Finding Stock Images The Easy Way

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Any blogger knows that scouring through Commons for the right image is a real time suck.

While it’s the cheapest way to go, it can be painfully unproductive and put you at higher risk for copyright infringement. Let’s face it. It may be time to consider subscribing to a photo agency once and for all.

In this post, I want to compare some of the better known stock image sites out there and see if we can zero in on one that excels in price, selection and user interface.

Finding The Best Stock Image Site

Photo sharing agencies have come a long way in the past few years and new ones are rising into the limelight all the time. However, in 2013, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these. Note: All prices are subscription based.


One of the first companies to come to mind was New York-based Shutterstock. Their reputation precedes them as one that is on top of the stock photography game. Its founder, Jon Oringer, founded the company in 2003 by uploading 30,000 of his own images.

  • 28 Million Photos
  • $6.54 per day
  • 25 downloads per day
  • Excellent UI


Founded in 2005 in New York City, Fotolia offers a tremendous variety of high quality, royalty-free images, vectors and videos. Fotolia pretty much has it all.

  • 23 Million Photos
  • $6.46 per day
  • 25 downloads per day
  • Versatile


123RF are the new kids on the block. They are based in Hong Kong and have one of the most exciting site designs in the industry. They offer a competitive price for access to their royalty-free stock images, and they make finding the right image really easy.

  • 21 Million Photos
  • $5.37 per day
  • 26 downloads per day
  • Royalty-free exclusive


Since it’s inception in 2000, Dreamstime has grown to be a major player in the microstock market. In 2005, Microsoft came along and wanted to buy them out. Dreamstime declined that offer. They boast the lowest subscription price of any of the big players. Cool company.

  • 18 Million Photos
  • $4.82 per day
  • 25 downloads per day
  • Inexpensive

Thinkstock by Getty Images

Getty Images, a stock photography powerhouse in Seattle, was the first company to begin licencing images and have continued to shape and drive the industry forward since it was founded in 1995. Some of the world’s most influential media look to Getty for their premium images, footage and music. Their most affordable plan is with Thinkstock, a sister company.

  • “Millions” of Photos
  • $6.83 per day via Thinkstock
  • 25 downloads per day
  • Access to Getty Images

Stealing Images Is Copyright Infringement

Signing up with one of these business allows you to work with photographers and not against them.

Congress recently heard pleas by leaders in the digital media sharing industry for stronger copyright protections.

One of the leaders, senior VP of Getty Images John Lapham, said his photo sharing company faces challenges with copyright infringement.  He also said that Getty Images has technology that allows them to pursue pirated content [source].

It’s no secret that Getty sues companies and some individuals for copyright infringement. It’s public record.  Paying proper attribution to original authors is not only the right thing to do, it may save you and your company from getting embroiled by litigation.

In Summary: Two Choices

  1. The cheap and hard way, in which you scour the scant commons for free stock photos without ever finding that perfect picture. You’re also subject to certain restrictions.
  2. The paid and easy way, in which you have access to millions of quality images that depict exactly what you mean. You work with photo agencies, not against them.

For their awesome selection, competitive price and ability to help you get your job done the easy way, I tip my hat to Shutterstock.



Devin Harper

Devin Harper

Director of Outreach
Devin Harper is the Director of Outreach at Nifty Marketing, a local SEO agency. PR and link outreach is his bread and butter. When he's... Read Full Bio
Devin Harper
Devin Harper
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  • Daniel Heywood

    Hi Devin,

    I know what you mean 2 hours can go by without finding a decent copyright free image.
    Wikimedia Commons is OK for generic images and is free. PhotoDune is also pretty good. Shutterstock has the best images but as you say they are expensive.

  • Siddhartha Sinha

    Hello Devin,

    Thanks for sharing the informative information on how one could easily find the stock images and by listing the different stock images website.

    Siddhartha Sinha

  • Alpesh Brahmbhatt

    Hi I read your blog thanks for sharing this information all that platform is best and useful. once again thanks.

  • Paul Shapiro

    I’m a big fan of finding creative commons or public domain photographs by using either Bing or Google’s advanced image search. morgueFile is another good source. You can also always search Flickr by license too.

    • Devin Harper

      That’s true Paul, thanks for mentioning public domain photographs. I guess a lot of it hinges on the kind of post you’re writing. If you only need one decent photo and you’re able to quickly find one in CC then that’s different than compiling a “top ten” style post.

  • Ryan Bowman

    Hey Devin,

    Thanks for the post. Finding images is definitely a big time suck but it’s important too for overall site quality. I pay for Thinkstock for myself and for use on my client’s sites. It makes life much more simple and is worth the money.

    I made a video comparing free stock image sites to paid sites like Thinkstock and iStockphoto. People reading this post would probably find it interesting:

  • Lory Zhang

    thanks for sharing.

  • Jared

    Great post on finding stock images. I’ve noticed a lot of site owners now a days just basically ripping off images from other sites and claiming it as their own. Sooner or later the hammer will be dropped on site owners that do this.

    • Devin Harper

      Absolutely. I’ve read of people being cited upwards of $8000 for this.

  • Lee Keadle

    I’ve used Shutterstock and have had good luck with that. If you can find images for 10 credits or less, the quality and color have always turned out well for me. It’s simply not worth the time to spend an hour or so trying to find a free image to use. And we all know how important pictures are for blogs, websites, etc. in terms of time spent on page and click through rates. That’s not an area you want to skimp on!

    • Devin Harper

      Photos certainly do play an important role from social sharing to CTR. The saying, “you get what you pay for” comes to mind and I think you’re spot on.

  • Arun Singh

    Thanks for sharing these information. I would suggest an alternative way i.e. creating your own image. The only problem is that this is becoming as long writing your post…

    • Devin Harper

      You’re right, businesses ought to be self-sufficient – and they can be for certain content pieces – just not all of them.

  • Alice Ly – Lucrazon

    For blog posts, I just use PhotoPin for free images. Just have to check mark “commercial” each time.

    • Devin Harper

      Thanks Alice, great recommendation!

  • Dan Carter

    Picture is worth a thousand words. thanks for sharing the useful info.