BusinessKitBag 10:38 am August 7th, 2017

Best Stock Photography Services (2017)

Beautiful images to enhance your business

High quality stock photography is readily available for businesses of all sizes at an affordable cost, via one-off fees, credit purchases, subscriptions, or sometimes free.

Stock Photography ServicesStock images are licensed to the buyer, allowing particular uses and timeframes. The most common form of license is 'Royalty Free', which means that the stock image supplier is responsible for the legal permissions required, such as with the photographer, models, and brands. Printed materials may require an extended license, depending on the intended use and volumes involved.

The larger stock image services also carry stock illustrations, graphics, backgrounds, video, and audio. The huge selection available and low costs mean there really is no need to use poor quality free imagery, or take the risk in 'lifting' images from websites - a legal minefield best avoided.

We've included a range of respected stock image sites, including some free libraries. All are suitable for use by UK-based businesses for websites or marketing and other printed materials.


(4.6/5 from 81 reviews)

Alamy is the world's most diverse stock photo collection.

Alamy has the most diverse stock photo collection in the world. Whether you are looking for images for your website, book or presentation, Alamy has the image you need. Browse through over 100 million images, vectors and videos at | View Profile

Pricing Type: Per Image     Price Range: From £9.99/image


(3.2/5 from 16 reviews)

Great stories start here

Shutterstock is the leading player in the royalty-free stock photography market. Join the 36 million visitors who browse through more than 125 million images, vectors, videos and music files to best find the asset that helps you tell your story. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Credits, Subscription     Price Range: From £29/month


(3.4/5 from 9 reviews)

Incredible stock. Flexible pricing.

iStock by Getty Images is one of the world's leading stock content marketplaces, offering millions of hand-picked premium images at ridiculously low prices that you can only get from us. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Credits, Subscriptions     Price Range: From £7/credit pack


(3.45/5 from 2 review)

When words can't say it, Fotolia can

Fotolia offer thousands of new digital images, videos, vectors and illustrations every day. Browse through their library of 90 million assets to find the right asset to complement your website, print or presentation. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Credits, Subscription     Price Range: From £10.20/credit pack


(4.15/5 from 860 reviews)

123RF Makes images affordable for everyone

123RF offers a wealth of choice if you seek quality royalty-free images, vectors, illustrations and videos. Browse through their library of more than 80 million assets to find the perfect image to enhance your project. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Credits, Subscription     Price Range: From £18 for 20 credits


(4.3/5 from 233 reviews)

Perfect images. Successful business.

Depositphotos is one of the market leading players in the stock photography global marketplace. Browse through more than 60 million royalty-free images, vectors and videos to find the best asset to compliment your next project. Affordable stock photography. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Subscription, Credits     Price Range: From £23 for 30 downloads

Adobe Stock

(4/5 from 1 review)

Find the perfect asset for your next creative project

Browse through over 55 million creative assets to add flair to your next project with Adobe Stock. Adobe Stock offers high quality, royalty-free images, videos, illustrations templates, 3D graphics and vectors. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Subscription     Price Range: From £29.99/mth


(Not yet rated)

Beautiful free stock photos

StockSnap is the best place on the internet to find beautiful free stock photos. We select nothing but the highest quality, highest resolution pictures and add them to our database on a daily basis. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Free     Price Range: Free


(Not yet rated)

Free high-resolution photos

Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos. 10 new photos every 10 days. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Free     Price Range: Free


(Not yet rated)

Best free stock photos in one place

By providing free stock photos Pexels helps millions of creators all over the world to easily create beautiful products and designs. All photos are nicely tagged, searchable and also easy to discover through our discover pages. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Free     Price Range: Free


(Not yet rated)

Totally free photos for your commercial & personal works

picjumbo is a free stock photo site created by young designer and photographer Viktor Hanacek in 2013. It all started when any stock photo site didn‘t want his photos due to “lack of quality”. Two years later, the project has turned out to be one of the best free stock photo sites with over 3 million downloads. | View Profile

Pricing Type: Subscription     Price Range: From US$10/month

About Stock Photography

Using Stock Images on Websites

Having good quality relevant images on your website can make a real difference to it’s success. This is true for keeping your website visitors engaged and search engine robots 'happy'.

People make decisions visually far quicker than anything they read, the messaging used in an image can be way more powerful than something you could write. "A picture is word a thousand words", as the saying goes.

SEO experts recommend inserting an image - be that a photo, infographic or table - every 100 words helps to break the page up for a user to digest the information they are consuming. Plus, if you pick the right images that help tell your story it can grab a visitor's’ attention from the off. The major search engines index images and associated descriptive text.

Healthy salad with avocado and egg by brooke-lark

Increasing the time a visitor spends on your page is a good sign to search engines that the page the person is visiting is relevant and interesting to the search term they search for. The longer the time spent on that page, the more interesting and relevant search engines deem that page to be and will rank it higher for the same keyword when searched for again.

Images and video can help a user spend more time on page and in turn, help your SEO efforts.

When it comes to social media posts, often people don’t read words beyond headlines, especially if visiting on a mobile, so visual storytelling becomes even more important.

There are a few different ways to obtain the images you need for your project.

  • Stock Photography Sites
  • Free Stock Photography Sites
  • Graphic Design tools with stock libraries built in
  • Your own images.

What is Microstock Stock Photography?

Microstock stock photography sites are huge libraries of images, vectors, illustrations and videos where you pay per image, usually at a low cost per unit. These are usually sold with a royalty free licence.

Using these services you have access to millions of assets. Selecting the image you need is easy with all sites having a powerful search engine built in to assist you, a lightbox (list of favourite images) to save images to consider before you purchase.

Payment is made either by subscription or for a bundle of assets to be used over a set time period. Once you have made payment, you download your image and you’re all set to publish.

Free Stock Photography Websites

Free stock photography sites work in the same way. The choice of images will not run into the millions but a few thousand. Given these images are free to anyone via a Creative Commons Zero Licence, you can be sure that same image is being used elsewhere.

Cloudy sky reflected in water at dawn

Whilst the quality is pretty good, given the images are free, they are still not as good as the paid for services and you don’t always get the file types and sizes you would with a paid for service.

This means the image will be harder to work with if you need to resize or alter it. It could end up blurry or not fitting the correct size required for a Twitter or Facebook post. You get what you pay for and it looks much more professional if your images are correctly formatted.

Online Graphic Design Sites

A relatively new concept are online graphic design sites with stock photography libraries built in. Theses are sites such as Stencil, Canva or Adobe. With these tools you can select an image within the app, format it, save it and post it there and then.

It’s a pain that social media sites have different image requirements, but these online graphic design sites do all the heavy lifting for you with inbuilt social media template sizes. You end up with a great image for your post every time. They are user friendly and intuitive, a far cry from comprehensive tools like Photoshop which require a lot of experience and training to use effectively.

Online graphic design sites are either free to use or have a paid plan per month on subscription if you need more in depth features. Using a tool like these will cut the time you spend creating images dramatically. This is great news if you post regularly across a number of platforms.

Got an image you particularly like? You can save it in the app by creating a project folder and crank it out again and again, changing it each time with new wording, font, filter, background. Not a natural designer? No problem, these apps have templates for you to work from to get you started.

Using Your Own Images Rather Than Microstock Photography

If you are a bit of a dab hand behind the camera, then why not use your own images? It is quite time consuming but worth it if you are showcasing your own product or work and also completely free! You will still need an editing tool to work with your images, sites like Stencil, Canva and Adobe allow you to upload your own images and from there you can format and create your asset.

Always consider lighting, backgrounds, composition and camera setting before you shoot. This article from is a good sum up of what to consider.

Lastly when using your own images, you need to be sure you don’t need a model release form. If you capture an image of someone or a landmark, you need to have permission to publish that image. This great infographic from Alamy explains the requirements well:

Stock Photo Licensing

One of the reassuring aspects of using either microstock stock photography sites or one of the free stock photo sites is that the licensing obligations of using stock photos is dealt with for you.

It is important to understand when you purchase an image from a stock photo website, you are not purchasing the image but the licence or right to use or publish that image for your own project or commercial venture. Depending what your publishing or usage intention is determines what licence type you’ll need to purchase,

There are a few different types of licence you can purchase when you buy from a microstock stock photo supplier depending on your publishing intent. These are:

  • Standard royalty free
  • Enhanced, extended or Rights Managed
  • Editorial

This table gives a at-a-glance overview of the restrictions with standard royalty free and an enhanced/extended or rights managed licence.

Standard royalty-free Enhanced/Extended/Rights Managed
No time limit to use images yes yes
Available for use worldwide yes yes
Unlimited digital reproductions - Website views, ebook downloads, use in "apps", software, emails, etc… yes yes
Unlimited physical reproductions - Books, magazines, advertising posters, and packaging Up to x (number) yes
Unlimited TV, online video, and film viewers Production budgets up to $x yes
Legal indemnification Up to $y per image Up to $z per image
Copies of web or print templates no yes
Commercial merchandising no yes

Royalty Free Stock Photography Licensing

Royalty-free is the most common licence type available. Once purchased, you have the right to use the image multiple times, worldwide, with no time limit or need to re-pay the producer of the image.

As these images are widely available there is a chance you will come across the image reproduced elsewhere so you are unlikely to find much exclusivity here. Great for web use, social media posts and presentations.

Extended/Rights Managed Licensing

It is possible with some suppliers to purchase a rights managed licence or enhanced licence. This will be necessary if you are looking for a degree of exclusivity on your image or if your image is to be used as major brand imagery. This would be necessary if the image was a book cover, or a t-shirt graphic and the graphic was the main selling point of the t-shirt or if you need to do large print runs. These licences are usually significantly more expensive than a standard royalty free licence.

Editorial Licensing

An editorial license can be defined as for use in anything not to be used commercially. iStock explains editorial licensing like this:

The Editorial Use Only license means that the image cannot be used for commercial advertising purposes.

An Editorial Use Only image can be used:

- In a newspaper or magazine article,
- On a blog or website for descriptive purpose, or
- In a non-commercial presentation

An Editorial Use Only image cannot be used:

- In any kind of advertising or promotional material.
For any ‘advertorial’ purposes, i.e. in sections or supplements in relation to which you receive a fee from a third party advisor or sponsor.”

Creative Commons Zero Licensing

If you have to pay for a licence to use stock photography from the microstock photography websites, how is it you can use photos for free from the free stock photography websites?

The answer is that these are downloaded with a Creative Commons Zero or CC0 licence. CC0 is often referred to a public domain licence. It allows full, unrestricted use worldwide of the images you download.

Read more about stock photo licensing and potential pitfalls here:

Ideal image sizes for social media platforms

The best sizes for sharing images on social media are:

  • Facebook – 1,200 x 628
  • Twitter – 1,024 x 512
  • LinkedIn – 700 x 400
  • Google+ – 800 x 1,200
  • Pinterest – 735 x 1,102
  • Instagram – 1,080 x 1,080

There are so many different social media platforms out there and sadly when it comes to images, one size does not fit all. Not only that, there are different size requirements on each social media platform, depending on the post type you are creating. How can you keep up with what size you need to create?

As mentioned before tools such as Canva or Stencil can take care of those issues for you, but if you aren’t using those apps, this great infographic from gives a good summary:Social Media Image Sizes Cheat Sheet 2017 from


Sprout social have also put together an informative blog article on social media image sizes which is well worth a read.

How to know what image size to buy for a specific project

This table identifies the image size in pixels typically needed for different project uses. You may save money by buying the size you need rather than going too big, as some stock photo sites charge by image size.

Size Size in px Typical use
XS 400 x 300 Small web / phone
S 800 x 600 Web / Tablet
M 1600 x 1200 Web or small print (half A4)
L 2400 x 1600 Print full page (A4)
XL 3100 x 2500 Big print (A3)
XXL 5000 x 3000 HD, poster, editing

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