We just signed up for our first Shutterstock subscription. Previously, we’ve pretty much exclusively been using iStockphoto for our commercial-use presentation photos. Which is best? This post is Shutterstock vs. iStock.

iStock has been the ‘default’ commercial site for presentation photos for a few years, perhaps since the publication of Garr Reynold’s Presentation ZeniStock seemed to get a real boost with the exposure they got from that book, and cemented their position as the site-of-choice among presentation designers. In each of Presentation Zen, Presentation Zen Design, and The Naked Presenter, there’s an advertisement for iStock, and a sign-up code for free credits.

But, over the years, the prices have gone up (or the value of credits has gone down, which is the same thing), and competitors such as Shutterstock seem to have been catching up.

At BrightCarbon we’ve started to think that Shutterstock may have overtaken iStock as the commercial stock-photo site of choice for finding photos for presentation design, for three reasons:

Shutterstock vs. iStock: Pricing

Shutterstock offers a 25-a-day subscription for three months at a cost of £419. That’s 25 images a day at any size.

iStock offers 35 credits per day for three months at a price of £775. Thats’ 80% more than Shutterstock. How much is 35 credits worth? No, not 35 photos of any size. A typical medium sized photo for use in a presentation uses 12 credits. So, Shutterstock gives us 25 images of any size each day for 55% of the cost of (less than) 3 photos each day on iStock.

The difference in price between Shutterstock and iStock is incredible. Not everyone will need 25 images per day – but just use a few photos for your presentations and Shutterstock comes out cheaper than iStock.

Shutterstock vs. iStock: Model continuity

Often in a presentation, when trying to tell a visual story with lots of relevant images, our designers want photos that work well as a sequence. A doctor with a patient, then the same patient in bed, then the patient now back at home with family. A business woman in a meeting, then in a car, then in a restaurant with friends. Finding the right images for that sort of sequence is really hard with iStock, but easy with Shutterstock’s ‘Same Model’ feature. The story doesn’t work in the same way if each photo is of a different doctor, or a different business woman.

same model

So, here on a search for ‘Businesswoman using technology’ we get the same ‘woman’ in different poses using mobile, iPad and other devices. If we want, we can even show the woman in a casual environment using the different technologies, and in all sorts of other settings. What does this mean? That we can easily use Shutterstock photos in presentations to tell stories. This is absolutely huge for presentation design.

Shutterstock lab’s Spectrum

Shutterstock lab’s Spectrum feature is a really clever way of helping presentation designers to find images that fit into a presentation’s design scheme. On both iStock and Shutterstock it’s easy to search for anything, let’s say a meeting room. But what if you want a certain colour to dominate the image?

On iStock you can filter by color, but in a sense the filter is too precise – it feels like a game of Battleships… You select 6eb342, hit apply, and find that nothing turns up.

Shutterstock’s Spectrum search is a brilliant way of finding images. Type in a search term, slide the colour slider, and see what you can find. Want to show a blue meeting room? No problem. Green business man? They’ve got you covered (no, not an alien).

meeting room

green businessman

Spectrum is a great way of finding appropriate images, and also of uncovering shots that you might not otherwise have found with a standard image search. We’re all bored of the images that come top of searches on iStock by now, right?

Next steps

So, three strong reasons why, in the Shutterstock vs. iStock battle, Shutterstock might be edging ahead. And three reason why we’re going to try sourcing presentation photos from Shutterstock now. Are we missing something? Any other presentation designers made the same leap?

We’ll let you know how we get on.

Leave a comment
Written by

Vincent Thompson

Creative consultant

View Vincent Thompson's profile

Related articles

  1. Image of Nolan Haims Nolan Haims says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Shutterstock for a few years now and they are absolutely my go-to site for stock–especially for presentation. All the reasons you mentioned are good, but for me the biggest plus is that I don’t have to think about purchasing each photo and I can easily experiment with a lot of photography and vector graphics without using watermarks and having to later swap them out.

    Most stock houses like to think that designers are very deliberative in choosing stock, getting client approval, yadda yadda. But presentation workflows often mean quickly putting in a half dozen image options for a slide or putting together 50 slides, a dozen of which might get cut the next day. With Shutterstock I don’t have to worry about watermarks or paying for imagery that ultimately gets cut. Try explaining to a client why they have to pay for that photo that’s no longer in the final presentation…

  2. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Nolan, I totally agree, being able to integrate full scale images into your workflow without restriction is a great advantage. I remember having to think long and hard about the images I was about to purchase, only for the client to request replacements further down the line.
    The vector graphics are really handy, as I can easily take iconography and more detailed drawings and quickly convert in PowerPoint to match the clients brand / colours.

  3. Image of Rick Rick says:

    I’m fed up with iStock too… I’m definitely going to check out Shutterstock. My biggest problem with iStock is that they don’t allow you to search by credit amount. For the most part, I just want a decent looking image to accompany a blog post, so I don’t want to spend more than 1 credit (roughly $2). But I spend more time sifting through overpriced images than I do publishing the article. Complete waste of time that they could easily fix for me! 🙂

  4. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Rick, you’re right, the fact you can’t search or filter by credit is annoying, I don’t think iStock sell any images for less than 5 credits, which makes their pricing even more frustrating. Some of the nicest images that I’ve found and planned on using have ended up costing 30+ credits!

  5. Image of Macwitty Macwitty says:

    Overpriced, well photographers should also live. Even if I found the rise on iStockphoto from normally 1-2 credits for small photos to 5-10 a bit too much. Esp when it comes to very normal photos

    What I get a bit upset about was that I bought photos for a presentation and then found that 5 of 8 photos was in Google app for free. Yes, iStockphoto and som other Stock agencies have given Google free access to high def photos to be used in Google docs, presentation and so on for free, even for commercial use. So the photos I bought will now be used much more often as they are free. One of the reason I buy and not use photos in Office, when the licence is ok, is that I do not want the same photos everyone else have. Yes, even with stockphotos more people use them but there is a huge difference between bought and free photos.

    Well, I’ll use the credits I have left but will not buy more from iStockhotos.

  6. Image of fotonoir fotonoir says:

    Hmmm I shall try shutterstock then. There just more complicated to sign in there.

  7. Image of SLX SLX says:

    I also prefer Shutterstock. Of course, they all have that feel of plastic, but let’s say, most Shutterstock pictures are better plastic. Some in iStock are really unprofessional, like backyard models dressed up like business people etc.
    After a while, bear in mind, that your options kind of run out. For instance, we had 3 magazine issues on contemporary architecture, using Shutterstock all the time. Then of course, you run a bit out of options.
    Pricing is sadly rising.

  8. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Macwitty – there certainly are quite a few of the same images circulating around the world now, I keep on seeing the same chap being used as a manager, doctor and family man in several ad campaigns. I don’t think when designing a presentation you can let the image do all of the work for you, if you’re able to integrate the right image into a story you’re trying to tell, for instance animating part of the image or blurring it out to focus on a specific part, the audience will understand the message behind what you’re trying to say, rather than just focus on yet another stock photography image.

  9. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    fotonoir – if using an up to date web browser I’m sure you can have your username and password saved so an automatic sign in for ease of use.

  10. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    SLX – plenty of plastic on there I agree. There are other ways to use the images in order to achieve a unique effect. We try cropping out images in some instances, using outlines as silhouettes we find this gives us more flexibility if moving things around on slides, it also gets rid of any cheesy grins or strange clothes if using people.

  11. Image of Fnello Fnello says:

    I’m an old buyer from one of the biggest media agency in berlin. I continue to use istock because their left sidebar ( with price filter and the possibility to refine search with boolean operator ) is awesome . There is no one stock-website that allow that .. I know is a bit expensive but since two months they have cutted the price and you can find an xxxl images for only 7 credits .

    Shutterstock is good as well but many images there like in the others stockagency are very often overfiltered and useless to create a good campaign for a famous brand like we usually work.

  12. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Fnello, I can see the sidebar tool being a handy search option if purchasing individual images. Shutterstock have recently released the similar name category tool that I find really handy.

    Regarding the over filtering, I agree that this level of refinement is more accessible on iStock, but there are more and more images coming into the Shutterstock site, admittedly they are playing catch up.

  13. Image of Yousef Yousef says:

    I think it might be better to use Thinkstock in means of pricing. They have the royalty-free images from Getty and iStock, and the price is $299 for a monthly package. They always have coupons and promotions around, for example with the coupon code GTDPC46N, monthly subscription is $99. That makes $0.13 per download regardless of any size which is great.

  14. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Hi Yousef, it certainly seems like a good deal. I think iStock are doing this due to being clearly out-priced by Shutterstock. Too little to late some may argue. I think the $99 offer is only for the first month, then going up to $299 again. In the long run Shutterstock still works out cheaper, but the gap between is certainly less than it used to be. Competition like this is good for us, as it will hopefully continue to drive down the cost from all providers.

  15. Image of sam sam says:

    i continue to use istock…the images u find on shutterstock are ten years old in style…a ot of white backgrounds…with istock we are able to built an awesome brand visual campaign with almost amazing images, editor handpicked with the quality of theRM market.. i believe that everyone need an image should try to focus on quality and originality instead of just buying cheap stuff.. an image can say more than 1000 words !! just my p.o.v

  16. Image of Trent Porter Trent Porter says:

    I am an analyst. Wondering if any of you have used iStock since the latest launch on September 15. As a layperson, simplicity and pricing looks very comparable to Shutterstock and toying with it, it looks like it now has the functionality that this article reported lacking in 2013

    • Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:


      Thanks for the comment, and the email too.

      I took a look at iStock, and asked the team for their thoughts. Certainly they seem to have improved the pricing, and search by colour and ‘same model’ functionality seems to be there.

      But I guess it begs the question Why change from Shutterstock? What has iStock brought that gives a reason for unhappy customers to give them a second chance? They are matching Shutterstock, but where are they going beyond what we are now getting from Shutterstock? We’re happy, so why change? Particularly as it feels – somewhat – that at a certain point iStock was really trying to scr*w customers. Does that attitude really go away, or just get hidden when customers start to notice it?

  17. Image of Trent Porter Trent Porter says:

    Thank you! This is very helpful. Do you think these changes are at least sufficient to stop or slow defections from iStock to Shutterstock? If I have not yet defected, now I have less reason to do so?

  18. Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

    Yes, I think so. And the selection of images is different, so perhaps run a few searches and see which looks better to you (in a certain colour-way and orientation to limit the numbers). Quality of search definitely plays a part as each service has a lot of photos, and it’s around the margins where either obscure photos aren’t available or it’s hard to find a decent one from among 1000.

    I would say there’s less of a hugely compelling reason to change now that iStock have made those changes.

  19. Image of Trent Porter Trent Porter says:

    Thank you very much for your help. Extremely helpful. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time.

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

There is absolutely no doubt that the BrightCarbon presentation was a quantum leap beyond anything else at the conference with respect to the clarity of the presentation.

Curtis Waycaster Smith & Nephew