12 Best Stock Photography Sites (Free and Paid)

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Ever built a killer piece of content only to struggle when it comes to finding the right photograph? Stock photography is the answer. A good stock photo website can breathe new life into your content and online branding.

Even a cursory look online reveals a ton of choice. This is of course a good thing, but it can be a little overwhelming. How do you know which stock photo sites are worth it? Are free stock photos just as good or is it important to pay a premium when finding your images?

If you’re scratching you’re head about all this, don’t worry – help is at hand. We’ve trawled through the considerable number of options available online to build a curated list of some of our favorites. We’ve checked their catalogue, how they’re reviewed online, and how much they cost.

We also touch on some of the royalty free stock photo sites for those looking to minimize their budgets. Read on to learn more!

Our Favorite Stock Photography Sites

We found all of these stock photography sites from our research online. We’ve checked online reviews, comparison pages, and overall quality to come up with the list below. There’s a broad range of options for a variety and use cases and budgets so be sure to read through the whole thing.

There’s something for everyone here!

man taking a photo

Adobe Stock ($19.99 a Month with 30-Day Trial)


Adobe Stock is one of the top dogs when it comes to premium stock photo and video content. It’s used by creative professionals around the world. This means that it’s probably only worth considering if you need stock images for work – the $19.99 a month asking price may be too high for casual hobbyists.

The good news is that anyone can take advantage of this site’s 30-day free trial to get a feel for everything. This gives a full month of access to premium royalty free images, videos, audio content, and much more.

For those looking to take their creativity further, Adobe Stock also offers templates and vector art illustrations as part of its monthly subscription. If you’re a professional creative who needs access to some of the best stock photos around, this one’s well worth considering.

Why We Love it

  • Huge library of stock photos and other content
  • Geared towards professionals with tons of options
  • Easy to navigate and use

Some Drawbacks

  • $19.99 a month means this isn’t the cheapest option out there

Getty Images (Per Image Basis)

getty images

The Getty Images brand has become an absolute titan in the world of stock photography. Their catalogue, reputation, and payment model are understood by creatives everywhere. There’s no subscription-based payment model here.

Customers search for the image they’re looking for and can purchase a license on a per image basis. If you’re searching for a free stock photo, you’re barking up the wrong tree with Getty Images. This is a premium, exhaustive catalogue of anything you could imagine.

This level of quality comes at a price. Expect to pay anywhere from $100-$500 per image license. One reason that costs are so high with Getty images is that it gives users access to celebrity photographs and similar content that just isn’t easy to find elsewhere.

If you’re writing a tabloid piece on a celeb, Getty Images is the site you’ll need.

Why We Love it

  • They’re stock photo legends
  • Enormous catalogue that includes celebrity photos
  • Easy to understand payments

Some Drawbacks

  • Very expensive
  • No subscription model

iStock Photo ($20-$200 per month)

istockphoto

Looking for the reputation and catalogue of Getty Images but can’t afford to pay that much? You might be interested in iStockPhoto. This subscription based stock photography site is backed by Getty and gives access to a huge library of content.

You’ll have two choices when it comes to your payment plan. You can pay around $20 per month and get access to the site’s “essential” catalogue of stock images. At this price point, you’ll be able to use up to 10 images a month. If you want more “essential” photos than this, the price can increase up to $99.

If “essential” isn’t enough for your needs and you want access to everything iStockPhoto has to offer, you’ll need their premium package that includes everything. The number of images you use in a month determines the price you’ll pay. This ranges between $50 and $200.

You’ve likely noticed that this isn’t exactly cheap. When you compare it to the pricing model of Getty Images, however, it starts to seem far more enticing if you’re the right kind of professional.

Why We Love it

  • Huge library of high-quality stock photos
  • The legendary Getty Images library
  • Considerably cheaper than a ‘per image’ payment plan

Some Drawbacks

  • Still far too expensive for casual blog posts and the like

Pexels (Free)

pexels

Pexels is a phenomenal option for those on a budget. If you’re just looking for an attractive image for your blog post or social media, the catalogue should have more than enough to suit your needs. Just remember that once you get specific with your searches, you may have trouble finding stock images that fit.

Many of the more ‘niche’ shots are protected by the paid stock photo sites. This doesn’t mean that Pexels isn’t worth a try though! There’s still a ton of images in their catalogue and most of them are very good quality

Using a free stock photo site like this one can give creatives some much needed peace of mind. The site’s “legal simplicity” page explains what is and is not allowed with their photos in terms that are very easy to understand.

In short, any photo from the Pexels library is yours to use as you see fit. One of the few caveats is that you’re not allowed to resell the images or copies of them for profit. If you just need a pretty sunset photo for your next blog post, go ahead!

Why We Love it

  • Completely free with tons of free stock photo options
  • A surprisingly big and high-quality catalogue
  • Very easy to use

Some Drawbacks

  • It can be tricky to find more niche and specific images

Deposit Photos ($20-$160)

deposit photos

There’s a chance you haven’t heard of Deposit Photos before, but the site is well worth considering. It’s trusted by some pretty big brands including Warner Brothers, Subaru, Bosch, and Forbes. Users have access to a sizable library of stock photography, royalty free videos, vector images, and more.

If you’re looking to give your creative projects the boost they need, Deposit Photos might just be the answer. As a subscription based site, you can save a fair bit of money here if you’re using a lot of stock images every month. The number of photos you use from the site determines the amount you’ll pay.

This ranges from a manageable $20 all the way up to $160. The site’s payment plan page does a very good job of outlining the costs to expect and even tells you how many cents you’ll be paying per image. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Overall, Deposit Photos offers a spectacular library of stock photos and similar content. If you’re a creative professional, we think it’s well worth taking a look.

Why We Love it

  • Varied library with plenty of choice
  • Used by big brands around the world
  • Flexible payment options based on the number of images you actually use

Some Drawbacks

  • You’ll occasionally have trouble finding the super niche stuff

etc, the majority of the content will be about the sites themselves.

Dreamstime ($15-$150)

dreamstime

Dreamstime is another option that many people haven’t encountered before. If you’re the right kind of pro, however, there’s a chance you’ve already been relying on their platform for years. The range of subscription options here is considerable.

As with some other options listed on this page, the price you pay per month all comes down to the number of images you want to use. Just need a couple of images every now and then? You can buy in at a humble $15.

Need guaranteed access to up to 750 premium stock photos? The $150 package is probably best for you. Further savings can be found if you’re willing to pay upfront for 12 months. If you throw down around $1200 today, you can access their full premium catalogue at a discounted price vs a monthly payment plan.

As with the other premium sites on this page, the catalogue available with Dreamstime is substantial. If you can justify the cost, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Why We Love it

  • Super flexible subscriptions
  • Annual payment option saves a fair bit of money
  • Tons of stock photography to choose from

Some Drawbacks

  • Too expensive for casual users

etc, the majority of the content will be about the sites themselves.

Pixabay (Free)

pixabay

Want another free stock image site? We’ve got you covered. Pixabay is one of our absolute favorites. In a similar vein to Pexels that we explore above, Pixabay gives visitors access to a sizable library of royalty free images.

The name of the game here is peace of mind. Any photo you find on Pixabay is yours to use as you see fit, even for commercial purposes. The site is supported by a community of amazing creatives who upload their content to the platform for free. For most purposes, the site usually has what you’re looking for.

We recommend loading up a few of the free sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash (explored later), and searching for the same term in all three. This usually yields the results you’re looking for and can of course save you a ton of money vs using paid sites for your stock photography.

For more specific searches that fall into a narrow niche, you may find that the free options just don’t have the images you need.

Why We Love it

  • Find free stock images and get peace of mind
  • Sizable stock photo library
  • Community driven platform

Some Drawbacks

  • Doesn’t always have exactly what you’re looking for

Yay Images ($159-$509 Per Year)

yayimages

Yay Images is great for stock photography, but it may prove even more useful for those who need high-quality video content for their creations. The platform boasts more than 200,000 HD videos, 1.2 million vectors, 11 million stock images, and a search function that’s remarkably easy to use.

If you’re looking for it, chances are that Yay Images has it in their library. The payment plans on offer here should be fairly familiar by now. Users can access between 40 and 260 images per month for prices ranging from $159-$509.

An unlimited plan is also available for as little as $99.99 per year – not bad! As you’ve probably seen from the description above, the library of content available here is pretty vast. Everything from celebrity shots to niche vector art is ready and waiting.

In our opinion, the search functionality of Yay Images is refreshingly easy to use. Finding the right stock images has never been easier!

Why We Love it

  • Staggering library of stock photography
  • A great option for video content too
  • Unlimited package is reasonably affordable

Some Drawbacks

  • The separate payment required for video content is disappointing

Stocksy (Per Image Basis)

stocksy

Next up in our list of our favorite stock photography websites is Stocksy. The site has been around for a little under a decade but has quickly risen to notoriety among creative professionals. A real strength of the platform in our opinion is its respectable collection of ‘quirky’ ‘inventive’ stock photography.

If you’re looking for something that catches the eye – something truly creative – Stocksy can be a fantastic option. Galleries or photography companies in particular can make great use of this kind of catalogue. The professionals who contribute to the platform are very good at what they do and contribute some of the most eye-catching shots we’ve ever seen.

One feature we love about the stock images here is that it’s possible to browse by photoshoot. Let’s say one image from a search catches your eye. With Stocksy, it’s super easy to then see the other photos that were taken by the same photographer, on the same shoot, on the same day.

This can really boost your results when searching for the right image.

Why We Love it

  • Excellent for ‘quirky’ and arty photographs
  • Browse images by photoshoot
  • Very high-quality shots

Some Drawbacks

  • The per image payment plan will be too expensive for many

Shutterstock ($19-$119 Per Month)

shutterstock

The names just keep coming! This time we’re looking at Shutterstock, one of the biggest names in the world of stock photography. As always, expect an impressive library, flexible payment options, and a level of quality and specificity that the free options just can’t match.

One thing to note here is that Shutterstock offers different pricing plans for stock photography, video content, and audio files. Your specific requirements will determine the final price you pay. As with many other options listed on this page, the number of images you use per month will influence your subscription fee.

It’s possible to access between 10 and 750 images per month with prices ranging anywhere from $19-$119 for the privilege. If you’re looking for a stock photo site that also offers killer audio, you’re in luck. In a similar vein to options like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock has exclusive access to high-quality audio that simply isn’t available elsewhere.

This can really help give you an edge when it comes to perfecting your content.

Why We Love it

  • Excellent audio options
  • Flexible subscription model for stock images
  • Very easy to find what you’re looking for

Some Drawbacks

  • The lack of a ‘universal package’ is disappointing

Unsplash (Free)

unsplash logo

The next stock photography website on our list is Unsplash. The good news here is that this option is packed full of royalty free images that won’t cost you a penny. It’s worth mentioning that for some people, the free sites really are all you need if you’re just looking for something generic.

There’s less of a guarantee of quality, but most images are still excellent. You might even be pleasantly surprised with the variety that’s on offer here. There’s over 2 million shots to choose from and that number is growing every day.

One major strength of a community driven platform is that there’s often a wonderful diversity of high quality images to choose from. A ton of blog writers choose services like Unsplash every day. Making sure an image is royalty free can be a real hassle if you’re not using the right platform.

If you’re unsure whether you need to pay for something like Adobe Stock, we recommend trying out a few of the free stock photo sites first. Many people find that they don’t need to fork out the cash after all. Your use case may vary so your best bet is to just give it a go!

Why We Love it

  • High quality images that are completely free
  • Over 2 million images to choose from
  • Plenty of variety

Some Drawbacks

  • Most images are fairly generic – niche images are tougher to find

Canva ($13 a Month or Per Image Basis)

canva

Now for something a little different. Canva is first and foremost an online graphic design editor – a pretty incredible one, actually. The site makes it trivial to create eye-catching, effective designs. Within the editor, there’s a reasonable selection of free stock images available.

There’s also a ton of optional premium images, videos, and audio content. If you don’t want to lock yourself into a monthly contract, it’s possible to pay for a ‘one-use design license.’ This allows users to license images for one design that they create with Canva.

Prices vary, but are usually around $0.99 per image. This seems cheap at first, but can quickly add up if you’re creating a ton of premium designs. If this sounds like you, Canva’s monthly subscription might be for you. For around $13 a month, you’ll get access to the site’s entire suite of high quality images.

This also unlocks a number of handy features in the online editor, including collaborative tools, a social media post planner, and much more. It’s not the type of stock photography website you may be used to, but the creative tools that come with Canva make it a compelling choice in our opinion.

Why We Love it

  • Excellent online editor for graphic designs and social media posts
  • Sizable catalogue of images and videos
  • Options to pay per image or subscribe monthly

Some Drawbacks

  • The collection of images is great for social media posts, but pales in comparison to the likes of Adobe Stock or Getty Images.

What Stock Photography Can do For Your Business

Hopefully you’ve found at least one or two of the options above useful. We’ve tried to vary our options from the well known to the niche. In this section, we’ll explore just how powerful these websites can be for you and your business.

If you use your new photo collection correctly, you stand to boost your online presence, smash your targets, and vastly improve your digital content. Read on to learn more.

Stock Photos Save Money

This is true for two main reasons. If you’re a more casual content creator such as a blog writer or Linked In poster, you don’t necessarily need access to the most exclusive images money can buy. In this case, you can save a ton of money by relying on free websites like some of the options we’ve listed above.

If you use copyrighted material, there’s no guarantee you’ll get caught. However, those who are caught out can end up with some pretty nasty fines to deal with. This is before even mentioning that using copyrighted material can harm fellow artists and creatives!

For a clear conscience and a smaller budget, free photos from sites like Pexels or Unsplash are the way to go.

The second way that sites like Shutterstock can save your business money is through their flexible payment options that can change each month. If your company has been relying on a ‘per photo’ payment model, the costs associated with your content can quickly become astronomical.

While $150 a month might seem expensive at first glance, it’s a damn sight cheaper than forking out thousands on sites like Getty Images.

Stock Photography can Boost Your Message

There are plenty of occasions where a generic image will do just fine. If you’re just writing a post about going to the beach, for example, an ambiguous beach photo that’s royalty free will work perfectly. If you’re writing about something more specific, like a celebrity for example, things can get a bit trickier.

Your content can suffer in moments where your visual elements don’t support your message. An article about Robin Williams, for example, probably needs a specific photo of Robin Williams to have impact. For better or worse, most people respond positively to visual aids when reading.

The right photo can mean the difference between someone reading your whole piece and someone stopping after the first paragraph. In cases like these, a paid stock photography website is the right way to go.

Use our options listed above to find a site that works best for you. We’ve listed some of the largest stock image sites that are available so there’s a great chance you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Sometimes All it Takes is the Right Video

Ever tried to describe something technical or not well known in writing? There are some things in life that you just need to see to understand. The right video or image of what you’re describing can do the work of an entire article in just a few seconds. After all – a picture is worth a thousand words.

Keep in mind that the free sites out there might let you down in this area. As soon as you need something that’s technical or niche, the paid sites are often the only option available. By all means, check the free guys first, but be ready for disappointment.

Free Stock Photos are Easy to Find

There was a time when finding the right images for your content was a long, arduous process. Companies had to dedicate countless hours and resources to finding the right video and image elements for their message.

In many cases, this work can now be done by an intern doing a few searches on a few stock photo sites! If you’ve never used stock photography sites before, they can completely transform your workflow. It’s remarkably easy to find what you’re looking for and there are millions of high quality images ready and waiting.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Looking for Royalty Free Images

So, we’ve established that finding killer images and videos is easier today than it ever has been. Question is, do you know how to find the site that’s right for you? In this section, we’ll run through some of the best things to ask yourself when looking for the right platform.

This is well worth doing in our opinion as it can save you a ton of money. The last thing you want to do is waste hundreds of dollars on a site when all you really needed was one of the free options! Right, let’s get into it.

How Often do You Need Images?

Are you looking for images once or twice a month, or do you need access to supporting content daily? This is one of the most important things to think about when hunting for royalty free images online. The vast majority of sites in 2021 use a flexible subscription model.

The more images you use, the more you pay. Our advice is to start with either a free site or one of the cheapest subscriptions you can find and then go from there. There’s no point paying for images that you’re simply not going to use.

The bigger payment plans can be worth it to the right person, but you’ll know when this is you.

How Specific Is Your Content?

We’ve touched on this one already but it’s worth reiterating. If a generic image will do, you can probably get away with using one of the free sites we’ve listed above. The strength of these options is that their content can be used in whatever way works for you and it won’t cost you a single penny.

If you’re creating projects that are niche in some way, paid stock photos might be your best bet. This is especially true when writing about branded content or specific individuals. You’ll be hard-pressed to find relevant images for these topics on the free site.

We recommend looking back through your last ten pieces. How many of them would be fine with just a generic photo that looks appealing? If most of your work calls for a niche image, consider a paid site. Otherwise, stick with free stock photo sites like Pexels!

Do You Only Need Images?

You’ll likely have noticed that some of the options we’ve listed above offer more than just free stock images. Many of them come with their own bells and whistles such as graphic design editors, audio content, and much more.

For some people, these extras will be completely useless. For others, however, they could be exactly what they’re looking for. It’s worth weighing up what you’re looking for when choosing the right site. If you need more than just royalty free shots, give one of the sites like Canva or Yay Images a go.

Best Stock Photography Websites – Conclusion

We hope you’ve found our tips and recommendations on this page helpful. Keep in mind that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – your individual requirements will determine the site that works best for you.

If you’re looking for advice, we recommend checking out the free sites first and going from there. If you can get along without spending money, great! If you find their catalogues to be lacking, it’s time to consider opening the purse strings.

Whichever site you choose, we hope it serves you well!