Erik Reart


The amount of visual content dominating websites has greatly increased over the past few years, as web design has continued to evolve. In the early days of the internet, you’d find homepages with a solid colour background and nothing else but a big block of text and maybe a terrible GIF. Now, you’ll enter a website and see less text above-the-fold of the homepage. A huge full screen photo or video and a menu will be all you find, until you scroll down to find the written content.

With photography becoming the forefront of websites, it’s important to have a reliable source for imagery. In some cases, businesses will have the budget to have their own photography work done, using photos of their building, premises, staff and work for use on their website and other promotional materials. But a majority of cases, this isn’t feasible, either due to a limited budget, or a lack of photogenic locations/items that would help make a website look great. It’s in these cases stock photography is required.

You don’t necessarily have to pay for your stock photos – some websites such as Pexels offer high quality images at no cost for use personally and commercially without attribution, but it’s not always the answer. Whilst in some instances you may find the perfect image on a site like this, there’ll be a lot of cases where you don’t. Free stock photo websites can be a useful tool, but their selection of images isn’t very broad. On paid websites, the number of images available is absolutely huge in comparison to free sites – they’re also better quality, and will have photos for very specific scenarios you’d struggle to find elsewhere. There’s also a lot more of these websites than free sites, so how do you choose which one to use? Here’s what I think are the top five best stock photo websites.

Shutterstock is one of the leading photo websites, offering over 125 million royalty free images and video clips to subscribers. It has photo collections to suit every business niche as well as artistic shots made for use as backgrounds.

How much it costs is an obvious concern, and Shutterstock offers a variety of payment options, allowing flexibility when downloading photos. A monthly subscription is recommended for professionals, with packages currently priced at £99 a month for 350 images or £119 a month for downloading up to 750. However, if a monthly payment is something you’re not looking for, you can buy a one-off image pack. £29 will get you 5 images, while £145 gets you 25. This is a non-recurring subscription, allowing you the freedom to pick and choose when you want to buy images.

iStock is another big name in the stock photo field, and has a huge selection of photos, that fall into hundreds of thousands of categories. It’s part of the Getty Images family, and also offers illustrations, video and audio.

It’s pricing and subscription structure isn’t as simple as Shutterstock’s, and is also more expensive. While you can download 350 images on Shutterstock for £99 a month, you can only get 250 a month on iStock for £129 – and this is only the essential package, stopping you from accessing images from the “premium Signature collection”. You need to pay £259 a month to download 250 images from all collections. The non-subscription option isn’t simple either – rather than paying to download a set number of images, you have to buy credits (ranging from £4.81 to £7 each, depending on how many you buy), and each image costs a different number of credits. However, it could be worth getting through these complications for access to the photo library, with a great variation of high quality photography.

PhotoDune is a part of Envato, an Australian company who created EvatoMarket, home to royalty free digital assets. PhotoDune is the stock photo part of this market, alongside other brands made for graphics, themes, videos and audio. PhotoDune boasts a huge stock photo library, and has filters for colours, sizes and more.

Unlike the other sites, the subscription and package deals aren’t at the forefront of the pricing structure, with each photo instead being individually priced – one price for a standard license and another for an extended license. The prices greatly vary from photo to photo so it’s hard to give a realistic average.

Fotolia is one of Adobe’s offerings in the stock photo world, and boasts a library of over 76 million images, vectors and illustrations, as well as video clips, all from a huge variety of categories ensuring you find exactly what you need.

It uses a similar pricing structure to iStock, giving you a flexible choice between how often you pay. You can go down the non-subscription route with credits ranging from 43p to 82p each, depending on how many you purchase, or you can go on to a monthly subscription, with a pack as cheap as £12 letting you download 10 medium or 5 XXL sized images each month.

123RF has a great range of icons and vectors, but above all else boasts a library of over 74 million stock photos. It’s one of the cheaper options in the main stock photo market too, with a range of options from subscriptions to credits.

You can download 780 images in a month for as cheap as £109 if subscribing to a monthly deal for a whole year, or can get 5 a day for as low as £39 a month. Rather than a recurring subscription, you can purchase credits – 20 cost £18, with the price per credit getting lower depending on how many you purchase. Some of the photos can be bought in small size for as low as just one credit.

These are just five of the best stock photo sites around, all with huge variations of photography and more for a mix of price ranges, with packages suitable for buying one or two photos, or downloading a large amount regularly.