Buying stock photos online is the smartest way to get the media and visuals you need for your business or project. But once you decide to buy stock photos, you will soon see yourself submerged in a sea of microstock agencies and various stock photography sites. It's very easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities, and very hard to tell at first glance which supplier is best for you.
But not anymore. Instead of wandering around the web through hundreds of websites trying to figure out where to buy, simply refer to this list of the top 5 stock photo agencies!
And trust us: Stock Photo Expert uses years of experience and insider knowledge to identify the best microstock agencies with the best deals for buyers of royalty-free stock images based on prices, library size, image quality, buying options, and bonus benefits and services.
Read on and select your new royalty-free stock photography supplier!
The Best 5 Stock Photo Agencies
Of course, there are many decent stock photography websites out there –certainly much more than 5–, but our idea was to narrow the options to the top microstock photo agencies where you will find royalty-free stock photos that are both high quality and cheap.
We feel microstock photography is a great and wholly solution to get high-resolution images, taken by professional photographers, that are perfectly legal to use for commercial purposes and affordable for pretty much all budgets.
Check out our stock photo agencies list below!
Photocase – A Unique Stock Photo Library
Photocase is a stock photo agency based in Berlin, that was focused on authentic images way before they were a hot trend. This site has always stood up in the industry thanks to its tight curation and very unique catalog, where the fun, young Berlin vibe is key. Images are artsy, fun-loving, unexpected, unconventional… yet professionally shot and with great marketing potential. The ideal resource for brands wanting to be up to date with visual trends.
A quick overview of what Photocase has to offer:
- A trendy and niche-like stock photo collection: Here you will find images that aren't easily available elsewhere, creative and more artistic, and high-resolution
- Simple and straightforward on-demand pricing: images are priced between $15 and $45 according to resolution
- You may save up to 45% from regular price in bulk purchases with credit packs (lowest image prices with credits are from $8.45 to $25.35)
- Royalty-Free license: You may use the photos for commercial and personal purposes, paying once and gaining usage rights forever
- Curated galleries: Handpicked selections around popular and inspiring themes, subjects, styles
It's easy to see why Photocase is such a valuable stock photo site to know and use. They offer the most relevant visual content of our days, with unparallel expertise and affordable pricing. Images from Photocase are highly Instagrammable and resonate greatly with younger demographics.
If you are looking for visually powerful and disruptive imagery, Photocase is the way to go.
Stock Photo Secrets Shop – Special for Small-to-Medium Businesses
Stock Photo Secrets Shop is our very own stock photo agency at Stock Photo Press, where we use our experience and expertise to deliver the best royalty-free stock photography deals covering all buyer needs. I personally designed our two core plans, which are specifically aimed at small-to-medium size businesses, thinking of their need for lots of stock photos, flexible download limits, and tight budgets.
99Club – This plan gives you 200 XXL images, for one year, for only $99. That's right, only $0.49 per image! – Yes, we improved the old and very popular “dollar photo club” from Fotolia! Ours is a much better deal!
Low Volume (limited-time offer) – If you need more, our Low Volume deal gives you 600 XXL images, for one year, for just $199, or $0.33 per image! You got it: that's 3 times more downloads than 99club, for only a fraction of the regular price!
What makes our plans great?
- Super low prices: Between $0.49 and $0.33 per image, depending on the plan
- Large and varied library: Choose from a collection of 4 Million high-resolution images and vector illustrations
- No daily or monthly caps: Download up to your plan's limit (200 or 600 images) whenever you want, within one year from the purchase date. Get the images at your own pace!
- Yours forever: All royalty-free photos, meaning once you download them, they are yours to use forever, as many times and for as long as you wish, be it for commercial purposes or personal projects, even social media
- Discount in additional images: If you use all your downloads and still need more, you can get additional images on demand at only $0.99 each!
- Cancel whenever you want: No strings attached, no hidden fees
- Autorenew: Secure the super low price for another year, automatically
These are the main reasons our plans are the best choice for those who own a small or medium business –or designers working for one–. We have a nice variety in high-quality stock images that you can download a high resolution, suitable for various print and digital uses, at super low prices, and with very flexible usage terms.
Besides these specially tailored deals, in our shop, you will find several other subscription plans and on-demand options. Moreover, our shop's site is modernly designed and user-friendly, giving you bonus functionality beyond image search: you can select your favorite artists, browse our categories, and more.
If you want cheap stock photographs that solve your image needs without breaking the bank, visit Stock Photo Secrets Shop – our best microstock site!
Shutterstock – King of High Volume Subscription
Shutterstock is one of the top stock photo agencies in the industry, and subsequently one of the most popular microstock agencies too. It's impossible to search for stock photos online without coming across their name. With over a decade in business, this microstock company is the creator of the stock photo subscription, and to date, this is the space in which they excel, although they have an on-demand buying option as well.
A bit of why this stock agency is so popular:
- Largest online photo library: With over 390 Million stock images, vectors and illustrations
- Best stock photo subscription for high volume buyers: 750 images a month, from one to 12 months, prices as low as $199 per month ($0.26 per image)
- New Shutterstock Flex subscription with multimedia downloads (images, videos, music)
- Great image pack deals: Pre-paid download packs for 5 and up to 25 images to use whenever you want within one year. Pay as little as $3.81 per photo
- Royalty-Free license: It gives you wide use rights in commercial and editorial projects, for a low, one-time fee
- Advanced search engine: Reverse image search via computer vision technology, including suggestions for similar images, and more accurate results for keyword searches
- Bonus features: Free online image editor with popular filters and social media dimensions; mobile app for gallery surfing and image bookmarking
- The network of stock imagery services: Editorial images at Rex Features, stock music at PremiumBeat
Most of the people are attracted to Shutterstock because of their great prices for a large volume of downloads, and the huge variety in their library. But this company is also very technology-driven and is always innovating in tools and functionality that make photo buyers' life easier. Plus, they are constantly expanding and closing partnerships with suppliers to add valuable content to their collections.
With so many years in the royalty-free stock photography industry, their reputation grants seriousness and trouble-free transactions. Shutterstock's low prices, content variety, high quality, and tech functionality makes them a great source for your stock photos and for your stock photo search.
iStock – Leader in Exclusive Images
iStock (formerly know as iStockphoto) is another well-known name in the microstock market. (It is also a subsidiary of the prestigious Getty Images). And it couldn't be otherwise: this is the pioneer company that inaugurated the “microstock” market of agencies selling cheap photos online. With over 15 years in the industry, they are still one of the top microstock websites in the space, and the only ones with a strong offer in exclusive images that you can only find on their library. Their price points are affordable, especially considering the value of their image curation, and they have very convenient subscription plans as well as an on-demand buying system. This is certainly one of the first and best microstock sites and one of the best stock photography agencies in general.]
Here's the why's for their long-time leading position:
- Huge library with clear division: they have millions of royalty-free photos, vectors, and illustrations, divided in Signature and Essentials collections
- Exclusive imagery: Signature collection hosts millions of high-value production and technically superior images that have been carefully curated and can only be found at iStockphoto. At a slightly higher price point, these images have a greater sense of uniqueness and added value for any project they are used in
- Low-cost images: Essentials collection includes millions of high-quality royalty-free images for everyday visual needs. While non-exclusive, these images are suitable for most uses in design and visuals, and they are very cheap
- Royalty-Free Images: yours to use forever in varied commercial and editorial work
- Low and high volume subscriptions: From 10 to 750 images per month, for one month to one year. You can choose plans for Essential images only and get images for as little as $0.21 each, or deals for access to the whole library including Signature images for as low as $0.42 per download
- On-demand credits system: buy credit packs to access images on demand. Essential images for as little as $8 each, Signature photos for as low as $24 per file.
- User-friendly site: Library arranged by categories and highly searchable with keywords and advanced filters
If you are looking for exclusive images, iStock is the go-to source. No other Royalty Free stock photo company has the amount and level of exclusive photography (if you don't shop at Getty Images) that they have, and they are unbeatable in affordability. If exclusivity is not a key factor for you, their Essential images are an even better deal to buy stock photos, with their super low prices and high quality. If you want to buy great imagery at a renowned place, iStock is exactly what you are looking for.
Adobe Stock – Perfect Fit for Designers with Creative Cloud
Adobe Stock is a stock photo service created and managed by Adobe, powered by stock photo agency Fotolia –which Adobe acquired in 2015– and now also receiving direct contributions from artists around the world. They can now offer royalty-free stock images within their own apps. This service's core value is in its full integration to the Adobe Creative Cloud platform. Their images are available within all Creative Cloud applications, making it a very time-saving resource for users of these design software tools.
Highlights in Adobe Stock offer?
- Full integration with Creative Cloud: search, browse, test edit (previous to buying), license, and apply stock photographs to your designs without ever leaving your favorite app's interface. – Additionally, it has its own stand-alone microstock site
- Large collection: Over 60 Million royalty-free stock photos and vectors
- Simple on-demand buying: each photo costs $9,99
- Savings with subscriptions: from 10 and up to 750 a month, hired monthly or annually, cutting image price to as low as $0.26 per download
- Discount in on-demand images: If you have a high volume subscription, you pay each additional image only $0.99
- Advanced search tools: powered by computer vision technology, you can do a reverse image search and even search from sketching or hand-drawing
- Chance to sell your own designs: They have their own Contributor Site for photographers and artists, where you can submit and start selling stock photos, and earn a commission for each sale
Adobe Stock is the most valuable and convenient choice for anyone using Creative Cloud in their designing workflow. The full integration of this service in that platform lets you save time and effort in creating compelling visual designs, and without spending lots of money. Their subscriptions are par with the top agencies in the market, and they have great quality and tech functionality. If you are a Creative Cloud user who loves working with Photoshop CC or Illustrator CC, then Adobe Stock is certainly for you.
Say No to Free Stock Photos – They're Shady
You may wonder why did we focus on microstock sites if they’re all paid, why not to go for free stock photo sites, like the many that surged after Stock Xchng? The answer is very simple: because those websites aren’t completely safe.
While very tempting and legal at first glance, free stock photography sites have a lot of hidden risks when it comes to using the images you download from them. This is due to two big issues:
Unsafe Licenses – These free photo download sites usually work with a form of Creative Commons or Public Domain license. Both enable use in commercial and non-commercial work (sometimes even without attribution, like with Creative Commons Zero). But none of them covers you if other rights aren’t cleared: if the copyright owner did not consent if the people depicted didn’t consent, if the owners of the private property depicted didn’t consent, for example.
Un-policed Images – Free photo sites usually work on the cheap end of costs and cannot invest in image reviewers. At the same time, they mostly build libraries from user submissions. So their catalogs are full of photos of which you can’t be sure if photographers agreed to donate, or if models agreed to allow their likeness to be used.
For these reasons, using free stock photos in your work, especially in commercial projects, can be very risky. If photographers or models claim and prove you’re infringing their rights, you’re left without any legal protection from either the license or the site.
Say Yes to Microstock Photography – It's Awesome
We find it is a much, much better (and safer!) alternative to go for microstock websites. They have images from stock photographers (professional photographers) that are high definition and suitable for professional use.
They work with Royalty Free licenses that cover multiple uses in commercial, non-commercial, and editorial projects. And they have expert teams reviewing and clearing every image to ensure they’re not only technically optimal but also legally valid. All this, for a very affordable price.
We feel that is much more reasonable to spend a few bucks in professional stock photos, than saving them but later struggling with Creative Common licenses, Public Domain images, attribution requirements, and the worse: potential legal fines for thousands of dollars.
Create Great Visuals at Low Cost with Cheap Stock Photos
The above listed are all great stock photography agencies where you can buy photos online at cut prices without neglecting quality and ensuring flexible use without time restrictions.
All the companies have options to buy just one or a couple of royalty-free images and to buy lots of them every month.
They all add value to their offer tech tools, expert curation, freebies, enhanced functionality, and other bonus features.
Regardless of how big or small your budget is, and no matter what your individual image needs are, you will certainly find the photos you want in any of the 5 best stock photo agencies we mention, and you will likely save up to hundreds of dollars compared to other stock photography companies.
Above all, buying stock photos online from one of these agencies will grant you a way to add compelling imagery to your designs in a quick, simple, and inexpensive way.
Which one will you go for?