Why I give away my photos for free on Unsplash, by Mitchel Lensink
As a freelance photographer, I am always looking for new ways to expand my reach and get my photography to the attention of a wider audience. While I believe that you shouldn’t chase after increasing your likes or follower count on social media, I do think that looking into new and creative ways to expand your business is something you should keep an eye out for. With the eventual demise of Instagram (if you are reading this in 2025, this might already be the case), I figured I needed a way to do just that. That is why I decided to join Unsplash.com and try to give away a portion of my work for free. Unsplash is a platform that allows you to share high resolution images that can be used by anybody, for whatever purpose they want, and they may do so for free.
Defining your core business
You might be skeptical about giving away your work for free and to tell you the truth, I was too at first. Every now and then, people and companies contacted me to see if they could purchase a photo of mine that they wanted to get printed or use for promotional purposes, so why would I give that up? It’s a valid question that I asked myself for a while too. That’s until I did the math and realized; if you plan on making money with your photography, you should not do this by sitting around and hoping for somebody to come purchase something from you. Your core business as a photographer should not center around selling digital files, it just doesn’t make good business. The only real income I had gained from my photography was by actual jobs I did. If I wanted to expand my business then that’s the thing I should be looking for. That meant that I shouldn’t be too worried about losing the occasional sale and focus on giving that work a bigger platform.
Unsplash and its impact
By giving my work a bigger platform on Unsplash, I was actively exposing myself to a community that mostly consists of creatives with an intrinsic interest in good imagery. Getting their eyes on my photos is way more valuable than the eyes of my aunt who likes my photos because she likes me. Although, of course, I also do appreciate the support of my close ones, it just doesn’t do as much for me as a photographer as it does as a person. Next to that, the staff of Unsplash is busy actively promoting and participating in the community as well. They have now added several of my photos to their collections, which helped out tremendously with furthering my exposure, and used my work in promoting the platform on their social media. The moment I realized that I could reach more people with a photo by posting it on Unsplash than just leaving it somewhere on my Instagram page, is the moment I unburdened myself from convulsively trying to protect my copyright.
Putting your skills central
As a creative in the digital world, you are constantly cautious about where you post your work and what happens with it. It’s very easy to just take somebodies work and neglect the rights of the creator. I am not saying you should stop caring about people stealing your work, but Unsplash provided me with a very important realization: I am not selling my work, I am selling my skills. The photos I put up on Unsplash is not the work I feel doesn’t ‘deserve’ to be sold but rather photos I actually consider to be one of my best. I am treating my profile as a mini-portfolio and I think it should represent my diversity and craftsmanship as a photographer. If I want to connect with, and contribute to, the creative community than I want them to see my potential. This also forces me to stop leaning on a catalog that might have some impressive images in it but instead go out and create more. Your best work should always be ahead of you and when you’ve already given away your current best for free, it’s only an extra incentive to push yourself to be better than you was before. After all, you never know what things might come on your path if you work hard enough.
What does this mean?
Summing up, Unsplash provided me with a great new way of creatively expressing myself and making my work more known. This also means that if you are interested in one of the photos I have up on my profile, you don’t have to ask me for anything and can just download it. If you plan on making a print of it for your wall and you don’t know where to start, then that’s a thing you might still need my services for. You see? Giving away some digital photos does not have to mean the end of your business.