It cannot be emphasized enough how important good images are when connecting to the public. The right graphic conveys information, evokes emotion, and draws attention. And odds are, you aren’t a professional photographer who can shoot exactly what you need at a moment’s notice. This is why stock photos exist; great photos, professionally taken, available for licensing immediately. Many sites offer stock images for licensing and have dynamic collections that put quality images in your hands at an affordable price. But who to choose…
Shutterstock is one of the biggest online libraries of royalty-free stock images. They boast a collection of over 23 million photos, vectors, and illustrations- as well as videos. It’s estimated that they also add over 50,000 new assets every week. Shutterstock offers subscriptions as well as the ability to purchase as you go so you have great flexibility in ordering.
Plans range from 2-25 images for basic plans, which will run you from $29-229. These are one-time, non-recurring fees. Shutterstock offers high quantity recurring plans, starting at $169 a month, giving you 350 images every month.
iStockphoto started off oddly enough as a one-man project. In 2001, founder Bruce Livingstone decided he would put his collection of photos online for others to use for various projects. He began to charge as membership grew, which drew in photographers and illustrators to sell their own work. You can even take artwork from the site, create a new work and sell it back to iStockphoto in some cases for their collection. iStockphoto also offers audio tracks and design formats.
iStock gets considerably more expensive as their image packages are on a credit system. So if you do pay-as-you-go, you will pay a varying number of credits for a photo- depending on the class it is in. However, many are listed at 3 credits- which will cost you $33- considerably more than other options available. However, it is the longest running sites and has a huge catalog of photos and assets you will not find elsewhere.
Dreamstime is another in the “microstock photography” field, however, they stand out with a huge collection of over 35 million images from nearly 250,000 contributors and a member base of over 11 million users. Dreamstime also boasts being the 2nd longest running stock photo site, behind iStockphoto.
A huge element to remember about Dreamstime is that they offer thousands of image for free. Now there are some limitations on licensing and use for these photos, but most users shouldn’t run afoul of any problems.
Dreamstime is a very affordable option with both credit plans, and subscriptions plans. Credit plans start at 11 credits (up to 11 images) for $14.99. However, the per-credit price for photos is tiered, so the larger the image size- the more credits it costs. If you want to just download without worry about credits you can get a subscription plan starting at $39.95 for 5 downloads a month. It seems like you are getting less for more- but this frees you of the tethers of size-based credits and levels the playing field.
Getty Images is the leading resource for images on the web with 70 million images up for grabs. It is the single most used resource in the media for royalty-free stock imagery. They also offer a huge amount of audio and video tracks. A huge plus is that you can get exclusive rights to an image so that no one else can use it.
The downside is, it is expensive. The prices are tiered based on their size which can quickly run hundreds of dollars. The fact is that Getty, while truly an industry leader, is probably out of the range for most digital content providers.
Vectorstock is a little different in that they only deal in vector illustrations, i.e. the type of files you use in Adobe Illustrator. There are no photos on this site whatsoever. Having a vectors only stock site is like a wonderland for those that have had to wade through stock photo sites to try and find a gem to use.
Vectorstock uses a credit system. Amazingly enough, you can get most of their illustrations for only 1 credit which, more unbelievably is only $1. The “catch”, as it were, is that there is a minimum purchase when you buy credits of $25. However, if you are going to be purchasing any number of vectors- this is by far your most affordable option.
It hardly seems fair to put Vectorstock in the same category as the others, so we will call that a standout and the best option for vector illustrations. When it comes to stock photos, however, we have to give the nod to Dreamstime. The options are more affordable, there are more images, and Dreamstime has an extremely strong track record in the industry. Of course, you should choose the provider who is right for you.