I Left Unsplash & Why You Should Consider To Stop Using Free Stock Photos

I left Unsplash and why you should reconsider....by love merkuri

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and opinion only, please do not go and send any hate towards the website. By no means the below post is to force you into anything to stop you from the choices you make using free stock photos.

Unsplash. What is Unsplash.
Head over to their website and you will see words such as:
“The internet’s source of freely usable images. Powered by creators everywhere”
“Beautiful Free Images & Pictures”
“Photos for everyone”
“All you need to create a website.”

Underneath you will see an infinite scroll of high resolution/quality images, photos are place into categories and there is no denying that it is in fact a good looking website full of really amazing images. You don’t even have to sign up to download an image! 

It’s that….easy.

Here is a snippet of their story:

Founded in 2013 as a humble Tumblr blog, Unsplash has grown into an industry-leading visual community. It’s become a source of inspiration for everyone from award-winning writers like Deepak Chopra to industry-titans like Apple, and millions of creators worldwide.
* Side note: The words award-winning writers and industry-titans are huge red flags!

Honestly I never even heard of Unsplash, I never saw any pesky google Ads, Instagram or Facebook ad. In fact I can’t even remember how I came across Unsplash. I went in blindly and decided to “gift” photos I had just sitting on my external hard drive collecting digital dust. My thought process was, “If I’m not using it, why not let others use it.” I didn’t see any problem at the time and so started uploading away…

Found Iris Flowers -Selected for ‘Editorial’

And not long after I receive an email from ‘Annie’ asking me for my postal address, her and the team wanted to send me a thank you gift for becoming a contributor and as a show of appreciation I was sent some cool Unsplash stickers! Queue warm fuzzy feelings and encouraging me to continue to upload more of my photos.

Soon enough I was suddenly getting emails from ‘Annie’ once again telling that one of my photos has been selected to be featured under ‘Editorial’, I was delighted! I’ve never been featured in anything! I even happily shared the news on my socials. I ended up getting 10 more emails telling me this.

Even emails to tell me this photo has reached a thousand downloads to…you’ve been viewed FIVE MILLION TIMES. All very nice milestones, but this wasn’t the point. I didn’t join Unsplash to get exposure, but somehow I was and for this introvert, it was kind of a big deal.

My photos were being downloaded everyday by thousands of people and out of the thousands of downloads guess how many times I was credited and linked back to either my Instagram or website…

Four. Only four times…

Take a look at their short and does-not-end-up-that sweet, License:

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.

Why didn’t the above words phase me!? *queue facepalm*

So, I did a thing where I read up about other people’s opinion and soon enough I’m reading reviews and the result…I panic, I FREAK OUT and am deleting ALL of my photos and deleted my Unsplash account. Send them a message on Instagram asking them to remove one of the photos they featured and quietly wallow in a pool of regret and beat myself up on my stupidity.

I read fstoppers, petapixel, reddit threads and binge on a few YouTube videos. One that kicked me in the butt the most was Zac Arias’ ’Thoughts on Unsplash’ (he is a Commercial Photographer, I learned about him when I was going through a Street Photography phase) and brought up so many points I forgot about and some I didn’t even thought of. He posed a few questions that made me ponder and well, woke. Me. Up.

He did mention he has worked for certain things for free, but also points out he is in control of what value will return to him from the contribution.

And when you put your photos on Unsplash, you  have lost all control, you have no idea what is happening with it, and who is taking advantage of it who’s using it incorrectly or using it the way you wouldn’t like.

Zac Arias

Remember earlier on I mentioned that a few of my photos have been downloaded over a thousand times already? What if in that a thousand times my image is being associated with stuff I don’t agree with and being used in ways I don’t want it and the worst part. I won’t even know because of the fact credit DOESN’T even have to be given. Ouch. Yup, feeling the ouch now.

The (little) exposure has been ‘nice’ but…do I really want to be known as the woman who gives ALL of her photos away for free especially ones that might have taken me hours sometimes weeks to set up? No. Well, definitely not anymore. This also came down to the fact I wasn’t recognising my own self worth, my value. I have never, ever really viewed myself as a great photographer, maybe I’m not or I am, but at least I know how to take a photo.
Yes, everyone can take a photo nowadays, all thanks to smartphone devices. But for me, when I take a photo: 
I look for details
The colours 
I look at the light and what it’s doing
Think about what props
I will need I even modified one of my film cameras to do a particular effect!
What kind of background do I want…

Sometimes it’s can be such a long and slow process it may take me weeks to finally get the photos I want to make.

No one considers the process that goes behind in making a photo anymore, well that is also because when people aren’t interested in something they usually don’t want to understand or care. 
Which is why professional photographers haven’t been quiet about the fact that the industry has been suffering, is suffering because websites like this is devaluing the skills it takes for a photographer to make an image.

During my research, I read blogs from contributors who explain why they give their photos for free one in particular starts off like this:

I get asked sometimes why I post most of my work for free on Unsplash. The answer is simple. What if you could get your work in front of millions of people? What if in doing so you were able to make new creative friends, clients, and collaborators? Isn’t that worth more than the small monetary value stock sites are offering photographers?

It was the next paragraph that made me go ohhh…

Don’t even get me started on the fact that I hate the images on iStock, ShutterStock, and the countless other stock sites out there. I don’t even want to be a part of that world.

But I will keep the source anonymous

Are they hiding under a rock? I have collections of beautiful images on ShutterStock saved up in folders that I will eventually buy once I’m ready and I’ve even quietly contributed my own stock photos on there and guess what…I have made a few bucks! I don’t post consistently enough on there, through my own fault since I am juggling a lot of plates at the moment (mainly, building my brand Love Merkuri).

Finding the time has been hard when other projects require my laser focus. Howeverrrrr….I do plan on uploading more regularly to multiple stock agencies later in the year – going to try out this website called (need to find name) and it sends off your images to multiple stock photo websites in one go rather than doing them individually, I want to get to the point where I have several streams of passive income online.

I won’t link back to that article, it’s basically a long sugar coated, I-got-lucky, full of fluff advert that Unsplash is a “community”.
Now, now as I have mentioned in my disclaimer, this post isn’t about going to send hate to Unsplash, these are my own thoughts and opinion after having used the website for a few months.

I know I’m not exactly a world class professional photographer. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped dreaming of one day possibly becoming one. Photography has been and is a huge part of my life, a serious hobbyist, I studied it back in high school, a year in my early adult life and the rest is self taught.

Yes, I can even develop my own black and white film. 

Putting myself out there is and has always been challenging for me, mainly because I lack a lot, A LOT of self confidence and it’s been an ongoing thing I work on.

But I no longer want to be part of a world where providing something and barely get any real value and the fluffy words of ‘What ifs’ are simply that. You would assume having had over 5 MILLION views that out of the 5 million I would have found “new creative friends, clients, and collaborators?” already, right?

Apparently not.

Here are even more reasons why you should reconsider using free stock photos as mentioned above and a few more sourced around from the internet below:

  • Since there are millions of pictures taken every single day, photography is surely losing its value. But it does not mean that you should contribute to it. It requires time and money to take a good picture. If you want your work to be respected and fairly paid, respect what others do as well. Next time, before you use an image for free, make sure you are 100% sure you have the right to do it.  Source: PhotoClaim
  • People are using images from Unsplash on their commercial websites, T-shirts, bags and mugs and making money from them while the photographers who made it possible might be unaware of it. 
    – Source: PhotoClaim
  • First, the sort of people and companies using photos on Unsplash are the sort of people who obviously don’t have a photography budget (not even a stock image budget). These are not the sort of people who one day might come to you with offers of fairly-compensated work. They are the sort of people who, at best, will try to milk out thousands of dollars worth of your labour for peanuts. – Source: Reddit
  • When you have time, watch Zac Arias’ ’Thoughts on Unsplash’ to give you a point of view from a long time professional photographer – https://youtu.be/6M_OZWtpokc
  • A company big or small should have a stock photo budget.
  • If award-winning writers and industry-titans uses your image(s) they can afford to pay you. End. Of. story.
  • There is a plethora of reasonably priced stock images out there and why not help support a small business.

Lastly, we all need to readjust our attitude of “Why pay for it when you can get it for free” & ESPECIALLY: “If it’s on the internet it must be free.” The last statement irks me the most, I see it all the time people willy-nilly stealing images from Google, ignoring the fact that the image is most likely Copyrighted.

Sadly the devices we have at our finger tips have made it all way too easy to download anything from the internet, I hope that one day there is going to be a block on this, disable the use of the ‘Right-click’ – Save Image and we all stop taking advantage of each other.

We have lost touch with what the creator does behind the scenes to create that work of photography, drawing, painting, graphic design, making music…

I am a little ashamed I had even put some images on Unsplash and the thing is, they weren’t even photos I considered my best work. It didn’t even occur to me that putting up my not so great shots was setting me up to give the impression that my self worth is only giving away my photos for free when I should in fact work a bit more harder and place my photos onto websites that will pay to use my images.

I hope this has given you some food for thought the next time you take an image or use a free stock photo website that doesn’t offer any sort of monetary reward if it is going to be used for Commercial purposes.

But if you’re a giver and looking to get some exposure, then by all means go ahead and do what you will.Who knows what the future of stock photography is going to be, it seems the trend at the moment is on hand drawn art *looks at you Procreate* but that’s a whole different topic and I’ve kept you here long enough.

Thank you for your time!

See you again soon.

Love Merkuri

2 thoughts on “I Left Unsplash & Why You Should Consider To Stop Using Free Stock Photos

  1. I can understand why you feel ashamed, but you did nothing more than put your trust where it wasn’t deserved. I am so wary of this type of service nowadays. I’ve come close to using similar writing services but I always do some research first. So many parasites out there. I’d prefer to not be a paid writer than to be taken advantage of.

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