Do you need a professional-looking photograph for your client or project and can't afford anything bespoke? Reliable, high quality, and easy to search, these are all good places to find the perfect imagery for your design work.
When you're embarking on a creative project, you'd ideally have the budget to commission bespoke photography shoots to perfectly fit your brief. But not every client can afford that kind of money, so sometimes you need to find a more affordable alternative.
Stock libraries can often be a good solution, and while they had a reputation in the past for cheesy, low-rent images, that's certainly not the case anymore. Whether you're talking about small, medium or large stock photography sites, the quality is typically very high these days. There's a lot more diversity in terms of the people featured too.
You really do have to be careful, though. Some dodgy sites featuring "free" stock photos don't always have permission to share them, putting you in danger of legal action for using these assets, even if you had the best intentions. So the safest bet is to purchase stock images from a reputable stock library instead. And even then, you always need to read the fine print on licensing and be sure these images will be okay to use now and in future.
With all that in mind, here are ten great places to start. These stock photo libraries all have good reputations, a range of quality images, and useful search tools to find what you're looking for faster.
Although it began as a free stock library, Death to Stock is now a membership-based service that provides you with fresh and authentic stock photos and videos. There are only 4,500+ images here, which is tiny compared to some of the major libraries, but they are really very good quality. For a subscription starting at $12 a month, you get unlimited downloads, and new work is added all the time.
Cavan Images is a high-end image library specialising in lifestyle imagery for the advertising and editorial markets. It features a great selection of curated collections, organised by themes such as 'Epic Everyday', 'Girl Power' and 'Weekend Warrior'.
3. Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock is a huge library of stock photos, illustrations, graphics, icons, video clips, audio clips, templates and more, available to license and use in your creative projects royalty-free. You pay either by subscription or by purchasing credit packs. You don't need to have a Creative Cloud subscription to access Adobe Stock, but if you do, you'll benefit from some nice integrations, allowing you to easily access and trial assets within software such as Photoshop and Illustrator.
Founded in Munich in 2003 as a threesome with seven photographers on board, WestEnd61 now has 1,000 photographers supplying creatives with superior-quality images. Their emphasis on "class instead of mass" has led them to become one of the world's leading names in premium lifestyle photography.
Offset is a sub-library of Shutterstock that features high-end, curated collections of royalty-free images by award-winning photographers. This collection of images is not available on Shutterstock or vice versa and is available via a transparent and easy-to-use royalty-free license.
6. Getty Images
Founded in 1995, Getty is the OG of modern stock libraries and boasts a collection of over 200 million assets, including photographs, videos, and music tracks. It offers a range of licensing options for its assets, which can be used for various creative and editorial purposes. But while the quality is typically high, the prices for both subscriptions and credit packs are too.
Another massive stock library, Shutterstock offers a huge variety of images, vectors, videos, VFX, templates, 3D models and music tracks for use in your creative projects. Choose between a subscription or purchasing credit packs, and you can also use the Shutterstock Editor to resize, crop, modify, save, share and publish images.
Unlike many other stock photography companies, Stocksy operates on a cooperative model, with its contributing artists owning a share of the company and receiving a higher percentage of the revenue from their sales. It describes itself as "an art-forward, royalty-free stock photo + video agency that makes discovering unique, beautifully authentic imagery effortless." Royalty-free licensing starts at $15.
Vecteezy is a website that offers millions of stock vector graphics, illustrations, and icons to download for free, as long as attribution is given. There's also a premium subscription service that provides access to additional assets, removing the need for attribution and adding features such as legal indemnification.
Founded in 2000, Dreamstime was one of the early players in the microstock business and still has an enthusiastic community supporting them, not least because it's so cheap. Here you can get royalty-free stock photos for as little as 17p per download, as well as illustrations, videos and audio. There's a selection of free stock photos too.