Buyers Introduction to the Stock Photography Industry

“It’s never been better for image buyers”

While photographers face stiff competition in the marketplace, the advent of high quality digital cameras, their reduction in price and the Internets’ ability to drive down prices and source images from all over the world means the market has never been better for the image buyer. The stock photo industry is valued at 1.8billion dollars a year (2010), In 2004 62% of designers used stock photos and graphics, according to recent surveys that figure has risen to well over 90% in 2016.

There is currently so much choice available, microstock agencies (crowd sourced image libraries) aggregate quality images from all over the world by professional and amateur photographers. Images which don’t meet microstock standards are often offloaded for free* on free stock photo sites and into the creative commons. With billions of images available (yes literally) the difficult problem is finding what you want. Images are scattered across a range of stock libraries and prices.

The traditional (macrostock) agencies have, facing stiff competition from microstock, created new or more flexible pricing options, subscription royalty free offerings and with a ‘flood of images’ from newly empowered photographers the quality of royalty free images at traditional agencies is better than ever. These traditional full-priced agencies are having to differentiate themselves from the low-cost microstock sites which have become popular over recent years.



A mesmerising array of license terms and sales models awaits the image user, if you are new to this it can all be a little confusing! There are various criteria that you need to look at when either buying or selecting free stock photo for use.

Calculating True Costs - Time is not Free!

The cost of an image is not just based on its price to license. The time taken to find the image is often a large factor in the cost. If it takes two hours to find an image that costs just a few dollars then the time factor becomes and important buying choice.

Free images have hidden costs including:

*Free ?

(sigh, there’s always a caveat isn't there!) In terms of free when referring to stock photography, the word invariably refers to you not having to pay for the image, that said there are often some hoops to jump through when using free stock images, they might need an attribution (i.e. a credit/link) where you use the images. They might only be available free of charge for non-commercial or non-profit use. In many cases you need to register (for free) on a website to download the full resolution version of the image. Clearly all of these free websites support themselves in one way or another, this is usually in the form of promotional messages or advertising - some good work can be found on free sites but clearly it's more likely that you will find quality images on a paid site even if only at a cost of a few dollars.


What's all this about licenses?

Most people are familiar with the term copyright, and often search for ‘copyright free images’, that phrase is a bit of a misnomer, very few images are truly copyright free; those images are known as ‘public domain’ the vast majority of images are copyrighted and that copyright is owned by the author/photographer. You can still use a copyrighted image, indeed that's what buying stock photography is all about, every image at a stock photo agency website is copyrighted, when you ‘buy the image’ you in fact license it for use either in a specified way in the case of rights managed, or for unspecified use in the case of ‘royalty free’. Always check the license terms to make sure that your application is covered under the license agreement.

At budgetstockphoto we have compiled a directory of websites from which images can be sourced, covering the entire range available from full priced macrostock down to PD images often generated by government organisations available completely free of charge. We hope you find it a useful starting place when looking for images no matter what the end use is.

Glossary of terms used in the stock photo industry.


What is the easiest?

For great value and low prices without a doubt we think depositphotos.com is the best all rounder. choose from a range of subscription packages or buy individual images under a flexible royalty free license