Choosing Stock Photo Sites – Paid or Unpaid?

Whether you are a web designer, a blogger or a marketing executive, one thing you will need are images. Photos are a huge part of nearly everything on the internet and every statistic you read says that anything using good images gets a better response than those without them. There are also a huge number of stock photo sites available so how do you know which are the best and how to get the most from them?

Dos and don’ts of stock photo sites

Before we look at individual sites, let’s take a peek at the industry as a whole. Stock photos are crucial for any internet based business and that means there are plenty of companies who are happy to provide these images. But there are also pitfalls with some of them that can land a business into trouble for using images incorrectly.

First there are royalty free images – these don’t mean that there’s no cost involved but it means you don’t have to pay any royalties to use the image. Then there are creative commons images such as those found on Wikipedia. These can be used without need to pay for them though sometimes the creator of the image asks that they are credited for the image somewhere on the site. Similar licenses are available on sites such as Flickr.

Paid stock sites

There are loads of websites to find stock images, some of which offer them free of charge while others charge either a credit fee per image or need a subscription to download and use the images.

iStock is an example of a site that offers millions of high quality images but that require the purchase of credits to download. The site sells these in pre-set packages with the more you buy, the more you save method employed. Searches can be done for keywords on the image as well as browse by category if you are unsure what you want.

Getty was the original company to offer license free images and has millions of images as well as thousands of hours of video to download. Each image or video has its own price depending on its content and you can also sign subscription deals.

Adobe is one of the big names in photo editing with their Photoshop software and its many off-shoots. They now also offer stock photos with their Adobe Stock site. The great thing about buying these images is that they are designed to work with Photoshop and their other software for great customisation.

Free stock sites

Pixabay is one of the biggest free photo sites that allow you to download as many images as you want, free of charge. There are some superb quality images on the site, most of which require no attribution at all and there are also graphics available.

MorgueFile is one of the most streamlined, easy to use free stock photo sites and requires no attribution on the images. It doesn’t have as many images as Pixabay but does cover a wide range of topics.

Create Your Own Stock Images

There are two main reasons that a photographer should consider creating their own stock images. First, you can make some money from all those random, good quality shots you have taken that are currently not in use. Secondly, you can get your name out there, have it associated with quality photography and build up an online reputation that can win you work. So how do you create those stock images?

Choosing your subjects

If you are searching your back catalogue or plan to go out specifically to take stock images, then spare a moment to think about the kind of images that are more likely to sell. To do this, think about what stock images are used for – primarily on the internet for websites, blogs, marketing and other publications. Sometimes they are used by print magazines but they often have their own in-house photographers.

Therefore, when considering this, think about the kind of images these people want. They probably don’t want shots of the family holiday, unless it is the scenery, architecture or other sights. They probably don’t want pictures of your kids but pets can be worth considering as animal related sites are always looking for fresh images.

Not all stock photos need to be from the outdoor world. Stock photos are a great way to practise your composition. Look at some of those shots of a laptop, mobile phone, stationary and such that you see when you go to a stock photo website – they can be done at home with the right equipment and lighting. Businesses are always looking for good quality images such as these.

Most popular categories

If you are looking for inspiration and are unsure what to photograph, then look at the most popular categories based on the websites who supply them. There is high demand for:

Food and drink – anything from a glass of wine, fruit, a meal or even a fruit tree filled with fruit or a grocery bag full of food

Business – as mentioned, those laptop and mobile phone shots are the stock images used by businesses and this can include items such as money, a notebook as well as people shots such as business people, groups in meetings and seminars.

Hobbies – every hobby will have a hobby blogger and they will want images so anything from wool and knitting needles to gardening gear and gym equipment will have buyers.

Nature and outdoors – this includes animals, pets and wild, as well as outdoor scenes right down to a single acorn on a tree. Take as many different types of shots in each location and you will find buyers.

Seasonal – make use of the seasons to get shots for the big events such as Christmas and Halloween.

The photos

Once you have some ideas about the photos you are going to take, next look at the technical side of things. You want high resolution images that are clear and well formatted. Large, crisp images are popular while lower resolution images can be accepted in some situations, though will likely make you less money.

Consider the lighting, especially in those still images. Look at the different types of lighting you can use and don’t be afraid to experiment with lots of different shots, even if only one good one comes out of it.

Make the Most of Your Stock Images

As a photographer, you end up taking loads of shots, whether to practise with different camera modes, try out a new lens or just because you like the subject. This often leaves you with a load of pictures that you don’t need but that are pretty good. Therefore, selling them to companies who offer stock photography is a way to make some money from these shots and also get your name out there as a professional. But how do you make the most of your images before selling them?

Don’t underestimate standards

Some photographers think that stock images don’t need to be of the best quality but this can be a mistake, especially if you want to get paid for them. Sure, if you are giving the images away, it doesn’t matter if they are a little out of focus or the light isn’t great. But to make money from them, they need to be top quality.
To ensure the best quality photos, make sure you inspect them at a high resolution. If you check them at a small resolution, little flaws and problems can vanish but if you get the resolution up then you can spot any little issues that a quick editing can resolve before submitting them to sites.

Use good editing software

For many, photo editing software still stops with Adobe Photoshop although there are some very good competitors out there. For most professionals, the combination of Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop is the best way to get high quality shots with the former doing the bulk of the work and the latter doing the fine tuning. Photoshop is famous for its advanced tools and these can make a shot go from good to great very easily.
Make sure you save the file when edited in the highest setting available. So when you save a JPEG, move the slider right up as far as it will go to get the most data into the file and therefore the best quality. Some sites use EXIF data for important, so check this out before submitting.

Non-photography stuff

If you don’t know what SEO is, then go do a little research. Your photos will be accepted better if they contain keywords that are relevant to the content and mean the stock image website can easily attract visitors with them. Don’t go over the top and stuff the tags full of words but make sure there are a few relevant ones. For example, if the picture is a lighthouse taken off the coast of Norfolk then keywords could include Norfolk, lighthouse, ocean view, sea view, coastal view and such.


There is a huge demand for stock photos but there is also a demand for high quality images. Web designers, bloggers and others who use stock images now rank the quality of the shot alongside the content of it in terms of importance. This means your shots need to be useful, high quality and well tagged to get the best income for your images.