Our In-Depth Guide to the Best Stock Photo Websites
Want to skip straight to our picks for the web’s best stock photo providers? Click here. Otherwise, keep reading to learn more about stock photos and how they can help your business.
The stock photography industry has been growing fast as businesses and websites of all types find themselves in need of photos that speak to their audiences. Advertisers, marketers, and anyone who wanted to communicate through specific images used to be stuck with the expense of custom shoots or the time-consuming task of reaching out to photographers and poring over physical images.
The web changed everything, and stock photography websites now make it easy for anyone to find the perfect photo at a fair price. There are literally millions of stock photographs available with just a few keystrokes, and they can be easily organized and winnowed down to help you find just what you’re looking for in a matter of minutes. This makes stock photography more accessible, more affordable, and more efficient.
Some of the oldest and most respected stock photography companies in the business have brought their businesses online, and stock photographs from these companies can be seen on practically every website of note with regularly published content. The added appeal that the right stock photograph can bring to a business blog post, a humorous article, or even a services description page can help you get and keep viewers and get more people sharing your content.
What Is Stock Photography?
Stock photography is everywhere, and not just online. Print magazine articles, newspaper ads, billboards, and of course online ads and websites all make use of stock photography on a regular basis. The Internet has made it easier for everyone to make effective use of stock photos and has helped the stock photography industry grow, but stock photos have been around almost as long as photography itself.
Simply put, stock photographs are professional photographs taken of generic scenes, objects, people, and/or situations that can be used for a variety of purposes. Photos like a random office worker on a phone, an excited child with a present, and a person staring at a computer screen in frustration are all examples of stock photographs. When it comes to objects in stock photos, the sky’s the limit: fences, bananas, globes, No Trespassing signs—you name it, and there are bound to be dozens if not thousands of stock photos showing it.
Because stock photos are professional quality but fairly generic, they can be used by businesses and publishers for a variety of purposes. Instead of purchasing exclusive usage rights or even purchasing the copyright to a photo outright, which is typically what happens with non-stock, custom-ordered photography, stock photo customers and clients pay lower fees for a nonexclusive license to use the photograph. Multiple customers might be using the same stock photo at the same time, but with so much print and online content out there this potential duplication has no impact on brand identity.
Stock photo prices vary considerably based on numerous factors, including the quality and subject matter of each stock photo, the specific stock photographer licensing the photo, the intended use for the stock photo (i.e. the price is often different for a stock photo used in advertising and other commercial uses vs. a stock photo that will simply accompany an article), and more.
The ability to purchase stock photos in bulk and to purchase subscription from stock photo websites makes an overall price estimate even more difficult, but rest assured that stock photos are an affordable way to achieve a slick look for your site, your publication, and your advertising.
Benefits of Stock Photo Use
Stock Photos are Affordable
Using stock photos instead of hiring a professional photographer and paying for models, studio use and lighting equipment, etc. allows you to use professional quality photos for pennies on the dollar. Stock photos are low on price without sacrificing your professional image.
Use Stock Photos Repeatedly
You can purchase a one-time use license for a stock photo, or secure rights to reproduce it in a variety of different media. Be sure you understand your usage rights when you make a purchase, but you can find a stock photo and a licensing agreement that will allow you to build a consistent brand without needing new photos or the expense and stress of custom photo shoots.
The Available Stock Photo Selection is HUGE
Stock photo sites offer tons of photos to choose from, all neatly categorized and sortable by color, size, and other variables. You’ll have a list of potential stock photos that are just what you’re looking for with just a few clicks, and then you can peruse them and select the perfect photo for your site, blog post, print media, etc.
A Consumer’s Guide on How to Pick Stock Photo Websites
The two major factors you should be considering when choosing a stock photo provider, other than the selection of stock photos they have available, site functionality and stock photo affordability. You want a stock photo website that makes it easy for you to find what you’re looking for, and you want to be paying a fair price for the stock photo(s) you’ll be using. Especially if you plan on signing up for a subscription so you can use stock photos regularly for a blog or other frequently published media, you need to find a site that gives you complete control over your images and your budget.
Some stock photo websites offer a choice between what are called “royalty free” and “rights managed” stock photos. Royalty free licenses typically allow you to use a stock photo however you want and as many times as you want—you purchase it once, and you the photo is essentially yours, with the caveat that you aren’t allowed to resell the photo (you can use it in advertising/for commercial purposes or even on the packaging of products you sell, but you can’t charge someone else money to use the photo). The photographer and/or stock photo website can resell royalty free stock photo as many times as they want; you do not have an exclusive right to use royalty-free photos.
Rights-managed stock photos, as the name implies, come with more limited or managed rights for use, including limits on the number of times the image can be duplicated in print media, different costs for commercial versus noncommercial uses, and sometimes limits on the time period during which the stock photo can be used. You will typically pay more for a rights-managed photo, as they are typically more unique, but they are also most often sold with exclusive-use agreements for a certain period of time—once purchased, no competitor will be sold the rights to use a rights-managed stock photo during the period covered by your agreement.
Certain photographers might choose to only offer one or the other option for their stock photos, so be sure you know the stock photo website’s policies and the license you are purchasing for each individual stock photo.
Keep that in mind, and you’ll do just fine in the stock photo world. So without further ado, here is our list of today’s best stock photo websites!
Top 8 Stock Photo Websites:
With nearly 31 million royalty-free stock photos and counting, Fotolia is a great place to find the quality images you want at the price-point your budget demands. Prices start at just $0.19 per stock photo, and you can use your purchased image any way you want. Fotolia also offers stock video clips and vectors, for those who want to get even fancier with their visual content, and a partnership with Wilogo saves Fotolia customers 10% on custom, crowd-sourced logo designs. Easy ordering and downloading and some great stock photos and photographers you can’t find anywhere else put Fotolia at the top of our list.
iStochphoto.com has one of the best stock photo and stock-everything selection on the wbe; in addition to a large library of royalty-free stock photos, the website also offers illustrations, vectors, videos, audio files, and even flash presentations. iStockphoto uses a credit-based payment system: you purchase credits in set quantities, with discounts on larger quantities, and each stock photo or other media is purchased for a set number of credits. You can also purchase subscriptions that present considerable savings if you plan on using iStockphoto heavily.
Free images, higher-quality but still low-price stock photos, stock video footage, website banners and other graphic images designed specifically for business websites, even a WordPress plugin to make integrating photos and images to your site a breeze: DreamsTime is quickly changing the way stock photos work on the web. Their innovation is only matched by their organization and ease of use, making them an easy choice for our list of today’s best stock photo providers. As their collection of stock photos and other media grows, you can expect them to climb even higher in our estimation.
Dollar Photo Club
Choose between a montly or annual VIP membership at the distinctively unique Dollar Photo Club. If you need 10 images or less per month, check out the $10 monthly membership plan that includes 10 downloads per month. Dollar Photo Club (DPC) adds over 100,000 new images to their extensive collection each week. You will find premium quality photos and vectors that once downloaded, will never expire. ichitect exclusively uses Dollar Photo Club stock images for its posts. You really can’t beat the value of quality and price found at DPC.
Shuttertsock is one of the better-known stock photo websites, and it’s added music tracks to its offerings of stock photos, vectors, and videos. Though its selection of images is no longer the largest on the web, Shutterstock still has more than enough stock photos and other media files for most users and its pricing is very competitive for heavy users—a year’s subscription is only $199/month and allows you to download 25 images per day, every day—that’s over 9,000 images for the year! You can also pay as you go, and signing up for a free account that allows you to browse Shutterstock’s entire library of stock photos is a breeze.
There are a reasonable number of stock photos at Stockvault online. This website features up to 16,000 stock images from 4,000 chosen and qualified professional photographers. All images found in Stockvault are duly licensed under Creative Commons, so expect that all images are of good quality and are edited according to industry standards and have undergone strict quality control (QC). Signing up as a member is not necessary for customers planning to download small to medium-sized stock photos. Stockvault features an optimized and friendlier interface where customers can browse through logos, templates, textures, backgrounds, and stock images. Stockvault is the best photo websites for web designers who need fresh and quality stock images online.
Alamy does stock photos a little differently than most. While they allow all photographers to submit photos, they only accept the best photos and photographers for sale to their customers. Alamy even features specially selected photographers and their work, and is committed to dealing ethically with both buyers and sellers in its stock photo marketplace. Though more costly than some other stock photo websites, the quality of stock photos, videos, and other media at Alamy is unparalleled, and your conscience can rest easy knowing you paid a fair price and the photographer was fairly compensated, too.
Initially started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates as an art licensing company for the digital age, Corbis now offers more than 100 million images and 800,00 video clips available for licensing. Despite the selection, though, Corbis has remained a premium provider, and they only accept the highest-quality images from stock photo photographers. Because of the image quality and the careful review of the images they offer, stock photo prices at Corbis are a little pricier than average, but the benefits are worth it for many users and uses.