Best Stock Photo Sites: Getty vs iStock vs Shutterstock vs Bigstock vs Adobe Stock & More

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Media
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BigStock logo
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iStock logo
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Royalty-free (or stock-free) media is an affordable way to get high-quality, professional photos or videos without a big budget for a shoot. Compelling images make your marketing and business stand out from your competitors.

There are dozens of stock photo sites to choose from, but all have slightly different pricing and features. The best stock media website for you depends on the type of media you seek (photos, illustrations, vector art, audio, or video) and the type of license you require (where you plan to use it: print, digital, commercial, etc.). You can also do a stock photo subscription to save money.

Article Overview

Everything You Need To Know About Stock Photos

Camera up close (caption: Best Stock Photo Sites)Before getting started, you’ll want to know the basics of stock photography, so you’re purchasing the right type of media and licensing for your project. We’ll also cover the two options you have when downloading media.

Types Of Media

Stock sites offer several types of media, depending on what you need.

  • Photos: Companies that offer photography for use on websites, print, or other purposes. These include photos that are taken by others for resale or reuse by others.
  • Illustrations (or Vector Images): Illustrations are computer-generated or artist-drawn images rather than photographed.
  • Illustrations can cost more than regular photographs due to the amount of work that goes into creating them. Vector images are generally utilized for printed projects because you can resize them without distortion. These images are costly to use but often the best choice for printed media or 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.
  • Audio: As with video clips, audio clips are not available on all stock photo websites. Unlike video clips, audio needs are often particular to the intended use, which is why some of the stock photo providers are not pursuing it.

Types Of Usage

Man taking photoIt’s critical to understand the license type offered for each media to avoid the potential of a legal case 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. You will need to but additional licenses if you intend to use it for multiple applications (can be exclusive, meaning no one else can use the photo).
  • Creative License: Photos that will be used for selling things. Usually, these photos are staged by a photographer, art director, and often time involve people or talent.
  • Editorial License: A photo that may be used for anything non-commercial like a blog post or presentation.
  • Media Usage Licenses: What a particular photo may or may not be used for (see creative licenses or editorial licenses).

Credits vs. Subscription Plan

Most companies allow two different ways to pay for your media.

  • Subscription Services allow users to pay a set fee per month or year to receive a designated number of credits, daily downloads, or a 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. Note that different companies offer different download options (# of images per week, month, etc.), which you should consider along with the needs of the purchaser.
  • Many stock photo sites also give you the option to buy credits to purchase a set number of images instead. Depending on the type of photo and license, it will vary. The price per image usually goes down the more credits you get. Also, note the expiration date when you purchase the credits to ensure you will be using the credits in time.

Best Stock Photography Sites For Digital Media

Digital media is any type of media that you use on computers, websites, blogs, etc. The images you see on websites are considered digital media, as well as any audio or video tracks.

Digital media files do not need to be as high-resolution since they will be optimized for the web. You might find yourself needing a lot more digital media files to use throughout your site. In this case, a subscription plan might be best.

Here are our top picks for the best digital media sites. We based our rankings on the following:

  • Price and value
  • Size of inventory
  • Customer service and reputation
  • Searchability

Bigstock Review

#1

Visit Website

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 likely pay more here.

Pros

Cons

  • Pricing is affordable and easy to understand
  • Images, vector images, videos, and illustrations
  • Live chat and phone help is available
  • User submissions are accepted
  • No audio files available
  • Vector images can be pricey

BigStock screenshot

Price

Bigstock offers a 7-day free trial that allows you to download up to 35 royalty-free images or stock video clips.

  • Image credits start at $35 for 10 images (up to $495 for 500 images).
  • Subscriptions start at $79 per month for 5 images per day and go up depending on the number of photos and how frequently you download.

Coupon Code

Use this link to get the best deal we can offer from BigStock.

Read Our Full Review of Bigstock

Depositphotos Review

#2

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Depositphotos has an affordable pricing structure. Their excellent selection of media is available for one of the lowest per-image costs around.

However, we don’t find their current library robust or easy to search, so it may be challenging to find what you’re seeking. But, if you can find the ideal image, the price will be lower than most other sites. They also have a helpful user-feedback option that allows you to learn more about others’ experiences with a particular artist/photographer before buying. This feature can also guide your image search further.

They offer images and video but no audio. They have a good selection at very competitive prices.

Pros

Cons

  • Images, illustrations, videos, and vector images
  • Images are affordable compared to many other providers
  • Regular deals and coupons on specified image sets
  • The Deposit Photos website is easy to navigate
  • Users leave feedback on image providers to give you a better idea of the quality
  • Multiple languages supported
  • Phone and live chat support
  • Unused downloads transfer to the next month
  • No audio files 
  • Limited advanced search options for images

Depositphotos screenshot

Price

  • Subscriptions start at $29/month for 30 photos ($0.96 per image) or $299/year (30 photos a month)
  • On-demand images start at $4.90 per image (10 images for $49)

Coupon Code

Get 10% off Depositphotos subscriptions with coupon code OS0290048 via our link.

Read Our Full Review of Depositphotos

iStock Review

#3

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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 fair prices for the quality, affordable subscription plan, image variety, and versatility.

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 for users who prefer to browse without a keyword in mind.

Overall the search function via keywords is easy and intuitive for the reader. This is a good service that offers great images at a reasonable 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 ideal for those who need large quantities of online royalty-free content, especially if low-resolution is acceptable.

Pros

Cons

  • You can pay-as-you-go or duration (images per month)
  • Affordable subscription and credit system
  • Millions of images
  • Images, vector images, videos, and illustrations
  • User submissions are accepted
  • Rollover unused credits
  • Broad 4K offering at competitive prices
  • Other stock image services have a better selection for high-quality print media
  • Their website can be buggy and difficult to use at times
  • No audio files

istock screenshot

Price

  • Starts at $12 for 1 image/credit
  • Subscriptions start at $40/month or $348/year for 10 “Essentials” (low cost) images

Coupon Code

Click here to get the best deals from iStock.

Read Our Full Review of iStock

Best Stock Photography Sites For 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.

You must purchase or have the rights to anything that uses visuals or audio in a commercial form. 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 the best traditional media sites. Much like the digital image services, we based our rankings on the following:

  • Price and value
  • Size of inventory
  • Customer service and reputation
  • Searchability

Getty Images Review

#1 Getty Images logo

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From historical photos to celebrity photobombs. 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 creatives 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 millions of different high-design, conceptual pieces for sale.

It is also a nice 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 site is easy to search and browse for high-concept imagery, videography, and sound.

Pros

Cons

  • The largest library of high-resolution, highly conceptual, artistic print media images
  • Exclusive image purchase is available if you need a visual that no one else will be able to use. This is important for more traditional media for large companies and brands, especially for print, television, and radio advertising
  • Images, videos, audio, and illustrations
  • Easy to navigate website
  • Websites for many different countries
  • User submissions are accepted
  • Offers millions of pictures for free use
  • Media can be expensive — probably cost-prohibitive for digital use unless you require exclusive imagery

Getty Images screenshot

Price

  • Starts at $175 for 1 image/credit (low-resolution)

Coupon Code

Use this link to get the best deal we can offer from Getty Images.

Read Our Full Review Of Getty Images

123RF Review

#2 123RF logo

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123RF offers one of the most affordable subscription programs, with low-resolution photos starting as low as $0.85 per photo.

It’s a great alternative to many of the big stock photo services, and they have a wide selection of millions of images video, audio, and 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 with 123RF is that 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.

Pros

Cons

  • One of the lowest-priced subscription programs
  • Images, illustrations, and vector images available
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • Easy to navigate website
  • User submissions accepted
  • Live chat and phone support
  • Limited filters for photo search results

123RF screenshot

Price

  • Per-credit pricing starts at $47 for 40 credits ($1.18 per credit)
  • Subscriptions start at $30/month for 10 images per month (save if you pay annually)

Coupon

There are currently no discount codes for our readers. Use this link to get started and take advantage of the best possible pricing from 123RF.

Read Our Full Review of 123RF

Shutterstock Review

#3 ShutterStock logo

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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 their pricing model more flexible than some other high-res photo options. With Shutterstock’s huge library of images and files, you won’t be disappointed in the selection.

They carry stock photos, videos, illustrations, vector, and audio files. Shutterstock is a great choice for agencies, publications, and companies with the frequent need to use high-quality photos and illustrations.

Pros

Cons

  • Extremely high-resolution images
  • One of the leading stock photo companies with editorial, celebrity photos, and more
  • A variety of subscription plans are available for users
  • Images, videos, illustrations, vector images, video, and music
  • Accepts user submissions
  • iPhone, iPad, and Android app to search and download on-the-go
  • Phone and email support
  • Compared to many other similar stock photo services, their fees are unusually high
  • Many customer complaints about poor customer service
  • Doesn’t send auto-renewal notices for subscriptions

Shutterstock screenshot

Price

Prepaid Image Packs

  • $29 for 2 images
  • $49 for 5 images
  • $229 for 25 images

Subscription Plans For Individuals

All subscription plans start at $29/month for 10 images (with an annual commitment)— but you’ll incur a cancellation fee if you cancel before the year is up. Subscriptions start at $49/month for 10 images for a month to month plan.

Enterprise

Must contact Shutterstock for pricing.

Coupon Code

Use this link to take advantage of the best offers available from Shutterstock.

Read Our Full Review of Shutterstock

Comparison Table

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.

NameWinner Digital Media: Bigstock2nd Place Digital Media: Depositphotos3rd Place Digital Media: iStockWinner Traditional Media: Getty Images2nd Place Traditional Media: 123RF3rd Place Traditional Media: ShutterstockAdobe StockAlamyCan Stock PhotoDreamsTimeFoapPhotoSpinYay Images
ImagesCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
VideoCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
AudioCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
IllustrationsCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Vector ImagesCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Royalty Free ImagesCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Lowest Price Per Single Image$3.50$4.90$12$175$1.18 (for 1 credit)$29 for 2$49.95 (for 5 images)$19.99$9 (for 12 credits)$14.99 for 11 credits$10$2-30N/A
Subscription Plan Starting Price$79/month (for 5 images per day)$29/month (for 30 photos per month) $40/month (for 10 essential images per month)Must contact $30 (10 images per month)$49 (10 images per month)$29.99 (for 10 images per month)N/A (Individual Image Only)$39.00 (for 10 images per day)$39.00 (for 10 images per day)None$429 (500/Month)N/A
Subscription ServiceCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
User Submissions AcceptedCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Total Number of Stock Items88 Million+130 Million+88 Million+80 Million+110 Million+302 Million+50+ million180 Million+20 Million+42 Million+MillionsMillions11 Million+
NameWinner Digital Media: Bigstock2nd Place Digital Media: Depositphotos3rd Place Digital Media: iStockWinner Traditional Media: Getty Images2nd Place Traditional Media: 123RF3rd Place Traditional Media: ShutterstockAdobe StockAlamyCan Stock PhotoDreamsTimeFoapPhotoSpinYay Images

Other Stock Photography Sites

The other stock photography services we reviewed are listed below. Learn more about what each of these services offers as well as the pros and cons.

Adobe Stock | Alamy | Can Stock Photo | Corbis | Dreamstime | Foap | PhotoSpin | Yay Images

Adobe Stock Review

Adobe Stock logo

Visit Website

Adobe Stock was previously known as Fotolia by Adobe. In 2015 Adobe, the popular graphic design software company released its own version of a stock photography library with millions of 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 recently added video files to their library but still don’t offer audio files. 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.

Pros

Cons

  • Royalty-free, high-quality photos, illustrations, and graphics
  • User submissions are accepted
  • Able to purchase individual images
  • Can cancel risk-free in the first month
  • No audio files

Price

  • Credit packs start at $49.95 for 5 credits (good for 1 image)
  • Subscriptions start at $29 for 10 assets a month (and the first month free with an annual plan)

Alamy Review

Visit WebsiteAlamy logo

Alamy has one of the largest selection of images, with more than 80,000 new stock images added daily and 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 millions of high-quality images from which to choose.

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 get expensive depending on what you are using it for. Or, you can select the rights-managed option, which allows for limited-use and limited-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.

Pros

Cons

  • Illustrations, photography, vector images, and video
  • Option to buy individual images
  • Claims to offer frequently refreshed images
  • A variety of search methods available for finding stock media
  • User submissions are accepted
  • Phone and chat support
  • No subscription services
  • Images can be particularly expensive even when small or low-resolution
  • Audio files are not available
  • Not the most straightforward website to navigate and pricing is not shared upfront

Price

  • $19.99 per image (for personal use). No subscriptions offered.

Coupon Code

Use code IMAGES20 to receive 20% off all Royalty Free Imagery. Click here take advantage of this offer!

Can Stock Photo Review

Visit WebsiteCan Stock Photo logo

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 videos.

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’re 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.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordable pricing for small JPEG images
  • Easy to download one photo at a time quickly without creating an account
  • A wide range of international websites are available
  • Subscription services and individual image purchase options
  • Images, videos, illustrations, and vector images are all available
  • Audio files are not available
  • Far fewer images available in comparison to other stock image services
  • High definition video footage can be expensive
  • Support information relies upon a support ticket system making troubleshooting more complicated than competitors

Price

  • Photo credits start at $9 for 12 credits
  • Subscriptions start at $39/week for 10 images per day

Corbis Review

Corbis Images logo

Corbis is no longer operating under its brand name. Acquired by Visual China Group (VCG), all content was migrated to Getty Images in May 2016. This is good news for you since Getty is our #1 pick.

Dreamstime Review

Dreamstime ReviewVisit Website

Since 2000, Dreamstime has been providing a vast selection of high-quality digital images at affordable prices 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 quality control.

In addition to photos, they have a library of free images, clip art, and vectors and have multiple incentives for photographers and users alike. They also offer monthly plans or pay-per-photo credit packages.

Pros

Cons

  • A member of some photo and trade organizations
  • Referral program for users & incentives for photographers
  • A large collection of free photos
  • Resources including customer service phone support
  • App for contributing photos on-the-go
  • Advanced search capabilities
  • No stock audio
  • The site is overwhelming to navigate compared to other stock photo sites
  • Photo costs on the higher end

Price

  • Photo credit packages start at $14.99 for 11 credits
  • Subscriptions start at $39 a month for 10 images

Foap Review

Visit WebsiteFoap logo

Foap is a relatively new service (and concept) that allows anyone the ability to sell photos taken from their iPhone. Users can download the app, take a picture, upload it to the Foap market, and list it for sale.

New to Foap is a Brand Brief, that 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 listing your photo 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 with no vector, audio, or video. The company’s pricing is very straightforward: $10 per image (or down to $7.50 each if you buy in bulk).

Pros

Cons

  • Your purchase benefits creative photographers
  • Very unique and creative photos
  • Once you purchase the image, you have complete creative control over the use and editing of the image
  • Simple, easy, and clean website and app for quick search and download
  • Always new content being added that is vetted by users
  • Images only; no video or audio files available
  • Pricing is on the high-end, given the quality
  • Limited total number of photos when compared to other sites

Price

  • $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

PhotoSpin Review

Photospin Review

PhotoSpin started in 1996 and believed that all creatives should have quick access to good content at an affordable price. This company went out of business due to financial issues in August 2018. 

Yay Images Review

Visit WebsiteYAY Images logo

“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. 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 but did not find it all that accurate.

One of the other downsides to Yay is that they only offer subscriptions (no single image purchases are available, unfortunately). Yay Images was acquired by Doublesix LLC in February 2019, so we will see how that affects customers.

Pros

Cons

  • Four different subscription plans based on what your profession is (blogger, marketers, etc.)
  • All plans come with unlimited streaming and include hosting
  • Customer support via email and phone
  • Small, medium, and large size photos
  • Free trial available
  • No video or audio files
  • Streaming photos limited to 700 pixels wide and can only be used online
  • Must purchase a subscription plan
  • More expensive for single downloads

Price

  • Mini: $19/month for 20 images/month
  • More: $29/month for 35 images/month
  • Mighty: $49/month for 70 images/month

Terminology

As you are shopping around, you might come across some new jargon. Here are some basic definitions to help you gain a better understanding of this world.

  • Pixel: A unit of measurement that is commonly used in digital photos.
  • DPI (Dots Per Inch): The number of pixels per square inch for a file or graphic. It helps determine the resolution.
  • Resolution: How many DPI a photo has. (Usually, 72dpi for Web and 300dpi for print is standard).

Video: Stock Photo Clichés

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 a song (almost as cheesy as the photos).

Which Stock Photo Company Is Right For You?

Finding a stock photography company to suit your needs can be difficult, depending on what use you have in mind for your downloaded media. Aside from ensuring that you find a company that will fit within your budget, it is also essential to find a legitimate company that detailed licensing requirements for each image or piece of media they provide.

Learn more about stock photos in our royalty-free images article. And if you need help editing your photos, check out our photo editing software review.

What is your favorite stock media provider and why?

About The Author:

Sadie has over 15 years of experience in digital marketing, graphic and web design, social media strategy, email marketing and more. She is a 4th generation small business owner and has worked with a wide range of brands from fortune 500 companies to startups and entrepreneurs.

Sadie is a self-proclaimed Apple/Mac guru and keeps up with all the latest tech trends at conferences including South by Southwest. Sadie has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Austin's Moody School of Communications and a concentration in Business from the Red McCombs School of Business.

Her expertise has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The New York Times, Forbes, People, Reader's Digest, Apartment Therapy, and other regional news organizations.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

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