If you want to build a quality brand, it’s going to require quality imagery. Not only does great photography help tell a story, but it helps set mood and it helps attract specific buyer personas. Question is, where do you find free or 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. 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 free and cheap stock photo sites come in…
#1 – Canva Photos (New! Free + Cheap)
When I first published this article I was getting most of my paid stock photos from Big Stock. Now, I almost exclusively use Canva as my paid source while leveraging the other free options 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.
Price: Free to $9.95/mo
#2 – Gratisography (Free)
I don’t use this site often, but when I do it’s for a very specific purpose. The 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 something louder or outside of the box. If that’s the case, I turn to Gratisography.
#3 – Pexels (Free)
Pexels seems to be a curator of sorts—pulling free imagery 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 use it more than I do, especially since it seems like their catalog has grown a lot since last time I checked.
#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.
Price: I currently pay $80/mo for 50 photos per month.
#5 – 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.
Price: I currently get 10 photos a month for $9.99/mo.
#6 – Unsplash (Free)
This is usually my first stop, 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.
#7: 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.
#8: Dreamstime (Free + Cheap)
Dreamstime is a popular option for both free 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 plans or credit purchases.
Price: 11 images for $14.99 (or $35/mo for a 10-image subscription).
#9: 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 photo 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.
Price: 5 Images for $39 or 150 photos for $79/mo.
#10: Pixabay (Free + Cheap)
I wanted to close out with another free stock photo 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.
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.