Stock photos and stock images can make the difference between a good project and a great project. Not only are they often inspiring and useful for ideas in the early stages of the creative process, but they can also be used to add finishing touches to your work or to take to clients as mockups before you go out and shoot your own photos. Here, we bring you eight of the best places to find stock images and tips on how to find the best images within those stock libraries.

See also: Best free old images and Best Free Images: Sites for Free Images & Illustrations.

How to find the best stock photos

Before we take a look at the best stock libraries on the web, it's worth highlighting that finding the best stock images can rely on your searches within the stock libraries as well as the libraries themselves. Think carefully about the image you're looking for and the keywords that are going to help you find it.

Be precise in what you search for. Do you want a happy cat, a grumpy cat or one – like that above – that's focussed on its prey? If you want it on a white background put quotes round "white background" so the stock site's search engine knows you want a cat on a white background rather than a white cat on a – or in the – background. 

For the best results be as precise as you can – eg "tortoiseshell cat" looking hungry at mouse prey "blurred background". If this doesn't get you what you want, try synonyms (different words that mean the same thing). If that doesn't do it, remove different terms in term to broaden your search.

Many sites also include visual tools to help you refine your search: eg with or without people, orientation (portrait, landscape, square, etc), price.

Adobe Stock

Photos from Stocksy

Adobe's online stock service has gained some new tools – and more images from the likes of Reuters, USA Today Sports and Reuters.

Most of the new images are editorial photos that can only be used in non-commercial ways – but there are 400,000 new photos from Stocksy, which specialises in Instagram-esque, hazy lifestyle images.

The bulk of the new photos are from Reuters, who are making their archive of over 12 million editorial images available through Adobe Stock (seen below) – as well as over one million video clips.

Alongside this will be 500,000 photos a year from USA Today Sports, covering 10,000 sports events – mainly in the US but some from around the world.

New tools include visual search – the ability to drag an image into the browser and have Adobe Stock find images that are visually similar.

Near identical to visual search tools offered by iStock and Shutterstock, it allows you to find images that have similarities in subject, colour and tone – though it's not so good that you could drag in a picture of Beyoncé into it and find photos with models that look like her.

Filters let you apply simple effects to the image to see how it might appear with that applied. This is launching with two filters – depth of field (seen below) and vivid colour.

Also new is a PowerPoint plugin that works in similar fashion to the Stock panel within Photoshop or InDesign. This lets you search for images from within the application, download watermarked comps directly to use as you wish – and then licence when you're ready (or the client has given sign-off).

To get three standard assets a month from Adobe Stock, there's a monthly plan for £17.99 per month (excl VAT). For 10 standard assets a month, there's an annual plan or paid monthly plan for £19.99 (excl VAT). The first month is free with this plan. There are two other plans available for 40 standard assets a month and 750 standard assets a month. Find out more here

Find images in the Adobe Stock library.

Alamy

Alamy is another popular stock library for illustrators and designers. There are no subscription options there – instead individual licenses start at £11.99 per image.

You'll find everything from abstract images and backgrounds to landscapes and lifestyle, so there should always be something that works for you. There are more than 100 million images, vectors and videos to choose from, all of high quality too.

More than 60,000 individuals photographers and 173 countries contribute to Alamy.

Find images in the Alamy library.

GraphicStock

Part of parent company VideoBlocks, GraphicStock is a platform that gives you access to not only stock photos, but vectors and illustrations. Sign up, and unlimited downloads are all yours. All the images come with a royalty-free license, so you don't have to worry about possible hidden copyright fees. 

Sign up for a free trial here

If you like the free trial or just know it's for you, then right now you can get a prepaid annual membership for just $99.

Click here to take a look at GraphicStock, some samples images are below.

Deposit Photos

Deposit Photos has more than 60 million photos to choose from, all of them royalty-free. You'll also find high-definition video footage, illustrations, vector art and editorial images - there's something for everyone.

You can choose to download images on demand from US$49 for 10 images within one year, or you could opt for a subscription plan. The monthly subscription starts at US$69 per month for 75 images. There's a new flexible plan, which for US$29 per month allows you to download 30 hi-res images every month, where unused downloads can transfer to the next month and additional images are $1 each.

Find images in the Deposit Photos library.

Getty

A fifth option for great stock images is Getty, and it's one of the oldest too. It offers millions of images and plenty of videos in a huge variety of categories. 

It's worth noting that Getty and iStock are both owned by Getty, and while they seem to be slowly merging they are currently quite different. Getty is designed for those with bigger budgets, and even offers exclusive licenses for big advertising campaigns, for example. You'll find editorial images of current events for newspapers there too.

Jaunt has just partnered with Getty images, meaning Getty's library of imagery will include Jaunt’s 360-degree stereo video experiences.

Getty users now have access Jaunt’s 360 cinematic VR footage via the Getty Images database – including stunning landscapes from Iceland, Jerusalem and Yellowstone – alongside existing Getty photography.

The deal follows Getty Images' partnership with Google, which sees Getty Images supplying hi-res VR content from current events for Google Expeditions.

This partnership may be the beginning of similar ones to come as brands vie to market themselves with immersive content available.

High resolution Getty UltraPacks start at £2,000 for five images, but if you're happy with low resolution, you can purchase a five pack for £675.

Find images in the Getty library.

 iStock

iStock is Getty's offering that is aimed at smaller businesses and individuals. You'll find images that are much easier on the wallet, including iStock Essentials and iStock Signature collections.

iStock works slightly differently when it comes to purchasing the images, too. You can buy credits to use against your purchases, or get a subscription.

Three credits can be purchased for £20, which will typically get you one image from the stock library. Alternatively, a 50 images per month subscription is £65 per month, and there are various other options available if you decide you need more, less, or want to pay for just one month.

It's worth mentioning iStock has a similar visual search tool to Adobe Stock - simply upload an image to the browser to find visually similar ones. 

Find images in the iStock library.

Nature Picture Library

Nature Picture Library may not have the most aesthetically pleasing website design, but it could offer the photograph or image you've been looking for so it's well worth a look. As the name suggests, the images are all of animals, plants, landscapes, environments and conservation among other stunning depictions of nature. Prices start at £50 per image and there are loads of different options to help you make sure you're getting the license that you need.

Find images in the Nature Picture Library.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock boasts over 125 million royalty-free images, video clips and music tracks. You'll find photos, vectors, illustrations, icons, videos and even music on the easy-to-use site, which even includes an editor to allow you to quickly crop into photos, for example. You can also upload an image or photo to find similar ones. This works remarkably well for some elements of a photo – hair, pose and background for example. But as this example using this photo of Beyoncé shows, finding model shots of girls that look like Beyoncé are a bit beyond its talents.

Basic image packs start at £29 for five images on demand, followed by annual subscriptions starting at 10 images per month for £19, or you can opt for the yearly professional account for 750 images per month at a cost of £229 for two users.

Find images in the Shutterstock library.