best stock photo sites

6 Best Stock Photo Sites for Royalty Free Images

Reading Time: 7 minutes

If you’ve ever tried searching for stock photo sites on the internet you probably know what a pain it can be (warning: the ones on Google are not royalty free images!).

Firstly, the term “stock photo” comes with a bit of a negative connotation. People tend to picture the smiling faces typical of holiday ads and dentist brochures. In reality, however, royalty free images are so much more.

They’re gorgeous landscapes, high-res close-ups, quirky illustrations, and nearly anything else you can dream up. The right photo can bring an otherwise average blog post, infographic, video project or presentation to life.

However finding images that are simultaneously beautiful, affordable, and easy to license can be a laborious task.

The truth is, high-quality stock photos don’t have to come with stress or a high price tag. Thankfully, over the last few years, there’s been a growing number of websites with beautiful stock photography.

In this post, we’ve boiled it down to our top 6 best stock photo sites for royalty free images.

1. Value for Money → Adobe Stock

Price: $2.99 per image or 30 Day free trial (10 free images)

Adobe Stock website

Adobe Stock is one of the newest players in the stock photo game. It currently features about 40 million images and its library is integrated into Creative Cloud subscriptions.


This means that they have put a lot of work into how the service works with its suite of design tools. Also, you can access photos directly inside Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

This is great as it allows designers and editors to create and comp the images before buying a license. While Adobe Stock might be more expensive, the ease of use and the size of their stock photo collection is awesome.

In addition to this, if you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber (even on the Photoshop plan), you can get a discount on the lowest package. One nifty feature here is that Adobe will allow rollover, which means if you don’t need images in a given month, your leftover licenses will roll over into the next month.

Price: $4.90 per image or 30 Day free trial (10 free images)

We now get 15% off at Shutterstock.

Shutterstock royalty free images site

Shutterstock has 35 million royalty-free stock photos, with 10,000 new high-resolution images added every day. The collection is expanding rapidly. Their images are extremely high-resolution, making them suitable for any project, no matter how large the format.

The site is easy to navigate, with images organised into popular categories, featuring a useful keyword search tool. Updated with more than 10,000 new images daily, you’re sure to find something great every time you visit!

Shutterstock’s prices are comparable to iStock; a bit pricey, but you get what you pay for. Users can browse the collection by registering for free. There are a number of simple pricing plans in order to download stock photos.

Finally, their flexible subscription plans and image credits will suit your needs. Whether you are running a team or need hundreds and hundreds of royalty free images per month.

3. Well Established → iStock

Price: $2.90 per image

We now get 15% off at iStock.

iStock royalty free images website

Started in 2000, iStockphoto (now iStock) is one of the oldest and largest stock photo websites around. Designers of all types love iStock, and for good reason.

It’s affordable, the pictures are of very high quality, and it boasts a number of impressive search tools. The site also features ‘browse by category’ function. This makes it easy to find what you’re looking for amongst the thousands of royalty free images it holds (even if it’s something weird!).

There are a variety of flexible monthly and annual no-limits subscription packages. Also, users can also load their account with credits in advance to enjoy click-and-go downloads.

To sum up, iStock offers some of the higher end stock photos to choose from. This is helpful if you decide that you need a really unique photo or illustration.

4. Easy → PhotoDune

Price: $2 per image

PhotoDune stock photo sites

PhotoDune is another newcomer to the stock photo market, with its fresh, and relatively inexpensive content is definitely one of our favourites.

As part of the hugely successful Envato group (who run ThemeForest, AudioJungle and VideoHive) they definitely know what they’re doing. This experience gives Envato a head start with the design of the site. It also brings a large existing contributor base right into PhotoDune.

So why does this matter? Well, this means there is a broad selection, reasonable pricing and user friendly interface.

We think the PhotoDune site is great for a number of different reasons. Firstly, the previews are huge so you get a very detailed view of the image before deciding to purchase.


Secondly, each stock photo is tagged properly so searching for images (even obscure ones) is relatively easy. Thirdly, image prices are based on different size options (small, medium, large and extra large).

This is ideal if you’re on a budget. This also helps open up the market for larger companies and also for price conscience individuals!

5. Intuitive → DepositPhotos

Price: $1 per image

We now get 20% off at Depositphotos.

depositphotos stock photo sites

Depositphotos is a fairly established company within the stock photo market and comes with a very affordable pricing structure.

The site currently has more than 16 million royalty free images with about 70,000 added weekly by 246,000 photographers.

All royalty free images, vectors and videos are categorised in one of the site’s 37 categories. There is also an intuitive search interface that yields pretty accurate results.

In addition to this, it allows you to filter images by several parameters such as image orientation, colour, size and more.

One other great functions on Depositphotos is the ability to upload a reference image (like Google image search). The software then attempts to find a stock photo that broadly matches the content or layout.

So, despite it not being the most wide-ranging of all the stock photo sites, the flexibility and pricing of their subscription plans is definitely their best feature.

6. Flexible → Stockphoto.com

Stockphoto.com website

Price: $7.80 per image

Stockphoto.com has been selling stock photography and stock video for the last 6 or more years, using the typical monthly plan or credits system. Their premium library contains over 130 million images and files.

They have just launched a new plan called Unlimited, which is a $10/month all you can download plan. Users can choose from their special Unlimited Collection which has flexible licensing and no monthly download limit.

This plan is different in that a significant percentage of each download gets paid directly to amateur photographers. In addition to this, they run contests for photographers who add their photos to the library. 👍

In short, their website is simple and easy to navigate which helps if want to grab a stock image quickly.

So What Does Royalty Free Actually Mean?

In a nutshell royalty free means you just need to pay for rights to use the photo once per end product. You don’t need to pay additional or ongoing fees for each person who sees or uses it – and that’s about it!

What’s The Difference Between Music Licenses?

If you look at the licence options on most of the stock photo sites above they will give you the choice of a standard or an extended licence. So what’s the difference we hear you say?

Well basically it’s all to do with how many end products you’re making with that one royalty free image. Also what format you are using it for (e.g. print, website, social media, video).

Standard Royalty Free Licence

With a standard licence, you are limited by the number of copies (usually fewer than 250, 000) and also restricted under specific formats. Also, the other main difference is that under the standard license, your end product must be distributed for free.

Extended Royalty Free Licence

However, with an extended licence, you can make an unlimited amount of copies across all formats. In addition to this, your end product may be sold.

Free Photo vs. Paid Stock Photo Sites

So why can’t I just use an image from Google? Well, if you do a Google Image search (or search for free stock photos), the resulting photos are not necessarily ones that you’re free to immediately use.

In most cases, they are covered by photographers’ copyrights and you can get into serious trouble if you use them. If you’re looking for a stock photo to use for a design and want to keep yourself out of copyright issues, you need to locate websites that define the copyright license of each image.

Otherwise, if one has not been stated explicitly then navigating licensing restrictions for free images (particularly for commercial use), can be a real nightmare. So don’t bother trying to use copyrighted images. They may save you a few pounds but will get you into all sorts of trouble if you’re caught!

In summary, paid stock photo sites are a great way to quickly and easily license images for legitimate use in your projects, whilst helping support the freelance community!

Your Suggestions for Stock Photo Sites

Do you have a favourite stock photo site that we forgot to add to our list? What qualities do you look for when choosing? Share your thoughts and comments below!


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4 thoughts on “6 Best Stock Photo Sites for Royalty Free Images

  1. Nica Tortosa on

    Hi Bob! Awesome post, really useful!

    Have you heard about rawpixel? You’ve probably seen our images all over the place. We’re the leading stock photo contributor in the world. We’ve just launched our website where we give away the best free design resources out there. We’d be stoked if you could add us to this list.

    Check us out on http://www.rawpixel.com. Looking forward to you joining our community of creatives.

    BE INSPIRED. BE RAW.

    Nica

  2. jw22407 on

    Paid photos are best but I’ve often found it hard to find realistic looking shots. Stocksy is one paid agency I can recommend.

    Sometimes I will also source free images from Wunderstock:
    https://wunderstock.com

    But like you say, you have to make sure to follow the license terms.

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