A New Business Model Rustling In

Swirls of green bamboo create the appearance of rustling through a forest in Austin's Zilker Park

There’s a rustling about. I can hear it as I walk through the kingdom of one eyed men. Photographers, it would appear, are getting unsettled. At some point in our lives, the notion that one can and will make a living doing this pops into one’s head and this, why this my friends, can be the cause of a lot of strife. Recently, there’s been a new “business” model in town. There’s a new website I recently read about called Unsplash. In case you’re curious, I read about Unsplash here, in DP Review online, in actually an opinion piece written by the site’s creator, Mikael Cho. The nature of the website is simple. Content, aka images, are provided free of charge on the website. Yes, you read that correctly. The way the site works is you upload your images and make them available free of charge, free for anyone to use, without any compensation whatsoever. Now, while it can be difficult to envision how a photographer might make a living doing this, the idea behind the site is that exposure is good for photographers and that images are better shared rather than not. An image you might otherwise have kept hidden or tucked away on an obscure hard drive can now be made available for promotional purposes.

I have mixed feelings about this. While it’s true there are a lot of people who have make careers out of, for example, the creative commons style licensing, there’s also sage advice surrounding why one would not want to work for exposure and exposure alone. Let’s face it. You can’t pay your bills with exposure. Giving things away might seem cool at first but, how does this really translate into monetary gain for the photographer? Also, I question the validity of the website itself. At one point, it might get sold and, upon sale the images contained would all become up for grabs. It seems like a recipe for disaster in a lot of ways. Then again, it might just be crazy enough to work.

Love it or hate it, it is generating a lot of traffic. I’m sure the site’s founder will make a pretty penny no matter how things fall out. Am I kicking the door down to sign up and give my work away for free? Well, maybe not but I too might check out the site. There is something to be said for old images, tossing them away, seeing what sticks. A bit like donating old clothing to Goodwill, of sorts. Somebody might as well use them, right? And, let’s face it, more exposure could not hurt, right?

The site itself, along with the opinion piece in question also raises a lot of questions about the future of photography, how we’ll make money, how the business end of things is changing, and changing a lot. The average stock sales total a whopping $511 a year. That’s certainly not enough to live off of, right? It can be hard to make a living at this and the recent influx of new technology, great cameras, and the like have a downside. Sure, it’s great to have access to new technology, but it also opens up the world of photography to a lot more people. We look at and experience more images now than ever before but, as a society, as a culture, as a human race, we’re also making images more than ever before too. Everybody everywhere, it would appear, has a camera and is a photographer. Between that and the Internet taking over while morphing itself every two years or so, why, it puts some established photographers in a pickle.

Now, I don’t pretend to have any easy answers but the questions themselves, they are a bit interesting to me. It seems like we are always in the wait and see mode yet, somehow, I also always feel like I’m just ten feet shy of getting that big break and making it. Fun times, I swear, fun times. Well, fun times and a bunch of stuff to think about if you’re so-inclined.

Until next time…

PS This one taken with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens. Zilker Botanical Garden, rustling about indeed.

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