Visuals are everything nowadays. The evolution of social media sites alone is proof of that. We went from posting gigantic blocks of text to uploading a single image with a hashtag or two. Similarly, you will rarely find articles, blogs, advertisements or online stores created in the last century without any pictures. The thing is, not everyone can afford a professional photographer. But that doesn’t have to stop you. We’ve compiled a short list of the best stock photo sites where the perfect images are just a click away.
If you’ve ever dipped your toes in the world of design, you are most likely familiar with Shutterstock. Not only has it been around longer than most stock photography websites, but it also offers one of the biggest stock photo libraries on the market. Shutterstock holds over 350 million images that can be personalized using Shuterstock’s very own editing app. Advanced filtering options enable you to sift through this abundant collection with ease. As far as premium stock photography websites go, the customizable pricing plans make Shuterstock’s services available to pretty much anyone. Read Review
- ⦿Huge selection of images
- ⦿Very detailed filtering options
- ⦿Built-in editing tool
iStock is a subsidiary of the renowned visual media company Getty Images. The website has two main image categories: Essentials and Signature. The Essentials collection is budget-friendly but doesn’t include the exclusive images that come with the Signature collection. Due to its plugins, iStock is a great stock photo service for those already using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Those browsing the website for inspiration will appreciate the many albums that make going through millions of images in the iStock library an enjoyable journey. Read Review
- ⦿Adobe Creative Cloud plugin
- ⦿Large library
123RF might not be as established as some of its competitors, but its impressive growth over the years can’t be overlooked. Some of the most famous companies in the world have started using this website and so should you. The reason behind this might be that 123RF is gradually developing a reputation for being the best stock photo website for modern and captivating art, which isn’t a surprise considering that over 90,000 new works are added to it daily. The low prices and free online editing tools are the cherry on top. Read Review
- ⦿Free editing tools
- ⦿90,000 new works added daily
Photocase has made a reputation for itself as a premium stock photo website with extremely high standards. This Berlin-based company chooses to focus on quality instead of quantity. Hence, its collection isn’t enormous, but it does contain unique stock photos that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s among the best stock photo sites for photographers who truly want to showcase their capabilities, as well as users who can appreciate them. On the Photocase site, you can read specific details about each photo and the techniques that went into creating them. The license you get with every image includes any commercial use you can think of. Read Review
- ⦿Authentic stock photos
- ⦿High-quality images
- ⦿Broad usage of photos with a single license
Image selection and licenses
In order to make our best stock photo sites list, we first looked at the variety and quality of the stock images. Many websites now have extensive libraries, but few have rigorous selection processes, so you end up seeing the same content on ten different websites at different prices. Our goal was to single out those that offered the best or most unique high-resolution photos at reasonable prices with widely applicable licenses.
Price is always a big issue. In any purchase, you want to know that you’re getting your money’s worth. Free stock photo sites can be a good option for smaller projects or personal use, but the quality and variety of their images can’t compare to those provided by any premium stock photo service. Therefore, we carefully picked out paid websites that offered plenty of affordable options for both one-time and long-term users.
Ease of use
Even the smallest of libraries can be a pain to navigate if there aren’t any albums or advanced filters there to help you. Not to mention the irritation that arises from having to wrestle with poorly organized web pages. For these reasons, we wanted to present you with websites that offer a simple and enjoyable browsing experience. Finding just the right photo shouldn’t take hours.
We believe that top stock photo sites should have a customer support team that’s knowledgeable and easy to reach. Sometimes, even the most seasoned users will need assistance deciding the right size for a download or deciphering the limitations of their acquired license.
Best Stock Photo Sites: Top 4
- iStock by Getty Images
- ⦿ Multilingual customer support
- ⦿ Superb standard license
- ⦿ Well-organized
Shutterstock didn’t become one of the best stock photography sites in the world overnight. It was founded in 2003 by programmer and photographer Jon Oringer. The first stock photos on the website were actually his own, but the demand quickly exceeded his supply, so he needed to start hiring additional contributors. Over the years, Shutterstock continued to flourish. Today, almost everyone has at least heard of this affordable website.
Image selection and licenses
Perhaps the most impressive piece of information that we can share with you about Shutterstock is that 1.7 million new images, videos, and music tracks are uploaded to it on a weekly basis. This is possible due to the fact that it’s one of the most popular stock photography sites among media contributors, which helps its already extensive library remain at the top of the industry. None of its content is exclusive, but it is high-quality and fairly priced.
Another noteworthy aspect of Shutterstock is that its standard license is superior to most of its competitor’s, its main benefits being that it allows you to print up to 500,000 copies and distribute images across the internet without any limitations. The enhanced license offers even more useful distribution options like using the image for merchandise, web templates, and commercial space decoration.
Images from Shutterstock’s stock photography library can be acquired through subscriptions or on-demand packs. Subscriptions are either monthly or annual (you can choose to be billed monthly or upfront with the annual subscription) and can include 10, 50, 350 and 750 images per month. Naturally, the longer your commitment, the lower the fee per image. For example, 10 images cost $49/month with the monthly plan and around $25/month with the annual plan that’s billed upfront.
On-demand packs are for occasional users that don’t need to download more than a few images within a year. You can get two, five, and 25 images with a standard or enhanced license.
The subscription prices place Shutterstock in the affordable stock photo sites category, even though the enhanced license is somewhat costly.
Ease of use
Shutterstock’s filters allow you to set anything from color and image size to more detailed preferences such as the number of people in the image or their age. If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you can browse through one of the stock image categories on the main page, which also has a useful section that shows popular stock image searches for that month.
We weren’t surprised to see that a leading stock photo agency like Shutterstock has top-notch customer support that’s available 24/7. You can contact the customer support team via live chat, phone, and email in over 10 languages.
- ⦿ Customizable pricing
- ⦿ Hand-picked albums
- ⦿ Reputable parent company
This company was founded 20 years ago, but it initially bore a slightly different name. Until 2013, it was called iStockphoto. That’s when the successful stock photo company Getty Images, after purchasing iStockphoto back in 2006, decided to rebrand it so its name encompasses all the products that it began offering (vectors, illustrations and videos, and photos). Nowadays, iStock is many a designer’s favorite one-stop-shop for all and any creative and commercial endeavors.
Image selection and licenses
iStock’s vast variety of accessible material is precisely what caught our attention during our research and the reason we find it to be one of the best stock image websites. Divided into numerous subcategories and sure to meet your expectations quality-wise, its image selection is right below Shutterstock’s, the main difference being that iStock offers exclusive images.
iStock has two kinds of licenses: standard and extended. While the standard license has certain limitations in how extensively you can use the downloaded material, it most definitely doesn’t influence its quality. The extended license is only available with credits, and it allows you to make printed copies of the downloaded material, as well as physical products and digital templates. Another scenario in which the extended license might come in handy is if you wish to share what you downloaded with team members in your workplace.
This stock photo agency didn’t used to offer subscriptions, but luckily that is no longer the case. Today, users can buy stock photos on iStock using credits, which you use like you would any regular currency or by acquiring a subscription. The minimum amount of credits you can purchase is three for $24, with Essential images costing one credit and Signature images three credits. The Signature collection consists of higher quality and iStock-exclusive images.
A subscription is the more affordable option, especially if you decide to get the yearly plan. With a yearly 750-image package you can download all images for $311/month or Essential images at $156/month.
Ease of use
Good stock photo sites pay close attention to details, or at least they should, since their content directly impacts the visual aspect of their customers’ sites, products, or the like. This is definitely the case with iStock. Its website is not only pleasing to the eye, but it’s also really user-friendly. On the main page, you can search for material in the hand-picked albums, such as elections or COVID-19, and just below that you will find a list of all the categories.
iStock’s customer support might not be the finest compared to other members of our best stock photo sites. Nevertheless, its representatives are friendly and will quickly respond during their working hours, whether you choose to contact them via online form or phone.
- ⦿ Website available in 14 languages
- ⦿ Wide variety of licenses
- ⦿ Geolocation feature for searching content
123RF has been around for 15 years now, and they’ve built up such a professional reputation that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are among their clients. With its Trustpilot score being 4.2 out of 5, 123RF may very well be one of the best stock photo sites with unlimited downloads.
Image selection and licenses
123RF’s selection of visual content is quite large, but upon closer inspection, we noticed that some of it was slightly outdated and of questionable quality. Not to say that stylish, high-quality images can’t be found, but unfortunately, that requires a bit of time.
As for its licenses, you’ll be happy to hear that 123RF’s offer is almost as generous as when it comes to its images. You can choose between five different plans, and even the most constricting one gives you plenty of possibilities.
With 123RF, as with most popular stock photo sites, you can choose between purchasing credits or subscribing to one of their plans. Having subcategorized them into monthly and annual plans, it gives you a clear overview of the plans’ benefits and limitations. For example, you can pay $29 and download 10 images per month, with no daily download limit, or you can pay $79 for 150 images per month and be limited to downloading five of them a day. Whatever your preference, this website with royalty-free stock photos won’t leave you disappointed.
Ease of use
The 123RF website is charmingly colorful and neatly organized. As is expected from one of the best stock photo websites, its search process is optimized for maximum efficiency. The many filtering options are all neatly arranged below the search bar. From trending and newly uploaded images to featured contributors and alphabetically-ordered subcategories, 123RF’s filters are there to ensure that narrowing your search will never be a problem. The geolocation-based Georank feature, which helps you discover interesting content pertinent to your location, is particularly notable.
One other attribute worth mentioning is multilingualism – you can browse the website in as many as 14 different languages, English included.
The quality and dedication of 123RF’s customer support is one reason we placed this company among the top stock image websites. 123RF has made sure you have a way of contacting its customer support using any of the following: phone, email, and 24/7 live chat. If you, perchance, don’t wish to use any of these, you can try out the 123RF Support bar, where you can type in a keyword of your inquiry or ask them a question by filling out a form. It’s always good to have the option of asking for help. Not to say that you will definitely need it, but should anything along those lines happen, this inexpensive stock photo site has got your back.
- ⦿ Available license transfer
- ⦿ Pro Search
- ⦿ Creating personal collections with lightboxes
Since its launch in 2001, Photocase has specialized in bringing only the cream of the crop – the most beautiful and inspired royalty-free images that photographers are capable of taking. With such a competitive business policy, Photocase has managed to dominate the other alternative stock photo sites on the market. The style of the photos is modern and fashionable, reflecting the influence of its city of origin – Berlin.
Image selection and licenses
We can’t praise the uniqueness of Photocase’s stock photos enough. Its library may not be the largest out of the ones we’ve encountered, but it’s certainly among the prettiest, which is very intentional.
The basic license that you receive with every photo enables you to use the image an unlimited number of times as long as you indicate the photo credits and use it as part of a layout or journalism/press work. Transferring the license is also possible at no additional cost. You can expand Photocase’s stock photo license so that you are able to use the image without proof of copyright, print it more than 500,000 times, or use it for merchandise.
If you wish to buy a single photo, a direct purchase via credit card, Paypal, or bank transfer is what you should go with. This will cost you between $14 and $42 per image, depending on its size. But for more stock photos, we would suggest the discounted credit bundles that can reduce the price to just $7.60/image.
Ease of use
Along with the standard search filters, Photocase has a Pro Search option that allows you to conduct even more in-depth scans. It’s certainly one of the best stock photo sites for designers that have a very specific aesthetic in mind and thus are able to take full advantage of Photocase’s exceptional search tools.
Your Photocase account helps you stay organized with its lightboxes feature, which is a sort of storage for your photos. A lightbox can be shared with co-workers or presented to clients.
Phone, email, or live chat customer support is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Berlin time. This isn’t a big issue as the website has a great “how-to” section. However, it still doesn’t compare to the 24/7 support offered by some of our other listed best stock photo sites.
Stock photos are images that are most often licensed for specific uses. Stock photo sites buy images from photographers and then sell them to their customers.
Unisplash, Pexels, and Pixabay are regarded as the best free stock photo sites. However, even though the images that you download from these websites are free, you are still required to follow certain rules when using them.
Shutterstock currently owns one of the largest stock photo libraries on the internet, so you shouldn’t have any trouble retrieving images of great quality from there. You can check out our best stock photo sites list for more excellent websites that sell high-resolution images.
The quickest way to find out if an image is copyrighted is to ask the person who posted it. If no such person can be found, you can always input the image into Google Images and see if your photo pops up with a copyright notice on it.