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Stock photo services provide images for use in editorial (news), website, commercial, entertainment, and artistic projects to illustrate and visualize various concepts and ideas. Such images enhance storytelling value by instantly communicating what the piece is about.
Stock photos can be purchased individually or in "packs" or groups, either with a monthly or yearly subscription or as a one-time, on demand arrangement. Generally, the longer your subscription term and the more images you purchase, the lower the cost per image.
Wednesday, October 20th
Shutterstock has been around for quite a long time. They have 1.7 million new images, videos, and music tracks uploaded weekly by independent creators. Many website designers, publishers, newsrooms, and video editors use their products and services to enhance their projects. Brands such as Google, AMC, AOL, and even BuzzFeed trawl its catalogs for visuals and audio for all kinds of uses.
Shutterstock doesn't have a free trial, but they do offer a free account. When you sign up, and even before you purchase, you can save, sort, share, and try downloadable comps. You can also easily track your download and browsing history right in your account: no more trying to remember where you found that really great image.
Single User Pricing
For single users, Shutterstock offers a variety of pricing plans to choose from. If you are a single user and want to pay-as-you-go without any long-term contracts, you can opt for a subscription plan that ranges from 10 images for $49/month, up to 750 images for $249/month. You can cancel this plan at any time. If you commit to a 12-month contract, the pricing drops to $29/month for 10 images, up to $199/month for 750 images. If you simply choose on-demand pricing, you'll pay from $29 for 2 images up to $229 for 25 images.
Multiple User Pricing
If you want to empower a team with collaboration tools, and have legal coverage for multiple users, you're required to purchase an annual contract. Pricing starts at 2 users and 750 images for $379/month, or 3-10 users and 750 images for $479/month. If your needs go beyond 10 people or 750 images /month, you must contact their customer service team.
Excellent Search Filters
In our innocuous "black and white puppy dogs" test search that we used across all stock photo sites we reviewed, we found that Shutterstock returned about 3,400 results to choose from. That includes all types of images available. They also have a search by image system to determine whether a photo you have on-hand is licensable or similar to others in their database. The search filtering is excellent, with more options than most people will ever use and a default safe search to keep results appropriate for work and home.
Curated categories make it easier to find seasonal, topical, and conceptual collections of images rather than having to figure out which specific search terms to use. They also offer a mobile app for searching on-the-go, a powerful online editor for convenience, and Photoshop plugins that help you find and download images right within Photoshop itself.
Customized On-brand Content
Should you require creation of on-brand content in a customized fashion, Shutterstock Custom is available. Just use the Shutterstock Custom platform to write a creative brief stating what you need and their global network of artists and photographers will produce compelling content to fit your brand guidelines at an affordable price.
Very Positive Reviews
Reviews for Shutterstock are very positive with people saying they like how it treats creators and users, the quality of the images, the overall usability and layout of the site, and the variety of format options. Complaints were of the type common to all stock photography sites and relatively minor by comparison to the worst ones we reviewed. They included problems with billing, figuring out the multiple licensing types, and deciding to go with cheaper, lower-quality options to save more money.
Shutterstock offers a lot to everyone of any budget level. We highly recommend it to everyone searching for a flexible, reliable, and affordable stock photography service. This online stock photo service earns our highest rating.
It almost feels wrong to say that Getty Images deals in stock images when their photography is considered anything but "stock" in quality, composition, and subject matter. Getty Images is quite expensive when you put their pricing plans side-by-side with other stock photo services. But, the quality of their images compared to other providers is second to none.
Excellent Search Filters
Getty Images has excellent photos (including editorial), illustrations, and vectors as well as video. Within each of those types you can find both creative and editorial content. They also have an excellent archival section for vintage images that are difficult to find elsewhere. With our test search of "black and white puppy dog", we found over 750 archival images alone and over 2,000 of the other types.
Robust Search Filters
The search filters are robust and user-friendly. You can sort by just about every attribute imaginable, from best match, newest, and most popular on down to the more granular facets such as location, photographer, collections, color, and style.
Spectacular Images, Expensive Pricing
Getty recognizes their fantastic images with the tagline "Spectacular images. Flexible pricing." on the pricing page. Prices for single images and videos range from $175 to $499 per download. That means that if you purchase and download an image once, and then re-download it, you'll pay that same price a second time. You'll want to be sure of how many downloads you require before making your purchase. This pricing and download rule will put most non-professional uses of Getty images out of budgetary reach for most people.
Lower The Cost
You can, of course, purchase 5 packs and 10 packs of images to lower the cost by between $10 and $75, respectively, per download and according to sizes downloaded. There are no monthly or daily download limits and no seat licenses (which only allow one person to download images) are required.
Custom Images For Special Needs
Something Getty offers above and beyond other stock image sites is custom content and even special commissions. If there's a really specific image you need with one-of-a-kind requirements that their catalog just doesn't have, you can work with a Getty photographer to produce it. Also, if your design requires that you use a high-resolution "comp" image rather than the usual low-resolution image, Getty's integrated workflow allows for the high-resolution option before you have to pay. No more trying to imagine what the final result will look like!
Exclusive Use Option
Furthermore, if there is an image that you need exclusive use of - meaning you don't want anyone else to ever download and use it in their projects - there is extended licensing for that scenario. After you download it, Getty Images will then remove the asset from their search and from their browsable catalog so no one else can find it.
If inclusiveness is a priority for your creative projects, Getty sponsors a library called Project #ShowUs. It is a library of over 5,000 photos by 116 photographers in 39 countries that shifts focus away from old beauty stereotypes and spotlights other identities and the unique characteristics of more individuals. To find the images, all you need to do is search for "show us" on the site.
Great Choice, If You Can Afford It
Big targets get equally large criticism and accolades. Getty Images is one such target. The reviews of Getty Images ranged from dissatisfied customers to very happy users who highly recommend everything about them. From what we've seen, the good outweighs the bad on almost every level. Getty Images earns a very high rating.
Owned by Getty Images, iStock is more of a price-discounted version of the Getty Images site. The plans and pricing are geared more towards the personal website owner than toward a large organization or team. They offer straightforward subscriptions to royalty-free images that can be used anywhere and as often as you need.
More Than Just Images
The types of assets iStock provides are photos, illustrations, vector images, and videos. Each type of asset is further categorized into curated sets, a signature collection, and an essentials collection. You can browse by trending searches, popular categories, and artist and video clip features of the month. The topics of each category and collection are timely according to the seasons, holidays, trends, and current events.
Great Search Functions
The search feature works similarly to the main Getty Images site in terms of the variety and usage of filters. It has two additional filters to search by lowest price (Essentials) and best quality (Signature). Our search for "black and white puppy dogs" produced an astounding 6,579 possibilities, so the filters definitely helped to narrow that down. For example, the Signature quality image set was only 944 photos.
Selecting An Image
When you select an image, you can buy it right on the spot, view plans and pricing, buy a suggested subscription, or edit the photo online. There are also links to the standard and extended licensing information for that image.
iStock offers a number of payment options depending on your needs. The most expensive is to purchase images in on-demand "credit packs". There are a range of credit packs to choose from, starting at 1 credit for $12, and running all the way up to 300 credits for $2,400. In their "Essentials" collection, images cost 1 credit to download. In their "Signature" collection, images cost 3 credits to download.
Subscription Pricing Options
A more cost-effective way to purchase images is with iStock's subscription plan. Here you can choose between a Basic subscrition, which only allows access to their Essentials collection of images, or a Premium subscrition that allows access to both their Essentials and Signature collections. In each subscrition model you can also choose to go month-to-month with no long term contract, or get lower pricing with a 12-month commitment.
Subscription Pricing Costs
A month-to-month Basic subscription (Essentials-only images) ranges from 10 images for $40/month to 750 images for $199/month. If you commit to 12 months, the pricing drops to 10 images for $29/month and 750 images for $166/month. If you choose a Premium subscrition (both Essentials and Signature images), the month-to-month pricing ranges from 10 images for $99/month to 750 images for $399/month. If you commit to 12 months, that pricing drops to 10 images for $70/month and 750 images for $333/month.
If you change your mind about a credit pack purchase, you can get a refund within 14 days of the invoice, provided you haven't used any credits from the pack. The same is true for the month-to-month subscriptions, as you can cancel any time or get a refund within 14 days of purchase if it's not right for you.
Search For Similar Images
Searching by image is a nice feature that allows you to upload an image and then have iStock find other images that are similar to it in various ways. But, even more useful is the fact that it can tell you whether an image you want to use is available to license from their catalog.
Editing An Image
The iStock editor is simple and easy to use, with capabilities to crop, rotate, or resize the image (even for standard social media sizes), add text and filters, upload other images for further composition, or search for another image to work with instead.
Positive Customer Reviews
Reviews for iStock are mostly positive. Lots of people gave them high marks for the excellent image quality, easy-to-use site, variety, and price. Without much evidence, some stated that some of iStock's illustrations are shared on other sites. Others were dissatisfied in general with the stock photo industry.
iStock is an excellent choice for budget- and quality-conscious designers, editors, and image users. Without hesitation, we give them extremely high marks and our recommendation.
Deposit Photos is a very popular option for website owners, TV production staff, social media publishers, and newsrooms to obtain images for their projects. It is trusted and used by many recognizable companies.
Subscriptions are monthly or yearly, as well as on demand with standard and extended licenses. Any unused downloads can transfer into the next month and additional images beyond your subscription limit cost just $1 each. Monthly subscriptions start at 30 images for $29/month, up to 750 images for $199/month. If you sign up for an annual contract, you'll receive a 14% discount from these prices. On-demand pricing is their most expensive option, from 3 images for $14 to 100 images for $299 (standard licensing).
You have life-long rights to use the images for marketing or advertising purposes. Standard licensing inludes printing up to 500,000 copies. If you need to print more, want to purchase the exteneded licensing option.
Over 193 Million Assets
With a library of over 193 million files that include photos, vectors, editorial images, videos, illustrations, and templates, it's hard to imagine that you won't find what you need at Deposit Photos.
Handy Filtering Tools
The search feature is simple and effective at turning up very specific images in each file type category. For example, our search for "black and white puppy dog" yielded over 88,000 adorable and relevant results. To narrow down the results to a more manageable set, a search customization bar appears on the left where you can choose image orientation, whether images include people of varying gender, age, ethnicity, and quantity, and a number of other features.
Download Your Image
Once you find an asset to download, you can choose the size you want to download - small, large, extra-large, or super large - and the licensing term (standard or extended). In the same download window, you can opt to find similar images or create a design based on the current image.
Creating A Design
When you choose to create a design, the selected image appears in an online image editor called Crello. In the editor, you can select a template to start from or build it from scratch with your choice of layered photos, videos, music, animations, objects, backgrounds, and text.
The majority of Deposit Photos and Crello users who reviewed these tools are satisfied overall, with praise regarding the site's ease of use and customer service. Those giving Deposit Photos a negative review complained of having to enter CAPTCHA challenges too often, receiving too many email notifications, and experiencing problems with enabling the 7-day free trial. Those giving Crello a negative review didn't like that it sometimes crashed, was of low quality compared to other online design tools, and a too-frequent changing of the user agreement.
We really like the ease-of-use of the Crello tool, and the large selection of images at Deposit Photos. This is a good site if you need inexpensive images and aren't overly concerned with having super-unique stock photos.
Dreamstime is a trusted stock photography company claiming to be the world's largest with 32 million users. Their photos are royalty-free and available for as little as $0.20 per download. Many images are free of charge (though still copyrighted) and the public domain images come without copyright or restrictions on their use.
7 Day Free Trial
Getting started using Dreamstime is easy with a no-obligation 7-day free trial with up to 15 images included. When you sign up for a paid plan, you can choose either a credit package or a monthly or yearly subscription. Credit points vary from 11 credits for $14.99 up to 2,000 credits for $1,760. Under a subscription, you can download between 5 and 750 images per month for between $25 per month and $2,028 per year.
Searching The Site
Searching the site for images is simple to begin with by just typing keywords into the ever-present search bar. Within the search bar and also within the results are a number of filtering options to narrow down the selection to exactly what you're looking for. Criteria include relevance, best-selling, latest uploads, people, pricing, license, media properties, and more. In addition, there's a "Safe Search" option to limit the results to photos and video that are safe for viewing in the workplace or for children to see.
Beyond just stock photos, Dreamstime offers vector and clip art images, illustrations, editorial photos for news sites, video, and audio files. If you need anything within a specific theme or collection, Dreamstime staff regularly create themed categories to browse and select images from.
Some Invalid Results
Dreamstime uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically classify images via object detection, keyword suggestions, smart cropping to ensure that you'll find more of what you're looking for. However, in a search such as "black and white puppy dog", even with the "People" filter set to show only photos with people and dogs together, Dreamstime was unable to limit the search to that set. Although the majority of the images did have a variety of diverse people in them, some users might be frustrated with having to ignore the irrelevant ones.
Wide Range Of Download Options
Once you find the photo you're looking for, you can download a wide range of sizes. They download as JPG files in extra small, small, medium, large, extra-large, max, and very large TIFF resolution formats. Images come in royalty-free or extended licenses. You can download the same size and license repeatedly. You're only charged again if you download a different size and/or license for the same image or some other image entirely.
Althouth the search and filtering options sometimes yielded results that didn't match what we were looking for, we still give Dreamstime high marks. They have a good supply of quality images and competive pricingDreamstime is worth your consideration.
Owned by Dreamstime, Megapixl is a more discounted image catalog. The website is colorful and interesting to look through. We felt engaged with the content right away, with lots of suggestions of content to explore and search for.
Free 7 Day Trial, But...
Megapixl, which has only been around since 2016, offers photos, illustrations, vector art, and videos in royalty-free or editorial licensing. There's a free 7-day trial but it expires 24 hours from when you begin accessing the site, which feels a bit like a pressure gimmick to us. To find the pricing options, you have to click the link to start the free week (there's no other link for pricing that we could locate).
Subscription plans start at 20 images for $25 per month and go up to 750 images for $219 per month. Video subscriptions are between $15 per month to $621 per month depending on the number of videos and the formats downloaded.
Minimal Search Features
We performed our "black and white puppy dog" search and got over 45,000 images (not all were just of black and white dogs, unfortunately). The minimal search filters were able to narrow the list down to about 1,600 when we added the criteria to show photos only with people in them. We couldn't specify how many people, nor could we figure out how to get the correct color of dogs we were looking for.
"Best Images" Collection - But Are They Really?
Their "Best Images" collection was nice, but it didn't really stand out as such. The comparison of that category with others didn't impress us much.
After clicking on an image, we found that the royalty-free options were of very high resolutions, which is a good thing for flexibility in larger format publications and advertisements (like banners and billboards). When selecting extended licensing, the site helpfully automatically selected the correct minimum resolution version to which the extended licensing applied.
Average At Best
Reviewers of Megapixl complained of some problems with purchasing, such as not being asked for confirmation before spending on their images. While the site is engaging and the images are moderately good with affordable pricing, it's not the best of the photo sites we've reviewed. More powerful search filtering and online design tools are available on other sites, so we suggest you check them out before committing to buying online stock photos from Megapixl.
Most of the popular stock image sites prominently display the number of images they have in their catalog. With BigStock, we were left guessing just how large the archive might be. This is important because when searching for images it's useful to know the general likelihood that you'll find what you're looking for. If the number of images available is small, it's less likely to produce enough variety and quantity to satisfy the searcher's needs.
Subscription Plan Pricing
Subscription plans include 5, 10, and 50 images or videos per month from $79 to $99 per month. Other plans vary in number from 10 credits to 500 credits at between $35 and $495. Buying increasingly more images in 1, 3, and 12 month durations will lower the cost per image from $0.53 for 5 images per day to $0.16 for 50 images per day. Other single month duration billing cycles are also available for both images and video.
Limited Filter Functionality
Our test search of "black and white puppy dog" yielded about 580 pages of results. In attempting to narrow them down a bit, we noticed that there was a limited set of filters to work with compared with other stock photo search engines. Curiously, even though vector images and illustrations were not mentioned on any pages we looked at prior to our search, there were image type filters for those two types of images.
Satisfies But Doesn't Delight
There are collections or categories on the site that contain images depicting numerous subjects and concepts. However, the variety and quality of the images was average with respect to other sites we saw. There are mostly staged photos and videos without a lot of surprises. If you're looking for images that delight you in their uniqueness, BigStock is probably not the best stock photography site.
In A Pinch
As for our recommendation, in a pinch BigStock will do the trick, but it's not a site we'd recommend for regular and sustained image searches. You may want to start with a higher-ranked stock photo site, and check out BigStock only if you can't find what you're looking for elsewhere.
Crestock is relatively small and unknown by comparison to the other heavy hitters we reviewed. It may be due to its spartan and cheaper-looking user interface - the font size was way too small and we had to increase it in the browser to reduce eye strain while using the site. But it also could be less popular given that when we tried to access it on a moderately filtered WiFi network, it was blocked as not safe for the workplace.
After the network administrator unblocked the site, it was apparent that Crestock is not keeping its browser security certificate updated. We saw a "Not Secure" symbol and message. We then (cautiously) looked through the Crestock collection.
Frustrating To Search
Crestock has photos, illustrations, and vector art, but no videos that we could find. Search filtering is somewhat minimal and nowhere near as accessible or powerful as other stock photo sites. It was also rather slow at producing results. If you're doing regular adjustments to filters or paging through multiple results, it will take you a while. Also, when we added "with people" to the filtering for our seemingly harmless dogs search, we got a "not safe for work" image in that result set. There is no ability to turn on a safe search feature that we were able to find.
Continuing our search for "black and white puppy dogs", the images we found on page one of the results felt overly doctored with the majority of them having the backgrounds removed. There was little in the way of uniqueness that would have made our design projects stand out in any way. Rather, the images would have made it look as if they were found in a Google Images search and not properly licensed.
Affordable Pricing, But Lower Resolution
Pricing is pretty great for these low-quality images, as one might expect. There were images as low as $0.25 and as high as $1.00 but not much higher. And, you can purchase 50 credits for under $50 or a generous 20 image per day (for 30 consecutive days) subscription plan for under $200. The problem is that the highest resolutions we found for many images were about half the size of what's offered on other sites.
Extended Licensing Available
Extended licensing is also available of images for consumer merchandise, electronic templates, unlimited print runs, and unlimited seat licenses. But, again, we weren't that impressed with the quality of the images or the photographers overall.
Surprisingly, Crestock has some good reviews, but they're mainly centered around the low cost. At such poor quality, it's not surprising that the value of the images would also be perceived as worth so little money. Move along to another service if you want better options for your design projects.
Some stock photo sites contain higher quality images than others - depending on the photographers' skill, experience, reputation, and the ways they choose subjects, compose and light their photos. So, it's important to consider this when the price on one site seems very high compared to others.
Image types are typically photos but also include anything of visual value. That covers video, vector art, illustrations, editorial photos for news stories, and formatted templates for social media, blogs, marketing materials, and ads.
Photo resolutions are measured in pixels (dots) and range from low pixel density (a horizontal resolution of around 400 pixels) to high pixel density for 4K images (a horizontal resolution of 4,096 pixels) and, increasingly, 8K images (7,680 pixels). The higher-resolution images are for high-definition TV output, computer screens, and print. The lower resolution images are typically used on websites with pixel dimension restrictions or that need to balance quality with image load speed on slow connections.
Some stock photo websites offer unlimited numbers of downloads per image. Others provide just a single download, after which you'll need to repurchase the image at full price if you need to download it again.
Licensing restrictions are oriented around the type of use you have for the image, video, or photo as well as use frequency (royalty-free vs. more per-use limited "rights managed" images). For example, TV broadcast and print licensing will often be more restrictive than website image licensing. And, you can license images on some stock photo sites for your exclusive use, meaning that the image will be removed from their catalog once you purchase it. Be sure to read the licensing terms carefully for each asset you purchase and download. If you're found using it against the licensing agreement, you may be charged a steep fine for each out-of-license use.
It's also important to be aware that not every stock photo site will be available on internet connections having strong filtering. Stock photo sites can contain images and videos that are not family friendly or "safe for work". So, if you have trouble viewing a stock photo site due to a content warning in your browser, check with your network administrator about getting an exception made for that stock photo site's domain name.
As you decide which provider to use for your stock photos, it may be helpful to keep the following factors in mind:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best online sources of stock photos today. We hope this information helps you find the perfect images for your website, newsletter, or other projects!
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