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Make your brochure or website homepage stand out from your competitors with brilliant photos. Royalty-free media on the internet brings up an overwhelming number of services to choose from.
Depending upon the type of media you are looking to serve (photos, illustrations, vector art, audio, video) and the usage license you require, the sheer number of stock image companies can be daunting. So let’s break it down and help you find the best stock images for your needs.
- Stock Photos 101
- Best Stock Photo Sites For Digital Media
- Best Traditional Media Sites
- Comparison Table
- Other Photo Sites
- How To Choose
Before getting started, you’ll want to know the basics of stock photography so you’re purchasing the type you need for your project.
What Are Stock Pictures?
Stock photos give you the rights to use for your company or business for commercial use and ownership of other people’s creative content.
It is important to understand each type of license offered for image or other media use in order to avoid the potential of a legal case being brought against you or your business. Most large stock photography companies have detailed information available on their websites.
If a company does not offer this information, it is always prudent to contact them directly to find out about usage regulation. We recommend you familiarize yourself with the most common stock photo usage types:
- Public Domain – free to use without a license for commercial or personal use
- Royalty-Free – a copyright license to use a photo or illustration without restrictions after paying a one-time fee (in some cases royalty-free photos can be free)
- Rights-Managed – a copyright license to purchase a photo for a specific, one-time use. Addition licenses need to be purchased if intended on multiple uses (can be exclusive meaning no one else can use the photo).
What Is Digital Media?
Digital media is any type of media that is used on computers, websites, blogs, etc. The images you see on websites are considered digital media as well as the audio or video tracks.
Digital media files do not need to be as high resolution since they will be optimized for web and you might find yourself needing a lot more digital media files to use throughout your site so a subscription plan might be best in this case.
What Is Traditional Media?
Traditional media is media that is printed in publications, used outdoors or on television. You see them every day from magazine ads to TV commercials.
Anything that uses visuals or audio in a commercial form must be purchased or have the original rights to. Often, depending on if people or places are involved, there might be a time limit or renewal fees so the models, artists and creators can continue to get fairly compensated.
You might require higher resolution photos for traditional media which is why they might cost you more but the quality is much better.
Here are our top picks for best digital media sites.
BigStock is an affordable stock image service that specializes in images and illustrations. Their straightforward, inexpensive pricing model paired with a wide range of images to meet most digital marketing needs makes it the go-to location for the best stock photos for online use.
Our experience with their customer service department has been top-notch. However, if you are looking for vector images, you will definitely pay more here so you may want to look to another company.
- Image credits start at $35 for 10 images up to $495 for 500 images.
- Subscriptions start at $79 per month for 5 images a day and go up from there depending on the number of photos and how frequently you download.
Ongoing: our readers have access to 5 free credits with promo code SPC6 (if that doesn't work, try DIGIX210). Seasonal: Bigstock is offering 15% off your first month for any subscription. Click here take advantage of these offers!
Depositphotos is a relatively new company with an affordable pricing structure. Their excellent selection of media is available for one of the lowest per image costs around.
That being said, we do not find their current library robust or easily searched, so it may be difficult to find what you are looking for. But, if you can find the right image for you, the price will be good and they, have a nice user feedback option so that you can learn more about others’ experiences with a particular artist/photographer before buying or to guide your image search further.
They offer images and video, but no audio. They have a good selection at one of the lower per image costs around, with low-resolution photos starting at around $1.
- Subscriptions start at $29/month ($0.96 per image) or $299/year
- On demand images start at $4.90 per image (10 images for $49)
Get 10% off Depositphotos subscriptions with coupon code OS0290048 via our link.
iStock is run by the highly reputable Getty Images (our #1 pick for traditional stock photography, see below). Graphic designers and small advertising agencies find iStock to be a great resource due to their low prices, affordable subscription plan, image variety and versatility.
With millions of pieces for sale, iStock is one of the better choices for those in need of lots of online, royalty-free, low-resolution images for websites or e-newsletters. The iStock website can be a bit challenging to users who prefer to browse without a keyword in mind, as it is difficult to just browse without first typing in a keyword.
Overall the search function via keywords is easy and intuitive for the reader. This is a good service that offers great images at a good price. iStock is one of the most commonly utilized online stock image companies these days for graphic designers and small advertising agencies due to their low prices, affordable subscription plan and versatility.
With millions of pieces for sale, iStock is one of the better choices for large quantities of online royalty-free content, especially if low-resolution is acceptable.
- Starts at $12 for 1 image/credit
- Subscriptions start at $40/month for 10 images
Until December 31, 2018: Save 25% on ANY new subscription with coupon code ISTOCK25; Click here to take advantage of this offer!
Here are our top picks for best traditional media sites.
From historical photos to celebrity photo bombs. Getty Images offers one of the biggest databases of stock media, especially for premium, conceptual, high-resolution and editorial images.
If you are working in traditional media such as print, TV, billboard or radio, high-resolution creative will be mandatory in designing high impact campaigns and no one offers more exclusively licensed, high-res art than Getty. Getty offers a wide array of royalty-free media with over eighty million different high-design, conceptual pieces for sale.
It is also a good option for multinational companies and global advertising campaigns as they have websites in many different languages that will help you navigate usage laws across country borders. The website is easy to search and navigate for high-concept imagery, videography and sound.
Price varies depending on the rights, usage and size and can be upwards of hundreds of dollars each.
At this time we are unaware of any Getty Images coupon codes.
123RF offers one of the most affordable subscription programs, with low-resolution photos starting as low as $1 per photo.
It’s a great alternative to many of the big stock photo services and they have a wide-selection of over 110 million images video, audio, vector files. You can expect high-quality photos for the price too. 123RF has beautiful lifestyle, editorial and non-cheesy photos making them an even better value. They have live chat and phone support should you need it and an easy to use checkout process.
The one downside we found from 123RF is the search results didn’t have many filtering options, which isn’t ideal if you have something specific in mind, but their photos are all so great you might not need them.
- Per-credit pricing ranges from 80¢ to $1.30, depending on the number of credits you purchase at one time
- Subscriptions start at $29/month for 10 images per month. You can save 31% if you pay annually.
We are not aware of any 123RF coupons at this time.
Shutterstock is a good resource for high-resolution images, especially for large-format designs (billboards and other print media).
They offer a variety of subscription plans to meet various user needs, making its pricing model more flexible than some other high-res photo options. With Shutterstock’s huge library of 70 million images and files, you won’t be disappointed in the selection.
While they do offer stock photos, videos, illustrations, and vector, they do not have audio files in their database, making this another impediment from a top ranking relative to Getty Images, which has all forms of media in their library.
Shutterstock would be a great choice for agencies, publications and companies with the need to use high-quality photos and illustrations often.
- Starts at $29 for 2 images
- Subscriptions start at $29/month for 10 images
At this time we are unaware of any Shutterstock coupon codes.
This table is a resource that compares the most popular stock photo websites. Use it to help you make an informed decision when deciding on a stock photography resource. If you click on a link under the company name in the header (or footer), you will be taken to that company’s homepage to explore further.
|Name||Winner Digital Media: Bigstock||2nd Place Digital Media: Depositphotos||3rd Place Digital Media: iStock||Winner Traditional Media: Getty Images||2nd Place Traditional Media: 123RF||3rd Place Traditional Media: Shutterstock||Adobe Stock||Alamy||Can Stock Photo||DreamsTime||Foap||PhotoSpin||Thinkstock||YAY Images|
|Name||Bigstock||Depositphotos||iStock||Getty Images||123RF||Shutterstock||Adobe Stock||Alamy||Can Stock Photo||DreamsTime||Foap||PhotoSpin||Thinkstock||YAY Images|
|Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website|
|Total Number of Stock Items||34 Million+||40 Million+||25 Million+||80 Million+||110 Million+||82 Million+||50 million||70 Million+||20 Million+||42 Million+||Millions||Millions||Millions||6.5 Million+|
|Royalty Free Images|
|Lowest Price Per 3 MP Image||$3.50||$4.90||$12||$45; 3 Month Commercial Use||$7.80||$29 for 2||$9.99||$19.99||$9 for 12 credits||$14.99 for 11 credits||$10||$2-30||$49 for 5||N/A|
|Lowest Price Annual Subscription Plan||$708 (5/Day)||$600 (50/Month)||$1,080 (50/Month)||N/A (Individual Image Only)||$290 (10/Month)||$2,028 (350/Month)||$359.88 (10/Month)||N/A (Individual Image Only)||$769 (10/Day)||$468 (5/Month)||None||$429 (500/Month)||$1,668 (50/Month)||$118.80 (Unlimited Streaming Images)|
|User Submissions Accepted|
|Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website||Visit Website|
The other stock photography services we reviewed are listed below. Learn more about what each of these services offers as well as pros and cons.
Adobe Stock was previously known as Fotolia by Adobe. In 2015 Adobe, the popular graphic design software company, released their own version of a stock photography library with more than 40 million photos, illustrations and vector images available.
You can also submit your images to sell which makes sense and is convenient since they cater to the creative community and have a built-in network of graphic design and photographer customers already.
They do not offer video or audio files, so if you’re a multimedia user, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Adobe Stock is still in the early stages, so we will have to give them more time to see where they fit in our rankings.
- Credit packs start at $49.95 for 5 credits (good for 1 image)
- Subscriptions start at $29 for 10 assets a month (and first month free with annual plan)
Alamy has one of the largest selection of images and, with more than 80,000 new stock images added daily sourced from around the world from 173 countries.
The result is a wide-range of culturally diverse photos from all geographic landscapes and areas giving you more than 90 million high-quality images to choose from.
Alamy only sells per image so no subscription plans are available and the price varies depending on the size and the rights of the photo. You can choose to have it licensed which can expensive depending on what you are using it for or do a rights-managed option which is limited use and time for a photo.
Much like other online shopping sites, it’s easy to check out without an account, but the number of options can be a bit overwhelming if you are new to stock photography.
- $19.99 per image (for personal use). No subscriptions offered.
Use code IMAGES20 to receive 20% off all Royalty Free Imagery. Click here take advantage of this offer!
Can Stock Photo adds 25,000 pieces of stock media to their site every day and offers a good value for low-resolution photos. They also have video.
However, they do not have audio files, and their library is much smaller than many of their competitors, but if you can find what you are looking for, this could be a great option.
With one-click downloading and easy checkout without creating an account, it’s a great choice for quick and easy purchases.
- Photo credits start at $9 for 12 credits
- Subscriptions start at $39/week for 10 images per day
Corbis has been a widely known and well-respected stock image provider with one of the largest database of images available (more than 100 corporate image partners and 30,000 photographers).
However, they were acquired by Visual China Group (VCG), and as a result, they have migrated their content library to Getty Images effective May 2, 2016. This is good news for you since Getty is our #1 pick. Corbis is no longer operating under its brand name.
At this time we are unaware of any Corbis coupon codes.
Since 2000, Dreamstime has been providing a huge selection of high-quality digital images at affordable prices with a goal to connect image sellers with buyers.
Their community-based site gives more than 13,000,000 registered members access to photos submitted from 200,000+ photographers from around the world. All images are reviewed and approved by experienced editors to ensure the quality control.
In addition to photos, they have a library of free images, clip art and vectors and have a number of incentives for photographers and users alike. They also offer monthly plans or pay per photo credit packages.
- Photo credit packages start at $14.99 for 11 credits
- Subscriptions start at $25 a month for 5 images
Foap is a fairly new service (and concept) that allows anyone the ability to sell photos taken from their iPhone. Users can download the app, take a photo, upload the photo to the Foap market and list it for sale.
New to Foap is a Brand Brief which allows marketers to submit their needs for lifestyle and product photos, then task the Foap community to create content for them based on the guidelines. Then you get to pick your favorites and use them for your business.
Before your photo is listed in the marketplace, it must receive an average rating of 2.6 or higher from 5 other users. Photographers earn $5 per sold photo. For users looking to purchase photos, they start at $10 per photo.
This is a photo only site, no vector, no audio, and no video. Their pricing is super straightforward, $10 per image (or down to $7.50 each if you buy in bulk).
- $10 per photo
- Credit packages start at $180 for 20 photos up to $750 for 100 photos
- Pricing varies for custom services for briefs and photo or video missions
Since 1996 PhotoSpin has believed that all creatives should have quick access to good content at an affordable price. PhotoSpin’s pricing is based on a subscription model.
You pay once for access and then can download anywhere from 500-1000 images per month. Claiming to be the first photo subscription service, Photo Spin has 2 subscription options: Plus starts at $429 a year for up to 500 3600px images and SuperPlus which starts at $649 per year for 500 images at 5100px.
The only difference in plans is the quality/size of the photos, but each gives you the same access to photos and similar increments of plans (500, 750 or 1000 photos per month) for a yearly subscription.
- Single images are $2-30 depending on the size of photo
- Subscriptions start at $429 a year for up to 500 3600px image
Our readers can get 10% off PhotoSpin's annual subscription with the promo code WeRock10.Click here take advantage of this offer!
“Created for and by online people” Yay Images is a relatively newer company and provides unlimited streaming of online images. Streaming, meaning you can use them on your site but you can’t download them to save for offline use (or to make modifications to).
There is no downloading or uploading for YAY Images. (Yay!) Instead, you receive a link that you put wherever you want the image to appear. They do however allow you to make simple edits to photos within their site and will even host them for you forever (even if you cancel).
Their visual search allows you to drag and drop a photo you are looking for, and it will search for something similar (like Google image search). We tested it though, and it’s not all that accurate.
One of the other downsides to Yay is they only offer subscriptions (no single image purchases are available, unfortunately).
- Plans starts at $9.90/month with 1 download and additional photo downloads for $10 each up to $99 per month for unlimited streaming and up to 1,000 downloads.
With so many details listed in the table above, it can be difficult to understand exactly what each term refers to. Below we have outlined each of these terms along with a definition so that you can utilize the table more appropriately to match your stock photography needs.
- Audio: As with video clips, audio clips are not available on all stock photo websites. Unlike video clips though, audio needs are often very specific to the intended use which is why it is not being pursued by some of the stock photo providers.
- Creative license: Photos that can be used for selling things. Usually these photos are staged by a photographer, art director and often time involve people or talent.
- Credits: While many stock photo sites are subscription-based, meaning you can download an unlimited (or specified) amount of photos in a certain time period, some you will have the option to use credits to purchase images instead. Depending on the type of photo and license it will vary.
- Digital marketing: Any marketing that is online including banner ads, social media graphics, email and website, etc.
- DPI (Dots Per Inch): The number of pixels per square inch for a file or graphic. Helps determine the resolution.
- Editorial license: A photo that may be used for anything non-commercial like a blog post or presentation.
- Illustrations: Illustrations are images that are computer generated or artist drawn rather than photographed. Illustrations cost more than regular photographs due to the amount of work that goes in to creating them.
- Images: Companies that offer photography media for use on websites, print or other uses.
- Lowest Price per 3 MP Image: The cost of the lowest price image available for a standard size of 3 Megapixels to allow apples to apples cost comparison between providers on a per image basis.
- Lowest Price Annual Subscription Plan: The cost of the lowest priced annual subscription plan offered to allow apples to apples cost comparison between providers on a yearly cost basis. Note that different companies offer different download options (# of images per week, month, etc.) which should be considered along with the needs of the purchaser.
- Media usage licenses: What a particular photo may or may not be used for (see creative licenses or editorial licenses).
- Pixel: A unit of measure used in digital photos.
- Resolution: How many DPI a photo has. (Usually 72dpi for Web and 300dpi for print is standard).
- Royalty Free Images: Images or other pieces of media that can be used without having to pay for royalties with each incidence of use.
- Stock photography: Photos that are taken by others for resale or reuse by others.
- Subscription Service: Programs that allow users to pay a set fee per month or per year in order to receive a designated number of credits, daily downloads or total number of downloads. Subscription services are generally the best route to go for big companies, advertising agencies, designers or other individuals looking to download large amounts of content.
- Total Number of Stock Items: The advertised number of stock photos or other media offered in a company’s data gallery. These numbers fluctuate on a daily basis due to the addition of new media.
- Traditional marketing: Any type of marketing that is non-digital like TV, Radio and Print.
- User Submissions Accepted: This refers to the ability for photographers, videographers, designers and other creatives to be able to sell their own images through that company and receive compensation in the form of monetary fees or website credits.
- Vector Images: Vector images are images that utilize geometrical primitives. Vector images are generally utilized for printed projects because they can be resized without being distorted. These images are costly to use but often the best choice for printed media or for promotional use.
- Video: Not all stock photography companies offer video clips as part of their services; however, the idea is becoming increasingly popular. Video clips can vary in size and quality and generally cost the most of all media forms available on stock photo websites.
From time to time you might stumble upon the silly stock photo that makes you laugh (at least we do). Here’s a compilation of some stock photo clichés along with song (almost as cheesy as the photos).
Finding a stock photography company to suit your needs can be difficult depending on what you intend to utilize your downloaded media for. Aside from ensuring that you find a company that will fit within your budget, it is also important to find a legitimate company that details licensing requirements for each image or piece of media they provide. Learn more about stock photos in our royalty free images article.
What is your favorite stock photo provider and why?
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