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Low Cost Stock Photos replaced by Free Stock Photos

  • Published on May 30, 2017
Low Cost Stock Photos replaced by Free Stock Photos

Designers creating websites, apps, and traditional media have long relied on low cost stock photography which provides images licensed by the designers for use in their projects. Low cost stock photos have served as the source for placeholder images used in website landing pages, background images within apps, and visual connections for stories in print and email newsletters. Design teachers use low cost stock photos for Photoshop classes and when teaching other digital design skills. Recently many designers have complained about the declining options for lower-cost stock photography. Yet as low-cost stock photography options have been declining, an alternative known as Unsplash which effectively provides free stock photography has been gaining a following.

Why Low Cost Stock Photography Alternatives are Declining

To understand why people are searching for alternatives for low cost stock photography it’s necessary to look at the industry overall. The decline in stock photography choices has been driven by consolidation, as a few big companies have purchased many of the smaller independent stock photography firms. Examples of this include Getty Images who gobbled-up popular service iStock. Then Adobe, the maker of Photoshop and Creative Cloud apps, decided to move into the realm of stock photography more seriously with Adobe Stock. Adobe acquired some the last low-cost stock-photo services including Dollar Photo Club and Fotolia. The Dollar Photo name disappeared, as did the one-dollar per image price, leaving designers to pay many times more per image or requiring designers to pay ongoing fees, month after month. 

Adobe Stock Alternative

When Adobe acquired these low cost stock photography services and dramatically increased the fees per image, many designers began searching for alternatives to Adobe Stock. Creative professionals willing to pay licensing fees were finding the new costs imposed by Adobe Systems to be too high for smaller projects. Parallel to this, Unsplash started to grow their library of available images which are provided at no-cost with highly flexible licenses and now has 40,000 photographers contributing their work to the photo sharing site. 

Free High quality stock photos

A significant differentiator with Unsplash is that the images they provide are curated, with only high-quality photos accepted into the site. These aren’t flickr or Instagram images as the service provides stock-photo quality images of several megapixals that are well-composed and demonstrate a strong photographic technique. Most of the images are captured with DSLR cameras or high-end mobile cameras. In many cases this provides images that are of as good a quality if not better than those on the low-cost stock photography sites.

License-free stock photos

What makes Unsplash a great alternative or replacement to Fotolia, Dollar Photo Club, Adobe Stock and other stock photo services is their simple license. The license allows anyone to download images and re-use them in any form. This occurs at no cost and there is no requirement for attribution of the original image, although most artists will agree that it is good form to credit the original photographer whenever possible. This is made possible because all images on Unsplash are provided under the Creative Commons Zero license which even allows for commercial distribution and use in advertisements without payment to either the photographer or the service.

How free stock photo alternatives impact Photographers

The free stock photo alternatives to the low-cost stock photgraphy sites provide photographers an opportunity to showcase some of their work while keeping other images on paid stock photo services. Businesses and designers will still use paid stock photography. Designers that are looking to license an image exclusively will still use paid stock photography. For example, paid stock photography often allows designers to make certain the same photo they select will not be used by other businesses when used under a restrictive license. The introduction to their services also allows for direct-hire relationships to be established between the photographer and a client that may discover their work. While at first glance the no-cost nature of the service may appear to undercut the value provided by photographers, it could provide them with new clients and new opportunities.

About the author

 is a user experience designer, educator and author based in Boston. She has worked in the field of user experience design for more than 15 years.She has designed websites, ecommerce sites, apps, and embedded systems. Jennifer designs solutions for mobile, desktop, and iOT devices.

Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors.She has served as a Designer in Residence at Microsoft, assisting third-party app developers to improve their design solutions and create successful user experiences. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern UX Design, and worked closely with major tech companies to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including XD, Sketch, Balsamiq, Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Blend for Visual Studio. She also works extensively in the fields of presentation design and visual design.

Jennifer is also the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices. Jennifer holds the CPUX-F certification from the User Experience Qualification Board and assists others in attaining this designation in leading a UX certification course at American Graphics Institute. She is a candidate for a Master’s degree in Human Factors in Information Design.