How much does a stock photo cost

Stock photos

What are stock photos? Brief explanation:

Stock photos - often also written as stock photos - are photos that have not been directly commissioned to create. So they are produced "in stock". The term “stock photo” is derived from this fact, because “stock” means something like “warehouse” or “stock”. Such images are often used in the creation of a website, but stock photos are also often used in the context of SEO measures and content marketing to loosen up texts with an image. A stock photo can also be released for license-free use, but the providers usually sell stock photos.

Stock Photos: Detailed explanation

The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words!” Is no coincidence, because a picture can be captured much faster than a text. In addition, images can easily arouse emotions and they can loosen up a text so that it appears clearer. So it's no wonder that hardly any commercially operated website can do without pictures today. However, it would usually be too time-consuming and expensive to hire a photographer for three or four images to be put on the website. So the website operators resort to stock photos, because there are numerous providers here who have thousands of photos on all sorts of topics ready.

A distinction is made between providers who provide royalty-free stock photos and those who sell the images or the rights to the images. Royalty-free stock photos are clearly in the minority compared to paid images, and many of these photos are of poor quality. The commercial online providers also make it easier when searching, as the images are sorted into different categories and you can usually quickly find suitable stock photos for your own website.

Regardless of whether you opt for royalty-free or paid stock photos, you should always be careful when using them and inform yourself in advance about the possible use. At Fotolia, Shutterstock, iStock and other commercial companies that offer stock photos online, for example, it often makes a difference whether the photo is to be used commercially or only for editorial purposes. If the latter is the case, the image may not be approved for use in information brochures or newsletters, for example.

Editing or further commercial use of the images can also be problematic, because some providers explicitly prohibit post-processing or only allow this with prior approval. In addition, it is possible that the respective photographer must be named as the author if their images are used on a website or otherwise.

If stock photos are to be used in posts for a social media platform, for example as part of SEO or marketing measures, caution is advised here too. Most social media channels secure the rights to use all photos and images published on the platform through their terms and conditions. This would therefore also apply to the stock photos, which of course were only licensed for one-time use. For this reason, many providers generally prohibit the use of their stock photos on social media platforms.

The price of stock photos is not always based solely on the quality or resolution of the images. With Fotolia, for example, the photographers can set a price themselves - regardless of whether they have uploaded particularly high-quality or creative images or rather “standard goods”. Accordingly, one should consider the price and the picture as a whole when making a selection - there are often pictures with similar motifs that differ significantly in terms of price.

Which commercial stock photo providers are there?

Since it is technically not very complex to set up a stock photo platform, there are quite a few companies that sell stock photos. However, it usually makes the most sense to look for a suitable image or photo from one of the large providers, as the selection is the most extensive there. The best-known and most important stock photo providers are:

Fotolia has the smallest selection of the three major providers with "only" 37 million images, videos and graphics, but the website can score points in other areas. On the one hand, Fotolia has some very cheap offers, especially if you only need small images for a website. On the other hand, Fotolia with PayPal, ClickandBuy and purchase on account offers other payment options in addition to the credit card - an advantage especially in German-speaking countries, since credit cards have not yet become as widely accepted in the commercial sector as in the USA, for example.

Shutterstock stocks around 50 million stock photos, graphics, videos, and even songs. In addition, the website offers a very extensive categorization of the images, which makes searching much easier. The ability to buy music from Shutterstock in addition to images and videos is particularly interesting for creative professionals and marketing departments, as it enables small promotional videos, jingles and the like to be created quickly and easily. Shutterstock also advertises the quality of its images. Unlike Fotolia, not everyone can upload and sell images at Shutterstock. Only if seven of the ten first photos submitted by a photographer are accepted by Shutterstock, he may offer his photos on the platform. This is to ensure that only high quality stock photos can be found in the Shutterstock archive.

iStock also stocks around 50 million stock photos, graphics, videos and music tracks. In addition, photographers are only allowed to upload images to iStock after a prior, one-time check. A special feature of iStock is the subscription model, which is offered in addition to the usual licensing of images via credits. Here the customer pays a fixed monthly price and can then download and use a certain number of images. This variant is particularly worthwhile for SEO or marketing departments that regularly need stock photos.

The free providers

As already mentioned at the beginning, in addition to the commercial stock photo providers, there are also some who make license-free photos and images available online. The most important representatives are here:

Pixelio only has a few hundred thousand images on offer, but these are very clearly divided into categories and can also be filtered based on various criteria such as format, width and color space. In addition, the images are checked by Pixelio in advance so that there are many high-quality stock photos on the platform. If a suitable picture is found, however, you should find out more about the possible use, because Pixelio offers different licensing models, in which the use of the photo is partially restricted.

With 350,000 images, Morguefile also has a much more manageable range than the major commercial platforms, so each image is checked individually before publication. The quality of the pictures is sometimes quite different - you can find both high quality photos and very simple pictures. The resolution is good with at least 800 by 600 pixels. Morguefile provides all images free of charge, but asks users to reward the photographers with a donation for their work. However, this is completely voluntary.

Wikipedia offers around 25 million mostly royalty-free images - but some are subject to license conditions, so checking beforehand is highly recommended. The almost overwhelming selection for a free provider has two decisive disadvantages with Wikipedia: The photos are not sorted into categories, which makes the search considerably more difficult, and the quality of the images fluctuates. But if you have enough time, you can find extremely high-quality, free stock photos here.


Stock photos are a simple and inexpensive - or free - way to loosen up online text and make it more appealing. Since the attention span of readers on the Internet is particularly low, stock photos can help to make a "text desert" more interesting by generating emotions and thus encouraging further reading. Therefore, stock photos are usually an integral part of SEO and marketing measures.

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