Free VS Cheap Stock Images: Here’s What You Need to Know

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In the past, it was a struggle to find a high-quality photo that perfectly matches the theme of your project. Often you were stuck with very cheap stock images that didn’t fit. Or, high-quality photos were priced out of the reach of small businesses, and still didn’t fit.

Let’s face it. Cheap stock photos of businessmen shaking hands or a woman smiling isn’t really the kind of stock photos you’re looking for right now.

In the same way that outsourcing your order fulfillment to a third party logistics service can help your business significantly enhance your shipping and order fulfillment operations, finding a high quality, free stock photo resource can be a game changer when it comes to your content development efforts.

There are many, many free stock photo resources available on the Internet, and we’ve listed many below. While those are tempting when you’re just getting started, established businesses will want to upgrade to paid sites (or internal teams) to ensure images feel consistent across your entire site. Here are some additional thoughts plus that big list of resources you want.

Deciding between free and photo sites

As an eCommerce business, it is important to use high-quality photos to help sell your products. However, these photos can sometimes be expensive. Many sites offer free and cheap stock photos that can be used instead.

There are benefits to using free and cheap stock photos. These photos can be used for commercial purposes and save you money. There are so many sites where you can also find photos for almost any topic. There are also some drawbacks to using free and cheap stock photos. These photos may not be unique and may not be of the best quality. Also, you may need to credit the photographer when using these photos.

Overall, the decision of whether or not to use free and cheap stock photos depends on your needs as an eCommerce business. Free and cheap stock photos may be a good option if you need high-quality photos but want to save money. However, if you need unique and high-quality photos, investing in more expensive options may be worth it.

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What’s the real deal with free sites?

There’s no doubt that stock photos can be a great asset for eCommerce businesses. They can help make your site more visually appealing and can even be used to help sell products. However, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right stock photos for your business. One of the biggest decisions is whether to go for free or paid-for photos.

On the surface, it might seem like a no-brainer to go for free photos. After all, why would you pay for something when you can get it for free. However, there are a few things to bear in mind with free stock photos that may help you understand the real deal and how they make money.

First, the quality isn’t always going to be as good as paid-for photos. This is because professional photographers generally don’t offer their work for free. You’re getting photos from a variety of sources, often people trying to build a portfolio. Many free sites are also subsidiaries of paid services. That means the lower quality offers are free, but you’ll see tons of prompts (usually featuring better images related to your searches) to opt for a paid site instead.

Next, you’ll often find that there’s a limited selection of cheap stock images available. This means you might have to compromise on the perfect image for your needs. This leads to your website not always feeling unique because it could have the same images as others.

Most importantly, there’s always the risk that you’ll end up using a photo that’s copyrighted. If you do this without the copyright holder’s permission, you could be opening yourself up to legal action. While free stock photo sites typically only list photos you can use, there have been times in the past when free sites were stealing photos in order to generate traffic.

Paid-for photos may cost a bit more upfront, but they could save you a lot of hassle (and money) in the long run.

A Quick FAQ Before You Start

Not sure what to select when it comes to free versus paid services, or how to select the right images for social media or your next promo? We’ve got options below and also some answers to common questions to consider before you download or buy templates.

Where to buy stock photos for cheap?

There are a number of places where you can buy stock photos for cheap. One option is to buy photos from a stock photo agency. Many of these agencies have websites where you can browse and purchase photos. Another option is to buy photos from a microstock website. These websites allow you to buy cheap stock images for a very low price, often just a few cents per photo.

And don’t neglect the big design tools, either. Adobe Stock is a top-tier option and has packages starting around $30 per month. Shutterstock is also a top spot for photos that don’t look staged.

Where can I find stock photos for free?

There are thousands of free stock photo websites. We’ve put together a list at the bottom of this page to help with your on-demand needs. If you can’t find what you need there, try searching for stock photos specific to your industry and see what’s available. Also, using terms like “unlimited downloads” can help you find stock photo services that meet your needs.

What are the best stock images?

The best stock images support your business. They help you sell by reinforcing your brand. What that means in direct terms is that they use your brand colors, look like your shoppers, are high-quality, and don’t look too staged. Cheap stock images won’t always cut it.

Is there a stock photo company cheaper than Shutterstock?

Shutterstock offers different pricing, but generally you can buy photos individually for around $10 to $15 or pick up a monthly subscription starting at $30 and covering roughly 10 photos. While Shutterstock is well-known because of its advertising dominance, it is in the middle of the pack in terms of price.

Depending on the number of photos you want to buy immediately or subscribe and get per month, services like Adobe Stock, Depositphotos, and Jumpstory are often cheaper. However, you still want to select photos that fit your brand. Don’t immediately go to the cheapest stock photo option or lowest-cost credit packs.

What are Creative Commons and Public Domain Licenses?

People use copyright to protect their works. The same applies to digital properties as well. There are many types of licenses, but the most popular ones are under Creative Commons or Public Domain licenses.

Creative Commons logo

You’ve probably noticed this logo (and its variations) around photo resource websites, especially when you browse through Flickr. This is a Creative Commons logo, and there are six types of Creative Commons licenses that you can use for your photos. However, keep in mind that a Creative Commons license is not an alternative to copyright itself. A Creative Commons license helps you communicate to the world on how you would want your image to be used. You can use a photo under a Creative Commons license depending on its stated restrictions.

On the other hand, an image with a Public Domain license is free for use for anyone on the Internet. The use of these works is not restricted in any way. However, since copyright laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, a work that is in the public domain can be declared using CC0, “no copyright reserved”.

Creative Commons licenses only apply to works protected by copyright. Public domain licenses aren’t affected by Creative Commons since these works aren’t restricted by copyright laws.

If You Get Stuck, Go Stock

When you set up your own eCommerce store, it is recommended that you provide your own images for your products. However, not all small businesses have the capability to provide high-resolution photos due to budget constraints.

If you have a professional camera or a mid-range smartphone that can shoot decent photos, you can check out our Complete Guide to eCommerce Photography. In this guide, we shared what you need to shoot decent product photos that you can use for your own eCommerce website. We listed some basic equipment, tips on how to shoot your product, basic organization tips, and some advanced techniques that you can use during your photo shoot.

If you can’t get it right, there are some options for you right away. Here’s our big list of cheap stock images.

The Big List: 41 Free or Cheap Stock Images Sites

1. 123RF

123RF website for cheap stock images

123RF is a stock content provider, adding fresh photos daily provided by contributors and agencies worldwide. 123F’s own team also produces original content as well. Some of the photos are for free, but on limited sizes only. 123F offers different free stock photos for almost every category imaginable. You have the option of subscribing if you want a larger size of photos for your project.

2. Albumarium

Albumarium is one of the best places to find and share beautiful images thanks to popular albums on nature, babies, dogs, people, and city life. The service keeps it simple with easy downloads and can be the right option if you need cheap stock images on your blogs.

3. Ancestry Images

Ancestory Images home page

Ancestry Images is a free image archive of different historical prints — you can find different topographical prints of maps by countries, regions, etc. You can also download antique maps for your project. Great image resource for everything antique, especially if you’re running a blog on genealogy or historical research.


A collection of free stock photos, videos,  and illustrations that keeps things simple. You’ve got the right mix of pricing plus photos and illustrations. Just hit download to access these cheap stock images.

5. BigStock

Bigstock is an online, royalty-free stock photography website that sells images using a credit system. The pricing can be a little tricky, but essentially you’re buying images, vectors, or illustrations for somewhere between 1 to 6 credits (roughly $1 to $3) each. There are also video options and subscription plans that give you a certain number of items per day or month. It is now part of Shutterstock.

6. BucketListly Photos

BucketListly is a great place for cheap stock images

BucketListly is a startup by Pete R. He took all the original 5,000 travel photos available on this website. He traveled around the world, from Russia to Hong Kong, to Brunei, to Egypt, then to Germany, then to Argentina; it’s a great repertoire of photos of the world through his lens. Great for travel websites, just don’t forget to properly attribute his photos.

7. Burst (by Shopify)

Shopify's Burst offers free photos

Shopify created Burst, a free stock photography site for entrepreneurs. Burst provides high-quality product photos and more, without charging you anything. That’s great pricing for companies especially if Adobe Stock is out of your budget.

8. Cupcake

Cupcake is a fun spot for your agency to get cheap stock images

Cupcake is another open-license stock photography site offering various kinds of photos for your website. Despite being established in 2014, there’s only a limited number of photos available. If you’re looking for landscapes, nature, or city life, go to Cupcake and check it out!

9. Death to the Stock Photo

Death to the Stock Photo is a quality, unique, stock photo resource for creatives looking to stand out. It has nixed free options for packages that start at $12 per month, but the quality is higher than many other places you’ll find.

10. DesignersPics

This site offers free photographs for your personal and commercial use. It’s a good stock photo resource especially if you want to include realistic images in your blogs, though it’s set of cheap stock images may feel limited compared to others on the list.

11. Dreamstime

Boasting its 69 million stock images, Dreamstime used to dub itself as the world’s largest stock community with over 19 million users. It’s true that they provide free CC0 high-resolution photos for your use with no signup needed. Just choose your preferred photo and download some of the many available.

12. Epicantus

High-resolution photos for landing pages, blog posts, and design projects. It’s a somewhat stale selection, but still available for free use. Check any attribution requirements just in case.

13. Fancy Crave

Fancy Craze handpicks a few free authentic photos from real people daily. Each photo is licensed under CC0 and can be used commercially. Their photos are packed in collections, so you can easily find them. Be sure to review any potential attribution requirements. The better photos are often hiding within its paid section.

14. FoodiesFeed

A stock photography resource of great, awesome food photos, ready to download for free, with no attribution required in most cases. FoodiesFeed is among the best food stock photography you can find for this niche.

15. Free Images

Use this site for royalty-free, cheap stock images and background images ready to download, no registration required. It offers commercial and non-commercial use high-resolution photos to browse. Many photos are unique but the quality of updates are inconsistent, making it not the best competitor to Canva and others, or useful for graphic design.

16. Free Nature Stock

A stock photo resource website that offers only nature stock photos. It’s updated regularly. Nature and outdoor bloggers will love this large repertoire of images.

17. Free Range Stock

Free high-resolution stock images and textures. Contributors have an ad revenue sharing system. Free Range Stock offers a lot of different photos, from landscape and nature to vector art and more. Great stock photography resource with CC0 license and no attribution required.


A collection of free stock photos and illustrations of mixed quality and contributed by their community of professional photographers and digital artists. The service is great for business and entrepreneurship websites looking for professional looking images when they get started. However, you’ll quickly want to upgrade to other cheap stock photo sites.

19. Freepik

Stock photo images contributed by photographers worldwide. Photos are mostly on computers and technology, architecture, food, nature, transportation, and more. Some of their images are the old, usual stock photos you’ve seen available in editing tools for decades. Upgrading, however, will give you access to larger libraries and higher quality items.


Aside from stock photos, you can also find free vector art, illustrations, icons, and PSD options on Freepik. The company creates many unique vector art and illustrations, which you can download in a variety of formats. Just be wary of their images that use other companies’ branding. You don’t want to imply that Netflix promotes your company or products, for example.

21. Good Free Photos

GFP offers many cheap stock images

Numerous stock photo images, vectors, and clipart available for download, all CC0. You’ll find good photos on various themes, categorized by country where the photo was taken. It’s a smart place to add an international mix of cheap stock images to your site.

22. HubSpot

HubSpot offers marketing guides and tools primarily, but it also offers a compendium of resources like their very own royalty-free stock photos with minimal or no attribution requirement. There are thousands of options, but you’ll primarily find business-focused options. According to the company, “HubSpot’s Free Stock Photo Downloads have no royalties, no fees, and free to be used for any purposes.”

23. Kaboompics

Kaboompics is the brainchild of a digital illustrator, photographer, and website creator, Karolina. They offer free photos, but you can also opt for a premium pack. You can search for an image via its orientation, mode, or color. It feels right for high-end and fashion content, so it may have limited use if you’re looking for vector images around customer support offers.

24. Life of Pix

LP is a smart place for interesting, cheap stock images

Life of Pix is a website with a community of photographers contributing CC0 images, free to download. The service pays homage to its contributors, which makes it possible for you to appreciate each photographer’s works. So, good items with no coupon code to plug in on the site.

25. Little Visuals

Little Visuals is a compilation of free landscape photos that you can use any way you want. Although this website has ceased to update, there are still valuable photos in this collection that you can use for your website.

26. morgueFile

Perhaps one of the oldest websites on stock photography, morgueFile has vast resources of creatives, for creatives, by creatives. Its huge network of contributed images is still perhaps the best resource for all your stock image needs.

27. Negative Space

Negative Space provides an interesting look at action and contrast

Negative Space includes various photos that are all for personal or business use. If you’re looking to fill in some negative space on your blog, the photos from Negative Space can be a perfect addition to your blog, whether you’re into architecture, business, or sports.

28. New Old Stock

New Old Stock is a collection of vintage photos from public archives. This selection of stock photos would work best with your blogs if you’re feeling nostalgic or if you sell vintage wares on your eCommerce site. No attribution required, like many free stock photo sites, but it can add a unique flavor to your work.

29. Pexels

Pexels is a leader in cheap stock images

Pexels has grown to be one of the biggest and most-used free stock photo sites. Since it’s start, the company has added a broad set of video and categories to help you find either selections on a theme or photos from specific individuals. It has come a long way and should be on your shortlist of go-to sites.

30. PhotoPin (now Vecteezy)

PhotoPin, now rebranded as Vecteezy, allows you to search for millions of Creative Commons photos to add to your blog posts. It works as a good search engine for CC photos; you can even filter by license type or sort by recency, relevancy, and interestingness.

31. PhotoStockEditor

PhotoStockEditor is a collection of stock images, all free to use for personal or commercial purposes. The site is full of quirky images, but if you’re mostly looking for objects, this is a good resource for it. You’ll also find many staples of stock photo sites, but weird is definitely king for this service.

31. Pixabay

Pixabay is a top provider of cheap stock images

Pixabay offers 2.7 million public domain photos, illustrations, graphics, and videos in HD quality. It’s easy to use and even has an Editor’s Choice for photo recommendations. Search is pretty good, especially compared to some smaller sites. Another top option for your list of royalty-free license photos that don’t require plugins for image downloads.

32. Public Domain Archive

find cheap stock images in the public domain

A combination of vintage and modern stock images. They have a lot of wonderful photos and have largely gotten rid of the past ad-filled experience. Unfortunately there was no search bar when we checked, so you’re going to just have to keep scrolling to find anything you want.

33. Realistic Shots

The influencer option for cheap stock images

Updated with 7 new photos every week, this is another stock photography website worth visiting. The stock images are indeed realistic, with great photos on architecture, nature, people, travel, and technology. It has a very Instagram-like feel to it, which may lend images to uses around that aspect of your marketing or social selling.

34. RGBStock

It offers both images and illustrations from both photographers and illustrators. It feels relatively standard but has a lot of image and can be great in a pinch. You’ll want to dive in and play around to get a feel for locating the right images for your needs.

35. ShotStash

Check out this site for cheap stock images

ShotStash offers free photos with specific descriptive titles. Searching is easy, but you won’t always come up with a lot of results. It also highlights Shutterstock photos with every result (and on every page), so you may see what you want and just need to pay a little more.

36. Smithsonian on Flickr

The Smithsonian on Flicker is a source of free imagery

The Smithsonian on Flickr showcases photos from different collections in its museums, archives, and research centers. The photos are interesting with a wide range of subjects about art, history, culture, and science. It may have more limited uses, and quality can vary greatly, but there’s treasure buried in the 35+ pages of photos.

37. Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos cater to tech market such as startups, websites, designers, designers, developers, and eventually, everyone else. You may find what you need here when you’re first getting started. But this site’s cheap stock images are a good reminder of why you’ll likely want to upgrade to a paid service down the road.

38. Stockvault

Stockvault has been collecting and archiving medium and high-resolution photos from photographers, designers, and students. Photos can only be used for personal and non-commercial use with no sign up required. So, there’s easy access to an extended license and no monthly plan, but it won’t work for your online store.

39. Travel Coffee Book

Travel Coffee Book has one of our favorite logos

Travel Coffee Book uploads new travel-themed photos every few weeks (or sooner) from travelers all around the world. It doesn’t have the usual interface with a search box but instead, you’ll click “archives” to view the thumbnails in date order. Also, it’s a good idea to check any image for additional licensing requirements due to contributors and the site moving to a new platform.

40. Unsplash

Unsplash is a top provider of cheap stock images

Unsplash has over 1,000,000 high-res photos with thousands more added regularly in its library. It has loads of impressive photos from the community of best photographers, and it seems to have tackled some of the IP issues it faced when the site was young.

41. Wikimedia Commons

WC is a smart place for freebies and open source images

Wikimedia Commons is an online repository of the Wikimedia Foundation that contains over 42 million media files from communities worldwide. Its app allows easy uploading of images and choosing categories but doesn’t offer photo editing features.

Do you think we missed your favorite stock photo website? Let us know in the comments!

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