I’ve been running around with a camera since I was 15. Thousands of hours, and hundreds of thousands of photographs later, I’ve developed (pun intended) quite a knack for it.
But 99,9999% of my photographs end up in the digital darkroom of doom: neatly organised in a folder somewhere on my hard drive. There, my art resides on life support, hidden away from anyone’s eyes to see. How sad.
Resuscitating My Art: Two Approaches, Two Results
I realised something had to be done – I had to find an outlet to share my best work with the world. A portfolio, of sorts. I found a few such options and chose one that looked promising.
Sign Me Up For the Money Machine
Four months ago, on January 12th 2017, I uploaded my first photo to 500px.com, a community of extremely skilled photographers from around the world. I chose this site as my artistic home base for two reasons:
- Amazing photographers on the platform: The world’s greatest photographers hang out together at 500px. By joining their ranks, I could get feedback from the big boys, I thought.
- A chance to make money (!): 500px has a feature that lets you list your photos for sale. Someone can buy my photos without any hassle on my part? Awesome!
500px was a lot of fun. I received a lot of photo views, and digital hearts boosted my ego every time I uploaded something new. So far so good!
But the feedback? Non-existent. And the money machine? 0 sales in four months. Oops.
The Search For Community and Bigger Reach
At this point, I made two big realisations.
First, the point of making art is making an impact on others. The more people who see my photos and get inspired or moved by them in any way, the bigger the impact.
Second, I don’t really care about making money from my photos. That was never the point. Making money through my hobby has never been a goal for me. When I made it a goal, I got distracted from my real photographic purpose, namely to make an impact on people.
With that in mind, I felt a bit wiser. And I felt it was time to change my approach.
Making a Splash: Because Free is Fabulous
Unsplash.com is another photo sharing community online, with a twist: ALL uploaded photos are FREE to use by anyone, for any purpose, at any time.
This is awesome.
Now, the first thought people think when they hear this, is why would anyone give away their art for free instead of having a chance to get paid for it?
By allowing others use my photos for whatever they want, I open the door to serendipity. Once I put a photo out there, I have no idea what might happen to it. What if..
- Someone in Bangalore sets up my Golden Gate photo as her desktop background? Awesome!
- A restaurant in Toronto chinatown prints my photo of delicious food in rustic silverware on their menu? Sweet!
- A Norwegian shipping company uses my photo of two supply vessels outside of Bergen as their Annual Report cover? How cool is that??
These possibilities excite me. I see them as opportunities for increased impact, not as lost chances of cash profits.
Information and Art Want to be Free
Setting my photos free follows a massive global trend. Information wants to be free, and its cost is rapidly approaching zero. The same is true for art in many cases.
Many musicians give away their music for free online (streaming services are de facto free in this context, as independent musicians barely get enough cash from Spotify to cover a few beers). They can then hope to capitalise on their fanbase through live concerts and tours.
99.9% of authors make very little money from their books. But many leverage their books to get paid speaking and consulting gigs from people who have read their work.
I’m just joining the trend wave – and feeling good about it in the process. And who knows, maybe someone sees my shots and want to hire me for photography gigs down the line?
Billions of People are (Potentially) Watching
It has never been easier to get your stuff out there. Hence it has never been easier to gain exposure and a following of people who enjoy your work. For the first time in history, anyone, anywhere can put his creations in front of BILLIONS of people by the click of a button. No middle man required.
This opportunity to share and connect with a global audience is astonishing and unprecedented – it would be a shame to pass on it.
So I’m jumping on board the sharing wagon – if you want to join me, check out my photos on Unsplash HERE. And feel free to do whatever you want with them.
The Impact Battle: Where Did I Reach the Most People?
After I started uploading a few photos to Unsplash, something completely unexpected happened, which made me realise I’ve made the right decision and found the right platform.
Take a look at these comparative statistics between the two photography sharing sites:
500px.com = 8,916 photo views over 4 months
After four months and 28 of my best photos uploaded, these are my 500px statistics:
That’s rougly 9000 views over 120 days, or about 75 views per day. Fair enough?
Now, to the underdog – enter Unsplash again.
Unsplash.com = 48,631 photo views over 4 DAYS
Wow wow wow! I uploaded a few photos to Unsplash a couple of days ago, and two of them took off, with 20-25,000 views each, and over 500 downloads combined. WHAT! 500 people now have my photos on their hard drive, with some plan to use them for something. That’s pretty cool.
Over the last four days I’ve had approximately 10,000 photo views per day on average. That’s 133 times more than my average daily views on 500px. 133 times as many views!
Of course I might have gotten very lucky with my initial photos on Unsplash – time will show if these numbers are representative or exceptional. In any case, I must conclude that Unsplash wins the day according to my impact metric – it is certainly the place people actually find my stuff and can do fun things with it.
I will keep posting my back catalogue on Unsplash in the coming weeks and months – follow along or download my photos by clicking HERE.
[This post will be updated when I’ve added the same number of photos (28) to both sites for the purpose of statistical comparison].
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Hi Jacob, nice work and thank you for sharing your experience.
I hope you don’t mind the forward question, but did you find that this uptick in photo views led to monetization in any way, or is this more about the thrill of getting your work out into the world?
Hi Adam –
no direct financial gains (yet), but as explained above, that’s never been my intention. Getting work out into the world is rewarding in itself, and if it leads to any other benefits down the line, that’s even better. 😉
Jump on my newsletter to hear about it when (if) something more comes of this!