It is now exactly 2 years since I started uploading stock photos to Unsplash -the slightly controversial stock photo platform where everything is FREE for everyone.
And I thought this is a good occasion to review what I gained from my presence on Unsplash.
In this article I want to answer the question if giving away one’s photographs for free on Unsplash has benefits for photographers.
Of course, these are just my own experiences. Your mileage may vary…
Let me give you the short conclusion first. For me as a professional photographer publishing photos on Unsplash was (almost) completely useless and had no tangible benefits.
Yet I am not negative towards Unsplash and I am going to tell you why.
Why did I choose to give away some of my photographs on Unsplash for free?
The short answer: Why not?
I was curious to see what happens. After all, I can’t lose anything from doing so… or can I?
In my 15 years as a professional photographer, I have never been into stock photography and also never considered to seek income from selling stock photography.
My main source of income from photography is in wedding & engagement photography and a tiny bit of commercial photography, mainly for industrial clients from the mining industry. If you are interested to see my work commercial photography work please follow this link.
Besides my professional photographs I also compiled a huge collection of photographs that I mainly took for fun and without any commercial interest in mind. Most of those photos were just sitting idle on my hard disks.
I recognized that some of those photographs could be useful for some people.
Especially when once the ever so mighty Adobe knocked on my door and bought some of my ‘holiday snaps’. But that is another story altogether…
I also once tried to submit some photos to Adobe stock, but it did not work out for me. To complicated with this and that rules.
Some photographers say that being on Unsplash, in spite of not getting paid was beneficial for them. And having one’s work exposed and in front of eyeballs, can’t be a wrong move.
Photographers reported success from publishing photos on Unsplash in the form of exposure and thus attracting paid clients there.
To read one photographer’s success story see this link (take this with a grain of salt as this is from Unsplash’s own blog).
So, I was wondering how useful my photographs would be for folks looking for stock photographs. And what could I get out from being on Unsplash.
Some stats about my photos on Unsplash
I uploaded 58 photographs in the period from Oct. 2017 until June 2018. Here is what happened in terms of numbers.
My 58 photos had a combined 23.5 Million views. And have been downloaded 126.200 times over a period of 2 years.
Before we go a bit deeper into those numbers let me show you my 6 most popular photographs on Unsplash:
The first photograph — the one with the pink flower got close to 5 Mill views and over 6800 downloads. Interestingly my second most ‘successful’ photograph had only 1.1 Mill views yet almost as many downloads as number one.
What I find interesting is that a relatively ‘un-sexy’ photograph of mining activities in Indonesia (picture №6) has the most downloads. In fact, in terms of downloads, it towers way above the other photos.
I suspect that is because such photographs are rather hard to come by, yet there are quite a few people out there who need such photos for their publications.
Whereas beautiful flower photos certainly abound and even free ones are easy to find.
Someone even reported having seen one of my photos being published on a huge billboard in a big city somewhere in South America.
Exposure and eyeballs I certainly got.
Which brings me to:
Exposure and visibility from Unsplash
In comparison to Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, etc… I think Unsplash is a very good option because one’s photos are searchable and do not just get their 5 milliseconds of fame in an ever-changing feed of ‘visual noise’.
Or if a photographer wants to know if his/her photographs would be of any use to others Unsplash is also a very good option.
So, yes, when it comes to exposure and visibility then Unsplash is certainly among the best places to showcase a photographer’s work and be seen by a large audience.
Whether that exposure will or will not lead to paid gigs or be otherwise beneficial to make money I am not too sure.
For me, it did not yield any inquiries, let alone paid gigs.
Have I become more ‘famous’ as a result of being on Unsplash?
I doubt it. Maybe a tiny bit.
Why I am no longer using/updating my Unsplash account
I see little to no benefit at all from giving my pictures away for free. The exposure factor or the benefit of being seen is also rather questionable for me.
I am not seeking validation for my work and I don’t get a kick from the fact that my photos are being put to use on various platforms and in various publications.
Sorry Likes, views and downloads don’t really tickle me. Nor do they put food on the table…
After 17 years as a commercial photographer, I know my worth (or the lack thereof).
The only negative experience I had on Unsplash was when I saw that someone took one of my images, re-cropped it and adjusted contrast and saturation and is now selling this photo on Adobe stock.
Here is the ‘thief’s’ photo on Adobe stock.
And here is my original which ‘the thief’ took of my Unsplash page:
Shame on that person. ?
But what this ‘lovely person’ did is absolutely legit under the Terms of Usage of Unsplash. With plagiarism being so common these days I am neither surprised nor particularly upset about this incident.
I also see some of my photographs being displayed on various Instagram accounts. But here at least I am getting credited (sometimes — I would know how many folks use my Unsplash photos without giving me credit).
But hey, this is perfectly ‘OK’ usage of Unsplash — that’s the deal. I am not complaining or whining.
My feelings towards Unsplash
Do I have negative sentiments towards Unsplash? No, not at all.
I understand though, that a part of the photography community strongly opposes the idea of photos being available for free.
I would say that the benefits of Unsplash’s existence outweigh the fact that proly a tiny little bit less money is made from stock photography.
If you are a blogger or someone who publishes some sort of a website and you need high-quality images that are legally for free then you are in paradise with Unsplash.
They have a truly impressive array of photos on a great variety of topics. Whether it is lifestyle, food, environment, travel you will most likely find suitable images on Unsplash.
And indeed, I often encounter images from Unsplash all over the Internet.
Even the big boys like Apple and various large publishing organisations use photos they source from Unsplash. And who can blame them…
Could Unsplash be any better (for photographers)?
A resounding YES. Unsplash sucks in their attitude towards photographers.
Why they do not allow links in a photo’s description to the photographer’s website / Instagram or whatever is a mystery to me. It would not do any harm to anyone.
And the photographers giving their work away for free could at least get a little ‘link-juice’ in return — which could enhance a photographer’s chances of showing up in Google’s search results.
Also for those who understand SEO: The links Unsplash gives in a photographer’s profile are no-follow links. There would be no downside for Unsplash to have follow links. Pure arrogance I suspect…
Also, in this day and age where lots of people are willing to part with a few cents or even a few dollars voluntarily (the donation economy) — why not have a donation button for those who want to donate some money to the photographer.
Again, easy to implement and surely beneficial to some photographers.
I could think of a couple of other ways where the Unsplash platform could give some more benefits to photographers.
With little to no effort, the guys behind Unsplash could make it much more useful & worthwhile for photographers.
Therefore, I think it is only a matter of time until someone makes another, better ‘Unsplash-like’ free stock photography platform.
I am sure something already exists or is in the making…?
So this was my take on Unsplash and my experiences being present there for 2 years.
I have meanwhile deleted most of my photos on Unsplash and only keep a tiny footprint there.
Let us in the comments what you think about Unsplash. And if you have a presence there what did being on Unsplash do for you?
About the Author
Dominik Vanyi is a wedding photographer based in Bali, Indonesia. You can check out his work on his website and follow him on Instagram, Behance, and 500px. This article was also published here and shared with permission.