A Quick Guide to Buying Stock Photos (Written by a Stock Photographer)

Which stock photo site is the best?

TL;DR: If you’re searching for the perfect stock photos for your business, at an affordable and transparent price, Shutterstock is the best option (read article for more details).

Stock Photography Explained

Web designers, graphic designers, and hobbyists often buy stock photos for their projects. There are many choices and quality levels available, and our guides can help you make better decisions about where to buy, what to buy, and how much you can expect to spend on stock images.

Stock photo agencies have different selling models, that can modify (reduce) the cost of the images you buy.

Some agencies let you buy photos paying per item. And some also offer stock photo subscriptions, a plan that entitles you to a larger number of images during a time frame, for a fixed, periodic fee. Most top agencies include both options in their offer.

Each buying system has it’s pros and cons, and the convenience of one over other depends mostly on your particular needs.

Stock Photo Subscription

Here’s the main features in subscriptions:

  • Download dozens to hundreds of images per month or year, for a flat monthly or annual fee.
  • Access to collections not available to individual photo purchasers.
  • Subscription lengths of 1 month to 1 year, enabling flexibility based on project scope and stock photo needs.
  • Low, medium, and high resolution images available.
  • Choose different subscription levels depending on image resolution requirements. For example, some companies offer web res and print res subscriptions at different price points.
  • Price as low as fractions of a dollar per photo.
  • Hassle free Royalty-free licensing terms.

Average Subscription Prices

Prices differ from company to company and are based on number of downloads per month, image resolution, and quality of the collection available:

  • 1 month subscription: $80–500
  • 3 month subscription: $200–600
  • 6 month subscription: $400–1,000
  • 1 year subscription: $500–2,000

A Great Option for Large Volume Buyers

Stock photo subscriptions are the best solution if you use lots of images every month, especially if you are under a tight budget or simply want to save money.

With a subscription you assure the access to all the photos you will need, as well as the lowest price possible. Monthly and annual plans give you the best deal in pricing, with images at only a few cents each.

Of course, this implies a commitment with the agency, as you agree to pay periodic fees.

Single Image Purchasing

Stock photo agencies also sell images one by one, paying as you go. This are the key points in this buying option:

  • As many photos as you want, paying as you go.
  • Low, Medium and High resolution available.
  • Discounts for bulk purchases.
  • Control how much to spend and when.
  • Flexible Royalty Free licenses.
  • No periodic fees nor extra liason with the agency.

Single Image Pricing

Price for a single photo depends on image resolution and content value. Some agencies price their assets in USD, but others use credits, a proprietary currency unit: they price their images in credits, and then sell you the necessary credits for you to buy the images.

Depending on resolution, single stock photos cost between $1 and $15 in average. But most companies have discounts for bulk purchases. Whether it’s image packs or credit packs, they all reduce single image price if you agree to buy more downloads at once. This means that the more you are willing to spend upfront, the more money you’ll save in the long run.

Good Option to Control your Expenses

Single image purchase system is good enough if you’re only looking for a handful of photos every now and then.

It’s also convenient if you don’t want to commit long-term to an agency. If you don’t want to be billed periodically and you prefer to control exactly when to spend money in stock photos, then this option is best for you.

So now you have an idea of whether you are looking for a few one-off stock photograph purchases, or if you will be using them frequently enough to buy some form of package. Great! But which service should you use?

Where to Buy Stock Photos? Shutterstock

If you’re searching for the perfect stock photos for your business, at an affordable and transparent price, Shutterstock is the best option. Shutterstock has more than 100 million royalty-free images to choose from. They have affordable pricing plans for casual users, small businesses, and large teams, so that you get the most value possible. You may be tempted to use other household names, like Getty Images, however, photos on these others sites will cost significantly more, and the difference in quality is negligible.

A little known secret is that Getty used to have a very rigorous and ongoing vetting process, ensuring that they had the absolute best stock photos for sale, bar none. If you wanted the very best stock photo you would go to Getty. And most of the best stock photographers (myself included) submitted their content to Getty. However, in recent years, in order to keep pace with rapidly growing stock photo alternatives, Getty has allowed many photos into their portfolio that are far from exceptional, yet are still very expensive.

Below is a quick screenshot illustrating this point:

(Clearly the content on Getty is not prefiltered to show you only stunning photography)

That is why I typically recommend buying stock photography through Shutterstock.

  • The platform typically has the lowest prices, especially in bulk.
  • While there are some subpar images, it is hard to beat the 247 million royalty-free images, stock footage clips, and music tracks. Having such a large amount of content allows you to find unique images, that are not being posted on every one of your competitors articles.
  • They have free and easy photo editing software, that makes social media marketing a breeze!

How To Create Pinnable Images With Shutterstock Editor

Pinterest is a visual marketer’s playground. It’s a fantastic source of inspiration in any category you can think of, and individuals and brands are curating and organizing ideas by all sorts of criteria, making it easy to get a feel for trends as they arise. It also gives you an audience that’s already thirsty for great visual content. To make the best of the unique opportunity Pinterest presents to you as a marketer, use Shutterstock’s design tool, Editor.

Shutterstock Editor has everything you need to create beautiful, shareable pins on Pinterest and other social media platforms. Whether you license some of Shutterstock’s breathtaking images or upload your own for free, Editor can help you create professional-quality social media postings and visual marketing images.

If you are interested in buying stock photos, click here, or on the link below, to learn more about Shutterstock and get exclusive discounts!

Thanks for reading this article! Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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about the author casey botticello, casey botticello writer, casey botticello medium, medium casey botticello
about the author casey botticello, casey botticello writer, casey botticello medium, medium casey botticello

Casey Botticello is a partner at Black Edge Consulting. Black Edge Consulting is a strategic communications firm, specializing in online reputation management, digital marketing, and crisis management. Prior to founding Black Edge Consulting, he worked for BGR Group, a bipartisan lobbying and strategic communications firm.

Casey is the founder of the Cryptocurrency Alliance, an independent expenditure-only committee (Super PAC) dedicated to cryptocurrency and blockchain advocacy. He is also the editor of several Medium publications, including Medium Blogging Guide, Investigation, Strategic Communications, K Street, and Escaping the 9 to 5. He is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. in Urban Studies.

Join 10,000+ indie creators learning to navigate the passion economy, escape the 9-5 grind, and monetize their online writing ➜ bloggingguide.substack.com

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