If you want to build a quality brand, it's going to require quality stock photography. Not only does great stock photography help tell a story, but it helps set mood and it helps attract specific buyer personas. Question is, where do you find cheap stock photos that are also high quality? Here's How...
Nothing is a bigger turnoff to me when I'm engaging with a brand than poor design and poor photo quality. People want to interact with beautiful things, so make your shit beautiful, okay?
I use a variety of sites to get free and cheap stock photos and have outlined the ten I use most below along with some alternatives. These photos and images get used for blog posts, poster design, webinar design, sales page design, course design, social media, and more.
When I'm working on a new project, it's not uncommon to download dozens and dozens of stock photos (especially if you need one for every blog post). I might invest hours picking out perfect photos---that's how important they are. And it's important that I can choose from a wide variety while not paying through the teeth.
That's where these cheap stock photo sites come in.
It's 100% true that you don't have to pay a ton to a stock photo agency to get quality royalty free images. Just use these resources...
#1 – Canva Photos (High Quality Cheap Stock Photos!)
When I first published this article I was getting most of my paid stock photography from Big Stock. Now, I almost exclusively use Canva as my paid source for royalty free images while leveraging the other free stock photos sites on this list. At $9.95/mo for unlimited downloads PLUS all of Canva's pro design tools, Canva is now my #1 recommendation for cheap stock photos.
Stock Photo Subscription Plans: Free to $9.95/mo (Canva Pro) - Never pay per image again.
#2 - Gratisography (Free)
I don't use this site for stock photography often because it's very particular, but sometimes it's the perfect fit (hint: it's great for eye-catching stock photos for Facebook Ads!).
The free photos they have available tend to be quirky and a little over the top. My brand is more serious and refined, but occasionally I'll need stock photos that are louder or outside of the box. If that's the case, I turn to Gratisography.
Price: Free Stock Images
#3 - Pexels (Free)
Pexels seems to be a curator of sorts---pulling free photos from multiple sites and serving it up in one place. I often see photos from my #1 pick in their search results. I should probably Pexels more than I do, especially since it seems like their free stock photos catalog has grown a lot since last time I checked. It's a solid source for royalty free images that you don't have to constantly check creative commons licensing details for.
Price: Free Stock Images
#4 - Big Stock Photo (Cheap)
When I want something specific and I'm willing to pay, this is where I usually turn first. Not because they have the highest quality photos, but because it's where I always have the most unused credits. It's not outstanding, but it does the job as a relatively cheap stock photo agency.
Stock Photo Subscriptions: I currently pay $80/mo for 50 stock images per month. It's a pricier subscription package but it's worth it.
#5 - JumpStory (Cheap)
JumpStory is a newer stock photo site, but they've really caught my attention as of late. What's good about JumpStory is that they work hard to offer high quality stock photos that have a very organic and non-cheesy feel. Like many, they use a subscription model, but it's very affordable. They also have a photo editor and a background removal tool as a bonus, which comes in really handy!
Stock Photo Subscriptions: $25/mo (monthly) or $16.95/mo (annual). There's also a 14-day free trial you can start with.
#6 - Adobe Stock (Kinda Cheap)
If you're going to pay, the quality and selection at Adobe is better than Bigstock, but it's not nearly as expensive as iStock and Shutterstock. It's a good middle-ground and everyone can start with 10 free stock photos.
Stock Photo Subscriptions: I currently get 10 photos a month for $9.99/mo.
#7 - Unsplash (Free)
This is usually my first stop for free photos, depending on my needs. Unsplash is my jam. The reason is three-fold:
- High image quality.
- Organic image feel --- photos won't look like stock photos.
The only downside is that the selection is minimal and there probably won't be a ton of highly specific matches to your searches. However, if you do find an image that will work, it means that it's not going to look like a stock image. When I'm looking for imagery, that's usually a qualification that's top of the list.
Price: Free Stock Images
#8: Yay Photos (Free + Cheap)
Yay Photos is a really awkward option, but I'm going to list it anyway because, well, it's an option.
Why is it awkward? Their pricing is $9.90/mo for "unlimited streaming photos" and 1 photo download per month.
You're probably wondering what "streaming photos" means, right? Me too. And it's not answered anywhere on their site that I can find. A classic example of terrible pricing and terrible user experience.
I'm not overly impressed with the photos they have on offer either, but...you get what you pay for. If you're okay with the image quality and manage to find out what "streaming" photos means, this might be a good option for you.
Stock Photo Subscriptions: $9.90/mo+
#9: Dreamstime (Free + Cheap)
Dreamstime is a popular option for both free photos and cheap stock photos and I like that they have a completely separate search section for their free offerings.
As for Dreamstime's pricing, you can choose between subscription packages or per image credit purchases.
Stock Photo Subscriptions: 11 image downloads for $14.99 (or $35/mo for a 10-image subscription credit pack).
#10: 123RF (Cheap)
What kind of name is this for a website? You've got me, but they're pretty popular.
When I did a quick search, I saw a bunch of photos that I've also seen on sites like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and Bigstock. That's good considering that their pricing models will get you photos for well under $1 per image on a subscription plan.
If you're just needing a few photos, this probably isn't the best place to go. Their smaller packs are much more expensive per photo.
Stock Photo Subscriptions: 5 Images for $39 or 150 photos for $79/mo.
#11: Pixabay (Free + Cheap)
I wanted to close out with another free photos offering.
While I didn't get a chance to dive in to dozens of different searches, the few searches that I did do seemed to pull a lot of images I've seen before on other free stock photo sites like Unsplash and Pexels.
Of course, there were many I didn't recognize as well. If you don't want to dish out any cash, there might be some hidden variety here.
Price: Free Stock Photos
Final Thoughts on Free and Cheap Stock Photos
Between these ten sites, I'm confident that you'll be able to find pretty much anything you need for a great price.
Keep in mind that stock photo sites tend to have tons of photos that are very "stocky." People can sniff out stock photos fairly well (they're somewhat of a turnoff). The more organic and natural your image is, the better.
The cheaper the stock photos are, the more likely they are to be less professional and cheesy. So my last piece of advice would be to remind you that you get what you pay for.
Is there a site that you love that I didn't list here? Let me know in the comments.