4 Pro tips for choosing the right stock photography

I don’t know about you, but for me, the world of stock photography does not always conjure warm and fuzzy feelings.

Maybe you have seen those (hilarious) posts showcasing some of the worst of stock photography.

Maybe you have spent too many hours searching for just the right image for your client.

Or most likely, your clients have told you they have no budget to buy images.

I recently had the opportunity to work on an imagery strategy for my client’s new blog. The client also specified that they wanted to subscribe to a stock photography plan to source the images.

Here’s what I learned from diving into the stock photography pool:

1. You’ve got options—lots of options…or do you?

Look up “stock photos” and wow, there are thousands of links.

Adobe, iStock, Shutterstock, Stock Photo Secrets, and many more.

Featured Image for: 4 Pro tips for choosing the right stock photography

So it seems like you have a lot of places to find that image of your dreams.

Meanwhile, the truth is that there aren’t as many as it seems because a few large companies have gobbled up a bunch of the smaller ones.

You may remember when Getty Images bought iStock. Well, they also bought Veer, Jupiter Images, and many more.

The old favorite Shutterstock bought BigStock.

Adobe is a new player in the market as of 2015 and came in with 40 million images from purchasing Fotolia.

If you try to visit the old sites, some of them simply redirect to the company that bought them while some still run as separate entities, but may have duplicate images.

In looking at a bunch of major sites and considering number of images, quality of images, and purchase options, my top picks were Adobe Stock and iStock (Getty).

Maybe it’s just because they have bought everyone else!

2. You have to run the numbers.

Most of the major sites offer some combination of these three ways to buy stock:

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Various subscription setups, such as 25 images per month for $229 per month.

Various credit packs, such as 12 credits for $115, with credits per image determined based on size, usage, etc. Dollar amount per image, such as $9.99 per image.

Some things to consider are whether you’ll be using the images online (lower resolution) or for print (higher resolution and potentially larger size).

Will you need extended licensing for things like multiple users or products for resale?

Figure out your different variables and then crunch the numbers on your favorite sites to see what will work best for your particular situation.

In some cases, you may even want to consider rights-managed photography, which will definitely cost you, and will need to be renewed after a certain amount of time.

For our project, it made sense to pay for a subscription to one site since we knew we’d need a set amount of photos per month and wanted them to look similar.

We also made sure that this site had the types of photos we needed. How disappointing it would be if we signed up and then found that this site only had images of classic cars when we needed restaurant images!

3. Don’t forget about free—and legal.

Need a photo of a watermelon for your Photoshop comp? You can probably find that legally and free on one of the open source (Creative Commons license CC0) sites.

My favorite is pixabay.com.

[Tweet “Crowdsourcing can be your best friend. Respect people’s creative ownership. #stockphotorgraphy”]

Crowdsourcing can be your best friend. Just respect people’s creative ownership and use only things that you legally can.

You would want them to do the same for you.

One drawback of free stock photography is that I’m guessing a lot more people are using these same images.

So you may not want to make a free photo your centerpiece, but these sites can be a good resource for everyday graphics.

4. Last but not least.

[Tweet “Make sure the image you choose will not end up on one of those worst stock photography lists!”]

Make sure the images from the stock photography site you choose will not end up on one of those worst stock photography lists—no matter how inexpensive they are!

What about you? Do you use stock photography? Do you have a favorite site that I missed?

Chime in below in the comments!

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Millo Articles by Chandra Guglik

Chandra Guglik is owner of Guglik Design, a graphic design firm specializing in design and marketing for small businesses and non-profits. Guglik is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, but works with clients all around the world.
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  1. Young Creative Services says:

    Hi, very nice post. Good to see people share such good information yet. Do take a moment and visit our website at www.weareyoung.in/ . We are an advertising agency providing creative, brand strategy, design, media & digital services.

  2. Kim Brown Irvis says:

    Hey Chandra,

    Great to see you on the Millo List! It’s me Kim from the College Board….Keep up the GREAT work!

    Great points regarding choosing the right stock photography!

    Keep in touch when you can.


  3. Michael Zorko says:

    Chandra – I have to tell you, stock photos have been the least favorite aspect of my design business. So much, that up until a year ago I send emails to my clients that said ” here are a few links to my favorite vendors – pick out what you like, and I will purchase them on your behalf”

    Then there was a change. I stopped looking for “functional stock” – and started finding images of what I call “doing stock”. Historically I would choose photos that had some direct link to the subject matter at hand. Now – I took a hint from classic 80’s jeans commercials. Back then I would always ask myself “what does racing a car have to do with Levi’s?” – then it dawned on me. Didn’t matter what they wore on the track, it’s what the slipped into when they were done with the race.

    I did the same with my stock. For example – I did a website for a Forensic Accountant. Instead of choosing images that were financially related, we created scenarios of hypothetical clients at work and used real clients quotes. Anyway – I can relate.

    Here are a few of my favorites – they are hit or miss –

  4. Wow! This article was SO helpful as I am just getting back into the freelance design realm and was wondering what the current best sites were for stock photos. Thank you!

  5. I’ve liked Dreamstime.com for over a decade. Their prices have increased in the last few years, but they still have a good collection of high-quality images at competitive prices.

  6. Cheryl Wright says:

    It depends on what project you are working on, but I love Creative Market especially if you are working on an artistic, creative project, great for blog projects etc as you can buy whole branding packages and groups of images that are all cohesive and saves so much time seraching. Great for product mock up photos, fonts you name it. You are buying off the individual which keeps prices lower too and I like they you are supporting the artist directly.

  7. Viktor Hanacek says:

    I’m always happy about posts covering using stock photo images. And because I’m owner of free stock photo site picjumbo.com, I’m also happy about mentioning free alternatives — but be careful! Very often there are stolen images from other photographers (anyone can upload the photos). My picjumbo is different — almost all photos are taken by me. Take a look, very often people can’t believe that all the photos are free 🙂

  8. Keith Barker says:

    For when you have no picture budget, my favourite site for good quality free to use images is https://unsplash.com

    1. Saqib Ahmad says:

      I kind of agree with you! Unsplash is no doubt providing the top quality images that you cant find even on other stock photos shops online, I myself have added few images there!

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