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11 best stock photo sites to use [Free and paid]

To choose the right stock image, don’t scour the internet for hours. Use one of these 11 best stock photo sites. There’s something for every budget and project.

October 16, 2020 by Cyn Meyer

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s best not to publish the wrong one. 

I mean, no one wants to send the wrong thousand words to their audience in a single millisecond.

If landing on the right stock image sounds like finding a needle in a haystack, don’t worry. 

You can avoid hours of scouring the internet by checking out our 11 best stock photo sites. 

We give you the lay of the land, dividing stock image websites into free and paid, so you can quickly identify and use a creative asset that’s perfect for your project.

But, first, why even use stock images?

Why should you use stock photography?

The first glaring reason why you should use stock photography is it saves you time. 

Given that 39% of business owners work over 60 hours a week, it goes without saying that small business owners need to exploit productivity tips whenever possible. 

Not to mention, “always being on the job” and “avoiding burnout” are among the second and third biggest challenges small business owners face.

So, whether you’re a solopreneur or entrepreneur, combing through high-resolution images in stock photo sites, instead of setting up a comprehensive photo-shoot with photo editing, could shave some time off your projects. 

The second big reason why you should use stock images is it saves you money, particularly if you use royalty-free images and can avoid an expensive (and lengthy) photo-shoot.

These days, the going rate to hire a professional photographer ranges from $100 to $300 an hour.

The reality is you won’t always have the time and budget for a fancy photo-shoot, so your next best option is to peruse curated collections of high-quality images.

Both paid and free stock photo sites are here to help you move forward with your projects, whether that means launching a unique membership site, creating a simple social media post, or completing a massive project for commercial use. 

(P.S.: Want to save even more time and money? Streamline your business and tech stack with this free 14-day Podia trial. The platform makes running an online business a cinch.)

Caveat alert: That being said, it’s important to not overdo it. 

More specifically, don’t use stock images so much that it washes out your brand’s credibility. Instead, follow some solid branding tips for using stock photos wisely.

For instance, your brand should portray a consistent look and feel and represent your business’ unique personality -- at all times. 

Why? It builds rapport, trust, and authenticity among your audience -- which, of course, means more sales and loyal customers overall. 

Choosing an overused stock image that doesn’t follow your unique brand can pull your business in the other (wrong) direction.

Take this stock image, for instance, of two kids snacking at home. The stock image was so overused it was printed in two different ads published side-by-side in a newspaper.

Can we say branding (and ad placement) disaster?

Look, choosing the right stock images helps you either bolster or steer clear of your business goals. 

After all, research shows images can affect a person’s emotions and mood, so there’s a lot riding on your brand’s visual content.

If you can use your own unique images in your business, by all means, do. 

But for the rest of the time, to save time and money, use stock photography wisely and consider adding your pizazz with Photoshop edits (or the like).

Now, without further ado, here are 11 top stock photography websites fit for any budget and project.

6 best free stock photo sites 

#1. Pexels

Founded in 2014, Pexels is a free stock photo site that offers a robust collection of high-resolution images and videos. Pexels’ mission is to help millions of creators access beautiful photos that empower their creative works.

All visual content is hand-picked from uploaded images or sourced from free stock image websites. Photos and videos are released under the Pexels license, which means you can use them freely without attribution.

Among Pexels’ popular searches are Indian Air Force, energy, military, pray, social media marketing, professional, hiking, and business. 

Best for: Creators and marketers looking for free high-resolution images or videos for their projects, whether for a startup or large brand. Attribution is not required, although photo credit is, of course, appreciated.

#2. Pixabay

Pixabay is a popular free stock photo site that offers over 1.8 million high-resolution photos, illustrations, vectors, videos, and music. 

All visual content is released under Pixabay’s license, so you don’t have to give attribution and can use the free stock photos and creative assets for commercial projects.

Current trending images in Pixabay’s image library include background, wallpaper, nature, Halloween, autumn, fall, food, business, office, computer, money, and love, which indicate this free stock photo site adds new images regularly, but maybe not as frequently as others.

Best for: Creatives and marketers who need free stock photos, illustrations, videos, and music for any project, whether for individual or commercial purposes. Attribution is not required.

#3. Unsplash

Unsplash is a free stock photo website with over 2 million high-resolution images covering a vast scope of categories and topics. Popular categories include public domain figures, Creative Commons images, beach pictures, and backgrounds.

Unsplash has gathered free stock photos from over 210,000 contributors and encourages both hobbyists and pro photographers to contribute regularly. Its community and image library is always growing. 

Best for: Anyone looking for free stock photos across a range of categories, projects, and needs. Attribution isn’t required, although Unsplash photographers appreciate photo credit for extra exposure.

#4. Shopify Burst

Powered by Shopify, Burst gives away free stock images and high-resolution photos for anyone to use on their websites and for commercial projects.  

Burst’s current trending categories include Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Halloween, coffee, background, shop local, and fall. 

As you can tell, Burst users’ searches are timely -- given that the fall season is about to hit at the time of this writing -- and the free stock image site even features a standalone “New photos” menu at the top of its site.

Best for: Creators who need free stock images from a library of fresh high-resolution photos, which regularly adds new images. Burst is also ideal for creators who want to avoid attribution (although photo credit is, again, always appreciated by contributing photographers).

#5. StockSnap.io

Founded in 2015, StockSnap.io is another free stock photo website that offers high-resolution photos that cover a substantial mix of topics and categories. StockSnap’s entire photo collection is released under Creative Commons CCO license and doesn’t require attribution.

Currently trending among their free stock images are categories: wallpaper, autumn, nature, business, love, design, food, office, and city. StockSnap’s library of free stock images and new images is ever-expanding as their community of contributors grows.

Best for: Creators looking for unique free stock images that don’t need attribution for individual use, small projects, or bigger commercial projects.

#6. Gratisography

Founded by Ryan McGuire, Gratisography is our final free stock photo site, which offers users access to a unique library of free stock images without copyright restrictions. 

It’s different from other free stock photo websites in that each stock image brings something unique to the table, so the visual content feels more individually handpicked than like a trending stock image.

Gratisography’s main categories of high-resolution images include whimsical, animals, people, urban, nature, and business. 

Best for: Creators looking for a unique and interesting spin on their visual content without having to comb through too many (sometimes overwhelming) image options.

5 best paid stock photo sites

#1. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a well-known stock photography site that provides millions of high-quality visual content, including stock images, templates, 3D assets, vectors, illustrations, editorial, video clips, and music tracks. 

Adobe Stock’s popular categories include animals, people, science, news, business, social issues, entertainment, sports, landscapes, and lifestyle, among a slew of other curated collections.

Pricing: Subscription plans range from $29.99 monthly for 10 standard assets a month to $199.99 monthly for 750 standard assets a month. Adobe Stock also offers team subscription plans for larger teams.

Best for: Creators and businesses of all sizes with a wide range of creative projects and needs. If you have several ongoing projects, their subscription plans may be ideal.

#2. Shutterstock

Shutterstock offers high-quality images, vectors, illustrations, editorial, video footage, and music in curated collections that cover a robust range of categories and topics. To give you an idea of quantity, their photo collection includes over 340 million stock images as of June 30, 2020.

Shutterstock’s royalty-free photos include themed collections, like their seasonal Winter Chill, Wily Winter Vectors, Autumn Vectors, Christmas Cheer, Christmas Vectors, Open for Business, and COVID-19 Visual Support curated collections, to name a handful.  

Pricing: Shutterstock offers both on-demand packs and monthly subscriptions. 

On-demand packs range from $29 for two standard license images to $1,699 for 25 enhanced license stock images. Subscription plans go for $29 monthly for 10 images per month to $199 monthly for 750 images per month.

Best for: Creators or marketers with a wide range of ongoing projects and needs, including creative, editorial, and video.    

#3. Getty Images

Known as the powerhouse brand in stock images, Getty Images touts over 405 million assets in its stock images, videos, and music library. Getty has over 330,000 contributors covering more than 160,000 news, sports, and entertainment events every year.

Its curated collections, which are categorized into creative and editorial collections, include high-quality images and videos from some of the world’s leading content producers.

Getty’s editorial collections, for instance, include Bloomberg, NBCUniversal, Disney AMB Television Group, and FIFA, among several other big brands. 

Pricing: Royalty-free photos, videos, and editorial stock images can be purchased as singles or in packs. Pricing ranges from $175 per download for a single small image or low-res video to $425 for a per download for a 10-pack of large images or 4K and HD videos.

Best for: Creators, writers, bloggers, marketers, and editors looking for high-quality images and videos for big editorial or commercial use with larger budgets.

#4. iStock Photo

Part of the Getty Images family, iStock Photo was founded in 2000 as a way to crowd-source the stock image industry. It claims to be the industry leader and original source for user-generated stock images, vectors, illustrations, and video clips.

iStock Photo has over 160,000 contributors from around the world who create high-quality images, illustrations, templates, and videos that cover a wide gamut of categories from business and lifestyle to nature and abstract.

Pricing: You can purchase iStock Photo content by using credits. It costs $33 for a bundle of 3 credits and $2,400 for 300 credits. Stock image subscription plans range from $29 monthly for 10 essential images per month to $333 monthly for 750 all-access images per month. 

Best for: Creators and marketers who want to use and pay for stock images, videos, and other creative assets as you go, based on demand. The credits don’t expire, so you can save unused credits. 

#5. Alamy

With over 222 million stock photos, vectors, and videos, Alamy is a stock image site that covers a healthy range of categories from abstract, art, and book covers to lifestyle, wildlife, and 360-degree panoramic images. 

The high-quality stock images that make up Alamy’s curated collections come from over 150,000 contributors and are well-vetted through their strict standards for quality control.

Pricing: Popular image licenses range from $19.99 for personal use images and illustrations to  $199.99 for large business packages. 360-degree panoramic stock images are priced between $399.99 and $639.99. Royalty-free images range from $49 to $386, depending on the size.

Best for: Creators and marketers looking for a range of stock photos, videos, vectors, and 360-degree panoramic shots who want to pay per image license, rather than for a subscription plan. 

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Ready to stock your creative projects with great stock images?

Stock images can save you both time and money if you use them the right way. 

There’s a stock image website that’s right for your business and project needs. Just peruse these top 11 stock photo sites to find the right one.

Free stock photo websites:

  • Pexels for a vast collection of free stock images and videos to choose from. Images and videos are hand-picked from uploads or sourced from other free image sites.
  • Pixabay for access to over 1.8 million free stock photos, illustrations, videos, and music. 
  • Unsplash for a community-driven curated collection of over 2 million free stock photos that’s always growing.
  • Burst for access to a free stock image library that focuses on adding new photos regularly.
  • StockSnap.io for unique and fresh free stock images with a growing community of contributors.
  • Gratisography for interesting and unique free stock images with a smaller database to comb through.

Paid stock photo websites:

  • Adobe Stock for paid subscription access to millions of high-quality content, ranging from stock images and templates to 3D assets and music. Subscription plans range from $29.99 to $199.99 monthly.
  • Shutterstock for paid access to high-resolution stock images, editorial, video, and music with flexible payment options. Pricing ranges from a $29 one-time payment to $199 monthly for a large subscription plan.
  • Getty Images for royalty-free photos, videos, and editorial for larger projects, brands, and budgets paid on demand. Pricing ranges from $175 to $425, depending on quantity and size of download. 
  • iStock Photo for high-quality images, vectors, illustrations, and videos from leading contributors around the world with flexible payment options. Pricing ranges from $33 to $2,400 for credits and $29 to $333 for monthly subscription plans.
  • Alamy for access to over 222 million stock images, vectors, videos, and 360-degree panoramic images with flexible payment plans. Pricing ranges from $19.99 to $639.99. 

Happy stock image hunting -- and creating.

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