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Stock Photo Agencies Compared: Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Fotolia, Dreamstime, 123rf


Finding the right stock photo agency for your needs is hard.  Registration is free for all agencies but when it comes down to purchasing stock photos and images, an investment needs to be made. Each stock photo agency has its benefits and each solves design, photo and media needs. But which one is best for you? Many buyers invest in a few agencies to deal with their ever changing priorities and maintain an active membership with many. These short reviews of the top stock photo agencies will be helpful in educating stock photo buyers about the differences and benefits of each stock photo agency. If you want an even quicker snapshot of each agency, this Top 5 list may serve your purpose better.





Shutterstock is a global e-commerce company and a leading provider of stock photos, illustrations, and footage. Their library is extensive with over 15.2 million photos and 300,000 contributing photographers. Their focus and competitive edge is to provide low cost images bought on subscription. Smaller buyers who require few images per year will pay more for this privilege but will only need to invest $49 USD to download from their stock library. With their various subscriptions, you could be paying as low as 28¢ and up to $4.08 per image. The standard license limits the reproduction of the image to 250,000 times.

The biggest benefit of using Shutterstock is their vast collection of images. Their history in the stock photo market has enabled them to build an image and stock photo library where buyers can find what they need. If a subscription package is not what you are looking for, try their other stock photo agency, Bigstock, where images and stock photos can be purchased through credits.


Fotolia LogoFotolia is a social marketplace for royalty free stock images for individuals and professionals who need stock images and illustrations. They have chosen to work in a collaborative online environment. Fotolia began as a European marketplace and has developed into a worldwide provider. It has a large image library with 13.3 million images that are sold with no project copy limits on a purchased royalty free image or stock photo. Their smaller images (xsmall and small) are sold at a resolution of 72 dpi only. Larger stock photos (meduim and up) are sold at a resolution of 300 dpi for greater design flexibility.

The costs of single images and subscriptions are quite low. The single purchase prices range from 75¢ per image to $1.20 per image. The real savings comes in when you purchase a subscription, ranging in price from 16¢ to 27¢ per image. The minimal investment for a new registered member who wants to start downloading immediately is $12 USD. This investment is minimal and can be used to purchase 12 x-small stock photos or 2 vector images or 1 video.





Dreamstime LogoDreamstime is a distinguished leader in stock photography with over 11 years of dedicated business in the industry. Dreamstime  is committed to using the latest technologies on state of the art hardware to make them technologically progressive yet simplistic in use.  Their focus on community has built their usability and library, positioning them as a leader with  over 11 million images. They buying options include both subscriptions and credits with image prices ranging from 77¢ to $1.25 per image for credit purchases and 20¢ to 43¢ per image with subscriptions. The minimum investment for a buyer to start immediately downloading is $10 USD for credits, which will award  10 x-small level 0 photos or 3 x-small level 1 photos or 2 x-small level 2 stock photos. Standard licenses limit copies to 500,000 on any purchased stock photo.

Dreamstime has evolved as a stock photo agency due to their community development model that encourages contributions from their buyer and photographer communities. It is a model that has spread the word and built trust in the company's ability to grow as the industry changes.



iStockphoto is one of the original stock photo agencies offering royalty free stock photos, vector illustrations, videos, music, audio and Flash at affordable prices and exceptional quality. The iStockphoto library has a collection of 8.3 million photos that is known to be of higher quality than other stock photo agencies. The Vetta Collection, Agency Collection and Exclusives are unique, handpicked images that reflect creativity and build an impression. Standard licenses allow up to 500,000 impressions, a higher value than other stock agencies.

The smallest initial investment for a first time user is $18 USD. The buyer can download 12 x-small stock photos, 4 small photos, a collection of xs, s, and med photos or one large stock photo with a standard license.  Photos are downloaded with 300 dpi resolution.


123rf Logo123rf gives you more for a lot less offering stunning, practical stock photos that are refreshing and intriguing. They are newer to the industry than the other stock photo agencies and have quickly gained an audience. Their library has 9.5 million photos. Their standard license restrictions include unlimited use and rights to the image. Buyers have the option of credits or subscriptions to purchase images.

The lowest buy in for a new member is $15 USD.  This translates into 15 small images (note the image size is 400 x 200), 7 medium or 5 large images.  The price-per-image for subscription buyers ranges from 21¢ to 59¢.

123rf, overall, is a great option for purchasing stock photos. They are hip, have a great vibe and are working up the microstock ladder to be a leader in the industry. Image sizes are smaller than other stock agencies but prices are still very competitive.

Image: © fotum –




About the author

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus in providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography, like the PixelRockstar WordPress Plugin. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.