Photo Hero or Photo Zero: Two Points of View

Posted Aug. 11th, 2017 by Daniel J. Cox

A new company recently came to my attention and they’re making a lot of professional photographers unhappy these days. It’s called Unsplash and it’s nothing more than a very well done website that specializes in giving away FREE photography. Their tag line is, “Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” Wow, now that’s warm and fuzzy!

I met this panhandler outside the Taj Mahal in India. Any chance you think this guy would remember me for a few rupees? You know, I was buildig a reltionship.

Yep, FREE Photos, not one red cent for any picture. They specialize in images you can use for as long as you want, for ANYTHING you want. The founder of this wonderful idea suggests that by giving away your work, you’ll eventually build a GREAT relationship with the panhandlers you support. Not only do they give your photos away for free, there’s no requirement for a credit line either. Imagine that, free photos that nobody has any idea who the artist is that shot them. Just another pathway to riches and great customer relations I guess.

Here’s a beautiful example of an image that cost me nothing. I don’t even have to credit the poor photographer, but I will. It was taken by Lucas Alexander. I wonder if this was a real image from Africa or maybe it was a zoo. If from Africa I wonder how many more times he’ll travel there if he has no monetary feedback.

OK, so those of you who know me know I have a sore spot regarding how almost nobody considers photography valuable anymore. I know, laws of supply and demand, but even worse is the reality that virtually nobody knows about or considers quality anything anymore. That leads to a glut of junk that people then suggest there is too much of, so why pay for it? Unspalsh c0-founder Mikael Cho has been getting so much flack from the professional community he decided to try and explain his idea for wealth and riches in a  recently written defense of his business model. I read this piece and wanted to respond but since I’m so busy helping others take photos, I decided not to waste my time. Thankfully, one of the last heroes of photography, Allen Murabayashi, chairman and founder of PhotoShelter responded for all of us who still have a love for the business of making great imagery.

Allen makes some great rebuttals to the comments by Mikael Cho. Here’s one example.

Mikael Cho writes:

“Before the internet, holding on to copyright for photos was more beneficial because the value in licensing a photo was high. The issue today is a licensed photo is losing its value…At the same time, the cost to produce a photo is going down…While professional photography gear is still expensive, mobile cameras are improving at a rate that will eventually put a professional-level camera in everyone’s pocket.”

Allen Murabayashi responds:

“If photos had no value, then others wouldn’t seek to use them. The cost of simply pushing the shutter button has gone down. But the cost of being in the right place and the right time and possessing the skill to take a great shot is the same as it ever has been. Yes, the value of a photo has decreased with digital photography, but the value of a good photo is not zero.”

Who knows who will eventually win this battle? I still license my pictures, but I do it the old fashioned way, rights-managed. There are some clients I do give great deals to, but that’s because we know each other and there’s a beneficial give and take working between us for mutual benefit. I’m not some unknown entity who has agreed to give up all rights to my images in hopes that someday, somebody, might actually call me. And based on this ridiculous model, even if a potential client did want to call, how in the heck do they know who I am if there isn’t even a credit line?

In the end, my guess is that the person who starts making money from this FREE business model will be the guy who built and runs the website. That would be Mikael Cho in this situation. He’s all for encouraging photographers to give their work away because the more content he has, the more people he attracts. Eventually, he’ll start charging for ads which will then bring in loads of cash with photographers waiting in the wings for him to throw them a bone. As we all know, nothing in life is FREE. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll actually be able to make some money and possibly a living doing what you really enjoy.

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There are 3 comments on this post…
  1. Alectron DorfmanOn Aug. 18th, 2017 (1 month ago)

    Having had a look at the offering, I would have to say the many of the images could have been taken by a professional. They are well exposed, composition is on par, and the lighting chosen was not pedestrian. These are images that will be incorporated by the hospitality, pharma and many other industries for use in brochures catalogs and websites and other advertising. Agencies will go to this site for stock photos where they might normally go and buy them from a site. This guy is upsetting an entire industry. I can assure you he will find a way to make money from this site at the expense of others. Of course that is what business is, so what are you going to do?

    Having made a good living in photography for over 50 years and having in that time sold a lot of stock photos, I am outraged by this leeches wanton disregard for an entire industry. Of course the same was said when penny stocks showed up on the scene.

  2. DeanOn Aug. 11th, 2017 (1 month ago)

    The “concept” is disastrous for working photographers and serious hobbyists. Fortunately, from what I saw of the critter shots (polar bears, grizzlies, lions, wolves), so is the quality of images on the site. You and I would have hit the “delete” button long before the “send” button if we even ended up with such poor shots. While the rhino pic you posted is pretty good, I am sure you and your Explorers have far better images taken in Africa than that one (my bet is that it was a zoo” shot). I think once the word gets out (as you are so appropriately doing), photographers with high quality images will not contribute to sites like Unsplash.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 13th, 2017 (1 month ago)

      Great to have you join the conversation Dean. Only time will tell.

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