Unsplash and similar “free” sites

Hey everyone!  I wanted to talk about a topic that is quite important and share my thoughts an opinions.  It’s ok if yours differ.

Awesome photographer Zack Arias recently spoke up about a website called Unsplash.  On his site DedPxl he interviewed the founder of Unsplash and then gave his follow up statements in a second post.  I recommend you watch both in full.

Part 1 Interview

Part 2 Opinion

Here is the basic premise for those of you unfamiliar…. Unsplash is a site (and there are others) where photographers can upload full resolution images and offer them for free for others to use.  Yes, you read that right.  Anyone can go online and download your work for free, no credit, no nothing, and use them however they wish…including commercially.  The Unsplash adds a lot of niceness about creating community and “giving back” and the sorts.  Zack is appalled at the concept, but does his due diligence and really digs deep to see what this is about.  One of the big takeaways is that there is huge liability in letting people use certain kinds of photos for free for commercial purposes without model releases.  That is a major issue, and I highly encourage you to watch the videos.  And if you don’t understand model releases and licensing, drop a note in the comments.  I can do a post on it if people are interested.

This is an interesting conversation.  I mean, off the bat the whole “giving back” doesn’t make sense.  Back for what?  What did photographers receive?  It seems like it is only giving.  And major commercial companies are free to use the work for advertising, etc…  Do billion dollar companies need free photos?  Like I had discussed in a prior post… it is very good to offer your work and do service.  I shoot many projects for free.  I offer my services free of charge when needed to local organizations and don’t expect anything in return.  I do so because I believe in their work and want to see them setting their best foot forward.  And this is my talent I can lend to that.  I could stop at any moment.  When other people are downloading your work and using it for free, without need to credit you, contact you, or acknowledge you…you can’t just end that.  You can obviously close your account, but any work that has been out there is still out there.  Good luck.

Let’s talk about something though.  Why do we have this feeling that we need to have all our pictures out there in the world.  To be used, to be recognized?  Why do we even do photography?   If you want to show work for free… do so.  But why remove your control over them and give them away for anyone’s use?  If there is a commercial value for an image…then one should be compensated.  What makes us feel we need to be seen or used?  What takes us from the core of our passion…creating beautiful images….to needing acceptance of those images through various channels?  Are we hoping people see our images and then decide to hire us?  If a large corporation sees your work on a website and loves it so much they want to hire you to produce their next campaign…are you even equipped to?  How many people carry photo and liability insurance if they aren’t full time?  How many people know what a job is worth and how to license?  How many people have a team in place, retouchers, assistants, stylists, etc… to call upon when needed?  Doing random one off projects may or may not be feasible or possible for some people.  Sometimes the liability alone is not worth the money to take a job.

I’ve made a living for 11 years creating images for other people.  I can tell you it is not easy.  Photography as my day job is very different from photography as my hobby which I still participate in.  Rarely is someone hiring me because I am just a good photographer… it is more because I am a good problem solver and a good listener.  I can understand business needs and offer solutions to best fill their project needs.  I can offer ways to achieve end objectives visually that are beyond just an image.  I had to obviously ensure my photo skills were up to par with competing peers as well.  I also carry a huge insurance policy for my clients.  I pay taxes and fees to be a business.  And to be honest…and trying not to feel a little protective about the work I do…. but free doesn’t put food on the table.  I get people asking me to do projects for free all the time because they have no budget.  But they do have budgets.  The person calling me is on payroll.  They have a company car.  They have advertising campaigns.  They have budgets, but have lost sight of what photography is worth.  And it is not what photography is worth, it is what a good photographer is worth.  We are people.  Have you ever asked your grocer for free food?  Do you ask the restaurant chef for free meals?  Does the bank offer free homes?  I don’t mind bartering…but we both have to exchange something of need.

When we give our work for free to commercial uses, we are devaluing ourselves as individuals.  There will always be need for excellent photographers that are well paid.  Same with all creative careers.  Sometimes the human element is absolutely required.  My camera doesn’t make images, my will does.  My ability to create and conceive ideas and express human thought and emotion with others to get to an end image.  No equipment can do that.  So I am not concerned that my profession will disappear.  It won’t.  But to those of us that aren’t professionals.  To those of us that create out of love and passion.  Heed this message well…you are NOT CONTENT.  If you want the world to see your photos… shrink your world.  Take images and post some up at work.  Takes images and gift some prints to friends and colleagues.  Print some table top books and leave them around the house.  Instead of cheesy news magazines in your practice waiting room…why not some beautiful picture books of all your travels.  Let them be conversation starters.  Why not team up with local nonprofits.  There are all kinds of companies that need help, in all areas and walks of life, for all subject matter.  Look up your interests and get involved.  There are many creative ways to use your talents.  And if you do want to get recognized and have companies want to use your work, and you want to get paid doing this… get creative and do the work.  Do the work.  The hard work that everyone has to do that has ever made it.

Ok, rant off.  I want to hear what your thoughts are.  Have you ever used a site like Unsplash?  Would you?  Are you ok with freely opening use to all your images?  Drop a comment below.




1 responses on "Unsplash and similar "free" sites"

  1. Yep, I totally agree with Zack. Unsplash staff does not do it for free. Customers/users save some bucks on free photos. What does the photographer gets? Well, there is always a question of backlink, possibly credit (not compulsory but…), maybe some contract based on Unsplash portfolio…

    So I did a test. I uploaded 21 pics to Unsplash so far since the beginning of 2018. I have 1.6 millions (!) views, 21k downloads and 184 likes. I did not find a single backlink (out of 21k downloads not a SINGLE credit!), landed no contract, and – surprise – there is not a SINGLE click on my website link in portfolio except my 2 tests. I think the result is pretty clear…

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