Our Favourite Stock Photography Sites

Written by Wholegrain Team - January 30, 2015

Photography is an integral element of great web design, and the images you choose to represent your company or brand play a massive part in how it’s perceived by others.

Obviously, custom photography is preferable to choosing stock photos, but it isn’t always realistic due to budget and time constraints, or if your website needs a lot of imagery. So you need to turn to stock photography.

Stock Photography

Stock photography is a database of images that have been licensed for specific uses. Many stock photography sites use professional photographers to supply their images, so you can get quality photographs – it’s just that these images haven’t been taken specifically for your website.

Stock photography often gets a bad name, and in some cases rightly so – cheesy, generic images of people shaking hands will do nothing for your business. But there are some excellent resources out there if you know where to look.

Pros and Cons of Stock Photography

Before we share our favourite resources with you, here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of using stock photography.

First, the pros:

  • Good Value: Stock photography is great if you have a tight budget as the photos are usually good value and you can choose to purchase them individually or as a package. Plus, with a range of stock photography databases, you can always find something to suit your budget.
  • Excellent Choice: Professional photographers from around the world contribute to stock photography sites, meaning there are a huge variety of images available that are specific to a particular location. In addition, stock photography sites are fantastic for abstract images – if you need to demonstrate a particular texture, for example – or for objects.
  • Speed: Hiring a photographer plus equipment and choosing a location for a shoot all take time to arrange, whereas stock photos are instantly available for download making them a superb option for when you need pictures quickly.
  • High Quality: Reputable stock photography sites have strict standards in terms of colour, resolution, lighting, etc. and they only accept images that meet their criteria. This gives you peace of mind that you are purchasing quality imagery for your website.

Next, the cons:

  • Licence Restrictions: You need to watch the small print as each stock photography company imposes its own licence restrictions on its photographs. If you intend to use the photo multiple times, you need to ensure you have a Royalty-Free agreement, otherwise you’ll be charged for each use. Other photos can’t be edited or manipulated, or used for marketing. You need to find the right licence for your needs.
  • Generic Images: Photographers often submit very generic images so that they appeal to a wider market, so they can be very predictable and clichéd. You are much less likely to find an image that sums up the individuality of your brand or business.
  • Non-Exclusive: Stock photographs are available to anybody, so there’s nothing preventing your main competitors from choosing the same image to represent them as you’ve chosen – which could undermine your branding and marketing objectives.
  • Consistency: When you hire a web designer to design your website, they remain consistent to your brand. However, using stock photos could undermine the consistency of your website, as the photographer is not shooting with your brand or business in mine. So you could be forced to adapt your design to suit the imagery.

Our Favourite Stock Photography Resources

Stock photography definitely has its advantages, and if you know where to look you can discover some great images. Here are some of our favourite resources:

PhotoDune: PhotoDune is part of the Envato Marketplaces group, and it specialises in affordable, royalty-free images. Prices are standard, ranging from $1 for a low-resolution image to $9 for an extra-large resolution, and there are over 5 million images in their database. The purchase price includes a regular, royalty-free licence, so you can use the image for multiple projects online, although if you’re using the image for a product you’re selling you need to obtain an extended licence.

iStockPhoto: iStock, part of the Getty group, is one of the most popular stock sites for graphic designers and agencies due to its low pricing structure, flexibility and affordable subscription plan. They are one of the better choices when it comes to low-resolution images for the web, although they are a little more limited if you want high-quality images for print. With millions of royalty-free images to choose from, you can opt to pay-as-you-go rather than commit to buying a bunch of credits.

Shutterstock: Shutterstock is a global marketplace for the creative community, with over 40 million stock photos, vectors, video and music tracks available in over 150 countries. Images are categorised according to subject and the site is easy to navigate with a keyword search tool. With over 20,000 images added daily, you are spoilt for choice especially when it comes to high-resolution images, and there is a variety of subscription packages. However, their fees can be high compared to similar sites and it’s not the best option if you want low quantities of images.

Magdeleine: Magdeleine offers free stock images that have been handpicked and can be searched according to subject, mood or even dominant colour. You don’t need to sign in or register to use the site, and there are many images in the public domain that you can use as you wish. Although they don’t have the largest choice of photographs, the images on the site are all incredible and many have a worldly feel to them. While the majority of the options are colour, there is a good choice of black and white images to choose from, and they feature a free, high-resolution photo daily.

morgueFile: morgueFile hosts over 300,000 free images that have been contributed by photographers for use in personal and commercial creative projects. A quick registration is all you need to access the site and you are not obliged to credit the photos although attribution is welcomed. One of the huge bonuses of this site is its inbuilt cropping tool, allowing you to edit the photo before downloading it so you can get the exact image you require for your project. You can search for images by keyword, but the only downside is the lack of categories.

Pixabay is a directory of over 250,000 photographs, vectors and drawings, which are all available under the Creative Commons licence meaning they are copyright free and cost free. You don’t need to register to use the site and each of the images can be copied, modified, distributed and used for commercial purposes. The images are all top quality and arranged according to category, and there is a good search function that even allows you to search by camera model. As an added bonus, there is a WordPress plugin called Pixabay Images that allows you to search the website and insert the images you want directly into your WP site.

These are our favourite stock photography resources – do you agree with our selection and are there any other excellent resources that we’ve missed out? Tell us in the comments below.