Earlier this year I signed up to Unsplash. If you have never heard of Unsplash, it is essentially a platform to share your work on for anyone to download it for free. Once you upload a photo to Unsplash you have agreed with their licence that basically means any person, company, brand etc can download this full resolution photo and use it for profit or pleasure, without having to (although highly recommended) credit the photographer.
I was convinced by some friends that it was a great idea and to me, at the time I agreed and went ahead with it. What drew me to it was the extremely high amount of views that your work can get that in theory will pull people to your website and push your name out there to a bunch of people/brands.
After uploading my first photo onto the site it completely blew up and I was quite shocked and excited which left me motivated to upload more and more. Which I did, and some photos would do great, some not so great. In the early days of a freelance photographer trying to make their mark, push their work, find clients and boost their popularity it seems like a great opportunity.
From using Unsplash for the 4-5 months that I had it, I had accumulated a total of 8,842,392 views and 56,979 downloads of my work. 3 work enquiries, 2 from smaller companies, 1 from a worldwide company that most people will have heard of and 1 Collaboration offer from another big company on a new app launch. Which is great right? except every single of those opportunities fell through or became not what was agreed in the first place.
How often do you scroll through the Instagram explore page, double tap a photo and scroll on without paying attention to who took that photo? I know I do quite often, and I feel that it works the same for the majority on Unsplash. People scroll through the different sections in search for something they would like, they click download, and then forget. I am not saying this is everyone because people do credit you for using your photo, but there is also a lot of people that don't. A number of times I would be tagged in facebook adverts by bigger and smaller companies that have downloaded and used my photo for profit with no credit. Which obviously has left me to feel completely exploited by not only the brand but Unsplash also. And I know you are sat there thinking "why did you sign up in the first place because you knew that would happen". Except I didn't.
I like to think I work hard, I invest 99% of my time, money and effort into turning my passion into a proper career path. When you see a photo used for profit by a company that you spent time planning, woke up early hours of the morning, drove hours, spent hard earned money on, and spent hours and days and months and years of your time you have put in to learn your craft. You don't see your name under the photo, you can imagine the feeling right? Yeah, it's not a great feeling I can assure you.
After deciding to delete my account, I received an email from one of the directors asking why I left. I replied in a polite and professional manner and gave my reasons why, along with how it made me feel as a professional photographer newish to the industry which I received no reply too. Again, back to the feeling crappy.
A couple of months after leaving Unsplash, I find email in my inbox from the same person who emailed to ask why I left, addressed to "Shane". Erm, I'm Ryan. The subject to this email is 'Love your photos' and the body of this email contains a short essay of reasons why you should join Unsplash and share your work for free. It seems that they spend their time trolling Instagram for email addresses of who they feel are vulnerable photographers that will be excited of the idea of giving away their work for free in return for the millions of views you will receive. One of the motives was "Almost 2 billion photos are viewed every month on Unsplash, and a photo featured on Unsplash is seen more than a top Instagram account or the cover of the New York Times" I then think to myself, the more photographers that sign up to Unsplash, the less significant your work becomes as there is more and more people giving their work away for free. This then will affect photographers who make a living from selling stock photos, photographers who license their photos to companies and those companies can now go to photographers on Unsplash and pay them less than if they were to go direct or through an agency that represent professionals. It also makes companies think our work is something they don't need to pay for and for bigger companies and brands to completely exploit us as a photographer. Lets face it, if you are making a substantial figure from photography, why would you give your photos away for free? Granted, it helps smaller companies that don't have a budget for photography but it doesn't help the photographer trying to pay their rent and feed themselves and their family.
The way I look at it is if I made 50p (which isn't much) from every photo downloaded from my account, I'd have £28,489.50 (which is a lot) in my bank account right now that would help go to towards equipment upgrades and trips to create more and more of my work. Instead, I spent my time getting frustrated from companies using my photos for profit, replying to potential work opportunities that never got back to me and generally doubting my own worth.
I understand that this can seem quite biased, although I just wanted to share my experience with other photographers\artists like myself that have thought about using Unsplash so you will be able to hear about my own personal experience and the highs and lows that went along with it. I hope that people can learn something from this instead of learning the hard way. Or not? that's for anyone else to decide.
*Disclaimer* - I am in no way trying to turn anyone against, this is simply just a review of my experience with Unsplash.com.