Unsplash Photography Team Update — Q1 2017: photos grow 81%, more opportunities for photographers

Download Brooke Larke’s photo on Unsplash

Download Brooke Larke’s photo on Unsplash

Every month and quarter, the Unsplash Photography team puts together an update to share with the rest of the Unsplash team.

Back when we ran CrewMikael shared most of our team and investor updates on our blog, and we got a lot of positive comments. I think there’s value in sharing updates — not only could it be helpful for entrepreneurs going through similar things, but it also holds us accountable to reach what we set out to do.

On Unsplash, there are a few different ways people use our site. Contributors are people who submit photos and Consumers are people who download photos. We created separate teams to help each. Our Photography team mainly focuses on creating opportunities for our Contributors.

So here’s what our Photography team did in Q1 2017, and what we want to do in Q2 2017:

Current Photography Team

AnnieKathryn, and me. We’re a bit short-staffed so in Q2, we plan on hiring 2 Photography Managers (in Montreal) and 1 Brand Partnerships (in NY or SF). If you’re interested, send me a message.

Key Metrics

Over the quarter, we looked at a bunch of ideas we had, and narrowed it down to the projects we felt could make the biggest impact for supporting our Contributors. We’re constantly cooking up ideas and evaluating them, doubling down on the ones that are showing strong signs, while removing those that aren’t having a high impact (even if they are nice to do). Every project we decide to do is evaluated on how it will impact the following 2 key metrics:

1. New approved & promoted photos.

Growing the Unsplash library is a focus — it’s the main reason people come to Unsplash. The larger this audience is, the more opportunities we can bring to Unsplash Contributors.

Toward the end of Q4, Unsplash became its own company from Crew, which meant that Unsplash would get dedicated focus, management and resources. Since the shift in Q4, we’ve had our best growth in promoted photos (81%), and strong growth in overall approved photos (31%).

Quarter over quarter growth of new approved & promoted photos.

Quarter over quarter growth of new approved & promoted photos.

Five weeks into the quarter, we’re projecting to be at 45,562 new photos.

Five weeks into the quarter, we’re projecting to be at 45,562 new photos.

2. Contributors

The Unsplash community includes 36,000+ contributors who offer their photos freely for anyone to use. Our intent is to nurture and grow this community into one that is as valuable as we can make it for our contributors.

Quarter over quarter growth of new contributors.

Quarter over quarter growth of new contributors.

Five weeks into the quarter, we’re projecting to add 7,100 new contributors to the Unsplash community.

Five weeks into the quarter, we’re projecting to add 7,100 new contributors to the Unsplash community.


Q1's Projects related to these metrics:

1. Photo Submissions

Photo Submissions are how incoming photo submissions are showcased throughout Unsplash. Annie is the queen of the Unsplash New feed. She’s responsible for going through each photo submission and manually rejecting, approving and promoting photos based on multiple factors.

Typically, 20% of the photos submitted on Unsplash are rejected (they contain nudity, violence, or don’t fit with the Submission Guidelines), 70% of photos submitted are approved, and 10% of them are promoted. We get a lot of questions asking what the difference is between an approved and a promoted photo, so here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Approved photos: these photos appear on a contributor’s portfolio page, but they do not appear in Unsplash searches or on the homepage. For example, the photos on my Unsplash account are approved, which means that they won’t appear on the Unsplash Home or New feed. They will be searchable if someone lands on my Unsplash profile or my photos were added to a collection.
  • Promoted photos: these photos appear on a contributor’s portfolio page, in Unsplash searches and in the Unsplash API. Quality photos matter because it’s the premise that Unsplash was originally built on. We want to return great photo results which means we need to add an editorial curation element to our photos to make sure that they are hitting a standard.

We’re trying to provide more visibility to photos, so here are 2 things we focused on:

  • Ability to order the New feed. This enables us to create a better aesthetic experience for our community and to promote the strongest photos at the top of the feed.
  • Phase 1 of photo submission education: Annie has started doing this manually by editing certain submitted photos, and letting contributors know the tweaks we made to help with their future submissions. In Q2, we will put more time towards laying out a sustainable strategy once we hire our second Photography Manager.

2. Nurturing a genuine and engaged community

We’ve been receiving a lot of input from contributors mentioning that they would love to meet and chat with other contributors, whether that be offline or online. To start , we began investing more time in our Unsplash Slack group to connect our contributors from around the world. This communication currently happens within Slack but eventually, we plan to build it in the Unsplash experience.

3. The Community Hub

We created an extension to Unsplash, called the Community Hub, which is an all-in one place to read about everything Unsplash and our community is working on. It serves as a knowledge center with FAQs, as well as a place for our community to see events, partnerships, or resources.

4. Unsplash Local

Unsplash Local is an offline way for our community to engage with each other. After running offline community events in Q1, we saw that Unsplash Local would not produce the level of impact on our key metrics that we need right now. However, after running 30 events in 30 different cities, we’ve seen there to be meaningful benefit of having offline relationships with our community. Some of our most active members have been the result of these events, so we think it’s important to continue. So instead, we turned Unsplash Local into a fully self-serve and volunteer-run program.

If you’re interested in hosting an Unsplash event in your city, we’d love to have you. Here’s how you can get started.

5. API Partnerships

API Partnerships: a way to bring an even bigger audience and opportunities to our contributors, since our API requires contributor attribution. We believe the more we can share the work of our contributors, the more opportunities they will have. With this thinking, we decided to shift our API strategy from a paid Premium model to free. Today, our API services more than 300M+ requests per month, is used in over 7,000 third-party applications, including TrelloWeebly Promote, BufferOverImgixReadymagInvision and Naver.

This quarter, Kathryn and I also put together a thorough API section on the Hub outlining helpful tips for getting started with our API. We’ve simplified the approval process to make it sustainable for Kathryn to manage both API approvals and prospect sourcing.

You can check out our API attribution guidelines here and create your Developer Profile here.

6. Brand Partnerships

We’ve started to work with companies on creative ways they can get involved in the Unsplash community. Here are 2 campaigns to highlight in Q1:

  • Trello contest: This was such a cool contest, where Trello’s community submitted photos to be included in the Trello background photo integration and a featured collection on Unsplash. Over 1k photos were submitted. The best 10 photos were featured on the Unsplash homepage, as well as in the Trello x Unsplash integration.
  • Lonely Planet: We’re working on a project with Lonely Planet, where some of Unsplash’s contributors will be featured in Lonely Planet’s product. We’re still a little while from launching, but we’ll share more soon!

We’re looking to partner with companies who resonate with our value of supporting creators everywhere. Contact us here if you’ve got an idea you’d like to partner with us on.


Always feels great to hear from our community in Slack or on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to recognize the awesome people that make up our community.

Thanks for reading,

Steph and the Photography team

Annie SprattSteph