images or if they have a partnership with a particular photographer or agency. We also assess the uniqueness of images, looking for images that are different from what is typically available on other stock photo sites.

Overall, we believe that the quality of images is crucial to the success of any stock photo site. By evaluating the resolution, size, quality, clarity, authenticity, diversity, editing and customization options, and exclusivity of images, we can provide customers with a comprehensive understanding of the quality of the images available on each stock photo site.


When evaluating stock photo sites, we consider various pricing models and plans to determine the best value for our needs. Here are some factors we take into account:

Subscription-based plans: Most stock photo sites offer subscription-based plans that allow users to download a certain number of images per month or year. We analyze the pricing structure of these plans to determine if they offer a cost-effective option for our needs. We also consider the flexibility of these plans, such as the ability to change the number of downloads or upgrade/downgrade plans as needed.

Pay-per-download options: Some stock photo sites offer the option to purchase images on a pay-per-download basis. We evaluate the pricing of individual images to determine if this is a viable option for our needs.

Free trials and discounts: Many stock photo sites offer free trial periods or discounts for new users. We take advantage of these offers to evaluate the quality of the images and the user experience of the site without committing to a long-term subscription.

Hidden costs and fees: We thoroughly review the terms and conditions of each stock photo site to ensure there are no hidden costs or fees associated with using the site. For example, some sites may charge extra fees for high-resolution downloads or for using the images in certain commercial contexts.

Value for money: Ultimately, we consider the value for money of each stock photo site, taking into account the quality of the images, the pricing plans, and any additional features or benefits offered by the site. We look for sites that offer a good balance of affordability and quality, with transparent pricing and no hidden costs.

Licensing and usage rights

Choosing the right licensing option is crucial when it comes to using stock photos for your business or personal projects. Here are the key factors we consider when evaluating stock photo sites:

Royalty-free licensing: Most stock photo sites offer royalty-free licensing, which allows you to use an image multiple times without paying any additional fees. These images are often more affordable and accessible, making them a popular option for a wide range of uses.

Rights-managed licensing: Rights-managed licensing is less common, but still an important option for specific use cases. With this type of licensing, the price of the image is based on how it will be used, the duration of use, and the geographic location of use. This option is typically more expensive but offers greater control over how the image is used.

Editorial vs commercial use: Stock photo sites often differentiate between editorial and commercial use. Editorial use is limited to non-promotional materials such as news articles, documentaries, or educational materials. Commercial use includes promotional materials such as advertisements, brochures, and product packaging.

Exclusive vs non-exclusive use: Stock photos can be licensed exclusively or non-exclusively. Exclusive use means that the image is only available to one buyer and cannot be used by anyone else. Non-exclusive use means that the image can be licensed by multiple buyers.

Custom licensing options: Some stock photo sites offer custom licensing options for specific use cases. For example, if you need an image for a large-scale advertising campaign, you may be able to negotiate a custom license with the stock photo site.

We evaluate stock photo sites based on the variety and flexibility of their licensing options, as well as the transparency and clarity of their licensing agreements. It’s important to understand the licensing options and restrictions before purchasing and using any stock photos.

Search functionality

When it comes to finding the right image for your project, a stock photo site’s search functionality is crucial. Here are the key factors we consider when evaluating a site’s search capabilities:

Keywords and tags: The search function should allow users to input keywords or phrases related to the image they’re looking for. Ideally, these keywords should be tied to specific tags, making it easier to refine search results.

Filters and categories: In addition to keyword search, a stock photo site should provide filters and categories to help narrow down results. This could include options like image orientation, color, and style.

Advanced search options: Some users may require more advanced search options, such as the ability to search for images based on date, file type, or specific image properties like resolution or DPI.

AI-powered search capabilities: Many stock photo sites are now incorporating AI-powered search capabilities, allowing users to search for images based on visual similarity or other advanced criteria.

Image similarity and reverse image search: Some sites offer the ability to search for images based on similarity to a particular image or to search for a particular image by uploading a sample. This can be a powerful tool for finding just the right image for your project.

Overall, a stock photo site’s search functionality should be intuitive, comprehensive, and capable of delivering relevant search results in a timely manner.

Selection and variety of images

Types of images available: The selection and variety of images available are important factors in choosing a stock photo site. A good stock photo site should offer a wide range of image types, including photographs, illustrations, vectors, and videos. Different types of images cater to different needs, and a site that offers a diverse range of visual content will be more useful for different types of projects.

Collection size and growth rate: The size of a stock photo site’s collection is another important consideration. Larger collections offer more options, but they can also be overwhelming. The growth rate of a collection can also be an important factor to consider. A site that regularly updates and adds new content to its collection is likely to be more useful for long-term projects.

Quality vs quantity: The quality of images is just as important as quantity. A stock photo site that offers a large number of low-quality images will be less useful than one that offers a smaller but higher quality selection. High-quality images should be sharp, clear, and free from distortion, while still being visually appealing.

Diversity and inclusion: A good stock photo site should also consider diversity and inclusion in its collection. This means including images that represent people from different ethnicities, genders, ages, and abilities, as well as different cultures and lifestyles. This ensures that the site caters to a broader range of users and represents a more diverse and inclusive range of perspectives.

Customizable and curated collections: Some stock photo sites offer customizable and curated collections that cater to specific themes or industries. These collections make it easier for users to find the images they need for their specific project, saving time and effort in searching through a large collection. Customizable collections also offer users the option to create their own collections or galleries, making it easier to keep track of images they may need to use in the future.

Customer support

When it comes to customer support and user experience, there are a few key factors to consider when evaluating stock photo sites.

Firstly, it’s important to assess the availability and responsiveness of support channels. Are there multiple ways to get in touch with support, such as live chat, email, and phone? Are support agents helpful and knowledgeable when responding to inquiries? Are response times reasonable?

In addition, the user interface of the site itself should be intuitive and easy to use. Can users easily navigate the site and find the images they need? Is there a search function that is both effective and efficient? Are there customization and personalization options available to users?

Furthermore, the availability and functionality of mobile apps can be a key consideration for some users. Is there a mobile app available for the site, and if so, does it offer a comparable user experience to the desktop site?

Lastly, it’s worth considering any additional features or perks offered by the stock photo site to enhance the user experience. This could include features such as customizable collections or personalized recommendations. Overall, a positive user experience can make a significant difference in the overall satisfaction of customers using stock photo sites.

Other features and benefits

Integration with other platforms: Some stock photo sites may offer integrations with other platforms like Adobe Creative Cloud, Canva, or WordPress. These integrations can save users time and streamline their workflow by allowing them to access the stock photo library without leaving the platform they’re already using.

API and developer support: For businesses and developers looking to build their own custom solutions, stock photo sites with robust APIs and developer support can be incredibly valuable. These features allow developers to easily integrate the stock photo library into their own applications or platforms.

Social media and sharing features: Some stock photo sites offer social media integration and sharing features, allowing users to easily share images on their social media accounts or collaborate with others on creative projects.

Educational and inspiration resources: Stock photo sites may offer blogs, tutorials, or other educational resources to help users improve their photography or design skills. Some may also offer inspiration galleries or mood boards to help users find the perfect image for their project.

Loyalty and referral programs: To incentivize users to continue using their platform, some stock photo sites offer loyalty or referral programs. These programs can include discounts, free credits, or other rewards for users who refer new customers or use the platform regularly.

Which sites we have tested so far

Using the methodology described above, we composed the following lists of best stock photo sites:

Want latest news and discounts?
Sign up for our newsletter.

    We care about your data. Read our privacy policy.

    About your guide

    Matic Broz profile image
    Matic Broz

    Matic Broz is a multifaceted creative professional, with experience as a photographer, graphic designer, and business owner. He has a decade of experience in helping other creatives improve their craft and start their own businesses. His writing and research have been featured in notable publications such as The Guardian, PetaPixel, and USA Today. Additionally, his scientific research has been recognized with a cover feature in the prestigious MDPI-owned journal. In his leisure time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and spending time with dogs. Read more

    Information provided on Photutorial is for educational purposes only. Your situation is unique and the products and services we review may not be right for your circumstances. We do not offer financial advice, nor do we recommend or advise individuals to buy or sell particular stocks or services. Performance information may have changed since the time of publication. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

    Photutorial adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. To the best of our knowledge, all content is accurate as of the date posted, though offers contained herein may no longer be available. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone and have not been provided, approved, or otherwise endorsed by our partners.