Images are crucial when it comes to getting your message across or making an impact on readers.
A good stock photo library will allow you to create truly professional results at a fraction of the cost of employing a professional photographer or buying a high-end digital camera.
Stock photo sites like the amazing Adobe Stock now allow you to access resources that were once the preserve of major publications or corporations with a budget to match.
Nowadays, photo sites offer not only images, but videos, editorial content and even 3D media at an affordable price so that anyone can produce truly professional content and marketing material.
However, there are now so many stock photo sites out there, it’s difficult to know which ones to use.
We’ve taken a look at the biggest and best stock photo websites for individuals, creative agencies and companies to make your content really stand out in 2020.
Why The Right Image Is So Important
First impressions definitely count.
Many people will judge the professionalism of your content and decide whether to stick around based on that alone.
But beyond professionalism, it’s all about grabbing attention. A striking image or other creative can give you that essential click-through or sale that makes any modest investment in a stock photo resource pay for itself many times over.
This is even more important when it comes to social media. When your content is shared on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, a thumbnail of an image used in the article will be the first thing users see and is crucial to engagement.
In fact recent research says that images are the “holy grail” of social media engagement with an 87% engagement rate.
Tips When Choosing A Stock Photo Library
Before diving in, here’s a few important things to be aware of when deciding which stock photo site to use:
- Licensing Restrictions: Most online photo libraries are microstock libraries that offer a royalty free license which means you can usually use them however you want commercially or privately for an unlimited time frame. For unlimited commercial print runs, you should double check whether the royalty license covers that too. However, some sites like Getty Images are traditional macrostock libraries which means they have super high quality images (mainly aimed at professional mass media) with license managed restrictions. This enables you to purchase exclusive media that can’t be published anywhere else by anyone for a specific time period. Most stock photo sites also offer public domain images which are usually free to download for commercial or private use.
- Pricing Models: Almost all stock photo libraries allow you to pay per piece with credits or with a subscription. If you pay with credits, you’ll usually have to pay more and higher resolutions often cost more too.
- Resolution & Formats: Normally you can choose from a wide range of resolutions and formats including vector files in AI or EPS format.
- Software Integration: If you’re a graphic designer, the quicker and easier you can import media into your project, the better. There’s some excellent graphic design software for Macs but the best choice by far for those that need easy in-app integration is Adobe Stock. This is particularly true if you need to import large video files into video editing software on your Mac as you can search and import Adobe Stock in Adobe products instantly.
- Contributor Policy: Almost all stock photo and video libraries allow you to submit your own media to the catalog. Some like Alamy offer apps which you can take photos on your phone and automatically submit them. Some offer better rates of pay or rewards than others while some are collectives with a a strong ethical commitment to the rights of photographers and creative artists. All submissions normally go through an approval process which can take several days depending on the site.
With this in mind, here then are the best stock photo libraries in order of ranking.
If you want design materials on another level, Adobe Stock is by far the best stock photo resource you’ll find.
When it comes to graphic design, simply no one does it better than Adobe. Adobe has leveraged the success of its industry leading Creative Cloud tools to create an incredibly powerful design resource.
Along the way, Adobe has also acquired other stock sites such as Fotolia and Dollar Stock Photos to create a massive collection of assets and resources with some truly stunning professional assets.
If you need to create online content that really grabs people’s attention, Adobe Stock’s collection of over 90 million images, photos, illustrations, vector graphics, videos, templates and even 3D resources will do it and they cover almost every possible theme.
Like most picture websites nowadays, Adobe Stock goes way beyond just photos.
It’s a graphic designer and video editor’s dream with curated collections on everything ranging from photos, videos (HD and 4K) and templates to vectors, illustrations and editorial content.
You name the subject, it’s probably on Adobe Stock.
If you’re already an Adobe user, using Adobe Stock as your stock photo library is a no-brainer as it’s naturally integrated into all of Adobe’s Creative Cloud products. There’s no need to even leave the application – you can search for creative assets within all of the applications including Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.
If you’re not already an Adobe user, then it’s definitely worth checking out their subscription plan for Adobe Creative Cloud. Students can even get 60% off Adobe Creative Suite which means for just $19.99 per month, you get access to all 20 of Adobe’s Apps including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
If you want the best in graphic design and integration with Adobe’s industry leading tools, Adobe Stock is definitely the best stock photo site around for professional designers.
You can try it for yourself and get 10 Free Adobe Stock images when you start a free trial.
You can also check out our full Adobe Stock review for more.
Easily the biggest stock photo library in the world is Shutterstock with a massive 200 million images to choose from.
Nowadays Shutterstock offers video, music and even customized content for your site.
Shutterstock was the first to use a subscription model to access its huge library although you can still purchase media separately too.
Subscribers can also now edit and customize photos although of course, you won’t get anything like the results you can from using a proper graphics design tool like Adobe Photoshop.
Shutterstock prices tend to be more than many other stock photo websites but the choice is unparalleled and the search engine is both powerful and well designed.
One thing to be careful of with Shutterstock is that you can specify whether you want licenses to auto-renew on some images. If you only need to use images for a limited time period, make sure to deactivate auto-renewal otherwise you will be charged again.
123RF hasn’t exactly got the catchiest name but it’s got a massive library of 90 million images, videos, illustrations audio files and more with around 100,000 added daily.
123RF also has a nifty Reverse Image Search tool which allows you to drag an image into the search box and search for a similar or exact match on 123RF.com.
Some of the things we like about 123RF are the photo editor for basic editing and the intelligent search engine which features results by geo-location.
If you’re looking for a stock photo tool with some innovative features, 123RF is definitely worth a look.
iStock is one of the most popular stock photo resources in the world and soon caught the eye of giants Getty Images (see review below) which bought it in 2006.
iStock’s was one of the original online image archives and changed the way photography and illustrations were bought and sold online.
iStock offers millions of affordable, high-quality, royalty free media ranging from Photos and Illustrations to Video and Audio.
iStock also has one of the best ranges of images in terms of quality from cost-effective low resolution files to 4K photos and videos.
You can cancel subscriptions at any time with iStock and get refunds for any unused credits too. iStock also offers a $10,000 legal guarantee to protect you from any copyright issues.
Getty Images is the grandaddy of all image distribution. Long before the internet came along, Getty was one of the biggest media sources for newspapers and TV.
In fact Getty is still one of the leading sources of imagery and videos for some of the biggest publications in the world both online and offline.
Getty actually owns iStock and Photos.com but there are differences between them. The main difference between Getty Images vs iStock is that iStock is what’s known as a microstock service with royalty free images. Getty Images is a macrostock repository with different licensing rules for images.
So for example, if you want to guarantee that you’re the only publication or organization licensed to use a particular image, you can buy this kind of license from Getty but not from iStock. Photos.com meanwhile is for purchasing fine art prints and framed photos for display.
Getty Images is therefore more suitable for companies or media organizations that need access to exclusive content that no one else has the right to use.
However, this also means that Getty Images is relatively expensive due to the exclusivity possible and different licenses available.
Dreamstime hasn’t been around half as long as the big players but it already claims to have the largest stock community in the world with 23 million users and 91 million images.
This isn’t quite true because Shutterstock has over 200 million images to choose from, but Dreamstime is still an impressive resource with some of the most competitive pricing on the market. Dreamstime offers high quality images for just a few cents or in some cases totally free.
Dreamstime offers photos, videos, audio and a decent collection of free public domain images. It includes illustrations (both hand drawn and computer generated), vectors, clipart, editorial images and images designed specifically for blogs.
There’s also a Dreamstime iPhone/iPad app to browse, search, download and license images on the move.
Some of the clients already using Dreamstime include Google, Coca Cola and Samsung so it’s clear Dreamstime is definitely reputable and great value for money.
DepositPhotos is a very competitively priced photo and vector image library with over 80 million royalty free high-definition images.
It also includes illustrations, vector art, backgrounds and HD videos. There’s also freshly updated editorial and news images for current affairs sites or organizations.
There’s an iPhone, iPad and Android app which you can use to search images, favorite them and then download on your Mac later.
Pricing plans start at $29 per month for up to 30 hi-res photos per month.
Alamy boasts a massive library of 155 stock images, vectors and videos. However arguably the stand-out feature of Alamy is the huge collection of 360-degree panoramic images.
These are great for enriching web content, learning resources and generally adding something different to your content.
Alamy is also probably the biggest online market for selling your own 360 degree panoramic photos. Alamy has a separate app for this called Stockimo which you can use to upload panoramic photos.
Alamy has a wide range of license choices and it’s one of the few photo stock services that doesn’t require you to sign-up to purchase.
All you need is a method of payment and once purchased, Alamy allows you to download the image in a range of resolutions.
Pond5 is more than just a stock photo database – it focuses on high quality design assets for corporations, PR agencies, film makers and more.
Pond5 is primarily for graphic design with a special section for After Effects templates. If you’re looking to put together professional looking video advertisements, you can buy video montages of thousands of scenarios and environments.
Pond 5 has been used by organizations such as the BBC, Forbes and IBM so you can be sure the quality of the stock is of the highest standard.
Other assets include music, sound effects and even 3D models.
There’s also an interesting collection of free public domain material including classic historical footage that you can use for free.
Bigstock is owned by Shutterstock and marketed as cheaper alternative to sites like iStock and other photo and video libraries.
Bigstock has a royalty free collection of around 74 million images and videos.
If you just need a few high quality images or videos per day, Bigstock is a good option with images available from just a few cents if you buy a modest monthly subscription.
You can try Bigstock free for up to 7 days which entitles you to download up to 34 free images.
Can Stock Photo is one of the best value and oldest “microstock” photography agencies on the net which specializes in provided professional but affordable images.
Can Stock Photo offers high quality images from $2.50 each with a pricing plan that’s clear and no-nonsense. If you buy credits, you can more than a 50% discount on buying images individually.
Can Stock Photo also has a fair price policy for contributors and always allows photographers to retain full copyright of any material uploaded.
If you’re looking for value for money with a strong contributor ethic, Can Stock Photo is worth a closer look.
Stocksy is a modern, highly curated graphic design oriented stock library which even allows you to search by color HEX code.
Stocksy is Canadian based with some amazing images and a strong artistic ethic. It’s also one of the only stock photo sites that’s a cooperative with strong ethical commitment to designers and creators. Contributors receive 50% of a standard license and 75% of an Extended License Purchase.
Stocksy is therefore one of the best stock photo sites for photographers to sell their work and get paid fairly. If you’re representing a client, you can also purchase on behalf of them and it will be noted on the invoice.
Are There Any Free Stock Photo Sites?
You won’t find any free stock photo library on a level with the professional services featured here. However, you’ll find that many of the equivalents featured above offer a limited selection of free stock photos or public domain images and videos that can be used freely. We also recommend RawPixel for a decent number of royalty free images, PSD mockups and vectors.
Where Can I Get Vector Images From?
Almost all the stock photo sites reviewed here offer vector images too. However, there are dedicated vector image stock sites too, the most notable being VectorStock.
Finally, believe it or not stock photography can also be a pretty funny business. If you want a humorous take on the many cliched photos you’ll find out there, check this out.
If you have any questions, experiences you’d like to share or suggestions regarding the software featured here, let us know in the comments below.