Looking for the best stock photo sites to download high quality photos?
Whether you’re a writer, content creator, designer, or a small business owner, you are always in need of loads of images for different projects.
A quick online search will result in dozens of free and paid stock photo websites.
So, which stock photo site should you choose?
In this article, you’ll find 22 of the best stock photo sites – both free and paid. I’ll also answer all essential questions on copyright protection, how to zero-in on the best stock photo site for your needs, tips to remember, and much more!
Please note, this post contains affiliate links meaning I earn a small commission if you sign up. I only ever recommend tools I’ve used or tested myself.
The prices in this post were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.
What is a Stock Image Website?
Stock image websites are those that contain photos that you can download for your personal or commercial use.
They may come free, or you may have to pay a license fee to the stock image website and the photographer. Paying a license fee gives you the right to use the photo for personal or commercial use (within the accepted terms), while the artists retain the copyright of their work.
Apart from photos, some stock photography sites offer illustrations, vector images, video clips, motion graphics, and music.
Why Should Businesses, Marketing Agencies, Writers, and Creatives use Stock Images?
Businesses, media companies, marketing agencies, and content creators need visual content to convey messages vividly. You’d need fresh visuals to communicate your brand story through your website and social media profiles.
It would be a tedious process to click photos for each topic or pick from your self-shot archives. Even more tiresome and expensive would be hiring a photographer or graphic designer to create custom images each time you need them.
What are the benefits of using stock image sites?
The best stock photo sites make it super easy for you to
- Easily search and get a visual to suit your topic
- All photos are ready for use
- Modify it to suit your creative briefs, and
- Access frequently updated libraries of images.
Simply put, using the best stock photo sites saves you precious time, effort, and money in sourcing visual content.
Let’s dive into the best stock photo sites – both free and paid.
Best Paid Stock Photo Sites
Here are some of the best ones:
123RF is a great budget stock photography website with photos, vectors, video clips, and music at surprisingly low rates.
When you need images, search by category and sub-category, and sort them using several filters. The ‘trending images’ and ‘new images’ sections let you stay updated with any new photo uploaded.
Also, learn more about the photographers in the ‘featured contributors’ section.
123RF has a few free downloads, but most of their media is subscription-based. You can buy on-demand credits or subscribe to a plan.
The most popular plans are buying 40 credits at $45 or a $649 annual subscription where you can download 150 photos a year (with a daily limit of 5 photos).
StockPhotoSecrets has a relatively small collection of images and video clips as compared to the others and is mainly aimed at small businesses, just like the site Startup Stock Photo.
This is a great stock photography website to pick images for your social media or blog posts.
The good part is that you can download at any size with no extra charges for the highest resolution images.
You can purchase subscriptions, image packs, and extended license image packs.
The 99 Club is the most popular plan for 200 downloads a year with no monthly limits for $99 a year. For any additional download, you have to pay 99 cents.
Image packs allow you to download 5, 10, or 25 images for less than $8 per image. With the extended license image packs are for larger commercial use – like for print runs over 300,000, or for printing on merchandise for sale.
3. Canva Pro
Canva is a popular drag-and-drop image editing tool.
Canva Pro is their premium, subscription-based service targeted at business users that gives you access to a huge library of images, illustrations, icons, templates, animations, and more.
This helps you create great on-brand designs in a jiffy, share it quickly, and collaborate with your teammates.
The best part is that you can make unlimited downloads at no extra cost.
Canva Pro Pricing
You can try Canva Pro free for a month. Afterwards, it costs $9.95 a month when paid annually or $12.95 when paid monthly.
4. Deposit Photos
Deposit Photos is a royalty-free stock photo site that lets you download stock photos, vectors and videos. You can easily find what you need using the simple user interface that lets you filter image orientation, color, size and more.
Deposit Photos Pricing
It offers a free trial wherein you’d be able to download five images a day for 7 days.
After that, the pricing plans are as follows:
- Monthly subscription – Prices start from $9.99 a month for 10 images per month ($1.00 per image)
- Annual subscription – Prices start from $99 a year for 10 images per month ($0.83 per image)
- You can also download on-demand photos, vectors, and videos, at any time for a year. Prices start from $49 for 10 images.
5. Stock Unlimited
Stock Unlimited lets you search and download high-quality photos, vectors, clipart, and more. This is an excellent option if you need unlimited photos and videos for your projects over the year.
Stock Unlimited Pricing
The pricing plans are as follows:
- A monthly subscription costs $19 and an annual subscription costs $79 – both for unlimited downloads, with a 7-day money-back guarantee.
- You can also download 30 assets at $25 over a one-year validity period.
Dreamstime has millions of “royalty free stock photos for as low as $0.20USD/download or free.”
Search for any topic and sort by most relevant, best selling or latest uploads.
You can use Dreamstime via iOS and Android apps, WordPress plugin, Google GSuite plugin, and an MS Office add-in.
A one-week free trial lets you download up to 10 images for free. After that, you can buy credit packages or subscriptions.
7. Envato Elements
Envato Elements is a great resource with millions of assets, including stock photos, fonts, music tracks, and web templates.
With a subscription, you’d be able to use their educational resources and business management tools, besides all these graphic assets – a great resource for designers and web developers.
Their photo collection is packed with unique, artistically clicked shots that you can search by tag, orientation, background, and color.
You can also access the image library on Twenty20 – another stock image site – for free
Envato Elements Pricing
The pricing plans are as follows:
- Individual plan from $16.50/month
- Teams of 5 members from $10.75/month per member, which gets cheaper as you add more members
- The Enterprise plan is priced on inquiry.
8. Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock is owned by the software giant Adobe. It is a collection of curated photos, videos, illustrations, vector images, templates, and 3D assets to find the right image for your creative projects.
You can access it directly via the website. It is also integrated into the Creative Cloud platform, which makes it easy to use within any Adobe software like Photoshop or Illustrator – ideal for designers!
Adobe Stock Pricing
Adobe Stock offers subscription plans for individuals, teams, and businesses.
For example, for individuals, the plans are
- 10 standard images a month at US$29.99/month
- 40 standard images a month at US$79.99/month
- 750 standard images a month at US$199.99/month
Also, a free trial lets you download up to 10 free images for a month.
Shutterstock is one of the first companies to offer public domain photo subscriptions, and offer one of the largest collections of royalty free images. You can also download vectors, illustrations, videos, and music for your projects.
Its brands include Bigstock (a stock media site), Shutterstock Custom (a custom content creation tool), Offset (a high-end photo collection), PremiumBeat (a curated royalty-free music library), and Shutterstock Editorial (editorial imagery for media companies).
If you need to edit your photos, Shutterstock offers online editing tools besides being integrated with Adobe Creative Cloud apps.
Besides accessing it on the browser, you can also download imagery via the iOS and Android apps. A Chrome extension will match any public domain photo you choose on the web to a similar one on Shutterstock.
It is also integrated with Google Slides and MS PowerPoint.
A free trial lets you download up to 10 free images for a month.
Shutterstock offers subscription plans and on-demand packs for single users, subscriptions for teams and enterprises.
For example, single-user plans are as follows:
- A subscription of 10 images per month costs $49/month, $299/year or $4.9/image.
- A subscription of 50 images per month costs $125/month, $979/year or $2.5/image.
- An on-demand pack of 5 images costs $49, or $9.80/image. You need to download within a year.
10. Getty Images
Getty Images gives you an extensive collection of photos, vectors, illustrations, videos, and music that cover creative, editorial, current, and vintage photos from their archive content. The latest addition is free virtual backgrounds for your Zoom video calls.
They also own the stock image sites iStock (previously iStockphoto) and ThinkStock.
Besides using the browser version, you can download photos using iOS and Android apps. You can also use its Adobe Creative Cloud, WordPress, and Chrome plugins. It is also integrated with Dropbox.
Getty Images Pricing
The pricing is among the highest among stock image sites, as they use professional photographer services who also have access to exclusive events like award ceremonies and private events.
You can choose among packages for large imagery (4K and HD videos, medium images and SD videos, small imagery and low-res videos. The pricing slabs are as follows:
You can save up to 30% with these Ultrapacks options that allow you to buy a certain number of images upfront, for a flat fee.
Storyblocks offers unlimited downloads for photos, videos, and music curated from a global professional photographer team.
By signing up for an account, you can create folders, download watermarked previews to try out the right image for your personal or commercial project, organize your downloads, and share folders with your team or clients.
Storyblocks has a colorful and straightforward interface. All content is royalty-free. So, you can use it forever, even after your membership expires.
You’ll find plenty of options for any topic for your personal or commercial project. But, you won’t find any photos for your editorial requirements.
You can enjoy unlimited downloads of imagery and videos at $29 a month or $349 a year.
This makes an excellent deal if you need lots of imagery every month as the per-image cost can go down substantially.
Photocase has a relatively small collection of well-curated, unique photos. The photos are shot artistically and hardly look like typical stock images. This company is known to run a tight review process for each image.
With Photocase, you get to buy any photo on demand. They’re priced based on size from small to large.
Apart from these paid ones, there are plenty of free stock image sites as well.
But why should you opt for a paid stock photo site when there are so many free ones available?
You should opt for paid stock photography sites in some situations. These differences will help you understand better:
Differences Between a Paid Stock Photo Site and a Free Stock Photo Site
Free stock photography sites have varying rights and permissions. Some like Unsplash are completely no-strings-attached, as they are Creative Commons Zero (CC0 license) or No Rights Reserved.
But, you should read the fine print on the other stock photography sites to ensure the photo is safe for you to use.
Creatives and bloggers do get into trouble for using imagery they thought were free to use, but were uploaded by users who’d picked it from other sources without permission.
- Paid stock image sites offer a bigger selection of stock footage, making it more likely that you’ll find the right photograph for your creative work.
- Paid stock photography sites will offer you a greater variety of sizes or dimensions before you download your image, with the larger, higher resolution pictures costing you more.
- Paid stock photography sites will help you keep track of the stock footage you bought because they require you to sign in.
So you see, it may be prudent to pay for stock images.
Now, let’s look at some of the best free options.
Best Free Stock Photo Sites
I’ve handpicked 10 of the best free stock photo sites for you:
Pexels offers you free stock images and videos you can use anywhere you want, with no attribution (under a creative commons zero license or “no strings attached” as they put it.)
It has a simple user interface that lets you search for your topic, and easily download the public domain images, even without signing in.
Signing in will let you “like” photographers or their work, and follow them.
You can browse through collections if you click on the ‘Discover’ section. Pexels also lets you create collections so you can organize your work for various projects.
If you want to search by color, Pexels offers a “Search by Color” option.
Also, if you want to support the artist, you can make a donation via PayPal, thank him on your Facebook or Instagram posts or give her credit wherever you use the photography.
Pexels also offers Android and iOS apps, a Chrome extension, a Google Slides add-on, a Photoshop plugin, an MS Office add-in, and a WordPress plugin.
On Unsplash, you’ll find free stock images on any topic, which you can use without any attribution, and under the accepted terms.
Unsplash offers you more artistic photography as opposed to typical stock-photo style pictures.
The site is easy to use. Their weekly collections feature lets you browse through the latest set of high quality photos.
You can give credit to a photographer by adding their name with a link to their profile.
Students, researchers, and educators will find Unsplash for Education useful for their projects. This lets you download archived vintage photos from renowned institutions like the Library of Congress (see picture below) and the Birmingham Museums Trust.
Unsplash offers an iOS app and a Chrome extension.
Pixabay lets you download and use images, illustrations, vector images, videos, and music for personal and commercial use in line with the creative common license, with no attribution required.
The site is easy to use, and you can download photographs without logging in. Signing in lets you leave comments on photos and download full-resolution images.
You may also find sponsored images with the Shutterstock logo in your search results. This is done to “finance Pixabay and to provide a choice of professional photos.”
Here too, you can donate to the photo creators via PayPal, credit card, or bank transfer. Or, you can thank the photographer on social media like your Instagram posts, or credit them where you use the photos.
You can also search by size of the photo and color.
Pixabay also offers mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Gratisography is a great resource for quirky, imaginative public domain images to spice up your content. You’ll find unique collections like “amusing animals”, “whimsical women”, and “goofy grownups” to choose from on this stock photo website.
The stock image website is easy to use. You can type in your topic in the search bar, or look up recent or trending photos to see the latest ones. You can also subscribe to receive an email when a new image is uploaded.
5. Burst (by Shopify)
Burst is a free stock photo resource powered by Shopify, where you can download photos for websites and commercial use.
Primarily aimed at entrepreneurs, this stock image website has an extensive selection of aesthetically shot pictures from a global community of photographers.
Search by categories like work from home, video call backgrounds, shop local, and more. View the top picks of the week, and photos sorted into collections.
The Business Ideas feature (see picture below) is a cool option for e-commerce entrepreneurs to view photos categorized into specific types of e-commerce stores, like men’s fashion or bath bombs.
Before you download any image, hover over or click on it to see high-resolution and low-resolution download options.
If you wish to, you can give credit by linking back to the photographer's Burst profile.
And, subscribe with your email address to receive alerts when a new image is added.
LibreShot is a stock image site by photographer and SEO consultant Martin Vorel – a passion project just like the site Little Visuals.
Content creators can download free stock images under a Creative Commons license for all uses, without a watermark or attribution.
You’ll find a mix of well-composed artsy stock imagery in topics like architecture, countryside, and nature. However, if you’re looking for any business-related photos, this free stock photo site isn’t the place to look at.
Foter is a free stock photo site that has an elegant user interface. It lets you download stock imagery by category and ideas (Appliances, Bed & Bath, and so on.)
Once you select your image, check the license type – whether attribution is required, whether it is suitable for commercial use, and whether it can be modified. Then, copy and paste the attribution text under your photo.
Foter lets you sort by color and by license type (commercial or non-commercial).
Reshot has an easy-to-use stock photo website to search for high-quality stock imagery from emerging photographers and not the usual dull stock photos.
You’ll also find sponsored photos featured from paid stock photography websites, on clicking which you’ll be led to that particular site to buy the photo.
You can search the free stock photos by theme or collection, like “everyday tech” or “active lifestyle”.
StockSnap has a beautifully curated collection of free stock photos that gets updated every week. It’s as simple as typing your keyword on the search bar, and a single click to download the photograph once you’ve selected one.
Search by categories or trending photos. You can say thanks to the photographer by copying a code to give credit under the photograph wherever you use it.
If you’re looking for uniquely shot free stock photos, NegativeSpace is another great stock photo website to look into.
You can search by color, tags, and categories, including art and design, food, and typography.
Sign up on the email list to receive updates from this free stock photo site whenever a new photo is added.
How to Choose the Best Stock Photo Sites for Your Requirements
The sheer number of stock photo site options may overwhelm you.
Don’t worry – consider the following points before you make a decision:
- The number of images you’ll need and how frequently you need them: You should decide on the subscription model (whether on-demand or a monthly or annual subscription) based on this aspect.
- How much you want to spend: There are stock photograph sites for all budgets – so pick one based on your financial plan.
- Reviews: Read many reviews and examine the pros and cons before deciding on a stock site.
- Free trials and good deals: If a stock site offers a free trial, simply use it.
Now, let’s put down what we mean by “good” stock photography.
What Makes Great Stock Photography?
If you’ve noticed, stock photography is typically used for commercial use and is very different from artistic photography. They are meant to appeal to businesses, marketers, and graphic designers.
It’s interesting to look at stock photography from the perspective of a photographer.
What are the thumb rules that photographers follow in stock photography?
Best practices that photographers follow in stock photography
- They understand the market, and what marketers, bloggers, creatives, and writers are looking for.
- They know clearly what sells and what doesn’t on stock photograph sites. For example, curators of stock photo sites look for new perspectives in capturing ideas and emotions. So a well-executed, well-composed photo that features people, a sporting activity, or a seasonal event is more popular than regular shots of a flower or a sunset.
- They identify what’s missing on different photo sites and submit photos to fill that gap.
Let’s now look at it from the user’s perspective (your perspective).
Best Practices in Using Free Stock Images
Whicher stock photo site you use, remember these points so that you use stock images safely.
- Do thorough research about the site: Make sure it has legitimate owners, clear payment terms, and clear usage policies.
- Check the type of license: Read the fine print of the license you agree to, and all its clauses.
- Find the image sources: Some stock photo sites crowdsource images, and some of them own all the files they offer in the library. Know the exact source of the photos before you decide to buy one.
- Avoid pictures with recognizable figures: Stay away from pictures that depict famous people, private property, logos, and trademarks.
There’s another critical element – stock photo licenses or legalities involved in using stock photos – which can be terribly confusing.
Here are the answers to all the questions you may have on stock image copyright restrictions, licenses, and usage rights:
FAQs on Stock Photo Sites
What is a stock photo license?
When you buy a stock photo, you buy a right to use it in specific ways you agree upon. You still don’t own the image – the copyright belongs to the stock photo agency and the photographer.
Can I use stock images on my website?
Yes, you can, as long as you follow the terms and conditions, you agree upon based on your license.
What are Royalty Free photos, Rights Managed, and Extended Licenses?
It’s easy to assume that Royalty Free images are free – but they aren’t. To use royalty free images, you need to pay a flat rate for these images, and photographers and agencies are paid for the use of the image.
It is called “Royalty Free” because you don't have to pay extra royalties to the agency or the photographer, other than the license fee.
In a Rights Managed license, the stock photo agency negotiates rates based on how long, in what dimension, and how frequently you plan to use the image.
For example, you pay a fixed rate if you want to use an image on a single print ad in a specific publication for a year. You’ll have to pay an extra royalty fee if you’re going to continue using the photo for an extended period.
This model gives the artists more control over how their photos are used. This also means you as the user get exclusive usage rights on a particular photo.
Extended Licenses are related to royalty free licenses. Suppose you want to use a stock image in a TV commercial, or exhibit it as a framed artwork in a store. You’ll need an extended license wherein you literally extend the audience to which you show the photo (or the distribution/reproduction volume)
Are all royalty free licenses the same?
They are largely the same but need not entirely be so. The general framework of royalty free licenses will be the same, but each stock photo agency will include their own customized clauses into it.
So make it a point to read the terms and conditions thoroughly.
What can I not do with royalty free images?
Typically, you cannot resell the royalty free photos to anyone else. You cannot use it to defame anyone or any organization, and you cannot use it in products that are resold unless you have an Extended License.
Join over 15,000 writers today
You'll get a free book of practical writing prompts.