A source of high quality stock photos is an essential tool for all WordPress bloggers. From illustrating web pages to accompanying blog posts, they form part of the visitor experience and are an essential part of creating a WordPress site that looks authentic and professional.
With research showing that images alongside content help to hold the attention of the reader and maintain their concentration span, it’s even more important that they are utilised in order to push key messages and to engage with the target audience.
There are a wide number of sites which hold millions of images; some are available for download at no cost, and for others there is a charge per photo or through a subscription package.
With this in mind, it was decided to carry out a review of 11 of the most popular stock photo sites to see:
How wide a choice they offer when popular search terms were used
The quality of the results for commercial use
Whether there was a cost attached
All of these sites could provide stock photos for your WordPress blog.
Our Stock Photo Search Criteria
To ensure consistency, the same search keywords were used each time. We used a mix of popular digital marketing phrases, and then two general terms where the results may be required for the needs of a particular client.
The results aren’t ranked in any way, but give a comprehensive overview of the range and quality of the findings at the time of the review.
Our Stock Photo Resources
Cost: Free – but ensure that the copyright holder has given permission to download
Flickr is the first choice for many bloggers searching for royalty-free images. It’s a service which is constantly evolving.
With a new image recognition tool used now as standard, all user photos are tagged with keywords and geo tags. This makes searching more straightforward. The images are presented in a beautiful layout, and the simple search function means it’s a one stop shop for general use.
Flickr requires a Yahoo account, but once you’re a member, you can follow photographers and gather your own favourite images. You can also share and download them, if the member permits.
It’s important to only download images legally available, by applying the correct filter. On the screen where Any License is displayed, clicking on this will reveal a number of options. Be sure to select Commercial Use Allowed.
Flickr is great for generic searches, but sp,e niche keywords yield limited results.
Cost: Monthly packs, Pay as You Go credits or Daily Subscriptions
StockFresh provided excellent results for all our test keywords, including high quality stock photos and vector graphics. Signing up is free, quick and easy and there are some really useful search tools to narrow down the results; image type, size and even the number of people in the image.
Bloggers can purchase images quickly, and all choices were clearly described as to the cost per image. It was also good to see that when flicking between the different packages, the price per image changed accordingly.
Cost: Daily and monthly subscriptions, with free trials available
With over 28 million images available, BigStock delivered good results on the review keywords. The pricing for photos is good value and the range of packages available is easy to understand.
Vectors can be a little more expensive, so we’d recommend trying some of the other sites first if you are looking for illustrations. But for photos to accompany web pages or WordPress blogs, this is an excellent site to choose.
Bigstock says its staff pride themselves on their high level of live chat customer service.
Site: Getty Images
Cost: Various subscriptions, including exclusive rights
Known for many years as a premium provider of stock images, Getty Images has a fantastic array of consistently relevant and high quality photos. Every keyword produced thousands of results and it assists by offering autofill options as you type in the search box.
The website is easy to navigate, and as they have localised sites for many languages, it’s a great choice when working with clients in other parts of the world. There are over 35 million images available, and it’s possible to purchase the exclusive rights of an image to ensure it’s not used by anyone else in any kind of media.
The only main issues are that pricing varies per image, and the way in which the image is used. It’s not possible to know the cost unless logged in and an account has been created; you then have to click Calculate to work it out. For a blogger, this could be a little too time consuming.
Site: Google Images
Google Images is popular image search engine the world over, but care must be taken to use it legally. There’s no charge for any images here, but it’s important to filter correctly.
Before searching, click on Search Tools, then Usage Rights and finally Labeled for Reuse. Almost any generic keyword will result in a good choice of images, but because they are scraped from Google’s search results, the resolution or photographic quality isn’t guaranteed.
We got good results for all of our test words and phrases. More unusual searches yielded limited results, and very popular words can often serve up non-relevant images.
If you have the time, this is a good way to source blog images for free.
Cost: A small number of free images, as well as Pay as You Go and subscription plans
iStockPhoto is run by Getty Images and is a great choice for bloggers wanting royalty-free low cost images. Using the keywords produced a huge range of fantastic images, although the site was a little more challenging to navigate for general searches.
The fact the images are often lower resolution is reflected in the prices, but they are more than adequate for use on a WordPress blog. Small resolution can actually be desirable, since you’ll eat up less of your web hosting space.
The pay as you go pricing means there’s no need to commit to buying iStock credits up front, so you aren’t tied in to a huge spend. Each month there is a free photo and a free illustration to download; these may not be of use immediately, but they are well worth grabbing for a future project.
Cost: Various; credits, daily plans and monthly subscriptions available, as are corporate packages
Fotolia has expansive selection of photos, illustrations and vectors available for all the keywords in our test.
As well as a straight forward selection of purchase packages, multi-user subscriptions are available for companies that have more than one person sourcing images. They also offer a choice of licenses; standard or extended depending on the intended use.
The images can be found through searching for keywords or by browsing their three collections; Core, Infinite and Instant. Each one gathers certain groups of images together, although searching this way didn’t seem to enhance the user experience to any particular benefit.
Cost: Three packages; Basic, Professional or Team
With 10,000 new images added to their library every day, it’s no surprise that Shutterstock is one of the most popular royalty free stock image sites on the net. All the keywords returned excellent results; the search term communication offered an immense selection of over 2.7 million photos, illustrations and vectors to choose from.
Shutterstock also provides related keywords, which is good if you’re looking to expand on specific topics and are a little stuck for ideas. They also have a rather interesting tab called Undiscovered where you can be the first to download images which match your search. This would be a great way to diversify your WordPress blog.
With three basic plans to choose from, this is a site where you can be downloading very quickly rather than spending precious time picking through the numerous options offered by other sites and wondering which really is the best value.
Cost: Free and no attribution is required
Whilst images are free at Stocksnap.io, searching was a disappointing experience. The image library is updated weekly, but it is rather thin. At the time of review, there were no images at all for one of our test terms (communication).
Whilst blogging gave us 12 results, the images were of laptops, or a person making notes next to a laptop – not entirely releant. The images felt dated, too, although all were high quality.
Site: Stock Up
SiteBuilderReport is a website builder reviews site. It has its own aggregaged search engine for images, called Stock Up. The tool searches 26 free for use image sites, which sounds like a dream find for bloggers.
Stock Up is a great idea in concept, but there is a way to go before it offers a breadth of results. On the search terms used the results were fairly fuzzy. Our search for blogging served up results of trees cut down; logging.
For some bloggers, this could be a great place to find images. Hopefully it will continue to grow. At the moment, it’s worth a look for quite general free stock photos.
The Best Site For Cheap Stock Photos
So what’s our favourite site to source photos for a blog? It depends.
There are so many stock photo sites vying for attention, that you need to approach search in a strategic way. Images don’t have to cost a great deal to convey a message, but they do need to be relevant and look professional.
You’ll get the best results if you decide in advance:
What kind of blog the images are needed for
How many photos you need for your blog
The amount you are willing to spend (if anything)
If budget is tight, Google Images and Flickr offer cost effective solutions, although it may take time to find a free image with the correct licensing rights. Sometimes the resolution isn’t that good, either. Understanding photo licensing rules is important if you’re searching public repositories, so take great care to only choose things you can re-use legally on your blog.
Also, think longevity; don’t choose a style or shot which can date quickly, and avoid overly posed photos and illustrations of little white characters in business attire. Vectors are currently on-trend, but can be a little more expensive than traditional photos.
For good quality blog stock photos, you might need to reach for your credit card to get something that does your blogging justice. If you’re prepared to do so, we recommend Shutterstock for usability, and iStock for simplicity and choice.
Do you have a favourite that we didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments, and we’ll cover it in a future article.