The best stock photo sites are playing a more and more important role in providing high-quality images for the media, design and entertainment industries. After all, it's not always cost-effective or practical to shoot particular scenes or topics yourself. And in the lockdown era especially, stock has been more in demand than ever.
Thankfully, stock photo sites have raised their game as a result. And the days when stock images were synonymous with low-quality, cheesy photography is now long behind us. That said, stock photo sites are not all created equally. And so in this article, we've rounded up the very best, for quality and price. If you are looking specifically for moving images, then also check out separate guide to the best stock video sites (opens in new tab).
Read on as we list the best stock photo sites, explain how each differs, and give you the facts and figures you need to choose between them.
The best stock photo sites online in 2023
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Adobe Stock is our pick as the best stock photo site overall, for a number of reasons. It has a great range of high-quality images. It’s pretty affordable. It offers a generous free trial period of a month, with 10 free images thrown in. And it offers thousands of free images too, with a handy search facility that narrows down your search to free-only assets.
Most uniquely, Adobe Stock is beautifully integrated into many of the most popular Creative Cloud apps, including Photoshop (opens in new tab), After Effects (opens in new tab) and Premiere Pro (opens in new tab). That means that if you’re working on a design or editing a video, you can drop in stock photos (or videos, or illustrations) to try them out first, before you decide to buy. Everything takes place within the app interface, which makes this operation quick and easy to do.
Also note that Adobe Stock images are divided into ‘Standard’ and ‘Premium’ categories. The latter are premium quality, but more expensive, while the former is cheaper but more basic.(opens in new tab)
Shutterstock is another popular stock library and very similar to both iStock and Adobe Stock. In fact, there’s not a lot to separate them. All three offer a huge range of good-quality photos that are competitively priced. So choosing between them really comes down to small differences.
For instance, like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock offers a generous one-month free trial, with 10 free images thrown in, while iStock doesn’t have a free trial at all. Like iStock, Shutterstock offers a free image per week, as well as a free vector illustration too.
Shutterstock also doesn’t divide its photos into premium and standard qualities, and on the whole it’s not quite as cheap as iStock. Plus of course, you’re not getting the integration into the Creative Cloud that Adobe Stock offers. That said, if you run your own WordPress website, then we can certainly recommend the Shutterstock WP plugin, which will make your life a lot easier.
In short, Shutterstock is a great service, but there’s nothing fantastic that raises it above iStock or Adobe Stock. That said, it’s a close run thing, and with a good free trial offer we’d still recommend giving it a go.
If you’re looking for editorial images, particularly those of celebrities or recent news stories, then Getty Images is the best place to head. Probably the world’s most prestigious and best-known stock photo libraries, it has an unmatched reputation within the media, which continues to be well-founded.
Getty has long-standing relationships with some of the world’s top press photographers. So whether you’re looking for images of stars on the red carpet or action shots from the latest war zone, you’re most likely to find what you’re looking for here, and premium quality is pretty much guaranteed. If you're willing to pay, there are even options for obtaining exclusivity.
In broader terms, Getty also offers an excellent range of more general stock photos and other assets. However, they are on the pricier side of the spectrum. Also note that there are no free images on offer here, nor a free trial.(opens in new tab)
iStock is owned by Getty Images, but it complements rather than competes with Getty’s main stock library. While the latter is aimed at high-end media buyers, iStock is more suitable for the average creative. Rather than premium, news-specific material, iStock offers a broad range of photos that’s much cheaper, and closer to the kind of assets you’ll find at, for example, Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.
These are divided into two main categories, Essentials and Signature. Photos in the Essentials collection are basic, cheap and may be found on other stock sites, while Signature images are exclusive to iStock, better quality and more expensive. There’s no free trial with iStock, but it does release one free image every week, which you can download for free for a limited time.(opens in new tab)
Although Alamy is one of the world’s oldest stock photo libraries, its less well known than the ones we’ve covered this far. The interesting thing about Alamy is that it doesn’t operate a subscription model: you just pay for what you use.
If you’re buying a lot of images, that means it gets quite costly, although you can shave off some money by buying credit packs. However, if you only need a few stock photos, then it will may well save you money overall.
With over 300 million stock photos, 360° images, vectors and videos, you’ll stand a high chance of finding what you’re looking for. And the quality is pretty much excellent across the board. Alamy also offers a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee within 30 days of purchasing any image.(opens in new tab)
Looking for low-price images? Deposit Photos very much flies under the radar, but it does have a good selection of images at cheaper prices than most stock libraries. And with 234 million files to choose from, and a good site search facility, there’s every chance you’ll find what you’re looking for.
There’s a seven-day free trial, with 10 free images. And if you sign up, you’ll get access to a library of 69,452 free photos. There are also some basic but nice tools for image edits, including a background remover and an image upscaler.(opens in new tab)
BigStock is owned by Shutterstock, and runs a fairly similar service. Both offer good quality images and a range of payment options, including subscriptions and credit packs. The main difference between them is that Shutterstock’s library is larger - although BigStock does have over 121 million royalty-free photos, vectors and illustrations, so it is not small. On the plus side BigStock’s prices are cheaper. Also, its free trial offer comes with 35 free images, by far the most generous on our list.
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