Finding Cheap Stock Photos That Are Royalty Free

The Internet might have started out as a text-based communications tool, but times have changed.

It’s become far more visual, and sites like Pinterest and Instagram are proof of this.

After all, how many of you thought we’d ever see a social network based purely on images?

Now, that puts a whole lot of additional pressure on you as a web developer/blogger to find a reliable supply of cheap, royalty-free, stock photos, images and vectors.

That’s why we’re going to take a look at sites that offer cheap stock photos, but without any royalty headaches.

Blogging Is Changing

The days of posting those huge wall-of-text blog posts are done.


Yeah, people are still posting those 10,000 word novellas on their site, but who actually reads them?

There’s also the fact that people’s attention spans are getting shorter because of the sheer number of distractions in our lives.

An easy way to help people focus on what you blog about is to add more images to the page.

Abby at JustAGirlAndHerBlog is a great example of a blogger who makes great use of images in her posts.

If you’re like most of us mere mortals who aren’t professional photographers or gifted digital illustrators, you’ll have to use stock images of some kind.

So, where can you get them?

Cheap vs. Free Stock Photos

But first we need to cover free stock photos.

Why bother?

Well, it’s because I want to highlight something important here.

There are tons of places you can find free images online, but some I’ve used in the past include:

Now, if you ask most bloggers where to find free images they’ll tell you to check out the free sites first.

That is – generally speaking –  stupid advice.

You can waste hours searching through dozens of free sites to maybe find one suitable image.

Then you might have to crop it, adjust it, etc.

Compare that experience to logging into your favourite low cost stock photo site, doing a quick search, tagging the multiple images you like, and then just downloading them.

Let’s do some math.

You charge your clients $50 per hour for your services.

You spent an hour tracking down a handful of images on free stock photo sites.

That’s $50 of your time you can’t bill for.

But these are the same people who tell you that stock photo sites are “too expensive”.

We have a saying for that in Ireland – penny wise and pound foolish.

The moral of the story is that sometimes you’re better off coughing up the cash for a monthly plan for one of the paid sites.

Not All Paid Stock Image Sites Are Equal

It would be a good idea to tune in and pay attention here because this will save you money.

You need to be really, really careful about any deals you find for stock image sites.

Like $35 for lifetime access to 1,000,000 images.

Sounds like a great deal, right?

It is until you discover you have access to tens of thousands of images that are completely unusable.

I had that experience recently with an AppSumo deal – I was excited until I saw the quality of the images.

I’ve actually found better matches for searches when using free stock image sites than the paid “deal” I got.

Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Tip: I’ve noticed that a lot of the same images are licensed to multiple stock sites, especially vector images. So shop around if you find an image you like.

The next step is to download or screen grab a sample and do a reverse image search.

You can then do price comparison shopping across the different stock photo sites.

Something else to pay attention to with paid sites is that 1 credit doesn’t always equal 1 image.

So, you could find an image you really like, only to find it costs 5 credits because it’s a “Premium” image.

That’s one way some of these sites can rip you off in a hurry.

Paid Stock Photo Sites


This was the first stock image site I ever used based on recommendations from others. This was also back when they were affordable – when they’d offer images for $1 each.

As of right now they have a complicated pricing structure where you can buy image credits, access to all images or just access to “Essentials” images, whatever the hell they are.

iStockPhoto Pricing
Credit packs
3 credits $24
6 credits $45
Monthly subscription
10 images $85 per month
25 images $125 per month
Monthly ‘Essential’ Images
10 images $35 per month
25 images $55 per month
Cost per image
Umm…anywhere from $3.50 per image to about $8 per image.

If the iStock team happen to read this, your marketing team need to pick a pricing strategy and stick with it. Otherwise you’re going to become the MySpace of your industry.

Adobe Stock

The mighty Adobe has been acquiring image sites and related businesses quite a lot in the last year or two.

One of their most recent was Fotolia, my previous favourite stock site, which has now been wrapped up into Adobe Stock.

In one way it’s nice to have a brand name you know and trust to buy stock images from, but I’m not a fan of the types of monopolies I see developing in this industry.

But let’s take a look at what Adobe Stock actually offer.

Adobe Stock Pricing
Credit packs
5 credits $40
16 credits $121
Monthly subscription
40 images $99per month
750 images $199 per month
Cost per image
It ranges from $2 at the low end up to about $8 per image at the high end

Adobe Stock might have a great range of images but their monthly plans are stupidly expensive for the average user.

Fotolia was way, way cheaper and offered the same quality of images.


I’ve only used Shutterstock for a handful of images in my time, and from memory they were for my most recent 9 – 5 job. Well it was more like 9 – 7, but that’s typical of most jobs like that.

Anyways, on face value Shutterstock looks and feels like every other stock site, so let’s take a look at what it costs to use their stuff.

Shutterstock Pricing
Credit Packs
5 credits (images) $49
25 credits (images) $179
Monthly Subscription
10 images $49 per month
50 images $125 per month
Cost per Image
From $4.90 to $9.80 per image

Something I noticed while doing test searches was that Shutterstock do seem to have truly unique images – they’re not just repeats of the same images I found on other sites.

But the downside is that you’re paying anywhere from $5 to $10 per image, which puts it out of the price range of most people.

Deposit Photos

I first heard about Deposit Photos several years ago when hiring somebody to design a cover for one of my fiction books.

The designer loved them because they were affordable and had plenty of images to choose from.

But I didn’t give them a second thought until years later, when I became a loyal customer, and you’ll see why shortly.

Deposit Photos Pricing
Credit packs
10 images $49
25 images $99
Monthly subscription
75 images $69 per month
150 images $99 per month
Flexible Plan
30 images $29 per month
Cost per image
From $1 to $4 per image

Their Flexible Plan

This is how marketing is done, and I’ve yet to see another site offer as much value. Deposit Photo’s ‘Flexible Plan’ costs $29 per month and you can download up to 30 images of any size.

If you blow through your credit limit then you can download any additional images for $1 each.

Deposit Photos run a deal every winter on AppSumo – usually 100 images for $49, or 49c per image. And you can stack multiple deals, so you could get all the images you need for a year or two for less than $100.

What Do I Use?

Although I loved Fotolia, I now use Deposit Photos for 99% of my stock images.

Why didn’t I migrate to Adobe Stock when they acquired Fotolia?

Because it would triple my image sourcing costs.

Now and again I might use Flickr if I’m looking for something truly unique – that’s a rarity though.

But apart from that Deposit Photos checks all the boxes:

  • Affordable
  • Great selection
  • 1 credit = 1 image
  • Monthly credits roll over

The only thing I hate about their service is that if you take a break from using them (cancel your account for a while), you lose all the credits stored in your account.

Basically, if you had an account for 6 months you could have downloaded up to 180 images. But if you only downloaded 100 and then temporarily cancelled your account, you’d lose 80 credits.

I get that they have a business to run, but taking 100% of your leftover credits is a lousy thing to do. They need to find some kind of compromise here.

Like only removing all unused downloads after 120-days of inactivity, or only removing 75% of your credits when you cancel.

But apart from that gripe, I love Deposit Photos.