Unsplash :: Interview With Mikael Cho · DEDPXL
When I found out about the website unsplash my blood pressure spiked. Unsplash is a community where anyone can download quality highres images FOR FREE to do anything they want without even crediting the photographer who uploaded the work.

Instead of just bitching and moaning on the Internet I decided to reach out to one of the founders of unsplash, Mikael Cho. Mikael graciously agreed to talk and we spent nearly an hour discussing the platform and what it means to the photography industry as a whole.

I will be uploading my final thoughts about all of this in a few days.

Below is the email I sent to Mikael, and some links to posts I mentioned during the interview.

If you have thoughts on all of this, hit me up in the comments below!

Hi Mikael,

Thank you for taking the time to read this email. 
My name is Zack Arias and I am full time commercial and editorial photographer based in Atlanta. I have been pursuing photography for twenty years. I love what I do for a living and I deeply care about my industry. For the past ten years I have been fortunate enough to teach and speak to photographers all over the world. 
I first learned of unsplash a few weeks ago and I might need to get some blood pressure medicine. I have had many expletive filled exchanges with peers of mine in this industry. I’ve read everything you have posted about Crew and Unsplash. I know the history. I know how it started. I went so far as to contact Patient Zero, Alegandro Escamilla. I assembled a team of fellow creatives and we have dived deep into the unsplash community and have talked to people who are pro and con. 
I’m working on a video / blog post about my thoughts on the platform and I want you to know something. While I am very opinionated and I am holding to a pretty strong conviction about how unsplash is hurting our industry I want you to personally know that I’m not speaking about you or your team in a personal way. I have talked to people who know you. They have all expressed that you are a bright, young, talented man. The feeling I get from reading your posts online is similar. I think you and your team are all lovely people. 
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my thoughts about unsplash and similar free photography platforms. I have experienced two massive sea changes in my industry in the past twenty years. The first was the move from film to digital. That was a massive change that effected the lives of many people. Both for the better and for the worse. I used to be a studio manager for a large commercial studio and we went from spending $10,000 a month on film and Polaroid to zero dollars a month on film and Polaroid once we went digital. The retailer we used eventually went under.
The lab we used eventually closed as well. The change happened so fast many were not able to adapt quickly enough. When you have millions of dollars tied up in film processing equipment that no one is using any more there’s only so much you can do before you succumb to the change. 
The other huge sea change was after the professionals moved to digital, photography also became more accessible to the hobbyist. Gone were the days someone would take a few photos every now and then and everyone seemed to become a photographer over night. Professionals were now competing with hobbyists. Hobbyists had a day job and enjoyed making a few dollars on the side with their new camera. A good friend of mine was in business for 15 years as a photographer. He is now the produce manager at his local grocery store. He wasn’t able to adapt. 
I have asked myself many times, “Am I not seeing the good from this platform?” Am I being the crusty old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn? God knows I confronted some of those old folks when I was coming up through the ranks of the industry. I gladly welcomed the switch to digital. I embraced the web very early on. Social media has been great for my business. From myspace (remember that site?) to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. 
Here’s my old man rant, Mikael. You have no skin in this game. You have not worked as a photographer. You yourself are not a photographer. Armed with other people’s money you have stepped into this industry to create something that has HUGE value to YOUR industry, namely designers, tech companies, etc. 
Pardon my use of metaphor. I mean, I’ve never met a phor I didn’t like! 😛 #dadjoke
I liken the photography industry is an ecosystem like a forest. The forest has taken a long time to grow and has weathered many storms. It’s the home to a lot of people. It’s my home. It gives me shelter and provides for me and my family. Unsplash is like a foreign timber company coming to the edge of the forest and says “Look at these trees that no one is using. Let’s take them and help our other company make a profit with them.”
For what I do in photography, unsplash doesn’t directly effect me. I’m pretty deep in these woods but I’m starting to hear the chainsaws. People I know who live at the edge of the woods are calling me saying “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”. Defenders of the logging company hand them a copy of “Who moved my cheese” and simply tell them they need to adapt or die. The logging company says words like community, inspiration, giving back, views, downloads, relationships while they chip away at the trees.
I spend a lot of time educating my clients and other photographers about the value of photography. Why they are paying me the rates I am asking for and under what terms those rates cover. I understand the long term licensing model is confusing and antiquated. While I would like to find a better way to speak about usage and still get the rate I need to pay my bills, feed my kids, and employ the freelancers I use… Licensing is still important.
This email and the blog / video that I’m working on is me coming to the edge of the forest to confront unsplash… who I see as the foreign logging company coming in and eroding our ecosystem. It will also be my statement to photographers who support unsplash. 
As I said. I speak no ill of you personally Mikael. Or of your team. My ultimate goal in all of this is that maybe… just maybe…. you and your team will step back for a moment after reading and hearing my full thoughts on this… and maybe. Possibly. Take a breath and say to yourselves… 
“Yes we are disrupting and changing the photography industry but MAYBE not for the better. Maybe our actions are causing harm where we don’t mean to cause harm. Maybe there is more we can do to support our photographers. More we can do to educate them so they can become sustainable. Maybe we can build resources for them that aren’t just empty views and download numbers. We’re feeding their ego. What can we do to actually help them eat?”
I take it that you are a smart and creative person surrounded by other smart and creative people. I also think you are blind to issues you are creating in this industry and, at worse, naive. 
I’m working on this video this week. If for any reason you’d like to do a Skype interview and we have a professional and respectful debate on this issue, I would love that. I will put my studio manager on guard and as soon as I start pounding the desk or screaming expletives, I’ll let her zap me with a cattle prod. 🙂
I know you have gotten critique. I know that you’ve probably received a lot of hate mail, vulgar tweets, and so forth. I get it. I’m going to get hateful messages once I release my thoughts on all of this. I just want you to know that I’m not personally after you. I wish you no ill will. You’re a business man in a free market. I get it. I’ve sat here thinking…. “Damn. That’s a lot of traffic. Maybe I should upload some photos. God knows I have a shit ton of them laying around.”
Thank you again for taking time to read this. I appreciate it. Let me know if you’d be up for talking about it more. I’m sure you get tired of defending it to people like me. I get that. I would too.
Zack Arias

Links ::


Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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  1. Noah Bershatsky

    I’ll definitely watch that video Zack. I’m an amateur hobbyist potographer that also blogs. I do photography for fun and blog to share and learn, but I too have thought the same about Unsplash.

    Unfortunately, there are millions of people (even fellow photographers), that think it’s OK to use any photo on the Internet. I’ve had my photos stollen off of Facebook a few times by our local newspaper without even a credit in the footnotes.

    Unsplash is just an extension of this. Photographers are getting replaced with smartphones, Instagram, portrait modes, etc. It is what it is.

    Other industry professions also get replaced, everything from cashiers to technical professionals. It sucks, but people need to adapt – life goes on. I make no mistake about this fact and don’t take my day job for granted. There’s always the fear of being replaced by some new thing.

    • David Smith

      “It sucks, but people need to adapt – life goes on”

      That’s a bit passive, but it certainly fits with the big tech philosophy: bend over folks, we’re just here to get rich quick!

      Enjoy the ride.

    • ProOnly

      ‘people need to adapt’ …………. wtf is this bs………………….. you fking adapt !

  2. Jesus the Prince

    Unsplash is a symptom, not the problem. Photographers gave away their work for nothing way before Unsplash existed.

    Simple supply and demand. Too many pictures and not enough dollars…

    • Charles Unitas

      To say, “photographers gave away their work for nothing way before Unsplash existed,” is an open ended statement mired in half truths. Amateur photographers, those who do not rely on photography to earn a living, are the ones freely giving their work away since there is not fiduciary impact on their actions. Professional photographers, who understand the value of their work and rely on it to feed their family and pay their rent, would never give away what they require to live. To group the two into a single entity is unjustly evaluating the current situation.

      • Jim Kahnweiler

        If you cruise flickr, or 500px or similar sites, you will see a vast amount of outstanding imagery. Many amateurs can produce as good as or better pictures than professionals. Commercial buyers recognize the value of photography, but, when photo buyers can meet their needs with free imagery, few professionals will remain. There will be niches in, say, product and fashion. But, the images used to illustrate concepts now supplied by stock agencies will be free.

        And what happens when an unsplash image use violates the subject’s right of privacy? Like Gawker Media, the lawyers will end it. I just checked the site and there’s a photo of young boy holding a book that has been downloaded 42,500 times since it was posted about a year ago. https://unsplash.com/photos/qDY9ahp0Mto Is it released? There’s no indication. So not only do we give up our copyright, and the right to earn income from our effort, we give up our privacy, as well, for the profit of others.

        How can this be a sustainable business model?

  3. Jesus the Prince

    One more question: why should Unsplash care about the photo industry? Simply because it benefits you?

    • Charles Unitas

      It’s not about the benefit of a single person, but a whole industry and that’s what people miss here. It would be the same as people eating a restaurants and telling the chefs and cooks, “thanks, I’ll make sure everyone knows how good the food is here.” Exposure for exposure’s sake is not productive. You wouldn’t work for a handshake and a pat on the back, would you?

      But that’s not the biggest issue with Unsplash. As Zach (and many others have said) they have opened themselves, their photographers and every content user to the possibility of costly lawsuits. All shrouded under the umbrella of, “use it for whatever,” when the reality is quite the opposite. Simply stating, “I didn’t know,” is not a defense in a court of law. So, yes, Unsplash should be caring about the photo industry because as a distributor of photos they are now in the ‘photo industry’.

  4. Axel Widjojo

    Man, kudos to you and Mikael Cho for doing this Skype interview. It’s rare that you see such civil discussion in this day and age.

    I feel that he’s conscious of what Unsplash has become. He seems to recognise that there are a lot of weaknesses even in his own argument, and seems genuine enough that he’s willing to take responsibility for it and finding ways to help the contributors beyond the level of what it is right now.

    We’ll see what happens in the next couple of months, I suppose. They could’ve sold the whole thing when they spun off, as you said–I think there are worse people that could’ve been at Unsplash’s helm.

    • Gillian Vann

      i think the ppl he sells to will indeed be worse

  5. Ling Wang

    I think there’s definitely a way to make this work beneficially for photographers. The answer I think is Crew. It’s a website that connects brands to designers and web developers. Why can’t it also facilitate and foster work for photographers as well? What if brands looking for custom photography is looking for someone to do the matching for them? And for photographers who already exist on unsplash, it is a way they can contribute but also get something back to feed themselves and their families. If for example, giving away 10 high quality images can lead to one job after another with brands that want custom photography, then yes, those 10 photos are a loss leader, but it would be worth it because it’s bringing in extra work. In the current model, I see the “loss leader” mostly benefiting everyone else but the photographers.

  6. Mark Turner

    I have not yet seen the interview, and knowing you, you probably asked this. My immediate question is, why are these images free? Who created them, and simply relinquished their copyright? From where did they come? I cannot fault the guy for creating a resource. But someone created these images. Why do they now get given away?

  7. Mike

    Interesting that you started the article with this statement:

    Unsplash is a community where anyone can download quality highres images FOR FREE to do anything they want without even crediting the photographer who uploaded the work.

    I would phrase it as:

    Unsplash is a community where photographers give away quality high res images without the expectation of compensation or even credit, no matter what the end use is.

  8. Mike Schlueter

    Hey Zack,

    Thanks for putting this together! It was a great discussion and so good to see it done in a courteous manner – not the norm these days. I’ve been a full time pro for 35 years so I hear what you’re saying – our industry has been sliding backwards in many ways for a lot of years now. Technology and change can be scary but one things for sure – we can’t hold it back. I remember fellow colleagues who tried to when digital came on the scene. They didn’t last. IMHO the way forward is always discussion between the parties involved so I salute you for stepping up in such a professional way. Also, education on the things you and I have dealt with (value for services/talent/usage rights/etc) in our industry for many years needs to be communicated to the young people that are new to the business of photography. At the end of the day things usually work out and solutions are rarely at the extremes of any issue or challenge – it just takes some back and forth to find the sweet spot where everyone involved can feel good about. Keep up the great work – always been a fan of yours! Mike


    Unsplash is cool, the one who wrote the article sounds butthurt.

    • yafud

      Death is cool, the one who loved life sounds butthurt

    • Charles Unitas

      … said by someone who likes to take things for free without giving back.

        • Brian

          The biggest receivers of tax dollars, and free government services in this country are the likes of Donald Trump, your favorite billionaire born with a gaudy gold spoon in his mouth. But of course, those people, the super wealthy who have driven the largest inequality in the history of this country escape your ire. Oh no, it is the struggling poor immigrant.

          Maybe you could do a nice photo series of illegal immigrants getting free services, living in the lap of that luxury.

          I recommend black and white, high ISO for that aesthetics of poverty feel.

    • Brian

      Just think, this troll can take the contributed work, and sell it on Etsy as original artwork at a profit, for years to come.

      Although Unsplash states such use goes against the “spirit” of the Unsplash license, Cho hasn’t seen fit to do anything about it. Why not? Talk about a ridiculously gargantuan loophole.

      Perhaps I’m not spiritual enough to grasp the benefit.

      Imagine the wonderful “connection” the photographer must feel who contributed to the photo pool a photo snatched up for a global marketing campaign, where the photographer might not get any recognition whatsoever. But hey, he/she could always brag about it on Facebook, as to the intrinsic value of the connection.

  10. DesertSweeper

    I see this as a largely generational problem. The advent of the smartphone, social-media and “instant-sharing” has created a lack-of-ethic amongst its relatively young users. I asked someone recently, who re-published my images, what gave them the right to do so, without my consent, and they were genuinely confused. “But you put them on the internet!” They really don’t get it: “If I was there, with MY camera, I could have taken that picture right, so why do you ‘own’ it?” This is a battle already lost to the masses. Game over.

  11. Fil

    Is it another example of freedom to follow one’s own fortune?


    “Dear Occupator,

    I know you and your fellow soldiers are all amicable and beautiful people,and that each one among you has a home, a family, children and pets. You also have your country and I know you fight for your country’s “interests”, which is all nice and as understandable as can be.

    I’d like you to know that we, that is people where you are, are also amicable and beautiful people,and that each one among us has a home, a family, children and pets. We also have your country’s interests at heart, first and foremost.

    So, one good person to another, should you come to my country armed and ready to put your interests over mine, I’ll have to put a hole in your head.”

    Cordially, Defender


    Ain’t civilisation grand?

  12. Michael Grecco

    Zack, why in the name of Buddha would you upload a bunch of images to their platform? If there are people out there that need appreciation for their work just by knowing they might be shared, great! Good for them. That said any professional that devalues their work by adding their images to a website like this is a FOOL! If you want equity for your work, reachout to me, I have a better solution.

  13. Casey

    Of course it’s not – there are about 3 websites I know of with “free… fully free… even commercially free to use” photo hosting sites.

    They have been around for ages but photography has not been “killed”…

  14. Peter Harrap

    4.1 the World Photography Organisation reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to disqualify and remove any entry that does not comply with the following requirements, even after the entry is submitted on the Website. You warrant and represent, in respect of each entry submitted by you (“Entry”), as follows:

    4.1.1 You are the sole owner and author of each Entry

    4.1.2 You have the right to make Your entry available to the Competition

    4.1.3 Each Entry does not contain personally identifiable information about you or any other person(s)

    4.1.4 Each Entry does not contain any infringing, threatening, false, misleading, abusive, harassing, libellous, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, scandalous, inflammatory, pornographic or profane content

    4.1.5 Each Entry does not contain any material that could constitute or encourage conduct, which would be considered a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability, or otherwise violate any law

    4.1.6 Each Entry does not infringe upon the copyrights, trademarks, contract rights, or any other intellectual property rights of any third person or entity, or violate any person’s rights of privacy or publicity, and Your Entry does not include: trademarks owned by third parties copyrighted materials owned by third parties (including movie dialogue or musical compositions) names, likenesses, voices or other characteristics identifying celebrities or other public figures, living or dead

    4.1.7 Entries which contain any commercial content that promotes any product or service other than that of the World Photography Organisation.

    4.1.8 Entries containing screen credits

    4.1.9 No animals were harmed or manipulated in the making of the image

    4.2 You agree to fully indemnify the World Photography Organisation in respect of all royalties, fees and any other monies owing to any person by reason of Your breaching any of the foregoing.

    4.3 You confirm that each person depicted in the Entry has granted permission to be portrayed as shown. Any costumes, props or other materials used must be rented or borrowed with the permission of the owner, and all other relevant permissions must have been obtained.

    These form a part of the Sony Zeiss competition rules.
    If you read and follow their restrictions, there would not be any photographs taken in public of people at all. No sports events, no street photographs, no candid portraits at all whatsoever, as Sony/Zeiss insist that every identifiable person within the image must have given their signed consent AND you have to be able to provide the actual evidence for that.

    Clearly this is part of the biggest single attack on freedom of expression in modern times- the worst since the Nazis burned all the books they did not approve of.

    It denies absolutely, the essential creative role of the photographer as being of intrinsic value, of the photographers position as artist creator of their output, and seeks effectively to restrict ALL and ANY use/publication of pictures that are not posed by models who have professional signed model releases, or peopleless landscapes, which for Zeiss/Sony, and a lot of book and periodical publishers as well (try getting good reportage of your own society published today- you will fail).

    Now, commissioned work dependant upon publication demands the freedom to have published any image taken in the world itself without restriction, as long as child porn is excluded, and unless this remains an undeniable right, not just employment of photographers shall cease everywhere, but also ordinary people everywhere , by the same standards, shall have to cease “sharing” their family snaps etc because obviously there is no written consent available anywhere on Instagram or Facebook etc for the billions of kiddy snaps, pet snaps and holiday snaps being daily uploaded globally.

    “Zack Arias” seeks to censor content out of fear of loss of financial gain to an organization that explicitly defends our right and our ability to express ourselves at all, and you just cant do that, because if you do, only pro photographers with signed consent forms posted with each image online would ever get commissioned, much less actually paid.

    I dont personally want to give hi-res pictures away to a profit-making unsplash, but I would like the freedom to, as I would like the freedom to enter my photographs into the Sony/Zeiss competition.

    This ia about FREEDOM Zack, not money!!

    • Pete M

      You are an idiot.

  15. Erich Keser

    What you’re dealing with here is a process of commodification as well as the eternal walmartization (“race to the bottom’) , Your art, or craft, is being turned into a mass-produced product. I’m a recently-retired career counsellor and can remember dealing with about a dozen professional photographers, or fully-schooled and talented wanna be pros. All but two are doing other things (well a third is photographing drill-cores. You have to be very talented, and astute and also lucky -as well as bloody-minded to continue in your field,

  16. Yulana Leri

    That is what I call an angry letter. When one writes one of those, they should sleep a couple of nights, and then look it over, and decide not to mail it. The issue in that letter how Zach feels… I came here thinking reading that letter would enlighten me as to what all the fuzz is about. It is all about Zach’s blood pressure, and how he feels. I have no idea why he is so angry.

  17. Dave Nicholson

    Unsplash is to stock photography what Craigslist is to newspaper classified advertising — a kill shot. And modern, affordable cameras and photo editing software make everyone — not just pros who spend years developing their craft — capable of producing professional looking photos….

    • Sharon Armstrong

      Cameras and software don’t create the photograph. Vision, passion and dedication to ones craft produces the final result. That’s like saying the marble created Michaelangelo’s David.

    • Martin Kostyrka

      I don’t think so. It’s very evident that very few have the necessary judgement to produce top quality work.

  18. Jonathan

    I am a hobbiest. One would hope that the quality of work of a professional would exceed that of amateurs giving away their work. Professionals who do professional level work should have nothing to fear.
    I am a commercial fisherman and have no issue with sport fisherman that give away their catch for free. Happens all the time.

    • Charles Unitas

      The sports fisherman that tosses a line into the local pond isn’t the issue. Imagine if suddenly those weekend sports fishermen came trawling alongside you with affordable semi-commercial boats every time you went out and they brought their catch in to the pier and gave all their fish to your customers. That is what professional photographers are dealing with. A different viewpoint, don’t you think?

      • Roger

        You’ve entirely missed his main point, which is: if the work given away for free is of a similar quality to the work done by professionals, why would anyone pay a professional?

        The answer is obvious: the free stuff will only partially/sometimes meet the requirements of those who commission work. So if a professional is good enough, they’ll survive by providing specifically what the clients want. That set of work might shrink a little, but so what? There’s an unspoken assumption by some people here that there’s a god-given right for these jobs to be protected, which is false.

        Imagine if we tried to hold back every other change/advance that’s got us to where we are today…

      • Jonathan

        Uh, if you think serious sport fisherman “throw a line into the pond” your definitely niot one of them. My friends can bring in upwards of a thousand pounds a day with high tech sport fishing vessels. They give away most of their fish. Folks get to used to making fish a part of their diet. Folks buy my fish at the store.
        No problem.

  19. Sharon Armstrong

    The sense of entitlement never ceases to sadden me.

  20. Charles Unitas

    As has been said, there is a definite paradigm shift in the mentality of the image consumer in the age of the internet. Imagery is everywhere and the easy access to it has given rise to the thought that, “if it’s within reach therefore it is open game to do with as I please.” The recording industry went through a similar battle and they actually won. Not because individual musicians complained, but because they had a strong industry backing with studios, distributors and organizations to protect them as a single, cohesive force. Something the photography industry does not have.

    Sure, Unsplash may be seen as both a big push to the bottom and as a system for change within this industry but it is clear that the people behind that push have no clue what they are doing. One good lawsuit will definitely alter their perspective.

    I can understand the need to protect an established industry such as commercial photography but in view of the recent decline one may argue that a complete dismantling could lead to a beneficial rebuild. It just sucks being a victim of that rebuild, specially when your livelihood depends on maintaining cash flow. It is also scary since we are seeing the decline with no clue on how it can be rebuilt. It’s all new territory with a lot of unsurities.

    Similar paradigm shifts have occurred in the recent past that have destroyed complete business models to be replaced by new ones; coal/petroleum, horse/combustion engine, gas/electricity… We are also seeing the decline of the Mom & Pop shops and brick & mortar stores with the rise of internet superstores today. We can’t deny progress, no matter how much we may love or hate it.

    The current issue with Unsplash is that it is being evaluated by two camps; the professionals and the amateurs. Unsplash came about to answer the needs of the amateur by sourcing amateurs without thought of how that would impact professionals. It is clearly evident that they did not anticipate that impact and have no infrastructure to compensate for it. The amateurs could care less as this structure has all the benefits but none of the consequences. To the pro, there are no benefits with lots of consequences. Through all this it seems Unsplash is looking to convince the pros there is a benefit, they just can’t seem to vocalize what that benefit is.

    To quote an old adage; “nothing in life comes free.” There is always a cost. Maybe not to you, but somewhere down the line someone pays.

  21. Jeffrey Wright

    I’m surprised most of the comments that were left are so supportive of Unsplash and their model. I’d only recently come across the site after an article on dpreview.com and thought I’d check it out. After reading that article I had an uneasy feeling about the site but like you, thought I’d delve into it further and try to give it a chance. I uploaded a few images, but it made me sick to my stomach thinking how the benefits were so weighted in Unsplashes favor. I deleted my account after about a day.

    The thing that bothers me the most about it, and you touched on this during your conversation with Mikael, is that the site owners try to portray it as a community of photographers and creatives appreciating each other’s work when in reality it seems to primarily benefit graphic designers and perhaps ad agencies. There really is little benefit to photographers that I can see. I know there are some photographers that have talked about getting work from having their images on the site and of course if someone wants to give away their work for free that’s up to them but like you I’d feel much better about it being an actual community if all different creatives were represented. I also don’t accept Mikael’s argument that it was too complicated and difficult for users to understand multiple licensing agreements. If nothing else they could have made two agreements, the one they have where images can be used in a completely unrestricted manner, and one where it’s free to download but can only be used with credit to the photographer, or can only be used for free for non-commercial purposes and commercial uses must be paid for.

    Look at https://www.eyeem.com (I have no affiliation with them other than having an account there) as an example of a site who is trying to be much fairer in bridging the gap between being a social community and stock agency at low prices. With eyeem the photographer can choose whether to just post your work to let people view it without selling the image and you making the work available for sale. They also require model releases for your work to sell for commercial uses (they don’t require it for editorial uses. You retain the copyright of your uploaded images.

    • Graeme

      Yes, it’s the disingenuous, or at least dangerously naive nature of it that is at the root of it’s harm. At best they blithely believe it’s all unicorns and rainbows and so aren’t considering their wider impact. It’s about unifying care with awareness. Giving quality images away free is going to happen. It just is. But don’t pretend it’s all about the community unless you’re prepared to support the community. If those lumberjacks aren’t wolves in sheep’s clothing then they’re naive space cadets sawing down the forest and calling giving it away, ‘generosity’. You just have to ask, ‘what steps are they taking to support photographers?’. It’s like they haven’t even asked the question because uploading your images is reward enough.

  22. Rick N

    Disrupters rarely consider the fallout of their actions as their motivation has little to do with fair play. The protectionist attitudes of the photo industry have been circumvented, no longer able to extract their pound of flesh.

  23. Rotten Eggs

    Don’t see why/how this is different than any other industry that goes through change… you said it yourself when digital replaced film… you adapted by buying other equipment, learning how to shoot digital and moved along.

    If you really think a single website with free photos is going to replace your career – then your career is on very shaky ground to begin with! Last I checked, wedding/event photographs were not for free on these sites… and specific product/food photography was not either.

    Certainly, if I need a free photo for my website or book, I’m going to head to unsplash and see if I can find what I need… then again, I would never have purchased one from a “pro” photographer anyway… I would have just shot the image myself as best as I could.

    • Tapani V

      ummm…. ” I used to be a studio manager for a large commercial studio and we went from spending $10,000 a month on film and Polaroid to zero dollars a month on film and Polaroid once we went digital. The retailer we used eventually went under.
      The lab we used eventually closed as well. The change happened so fast many were not able to adapt quickly enough. When you have millions of dollars tied up in film processing equipment that no one is using any more there’s only so much you can do before you succumb to the change. ”

      Did people losing their jobs at Polaroid write letter to you, telling them how bad you made them feel not ordering from them any more? Did you get any letters from Rochester when you switched from film to digital about Kodak employees blood pressure? Yet, in this changing ecosystem that photography (and related art forms) is, somehow you feel that you are entitled to hold on to your piece of cake.

    • Tapani V

      This was not meant as a reply, I don’t know how it got there.

  24. Kpffeun fquzfde

    Stopped after reading the op’s bio # ‘a gifted teacher and communicator’ – alright, don’t need to hear your thoughts 😀

  25. Carlos

    Anyone is free to donate their work to whomever they want….
    This just another nail in the professional photography´s coffin since the introduction o digital… There will still be room for really talented professional photographers to perform their services or offer their products to an ever shrinking niche market.

    As you have mentioned, he is saving his industry… Great for him. So professional photographers should follow his steps and save theirs. It is just that prohibiting people to donate their work is not the best way to do it IMHO.

  26. Michael Moretti

    There was a time, not so long ago, when it would have cost a small fortune, or an uncle at the network, to deliver one’s thoughts to a worldwide audience.

  27. Duncan

    There is a simple answer to this. If you want images for your website (which is 90% of photography now), using unsplash is a very bad idea.

    1. Google will rank a website with unique images higher than one that relies on stock.

    2. Your unique image will often show up in the image search results. This is another source of traffic for your site and will get you more business. Stock images will usually not show up here (maybe the original soure will show up).

    3. Users generally know when they are seeing a stock image. It may not be a conscious thing, but stock images reduce the authenticity of a site. Any kind of uncertainty reduces the likelihood that a customer will do business with a site.

    These are just 3 of the reasons why companies should avoid stock if possible. Unsplash is even worse because each image is used thousands of time. If a company is cheap with their images they were probably cheap with the rest of their website – that is a red flag for search engines.

    The kind of people who use unsplash are usually people looking for a single image or have very limited budgets. If they have budget they will use a real stock agency or hire a photographer. I really don’t see this as a major problem. If it kills cheap stock photography I don’t think too many tears will be shed.

  28. Wade Carrier

    ***Sorry for the long post, and if this was already covered.

    Hey Zack,

    Let me start off with, I love your work, and I’ve seen many of your videos, keep up the good work!

    I watched your interview from front to back, I’d love to see your follow up video when it comes out.

    I’m going to play devils advocate here just a little bit, Your saying that this website, and websites like it, are going to be the end of professional paid photographers as a whole, and I do have a tendency to agree with you, but lets say company XYZ wants to create an ad, they are not going to go to a free site to get a photo that someone put together with an old product of XYZ;

    — It won’t be the product that they are going to release, and chances are it’s not going to be the vision they are looking for, this is where they will reach out to a profession photographer (you or someone like your-self) to create this vision.

    — You openly said, that you went through all the effort with a team of people to hunt down photographers, and ask questions about model releases etc. Which is great, and it makes people aware of whats going on and how they should go about the biz of becoming a photographer.

    Now I ask you this, with all that time and effort that was put in to contacting these people, did you or your team go through the effort to educate these folks, give them hints and tips on how to get clients, how to get paid for the same work they are doing now for free?

    It’s fine to sit and point fingers at a company(s) and say they are to blame for all of this, but this trend will NEVER stop UNLESS the people who are supplying the product, have a reason to stop. Everyone want’s someone to pay an educator on how to get clients, how to grow your biz, and how to make money…. If someone were to help the photographers, and show them how to go about these steps in a way that works, these free sites would have less and less people supplying them with free product(s), and the model they are currently using would just crumble…

    If more people who create photos were making money, then it would just come down to who has the better work, and who meets the vision of the client. The cross argument to that is, it would flood the market, yes you are correct, but if your work is better then the other person, you’ll get the job. The cheapest price doesn’t always win, a 100,000$ wedding is not going to hire a wedding photographer for only 500$. A bonus of teaching people on how to make money, is it WILL increase their self-worth, and they will learn the value of a photo, and in turn educate people on it, and let the snowball start!

    Full disclosure here; I am someone who takes photos, I have a hard time calling myself a photographer because my work is severely lacking, lots of people have seen my work, and like it, but I make almost no money off of it. There were/are and still are points in my life, that I am on the edge of just doing the work for free, because I can’t justify charging for the low end quality work I am putting out, and when approaching working photographers most (not all) are willing to help you out, for a fee. I fully get full time photographers have to make a living, and can’t be filling their time answering questions for free, but if nobody is willing to help anyone else out, how does that increase the value of a photograph?

    I guess my closing statement here is, IF professional photographers who make a living at their craft, rallied and helped other out photographers, it would just make the world a better place, and these free photo sites, would have the pillars pulled out from under them. When you take away the food, the beast will eventually die.

    Hope you read it all, and I would be MORE then willing to have an open conversation about my opinion! (from a guy who would love to be a full time photographer)

    Thanks for listening to my comment/rant!

    • Martin Kostyrka

      Sheesh, dream on…like we all want to be Eric Clapton. You need real talent and an aptitude for business. I’ve been in the visual media business for a very long time and frankly the vast majority of ‘photographers’ whilst being in varying degrees loosely capable, mediocrity was their strongest suit. It’s a bit like the world of art where hardly anyone makes a dime, mostly because their work is poor, but they still do it- trouble with photography you press the shutter and you can easily produce some sort of an image probably well exposed and in focus.

      • Wade Carrier

        Hey Martin, thanks for being so honest, and proving my point with 100% accuracy!

      • Marcal

        Exactly! I remember that the comments most often made against Unsplash in dpreview. com, came from photographers who use their own signature or Zapfino gesture typography as a watermark of their photos.

  29. Gorpalm

    Mikael has created an interesting business model. With that in mind, I’m sure he’d be all for the free distribution of bank cards to anybody who wants one that accesses his personal accounts. There’d be a withdrawal limit of $10 per card because hey we’re reasonable people, but anybody who wants one gets one – You might even set up kiosks next to a few atms. It’d benefit people who need an extra $10, what’s unreasonable about that? Sure there are a few weaknesses to this model, but we’ll busily and apologetically figure those out on the fly.

  30. Bill

    Photography died with the digital camera and eight bazillion new minted professional part time snappers. Now I do pottery and couldn’t be happier.

  31. Me to you

    Comment not for publication.

    Please replace in your article the occurences of “effect” used as a verb with “affect”. People often don’t realize that these similar-sounding words have completely different meanings…

    • Ronald McDonaldTrump

      Damn! You a grammer Nazi? Why there gotta be one of you in every comment section of every article?

      • Me to you

        Some people sometimes try to go for a formal / detached / objective / dispassionate writing style even though their command of the English language falls a bit short for such an approach.

        Such people, especially in the U.S., have a propensity to use “effect” as a verb because, unconsciously or not, they think that such an use, being less frequent in everyday speech patterns, sounds more formal or rigorous than “affect”.

        Unfortunately, the very fact that they think that they can make such a substitution instantly debases the impact of their writing, because they reveal their limited grasp even of simple semantics, which, in turn, doesn’t bode well for their ability to structure their language, thought processes and argumentation in a somewhat rigorous fashion.

        • O

          “they think that such an use”….., is this ‘an’ use or ‘a’ use?

  32. Rob Crenshaw

    Unless Unsplash is doing something illegal, times changes, get used to it. And due to tech they’re changing faster than ever, faster than our ability as a society to adapt. Many companies and industries have been marginalized or destroyed: AOL, Compuserve, two titans back in the nascent days of online. Film manufacturers and processors, minilabs, enlarging equipment. That this change now affects Mr Arias’ industry is threatening to him, but really, trying to stop it with a plea is going to work as well as harsh words against a full speed locomotive.

    The writing was on the wall and you failed to adapt, end of story. To me this demonstrates that most pictures are worthless, stock photography’s days are numbered. Commercial shoots where a company wants complete control over the presentation of their product will continue, but a stock photo of whatever, even if the photographer is in the business of producing such images, is the same as many just as talented photographers who are happy to share their work for free. If the argument against that model is “I depend on that income”, well, sucks to be you, your business model did not incorporate the possibility of change.

    • Martin Kostyrka

      Yes, photography is pretty ‘worthless’ these days or maybe I should say ‘devalued’, having been in the industry for over 50 years it certainly seems less unique or special what with the advent of digital and all those ‘smart phones’- definitely the process is very much taken for granted. We also don’t really have a medium with which to display photography seeing as printing has pretty much died and you only need box brownie quality to put stuff up on Facebook.

  33. Michael

    Stock photography is dead, it’s been dead for a long time. There’s plenty of other ways to make a buck with a camera.

  34. Martin Kostyrka

    This is a scam taking advantage of ‘photographers’ who probably have a very slim chance of making any money anyway and whose work is more than likely pretty mediocre but I’d think ego comes into the idea that their images might get used by someone. There are simply far far too many ‘photographers’ about- almost everyone and their dog. This practice of stealing people’s copyright has been lurking for sometime now with various different laws. I’d say forget being a pro photographer and find another job or do it for a hobby. Look what has happened in the music industry.

  35. harvey

    What a bastard. Drop dead soon, Cho

    Can’t give you my website. The pirate will steal it.

    • Ronald McDonaldTrump

      Aww aren’t you precious, snowflake? Your website probly just has pics of other snowflakes. No worries. Nobody wants to steal those! Snowflakes not unique. They plenty! Hahahahaha!

  36. photo_person

    This isn’t going to be a popular post but:

    Pro/semipro photographers are going to have to get used to the idea that lots of hobbyist are happy to do it (and share) for free.

    Its kinda like if your job was giving free breast massages. Sure, you might be a pro who does it well. But there will be a lot of enthusiasts that will be willing to do it for free.

    There will always be paying gigs for important events. But a half a couple of hobbyists will often do for free what a client will want.

    • toughluck

      Amateurs giving away their work for free are not a new phenomenon. Journalism is one obvious example (sometimes amateurs were on the scene faster, could have had a camera and snapped a few pics before a pro arrived on the scene), but if talking about stock, or illustrative photography in general, it was never truly possible to do it on a global scale, or to submit work to stock photography agencies, which were discerning enough and rejected low-quality work without even looking.

      The difference today is that there are many more photographers today than there used to be 10-20 years ago (or more), and the technical quality of pictures from an amateur camera (or many smartphones) may be indistinguishable from professional equipment in certain situations.

      What I see, however, is motivations changing. While there were always people who gave away their work to be credited (or not) and have their work published by a magazine (or broadcast on TV), a lot of pros did start out as amateurs who worked for free to get exposure, build up their portfolio or just to improve their craft, and hoped to work their way up to be able to charge decently for their work.

      Doesn’t look that sinister, does it? Still, pros protested this as much as they are protesting Unsplash now, pretty much echoing the same arguments — that amateurs seemingly had nothing to lose, didn’t make the investment they did, or lacked some crucial aspect of photography (whether it was appropriate schooling or pedigree, hard to tell).

      Mind you, this only affected the mediocre and average incumbents. The good and excellent photographers had no problems getting business and actually welcomed the competition (or succession) when an actually good amateur progressed through the ranks.

      Unsplash hasn’t actually changed anything for the top notch photographers. What it did, it just provides another entry point for newcomers, much to the chagrin of pros, but amateurs (who had already learned some of the trade, like licensing and so on), too.

  37. toughluck

    One comment about Unsplash itself.
    I don’t see it surviving. You need tons of expensive storage for uploaded images, and you need a lot of processing power to allow sorting through content easily.
    All that costs a lot of money. If Unsplash are so sure that their business model can support them, good for them.
    Test it.
    Submit thousands of nearly-identical pictures. Submit huge image sizes. Get other photographers to do the same. Their infrastructure is not infinite and every superfluous picture just serves to dilute their income.

    There are even less ethical methods of bringing them to their knees. Create fake accounts and submit copyrighted images. You can highlight it to copyright owners, who can then bring hell to Unsplash, or you can just wait for the magic to happen as inevitably somebody will download and use the picture commercially, and will run into trouble. This will affect consumers and site owners alike.

  38. Leon Kolenda

    Zack, I have watched your Skype video with Mr.Cho. It is MOP that Unsplash and any other sights like it, are going to dilute the requirement for Professional Photographers and Videographers.

    They may make some business adjustments to there licensing protocol, But I can assure you, that with out a doubt they will shift there business model to making profits, by using Photographers and there Photos. It’s all based on numbers for advertising, the same as Youtube. Mr.Cho can’t kid me and make me believe that It’s all about this community of photographers for their small egos and notoriety. Like you stated, It seems like Photography in their Business Model is nothing but a lost leader. It’s sad, and I empathize with you and many other Professional Photographers. What we are witnessing is the nature of the beast, Free opportunity on the internet, The digital Money Garden, If we launch digital marketing seeds into cyberspace, something has to grow, and soon with Investment, it grows from a Garden to a Large Profit Farm.

  39. Kristian Borisov

    If it was only about getting more audience and sharing, one could achieve it with low-res photos as well – that’s how all photo-sites have worked so far, so the argument with writing example does not fit here.

  40. Zachary Welch

    I woke up today, after being in a funk last night. As I drank my morning espresso, and contemplated buying more lenses I don’t need. I thought to myself, maybe Zack will have a new post, which will make me laugh and not hate the new day.

    Thank you!

    Zak W

  41. Bob Mahar

    “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Hold on there! Somebody moved my cheese!”

    Believe me, if someone started a free orthodontist service, every photographer kvetching about the destruction of their revenue model would be sending their kids there. If there were a free plumbing service, they would be using it. If there was a free taxi service, you would use it. Free airlines, yup – though no peacocks please.

    I am truly sympathetic, of course, to anyone who is losing their career to a “mob of amateurs” – however the signs of this apocalypse have been there for a decade. Unsplash is, of course, is merely the productization of that apocalypse.

  42. Aram Hovsepian

    Very well artuculated post. Thank your for writing on this important subject for all photographers. Unfortunately if there is demand for free photography and photographers are willing to give up their hard work for free, there will be a market niche to be filled.

  43. Romulus

    This whole thing is kinda’ bullshit.

    I’ve never heard of Unsplashed until now.
    So ,You, by raising this discussion, gave them exposure.

    It is very simmilar with how cabdrivers lost their jobs to Uber. They were thinking just in the moment, to make some quick extra cash with the Uber app, whom ,in fact, just used them and chew them to become itself big, so then, once huge, it completely swallowed them without any regard or remorse and stole all their jobs. The concept is very simple.
    It based on the fact that it is always easier to find a Judas then a Jesus.
    Some small minded idiot that would rather eat two plates today, then have food for tomorrow. So he will betray his own kind quickly. In the end, the big boy eats the small puppy that inflated him with his breaths for free, Everytime, No exceptions. Also for Humanity, in the end, there is no better product,…. stuff like this brings down quality by making specialists obsolete. All the people making great stuff will disappear. From shoes to furniture to pictures. By trivializing the work of these people and bringing down the price one could get, and also flooding the market, nobody will be able to tell quality anymore. Quality will become irrelevant and too costly to produce. But this happens everywhere. Nobody wins, except for the people running Unsplashed. This blah blah blah It is just a smoke screen. So,..Fuck it. Let’s not pretend the clown monkey is a virgin goose.

  44. Glen Barrington

    The problem is, that photography no longer has the cultural significance that it once had. The birth of the internet and the smartphone changed all that. No photo magazines to speak of anymore, not even news magazines, yet literally BILLIONS of photos are ‘published’ on the internet each year. Images have become a commodity. I wrote about this on my own personal not for profit blog a while back. You might find it interesting: http://glenbarrington.blogspot.com/2016/04/photography-simply-doesnt-matter-any.html

    • Mark W

      Loved your blog post! You hit the nail on the head with the final paragraph!

  45. Edward P Richards

    I am sympathetic that this, and the internet in general, is killing or has already killed stock photography. Camera phones are probably killing the kid portrait business as well. But businesses are still going to need specific product photography, portraits, videos, etc. – they cannot just grab those from free stock images. I do not see how this affects the traditional core of professional photography – custom of photos of specific products, services, and the like for advertising.

  46. Chris Dowswell

    Zack, man… Glad to see someone reach out to engage in dialogue about a serious issue in our industry! The comments section is loaded with people saying “photography is dead”…unfortunately, so is mature conversation and even calm disagreement. (If the internet trolls have taught us anything)
    To all of you with your “photography is dead” dribble, move on to something else and let those who love it and rely on it, keep at it.

    Thanks ZACK! Keep pluggin away.

    • Richard H

      This is an old story. In principle, Unsplash is doing nothing different and there’s nothing new in Zack’s take on it. Technology has deskilled photography and eaten the professional photographer’s lunch, just as it has swollowed millions of jobs before. Most folks are okay with this, as the alternative is seen as better overall.

      I used to work in photo magazines publishing, and the print industry is another that’s been devastated by digital media. But I’m not calling for photography websites to be closed down, or photo forums and blogs. Heck, here I am on one!

      The bottom line for professional photographers is if you can’t get commissioned and paid for creating and taking original images, then you don’t have a business. Once a photograph exists, it’s commercial value effectively falls to zero.

      And this whole debate ignores the concept of ‘copyright’ which is itself based on questionable principles. Most people don’t understand copyright, or even know that it exists. When you explain it to them, it makes no sense. “You mean, if you take a photo of me, I have no rights to that image? Even when I’ve paid you to take it?! How can that be right?” (UK law, but commonly adopted internationally.)

      • Patrick Lynch

        I was trained as an economist, and from that perspective copyright makes great sense. If a person is going to put time,effort, materials in to producing something (like a photo), they should get value from it and not have that value stolen from them. Copyright doesn’t set the value, but rather says it belongs to the creator.

        Copyright was originally conceived for written material, even if it is non fiction content. It is easy to understand in this context. That copyright idea has been carried over into other domains, where the value idea gets fuzzier. If I have the only image or video of a flood, there is value, it is rare, but if there are 10,000 posted on social media, the value is lower. What you pointed out about the person in the portrait has merit. Part of the value is the who in the portrait, as well as the effort in taking the photo. Copyright doesn’t recognize that part of the value.

        I probably qualify as an advanced hobbyist, but I can’t afford to be a professional although my heart yearns that way. It use to be DIFFICULT to create high quality Kodachrome images, and only a limited number of people had the skill. Now there are huge numbers of people creating high quality images. The difference between exception and high quality has shrunk. The price of a high quality image is now approaching zero. As much as I may regret it, I understand it, and so spend my effort teaching; i.e. I sell supplies to the miners rather than being a miner myself.

  47. Mark W

    The last few times I have been to B&H the photography section (presently the entire second floor) had less than a third of the normal population of customers. The guys at the brand kiosks were bored. This is also evident in the ever increasing inventory of used items at both B&H and Adorama.

    We also witness it with the paltry and inconsistent sales of cameras. NY Photo Plus last autumn in NYC was an embarrassment. The population was weak. It took up only one half of the exhibition area, with the second half closed off.

    The manufacturers have been basically using the same hardware over and over again for its expected updates (with the worst offender being Canon!)

    These things are happening. The forest is getting knocked down. We aren’t going to like the barren wasteland one bit… but the forest is coming down. That much is certain.

    I agree with the other comments that asks you what makes you think you can justify in helping send Kodak right out of business? You certainly did more damage to them than I did, that much is for sure. What gives you the right to wield the sword that day, but then cry foul today when the sword is wielded on you?

    Look… stop shitting on people that carry a camera and take a decent photo. That is akin to shitting on someone with an iPhone because they don’t have an important enough title to warrant such advanced communication technology. Does the plumber get relegated to the pay phone? No. He can YouTube his repairs and some of us homeowners can learn from them and save a few hundred bucks fixing our own homes.

    This is happening everywhere. The list is endless.

    My industry is currently working to put me out of a job by automation. It is happening. But you know what? If some politician tells you that instead of $12 for a train trip, it now costs $9 because of cost saving measures… you will GLADLY keep those hard earned $3 in your pocket.

    Sure, I’ll be unemployed but you don’t care. You got $3 to blow on coffee.

    So that’s it then: nobody cares. Well.. they care, but they don’t REALLY care. The momentum of society as a whole is that we are all flat broke and while we want to keep ahold of every last dime we have… we all still want to feel like we are a part of high society.

    So some completely impoverished Chinese person(s) threw together this iPad I am writing on. It cost me $800. They literally LIVE at their JOB in a communist shithole nation, and I feel bad about that. I do. But if you told me we could buy them all a proper home if we all collectively agreed to pay $1200 for the same iPad… well… this is where we say “Let me think about it and I’ll stop back at the shop at some point in the future” only to run away to Dell or HP or some other company that isn’t on a mission to do well by their fellow man.

    It sucks, Zack. I hate all of it. I do. But damn… photography is just not going to survive this tidal wave of shit while every other industry sinks.

  48. Charles Hall

    On one hand I can understand that a professional photographer would balk at giving his images away for free, but to complain that someone has chosen to do so is, well, ridiculous. These are images, not prescriptions, nuclear secrets, or particularly difficult things to produce (I wont argue producing them well is a challenge). I appreciate great photography, but please don’t pretend you have a corner on creativity with a box that really does the work. Photography has changed and is now, more than ever, in the hands of the masses.

    • Peter

      Well, on the other hand, it isn’t, but when I told Canon I give away my pictures for free, and asked for a free 5D IV and 3 flash units, they declined. Same with the baker when I asked a bread for free. I told him it would be great advertisement and he would sell more eventually! I don’t get it??? 😉

  49. Mark H.

    Don’t forget about the myriad of android and iPhone apps that let people download (steal) copyrighted and protected images from Instagram, as well as other sites that are supposed to have safeguards in place to prevent the theft.

  50. Joe

    Rights to what is in the image is certainly an issue. IMO unsplash and some of the photographers have f’ed up badly in this area. Kind of unbelievably bad actually. Ignorance is not an excuse. Depending on where the images have been used it is quite likely unsplash is liable for monetary damages. Except, in theory, unsplash is not a money making venture, and probably has very few assets worth anything. The website would take a decent developer a month or so to duplicate (I am a dev, I know, some html, php, css, a db and amazon web services, …). There is likely no technology they could patent, nothing someone couldn’t legally knock off. But the site is worth something, and if someone has been infringed badly enough the site could fall victim. But companies like Apple and such that may be using images from unsplash, guaranteed, are not using the images that have Coca-Cola and such splattered all over the image (unless they get a legal release from Coca-Cola).

    On the other hand, if people want to give away their photos, properly licensed, sure, why not? The problem is that technology, in the area of photography, has made huge leaps. It fun and easy to create digital photos. There are probably close to a bazillion minds out there that are creating compelling high resolution images. And, for what ever reason, those people want their images to be seen. Nothing wrong with that. Perhaps those images are not, in general, as good as what a pro would create, but they are none the less compelling images. As they say, in many cases, “more than good enough.” Hopefully this trend at least helps companies like Nikon, Canon and others. But yeah, in the area of photography there is way more competition for peoples viewing entertainment than there used to be.

    I am curious if there is a site like unsplash that is geared toward the professional photographer? I know there are sites where someone can host their professional portfolio, with prices and so forth. But is there anywhere with a format like unsplash, that invites you in to take a look at a wide variety of photos?

  51. Peter

    I knew this site early on, but it didn’t have much back then. I looked back lately searching for pictures I could use for making Photoshop tutorials for my students, and it was hard to find something that matched what I wanted, and overall, the quality of what I did find was low: both technically and artistically. If I were a company doing an important ad, I wouldn’t want to go with such low quality imagery. I’d have things photographed for my purposes, with a skilled professional, not someone who doesn’t know to focus properly. I find it hard to see this as a threat to professionals.
    But then again: things are going fast. Anyone learning to drive a truck now is not making clever choices. Soon all transport will be self driving. You cannot compete with software that drives a truck for free (once installed/licensed) and that doesn’t need rest etc. AI will replace a lot of photography in the future. I don’t know about the industry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if packshots were done fully automated by robots and software by now? But look at what Photoshop is heading to as well, any landscape or scène will soon be created/combined with a few clicks. A photographer soon will become a scarce elite job for the few things left over in the commercial industry. Art photography and family pictures will be the few things left done personally.

  52. David Baldwin

    Just a general comment on the way the photographic industry is headed. The time is coming when there will be no professional photographers, and images will be made for fun or interests sake only. In a decade the idea of being paid for photographic work will have very largely died out.

  53. Colin Johnson

    Disrupting markets is all about figuring out a way to make money by taking it away from someone else – usually the top of the heap.

    Do you think Uber gave two fawks about cab companies or local laws?
    How about AirBnB?

    The thing about the young people who start disruptors is that they already don’t give a fawn about the company they are disrupting or the eco-systems around it.

    It’s not an industry problem Zak is up again.
    It’s a generational one.
    It’s what punk rock did to prog rock.
    You either get on board and catch a wave or your left on the beach wondering what just hit you.

  54. Darwin

    It’s a free world.
    People want things for free.

    And in the end it is like this situation; if you are hungry and i am hungry and there is one tiny piece of bread, are we getting into a fight to survive or are we sharing the tiny piece while we both know that will decrease the chance of survival?

    So, when the solution is not the nice one, sharing, and the other one had a nice trick to get the bread first, learn from it and get the guy back.
    In other words, you are free to do the same, for educational purposes 😉 hurt their business in the same way but with the same positive goal, make it free.
    Learn, https://crew.co/blog/how-side-projects-saved-our-startup/

    So combine it a little, they have two platforms, you make one; initiate a platform where designers can upload their works for free and manage a platform where everyone can get a free web design or whatever design they want.
    A platform that offers completely zero cost design for websites, advertising, you name it.

    Because if photographers should work for free as an investment, well why shouldn’t designers do the same way?
    All businesses will be equal, working for free to get new assignments that will pay to some money, eventually.

    You will not hurt the startup people business, they will find other ways to get rich.
    The real problem is off course the people that make them rich and cooperate, so these people should learn.

    But could it happen? Will we learn? In the end we all want things for free and buy them for the lowest price, thats the reason the whole world is changing right?
    Me and you are the real problem.

    But in the mean time it could be a nice project to translate the concept in reverse, make a platform for total free design and make designers and photographers equal again!

  55. Darwin

    It’s a free world.
    People want things for free.

    And in the end it is like this situation; if you are hungry and i am hungry and there is one tiny piece of bread, are we getting into a fight to survive or are we sharing the tiny piece while we both know that will decrease the chance of survival?

    So, when the solution is not the nice one, sharing, and the other one had a nice trick to get the bread first, learn from it and get the guy back.
    In other words, you are free to do the same, for educational purposes 😉 hurt their business in the same way but with the same positive goal, make it free.
    Learn, https://crew.co/blog/how-side-projects-saved-our-startup/

    So combine it a little, they have two platforms, you make one; initiate a platform where designers can upload their works for free and manage a platform where everyone can get a free web design or whatever design they want.
    A platform that offers completely zero cost design for websites, advertising, you name it.

    Because if photographers should work for free as an investment, well why shouldn’t designers do the same way?
    All businesses will be equal, working for free to get new assignments that will pay to some money, eventually.

    You will not hurt the startup people business, they will find other ways to get rich.
    The real problem is off course the people that make them rich and cooperate, so these people should learn.

    But could it happen? Will we learn? In the end we all want things for free and buy them for the lowest price, thats the reason the whole world is changing right?
    Me and you are the real problem.

    But in the mean time it could be a nice project to translate the concept in reverse, make a platform for total free design and make designers and photographers equal again!

    Good luck with the new platform

  56. Gillian Vann

    yeah, the ‘who moved my cheese’ people are a bit annoying. I’m usually on the side of progress and “those who make the money make most of the rules”, but of course I’m also an “artist” even though socialism makes me feel icky, even though, like exercise and kale, we all need a bit of it in our lives. Nothing about this site is good. I’ve actually done what you suggested: put some of these freebie images on Red Bubble, and it makes me feel icky to do so, but I guess i’m trying out this new future that we live in.

  57. Juil

    Idea: You must upload 1 asset per 3 downloads.

    This would be along the lines of what Zack mentioned in terms of a community of creatives who collaborate and work together.

    Anyone want to take this idea and run with it?

  58. jjp

    Interesting interview, but after watching I have the impression that you Zack Speak too much. You elaborate too much, and don’t let time for him to answer to controversial things, like what would he think about giving his writing to others to make money for free and without acknowledgement. Thanks anyway, but next time better less opinion from your side and more answers from his.

  59. jbalizzo

    This is just inevitable. It’s already happened full cycle in my field (journalism) with people devaluing real journalism and print materials. Literally everybody can have a blog or self publish now. Happening now with photography as technology comes in everybody’s hands, literally everybody has a camera on them at all times. Honestly not much you can do about it except step your game up, find different niches, and do stuff others can’t. Maybe high end product photography, wedding photography, 360 videos, aerial stuff, etc. Regular street photography or being on the scene or traveling places won’t really cut it anymore b/c that is stuff normal people can now do with ease and has a “good enough” threshold people don’t care about.

    • jbalizzo

      Note from some others saying we are supportive of unsplash, no, not really. We just accept reality and this is coming and it’s either progress or be left wondering “what happened” with no new skills. Why should photography be held as something not to be effected by the change in technology? I know many journalists who are now out of work and working in nothing related at all because they refused to learn new skills or move on with the times.

  60. Mike

    I was so excited to try Unsplash. I need a photo of myself for the cover of my new book. So disappointed it wasn’t there. Here I thought I’d save a little money. Tried finding my daughter’s wedding photos – again no luck. Good thing we hired a pro even though that is just so yesterday. And where are the photos and video of that commercial property I’m selling? I mean really, for a website that is supposed to be the death knell to pros I’m just not finding much in the way of useful photos. Then I thought for sure I’d find some photos to help my niece with the menu for her new restaurant – nothing. Any ideas?

    • Steve Bingham

      Let’s see. Almost all of these photos are worth exactly what you pay for them. Low rez and pretty common. Get a life Zack.

  61. Andrew Collier

    Interesting read Zach. I’m a portrait photographer based near Manchester in the UK. The free stock industry drives me mad but doesn’t really affect me. People can’t go to Unsplash for cute pics of their own kids. Well, not yet anyway.

    In my 20’s I worked in graphic design. When I started work in 1979 we used photo typesetting and cut and paste artwork with hot metal text setting. 10 years later we were using macs and typesetting had gone.

    Lots of client companies bought computers, Aldus Pagemaker and Corel Draw and doing the design In-house. They didn’t understand the skills of the graphic designers. Design businesses like ours took a hell of a kicking. And then one day clients started to realise that their marketing materials had started to look terrible. They lacked the design skills and technical knowledge to produce the quality and originality that brands require.

    The industry has changed massively but there are more graphic designers than ever. They have more media types than in the 1980’s and more outlets for their creativity.

    Anyone who is interested in photography can learn how to take nice pictures and some amateurs are extremely good and take better photos than some professionals. They do what they love and get a huge kick out seeing their work published. The money is often irrelevant to them. But taking the photo is only a tiny part of being a photography business. Marketing, finding clients, sales, working with customer teams are all bigger parts to the job than taking the pictures. Weekend photographers can’t do all this and the big brands want photographers during the week when the weekend warriors are doing their day jobs.

    Our industry will change massively and there will be winners and losers. Any business has to adapt and change to survive. In the ten years I’ve been a professional photographer I’ve seen many photographers start up, then pack up and do something else. I still see newbies starting up and most will fail. Some will make it just like any new business.

    Not every business understands or needs original content. However, there are still plenty who do

  62. Patrick Lynch

    I very well thought out letter.

    I thought you lived in Paso Robles, I wanted to go to one of your workshops their.

    Patrick Lynch

  63. Joe Rivera

    I understand the concept described by Mr. Cho. One starting point would be to make it mandatory that any photos used by their client base be credited to the photographer. The credit may lead to future revenue to said photographer. It’s a starting point. I also do not understand how copyright laws are being overlooked by Unsplash’s business plan. I am not a professional photographer, I am more of a hobbyist. But it all seems wrong. As Zach has stated, if an image of a minor were to be used and the parents discovered this, then all involved would be subject to a possible lawsuit, one which the photographer would be subjected to without his knowledge, which could possibly cause monetary and reputable damage.

  64. Craig

    … So a person that is not a photographer and does not work in the photographic industry but would benefit greatly from eliminating a cost in his own core business, found a “problem” and decided to fix it. What could possibly go wrong?

  65. Craig

    … So a person that is not a photographer and does not work in the photographic industry but would benefit greatly from eliminating a cost in his own core business, found a “problem” and decided to fix it. What could possibly go wrong? But it’s ok, because we have “community” and can “give back” I will tell that to my bank when trying to pay my mortgage.