I’m a professional full-time photographer and I choose to let people download and use 95% of my images (even commercially), here’s why.
Who am I ?
I recently launched my “Archive” a repository which contains nearly all my photography, organized by location and subjects. All of the images can be downloaded for free in high resolution (up to 6000px on the longest side).
Oh and they’re all under a Creative Commons license.
How did it start
I begun my career as a designer, working in agencies, doing retail design, graphic design, 3D rendering and more.
In most of the projects I was using other people’s work (fonts, photographs, 3D models, vector illustrations) as a base to build new content for clients.
For years I’ve been using other people’s work without really giving anything back.
Then I discovered Unsplash
About two years ago I stumbled on Unsplash, a website with free (do whatever you want) high resolution photos. I loved the concept instantly, people could just upload their images and give them away for free under a Creative Commons CC0 license.
So far, I uploaded 184 images on my Unsplash profile, they’ve been viewed over 63’000’000 times and downloaded over 613’000 times…
Just insane numbers.
It’s not just numbers
People from all over the world are creating things with my images, websites, album covers, iPhone Apps, book covers… Here’s just a few examples.
Even Apple used an image I took on their website to promote their new iPad Pro. This is actually the 6th most downloaded photo on Unsplash with almost 100k downloads, no wonder why it ended up here…
The amount of traffic Unsplash generates to my portfolio is huge. The number of referrers I have is constantly growing, many websites and blogs use my images and give a link back. My website is no longer just a small island in the sea that nobody see, it’s a freaking lighthouse…
My latest and biggest client found me because of Unsplash, in fact I never really search for clients anymore, they find me instead. (isn’t that what every photographer dreams of?).
Recently, Unsplash created the world’s first fully open, crowdsourced book featuring contributions from 100 creatives including myself.
Today, over 650 million photos a month are viewed on Unsplash and featured photos on Unsplash are seen more times than if they were published on the largest Instagram account, the front page of the New York Times, or the cover of Time Magazine.
Am I losing money ?
It is a matter of perspective. If I put all my images on a stock photography website I could make some money out of it.
But stock photography is dying, people pay less and less for images. I know, I worked for years in a design agency, where we regularly had to buy images for clients, and our clients budgets were always getting smaller.
Why should I need to sell images if I have clients paying me to shoot specific images ? To me working for a client face to face is rewarding, way more than making money on digital sales to people I will never interact with.
Does my work lose value ?
This is something people asked me before and the answer is: no.
My photography keep improving, more people stumble on my work and I’ve got more contacts, more projects and clients than before.
An image has value because someone has an use for it. It has absolutely no value if it’s sitting uselessly in my hard-drive or if it’s just on social media waiting to get liked. Sure it has emotional value but don’t get me wrong, I need money to live and pay the bills.
The images I give away for free are like a teaser of what I can do. Think of it as a “try before you buy” option.
What makes you happy is worth all the money in the world, and it makes me happy to give my images for free to those who need them.
I smile when I receive an email like this:
I just wanted to say thank you for your generosity in sharing your work and that I think your appreciation of the beauty to be found in the details of our world is inspiring.
And it happens often.
Exposure or talent ?
We live in an ever connected world dominated by social networks and there’s never been so many photographers around. After you reach a certain quality threshold then all that matters is exposure and most importantly: being a nice person.
Clients will not land on your portfolio randomly. There’s no magic, you need to have your work published, visible, commented, shared, talked about.
There’s no point in being talented if nobody can see what you do.
If you’re extra generous you can make a small donation or buy one of my limited editions prints on my website. I’m also thinking about starting a Patreon page for those who would like to support me on the long term.
This will allow me to cover my web hosting expenses in order to upload more images to my Archive and travel to more destinations.
About The Author
Samuel Zeller is a freelance photographer & Fujifilm ambassador based in Geneva, Switzerland. You can see more of his work on his site and Facebook, and you can follow him on Instagram and twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission