Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

“Photo agency” is a term you hear and read a lot in graphic design and visual creative businesses. But what actually is a photo agency? How does it work? And why is it valuable for creatives? 

Today we answer all these questions and more to show you just how photo agencies can help your business’ creative workflow and maximize costs. This way, you’ll understand the value in stuff like our list of the 20+ best photo agencies on the web!

Ready to learn? 

What is a Photo Agency? 

When a graphic designer, a marketing creative, or a photographer mentions a photo agency, they are actually referring to a stock photography agency

These are companies that compile large collections of stock photos (and vector illustrations, videos, and other media formats) from artists, and offer them to their customers under a royalty-free license, at very affordable prices, later splitting the profits with the artists. 

How Do Photo Agencies Work?

Photo agencies are “middlemen” in stock photography. They mediate between the photographers who own the copyright to their photos and want to license them for money and the designers and creatives who need professional photos quick and cheap. 

Photo agencies usually operate online: they have a website that hosts their entire image library, a search engine to find photos easily, and they sell images online via image packs or credit packs for on-demand buying and through stock photo subscriptions for regular customers needing new photos all the time. 

Photographers and artists wanting to sell their work submit their images to the photo agency via the web, and if approved, they make it into the agency’s catalog. Every time one of their images is sold, the artist gets a percentage of that sale in the form of royalties. Are you one of them? then read our honest guide to selling photos online at stock photo agencies!

Why Are Photo Agencies Valuable?

The value of a photo agency for creatives and business owners is rather clear: it’s much easier and faster to visit one website and find all the perfect images for marketing and visual content you need than going to different photographers according to what kind of image you are after. Plus, through a stock photo subscription, you can save a lot in the long run and download new images almost instantly with just one click of your mouse. 

They are particularly ideal if you plan on creating your own visuals for your business. In this case, our guide with 102 tips for creating visuals with stock images will be your best friend!

And there is value for artists, too, of course. By selling their work through a photo agency, they don’t have to worry or spend on marketing, and they are free from the task of dealing with customers directly and setting up online buying/paying methods. 

What are the Top 10 Photo Agencies Today?

Online stock photography is a very crowded space in our times, but there are some companies that stand out thanks to their success, their quality of service, and their reliability. 

We have a complete list of 20+ top stock photo sites, but here we gathered the best 10 photo agencies of today: 

#1 – Budget-Friendly, High-Quality Images 

Stockphotos Logo Tight is a photo agency oriented to small and medium-sized businesses, with a large and high-quality library and plans and prices that meet all budgets. 

#2 Photocase – Unique, Fun-loving Photos

photocase logo w > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Photocase is a photo agency based in Berlin that specialises in quirky, out-of-the-box photography that combines an artsy eye and commercial value, available at very reasonable price points. 

#3 Shutterstock – Massive, Commercial Photo Library

shutterstock logo new offer > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Shutterstock is a giant in the photo agency industry, with a library of over 280 million photos, all with a strong commercial feel that is every creative director's dream, at super low prices. 

#4 iStock – Exclusive, Affordable Photography

istock logo very small > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

iStock is a renowned company that sells both budget stock photography as well as exclusive, high-value images at a bit of a higher price point, which covers most art directors' needs. 

#5 Adobe Stock – High-Res Pictures for Creative Cloud Lovers

adobe stock logo 1 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Adobe Stock is a photo agency developed by Adobe that is fully integrated into their Creative Cloud platform too, making its full library available within your favorite design apps for improved creative workflow. 

#6 Getty Images – High-End, Prestigious Photo Agency


One of the most prestigious photography agencies in the world, Getty Images is famous for its exclusive and very high-end catalog. It’s a creative and editorial photo agency. 

#7 Dreamstime – Low-Priced, Professional Imagery

dreamstime logo e1567194341285 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

In business for over a decade, Dreamstime is a very good photo agency in the sense that it offers a large collection of images at very low price points, making it accessible for nearly everyone. 

#8 123RF – Reliable, Affordable Stock Photo Service

123rfnewlogo > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

123RF, which stands for “one, two, three, Royalty-Free,” is a photo agency with a good reputation emanating from their many years in business, their abundant image catalog, and their affordable prices. 

#9 Storyblocks – Unlimited, Membership-Based Agency

download > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Initially spreading from Videoblocks’ stock footage offer, Storyblocks is a stock photography service that sells memberships with access to unlimited downloads from a wholly-owned library, as well as to an on-demand marketplace powered by contributing artists. 

#10 SignSilo – Specialised Photo Agency & Car Outline Provider

signsilo.1 e1570190311700 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

For creative directors needing something more specific for marketing and branding efforts, SignSilo is an ideal service as it includes both a big library of stock photography as well as one of the richest car outline collections available, perfect to design car wraps. 

Keep in mind!
We have dedicated reviews on the most relevant photo agencies in our Agency Reviews section.

And we include special discounts and bonus deals for many of them in our Offers label too! 

Types of Photo Agencies Available

Many companies selling photos online have multipurpose catalogs covering all popular topics and genres. 

However, most of the main ones are heavily focused on the content that makes it into the latest photography trends reports. 

And many more. 

Are There Free Photo Agencies?

Why yes, there are. The web is packed with sites offering images that you can download and use in your work without paying a dime. However, most of these images are still under a license that determines how you can use them. Usually, it’ll be a variant of the Creative Commons (CC) license, or they’ll be under the Public Domain, though you may also find custom license agreements. 

While getting images for free sounds great, you need to be aware that these are a lot less safe, legal-wise, than premium, paid photos. Free photo agencies don’t police the legal status of the content they offer, so you might end up committing copyright infringement or other rights violations unknowingly anyway.

More details in our article on the 5 risks of using free photos from the Internet. 

If you need professional, legally-safe stock photos for free, the ultimate deal is to get freebies from photo agencies! Check out this complete list of stock photo free trials to get free images from otherwise paid stock photo sites!

BONUS: Reliable Free Photo Sites

If you must use a free photo agency, let it be one of the few that are serious and trustworthy enough. Here we give you some options, and you can find a lot more in our list of 27+ Best Free Photo Sites! 


download 1 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

The uber-popular Unsplash is both a free photo site and a photography enthusiast community, and it’s in constant expansion and evolution.




pexels logo > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Pexels is a free image site that sources its own content as well as aggregates from other free photo providers. They are now owned by the web-based design platform Canva. 





Pixabay logo > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Recently acquired by Canva, Pixabay is a rather serious source for free photography that compiles images from various other sites as well. 




download 2 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Owned by professional visual production brand Wavebreak Media, PikWizard has high-quality and wholly-owned images available for free.





download 3 > Photo Agency: What It Is and How it Helps Your Creative Workflow

Property of Shopify, Burst is a free photo service with a clear commercial perspective oriented to online shop owners but available for everyone needing commercially valuable images

Use Photo Agencies to Solve Your Visual Needs

Photo agencies are middlemen companies that simplify the process of finding, licensing, and downloading stock photography to use in your business’ visuals. 

By using their services, you get all the photos you need immediately, legally, and without breaking the bank. 

That’s what we call a well-round solution! 


Which one are you choosing? 

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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