5 Best Stock Photo Sites for Royalty Free Images (2020 Update)
If you’ve ever tried searching for stock photo sites on the Internet, you probably know what a pain it can be.
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, inforgraphic, video project or presentation to life. But 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 5 stock photo sites.
The Most Value for Money → Adobe Stock
Price: £1.99 per image or 30 Day free trial (10 free images)
Adobe Stock is one of the newest players in the stock photo game. It currently features about 40 million images and their 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. This also means you can access photos directly inside Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
This is great as 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.
Royalty free images can be purchased for as low as £5.99 a piece, or you can subscribe to one of three plans.
- 10 images per month for £19.99
- 350 images per month for £99.99
- 750 images per month for £119.99.
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 This means if you don’t need images in a given month, your leftover licenses will roll over into the next month.
Adobe now offer a 30 Day free trial which allows you to download 10 free images.
The Most Popular → Shutterstock
Price: £5.56 per image or 1 month free trial (10 free images)
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 extremely easy to navigate, with images organised into popular categories, featuring a useful keyword search tool.
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.
Subscriptions start at £109 per month (for 350 stock photos). Then you have ‘Image Packs’ start at £32 for 5 images (which can be downloaded at any time).
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.
Updated with more than 10,000 new images daily, you’re sure to find something great every time you visit!
The Most Established → iStock
Price: £5.22 per image
Started in 2000, iStockphoto (now iStock) is one of the oldest and largest stock photo agencies 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 monthly and annual no-limits subscription packages with prices starting at £25 per month. Users can also load their account with credits in advance to enjoy click-and-go downloads.
iStock offer 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.
The Most Reasonably Priced → PhotoDune
Price: £1.64 per image
As another newcomer to the stock photo market, PhotoDune 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 an broad selection, reasonable pricing and user friendly interface.
We think the PhotoDune site is great for a number of different reasons. First, 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!
The Most Intuitive → DepositPhotos
Price: £2.25-4.20 per image
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 of 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 which broadly matches the content or layout.
Depositphotos is unique in that it offers three types of pricing options.
- On demand downloads (10 images for £42),
- Monthly downloads (75 images for £59), and a
- Flexible plan (30 images for £25).
Despite it not being the most wide-ranging of all the stock photo sites, the flexibility of their plans is definitely their best feature.
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 a standard and extended license?
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).
With a standard licence you are limited by the amount of copies (usually fewer than 250, 000) and also restricted under specific formats. However, with an extended licence, you can make an unlimited amount of copies across all formats.
In addition to this, the other main difference is that under the standard license, your end product must be distributed for free. Whereas under the extended license 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!
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 when choosing? Share your thoughts and comments below! If you’re looking for video footage for a project then checkout our article on the best stock video sites.