Free vs. Paid Stock Photos: Which Option is Best for Your Project

Free vs. Paid Stock Photos: Which Option is Best for Your Project

Guest Post

The best reason to buy stock photos is that they are good. It’s hard even to figure out how good a paid picture is compared to a free one. Images come in different sizes and can be used for any project, even print ones. Most sites that offer free stock images only have images that are web-sized.

Planet Stock Photo has so many photos you’re more likely to find one that fits your brand and, hopefully, won’t be the main picture for a competing project. The database is big and has a lot of pretty detailed images.

Should you use Free Stock photos or Paid ones?

Before you start flipping tables, you should know that image providers know that everyone has different wants and budgets. Because they want you as a customer, they make it easy to understand and find the subscription or payment choice that works for you. Many paid stock sites offer services for very low prices, like $1 to $5 a picture, and they don’t charge royalties either.


The rights and permissions that come with free pictures vary a lot. Some sites, like Unsplash, have the Creative Commons 0 (CC0) license, meaning they have no restrictions. It’s great, but you should know that this is not typical.

Too often, bloggers and businesses get in trouble when they use a free picture they thought they had permission to use but later find out that it was actually uploaded by a user who stole it from another site without permission.


If you pay for your pictures, you must choose between Royalty-Free (RF) and Rights Managed (RM) licensing. There are other kinds of licenses, like extended and multi-use licenses, but they all build on an RF or RM license as a base.

With an RF license, you only have to pay once to use the same content repeatedly, as long as you follow the rules about the number of copies you can make. On the other hand, RM licenses are bought for a specific reason. You’ll have to buy the image again if you want to use it for another work.

Also, keep in mind the difference between editorial and commercial pictures. Most of the time, pictures in news stories are of specific people, places, or events.


Is there a difference between paid and free stock photos in terms of quality? It depends on how good the photographers are at taking and editing pictures and what you want. 

Paid stock picture sites have a wider range of images, making it more likely that you’ll find the right one for your project. Depending on which stock websites you use, you can also get to know the photographers whose style fits your brand.

How Big and How Clear?

Most free images only come in one size, which may limit how you can use them based on your needs.

Still, most pictures on free stock photo websites are around 3,000 pixels high or wide, which is big enough for most digital and smaller print projects.

Paid stock picture sites have a much wider range of sizes for images that you buy. Every website has its way of giving you these images, so remember that you may have to pay more for a larger, higher-resolution picture than the 200-pixel one you need for your new blog post.

Choices in Media

Whether they are free or not, stock photos can be hard to find. But if the photos are better and there are more of them, you’ll save time and be able to find the right one faster.

Some resources, like Planet Stock Photo, are free and easy to search and look through.  Free pictures are great, but at the end of the day, your business needs a place where you can find photos, vectors, music, and video under the same licenses and prices.

Pick something

It may not sound as good as “free,” but it will save you time and trouble in the long run.

This doesn’t mean you must eliminate all free tools. You must know how and when to use photos and ensure your employees know the same thing. Don’t let stock photos stop your business from moving forward.

Once you’re familiar with one or two paid stock resources, you’ll know their rights and permissions like the back of your hand and be sure how and when to use the media you’ve bought. Spending money now is a good idea so you don’t have to consider future license disputes and other problems.

Paid Stock Pros

You know that the photo is yours and that you don’t have to worry about copyright problems when you use it. Just because you type “free” and “photo” into a search engine doesn’t mean you can use what you find.

Flexibility. Because you can receive large files, you have a lot of room to crop and change the images to fit your needs.

Use pictures to create a consistent brand. Once you buy a picture from any images stock site, you can use it in almost any project, including advertising, marketing, apps, websites, social media, TV and film, presentations, newspapers, magazines, books, and product packaging, among hundreds of other personal or business uses.

Simple to use. With a subscription plan, you can get pictures whenever you want. You can download it anytime, and your account keeps track of what you’ve bought so it’s easy to find.


The library of paid stock photos is often large. Additionally, the photos come in great quality. There are many stock image platforms which offer guaranteed best-quality images, so you don’t have to worry next time when you want pictures for your use.

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