A Guide to Using Stock Photography on Your Blog

Do you stay up late at night scouring the web for free photos and graphics? Finding high quality, CC-licensed images is a constant struggle for most of us bloggers.

Many web publishers looking to increase their professional shine and cut down on searching time have turned to stock photography sites.

Use stock photos on your blog or website
Professional photos = Professional blog

If you’re willing to invest a bit of cash, you can have literally millions of relevant, high quality images at your fingertips. There’s not much you can’t find on stock photography sites

The big question: Is it worth it?

We’ve put together a guide here to help you decide. The following is a crash course in buying stock photography and the best places to find it.

Stock vs. Microstock

Using traditional stock photography services like Getty Images or Corbis is well outside the budget of the average blogger. These agencies represent the creme de la creme of professional photography, and sell images to huge media outlets and advertising companies.

So when we talk about using stock photos for web publishing, we’re really talking about microstock – a subsection of the industry that caters to the lower budget, higher volume web market.

How you buy photos

Buying stock photos and images for your blogThe pricing structure is fairly similar across all the major microstock sites – there’s surprising little competition.

There are generally two ways to buy images:

‘Pay as you go’ model

You can purchase photo credits on most microstock sites, which you can then use to download images as you need them. Credits typically remain valid for one year. This is a better option for casual web publishers who don’t have a constant demand for images.

You’ll pay anywhere between $2.50 and $4 (USD) per standard image. Photo credits are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, but be careful not to buy more than you’re actually going to use within a year.

Subscription model

Buy stock images for your blogYou can pay a fixed annual or monthly fee that allows you to download a certain number of images per day – usually a minimum of 25. This is a better option for people who run multiple websites, or a high-frequency blog with multiple authors.

The individual image price is much cheaper, but your photo credits will expire at the end of each day, so you need to be doing some pretty heavy publishing to get value for your money.

25 images per day will cost you between $175 and $300 per month, depending on how long your subscription is.

You’ll pay less per month if you purchase a six month or full year subscription, but all the major sites offer a single month subscription too.

Assuming that you download your full quota of images every day, this works out to a cost of $0.23 – $0.40 per image.

Note: the prices quoted here are only an approximation, and based on the smallest images sizes available (which is generally all you’ll need for a blog or website). You’ll pay significantly more for larger image files.

Beware of licensing restrictions

Microstock photo sites for your blogThere are typically two different licensing options for microstock photography: standard and extended (or something similar to that).

The standard license is all you’ll need if you’re only using the images on your blogs and websites.

If you intend to use stock images for commercial and merchandising purposes, however, you’ll probably need to purchase an extended license at extra cost.

Make sure you carefully read the licensing agreement on every microstock website you use, because each agency has slightly different rules.

The main contenders . . .


This is the original microstock photography site. iStockphoto is owned by Getty Images and has one of the biggest ranges of material available anywhere. iStockphoto is generally regarded as having the highest quality images of all microstock sites.


A sister agency of iStockphoto that offers cheaper subscription plans. No video or audio material – photos and graphics only.


The major competitor with iStockphoto. These two sites dominate a large chunk of the microstock market. Shutterstock has over 17 million photos and vector graphics, as well as a video library.


A subsidiary of Shutterstock. Bigstock has a smaller collection of images (but still plenty to choose from). They don’t offer a subscription plan, just a simple pay-as-you-go system.


Another huge microstock collection – over 15 million images available.


A lesser-known microstock site. They offer a selection of free photos as well as their paid content.

There’s a tonne of smaller stock photo sites out there, many of which cater to a particular image theme or niche. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

Choosing the right microstock photo agency

How to choose a microstock photography sitePrice generally won’t be the decisive factor when deciding on a stock photo site. None of them are drastically cheaper than the others.

What’s more important is the range of images that each site offers, and which one has the best selection of material for your purposes.

This depends entirely on what your blogs are about. You can browse the collections for free, so invest a few hours in comparing the image collections of various sites.

If you’re running a blog about vintage cars, for example, search for vintage car photos on all the sites and see how they stack up against each other.

The site that has the largest and most diverse collection of images in your own niche is probably going to be your best choice, regardless of whether it’s a few bucks cheaper or more expensive that the competitors.

Got any stock photography advice to share?

If you can recommend a good microstock site, or have any tips for finding high quality web images, please leave us a comment below.

Image credits: Choosing From Images, Subscribe Now, I’ll Pay Cash, A Man’s Best Friend and Restrictive Sign from Bigstockphoto.

14 Responses


    I would, where possible, advise clients not to use stock photography. I try not to use it at all on sites that I do for myself or for my companies internal projects. This is mainly because they are so insincere, you can spot them a mile off, they say little about the organisation, company or website other than a presenting a somewhat false veneer. There are other options, not always the easiest. Think laterally and think creatively before choosing to use stock imagery (unless may you are an accountant or solicitor)

      Tim Gregg

      Hi Daniel,

      That’s a fair point you raise about some stock photography appearing insincere, although I think it largely depends on the content and subject matter of your website. If you’re able to shoot your own photography for your web projects – all the more power to you.

      Thanks for the comment.



    Usually, if I need to, I look for pics that are licensed under a creative commons license. A good resource for searching is http://search.creativecommons.org/

    I must also say that I have yet to meet a photographer who will not allow me to publish his pic, if I ask first. The last photographer was even surprised that I asked :-)

    I must admit however that I usually look for concert pics, maybe photographers in other fields are not so generous…

      Tim Gregg

      Hey Dave,

      Thanks for the input. Compfight is another great tool for finding CC-licensed images on Flickr.

      If you can score free images from a generous photographer or two, excellent. Much better than paying for them :)



      Hi Stipple,

      Thanks for the comment – glad you enjoyed the article.

      Your site looks like an interesting concept. I’ll definitely have a look around and check it out.


    Saunt Valerian

    I’ve been using Fotolia for a few years now and have good luck in finding images through them. I generally only buy about 5-10 images a month (not a lot by any standard), and keep my account there supplied with credits in the event I need to grab something quick.

    Generally speaking, when looking for an image type or content, I’ve been able to find it at Fotolia though many of the photogs also sell their images at the other microstock sites too. Not sure how the prices differ, but using Google Image search or Tineye can often help locate the same images at a different dealer. If there is a price difference and it is important to you, it may be worthwhile maintaining accounts at different dealers.


      Hi Saunt,

      Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you’ve had success using stock photography.

      I think you’re right that it’s a good idea to maintain accounts with a variety of different stock photo agencies. If you’re a casual user who just uses pay as you go credits, then it’s always useful to have access to a multitude of image sources.

      Heavier publishers who want an image subscription will generally have to pick one agency and stick with it, unless they’ve got enough cash to sign up for multiple subscriptions at once.



    http://www.RedPixelImages has high quality stock photos (taken by actual professional photographer, not someone who thinks the ability to hold a point and shoot steady makes them a professional photographer – ha!) at affordable prices. Every stock photograph is available in 4 different file sizes – the small and/or extra small are perfect for most of your writing projects (the large file is editorial quality, and would be used for magazine spread or coffee table-type book).

    A tip (I found out by accident) – apparently they have photos that aren’t on the site yet, so if you’re looking for something specific you can email them (I was and I did) with what you’re looking for and they’ll go through all their photos (they didn’t charge me anything extra for the “white glove service”) and sell you those!

    Loving all the comments and extra resources I’m finding out about, so keep ‘em coming! Thanks :)


    @Saunt – thanks for the tineye tip. I didn’t think about using it for “comparison shopping” for stock photo deals!

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