I contributed my first photo to Unsplash back in 2015. It was a Milky Way shot, something I’ve enjoyed photographing as a hobby for the last handful of years. I wish I had processed the photo better (it’s straight out of the camera) but, on the other hand, it’s neat to see progression in my photography since then. To date, that image has been viewed 2,396,337 times. It’s hard to easily get that kind of exposure anywhere else.
In 2015, photography was still purely a hobby for me and I was too busy with web development work to pursue it. I let my Unsplash account sit idle until August of 2017 when Cameron Moll messaged me on Instagram. He asked if I had considered putting some photos on Unsplash, emphasizing the insane amount of traffic they were getting. I’ve looked up to Cameron for over a decade now, he’s been an inspiration throughout my entire web career, so of course I listened.
Fast-forward to mid-2018, I uploaded 33 photos to Unsplash, accumulating over 16,320,898 views and 105,158 downloads. Most of those have come from recent months, with my monthly views getting close to 3,000,000. Crazy amounts of traffic compared to my personal website or social media.
Now, the important question: has all that attention gained me anything (such as paid work)? Not yet. I have this site linked on my Unsplash profile and the referral traffic is surprisingly low. As far as I can tell, I haven’t gained many (if any) Instagram followers either. I also have a couple Bitly links in the profile description pointing to Lightroom Presets I sell. Those links have received a whopping 4 clicks total.
One suggestion I do have for the Unsplash team is to consider improving the profile options for contributors. Right now, you basically have an avatar, one allowed URL, and a textarea that restricts you to a single paragraph. That’s it. If the profile pages could be more detailed—more links, paragraphs, maybe a donations option—I think that could be a simple way to make all that traffic worth it for contributors.
To be totally fair, there is currently a little “Say thanks” message that pops up whenever you download a photo. It doesn’t seem to do much, but I will occasionally get some Twitter mentions from those. I know Unsplash also features the most popular photos in their articles but even that points back to Unsplash, which makes me wonder how useful it is for the contributors.
So the “return” from contributing to Unsplash hasn’t been what you might expect but here’s the thing: I use Unsplash for nearly every web project I build now, whether I’m mocking up a new design or helping clients find blog photos. As a resource for my work, it has become indispensable. I’m going to keep contributing photos to Unsplash, if only to return the favor to other Unsplash photographers.
Ultimately, if you view Unsplash for what it is—an extremely generous community—it’s hard to be disappointed. They’re shaking up the whole stock photo industry and I’m very curious to see what happens, especially after their $7.25 million funding.