We’ve all been there… we want beautiful, unique, creative photography for our new website (or another design project) but want to do it at a reasonable price. Getting images custom shot by a photographer is out of our budget, but we don’t want it to be apparent that our visuals are stock photos.

So what do we do? Well the hard truth of the matter is that stock photos are not an equivalent replacement for custom photos and most of the time, they will never look as good as if you paid a local photographer to do a shoot for your company. However, if you search hard enough and in the right places, you can find some good stock imagery for a decent price.

Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite locations to purchase high-quality, cheap (sometimes even free) stock photos below:

1)  Creative Commons

Creative Commons allows you to search for image content (among other content) that is free for the public to use or even repurpose and build on top of. However, it’s important to note that you need to pay attention to the licenses provided for each image, as they can differ from photographer to photographer. Make sure you use the image within the constraints set by the photographer otherwise you may be in violation of their license. One quick tip: when we search for Creative Commons images, we tend to find the best visuals via their search on Flickr and Google Images.

Creative Commons

2)  Pixabay

Pixabay is a cool site that allows you to download all of its photos at no cost, provided you sign up for a free account or enter a CAPTCHA code with every download. Pay attention to the photos below the first row of results after you enter a search query, as the 1st row will direct you to paid photos on Shutterstock. All photos below the first row are free. Some of their images are cheesy, but if you search long enough, especially for still life shots, there are some good-quality photos. Plus, who can argue when they are free?


3)  Gratisography

Gratisography is a site provided by Ryan McGuire of Bells Designs. He adds high-resolution, high-quality photos weekly and they are free for both commercial and personal use.


4)  Fotolia

Fotolia is a great low-cost stock photo marketplace. They are our go-to for clients on a budget and frequently have nice visuals. Not just limited to photography, they also sell vector images and videos. Fotolia’s pricing is very reasonable and if you require regular visuals (say for a blog), we recommend purchasing one of their monthly subscriptions as it ends up being cheaper in the long-run.

5)  iStockPhoto

iStockphoto is also a great place for stock photos and tends to have a little better quality than Fotolia. That being said, their prices have also gone up over the years and 1 credit does not go as far as it used to. Nonetheless, we do use them quite often given that their images are often exclusive and match our clients’ aesthetic needs.  For large volume users, you can purchase a monthly subscription for $199 that allows for 250 maximum downloads.

6)  Shutterstock

Shutterstock is similar to iStockphoto in terms of quality and pricing, although they can sometimes be slightly cheaper. One feature of Shutterstock we really like is the “Refined Search” feature, where you can actually filter your image results by color, which is really nice when you are trying to find something to fit within a brand’s color palette.  If you are a big user, you can subscribe to Shutterstock for $249/month and download up to 25 images a day.


7)  Getty Images

Getty Images is the Rolls Royce of stock photo marketplaces. Their pricing isn’t cheap but their images are gorgeous. When you are willing to spend a bit extra for that very special image, this is the place to go. Keep in mind though that Getty tends to have pretty specific licensing fees, so the price you pay to use a photo on your website may not be the same price you pay to use it on a printed brochure. Also, these fees generally cover only a specific duration of time: for example, you might pay $300 for a 1-year license. Long story short, Getty is a costly place to purchase stock imagery but may be worth it in specific situations.

So do you have any other go-to places for stock photography? What image marketplaces do you prefer?