Q&A with Unsplash: free, high quality pictures online

I found this website through someone I follow on Twitter and wanted to know more since I love free stuff and know a lot of you guys do too. Below is a Q&A I did with Luke Chesser (co founder of @Unsplash), which is based in Canada. Enjoy!

How did you come up with the idea for Unsplash? The name is a bit weird to me, so I am trying to find out how it related to what you do on the site and when the “aha moment” was when the team decided “that’s the one, we’ll call it ‘Unsplash’??

Mikael Cho (the CEO and Founder of Crew & @Unsplash) was throwing around names — this was before we thought it would be anything huge. I remember us joking we’d call it ‘hipsterphotos.com’, since the first 10 photos were all in that Instagram-style over-processed look.

Mikael riffed off of the idea for ‘splash’ pages — a term for an introductory page with a massive image as the focal point.

We were trying to do something different than regular photo sites — and certainly something different than stock photo sites. At the time we started, no one had built a place for free high resolution images that could be used without a complex license. Hell, no one had built a place with a simple, understandable photo license, let alone hosted the full-resolution version for free.

Mikael wanted to capture that in the name, so he made it ‘unsplash’ — a nod to both the images used in ‘splash’ pages and the fact that it was unlike other photo sites. The name was simple to remember (it’s since become a commonplace name in the design/development community for giving something away for free — ‘Unsplash for icons’, ‘Unsplash for videos’) and it was available as a .com and a twitter handle.

Describe what the website is, in a nutshell?

Unsplash is basically a community of high-quality open-source (CC0) photographs submitted by photographers, that can then be used for free for anything.

Every 10 days, 10 photos are chosen by a guest curator. Past curators include Dave Morin (CEO/Founder of Path), Tobias Lutke (CEO/Founder of Shopify), and David Heinemeier Hansson (Creator of Ruby on Rails, Co-Founder of Basecamp).

How long has the site and instagram page been up? and what has the response been like?

The original version of the site was built on Tumblr and launched on May 27, 2013, so it’s just over a year and a half old.

We only started posting to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook a couple of months ago (as a side-project of our company Crew, we didn’t have the time to focus on multiple networks).

The response has been insane. Like a lot of things, it seemed obvious in retrospect, but when we started, we thought it would be a success if it generated a few thousand views. We reached that in the first few hours.

There’s been a lot of love on both sides — from photographers who have generated a ton of exposure for their work and their freelance businesses, and from creatives who use the photos literally everyday in designs, blog posts, and physical products.

What are some of the places from which you have received picture submissions? What is the weirdest place, so far, where you got a submissions from?

All of the submissions are submitted by the original photographers on the site, so we haven’t had any weird submissions — although we do occasionally get a few selfies that get filtered out 😉

Once pics are submitted, what is the process till they appear on the website?

When photos are submitted, the photo appears on the photographer’s Unsplash profile (essentially a mini-Unsplash where they can upload their own 10 photos every 10 days).

We review the photo to make sure that it meets a few basic submission guidelines. The ‘best’ 10 photos are then selected by the weekly guest curator and posted to the main page every 10 days (as well as being sent out by email (http://unsplash.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=655606e77350bfa30e1ab5457&id=9493051dec)).

Recently, we added a second feed of photos that updates multiple times a day with new photos. Those photos are chosen by our team and tagged by the community. Having a collection that updates daily has grown the collection to be a lot larger and more diverse, without compromising the simplicity of the curated collection.

You chose to go the Creative Commons route – why?

Creative Commons is amazing (we’ve had their team curate a collection, as well as the Founder and creator of Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig).

I don’t think we even considered going another route. We were taking pictures for our homepage with a local photographer and thought it would be cool to give the ones we didn’t use away for free.

Mikael extended that into the idea of ’10 photos every 10 days’, which was a brilliant hook.

There are tons of sites that all do the same thing — they host your colllection of photos but don’t generate any exposure for the photos. I mean, when’s the last time a non-photographer went on Flickr? It just doesn’t happen anymore.

Art needs an audience, and currently there aren’t many sites that do that well. Unsplash has created a massive audience for photographers. What they do with that audience is up to them. If they’re an amateur photographer, they might love it because it’s cool to see their photograph go viral. If they’re a professional, they generate a ton of traffic for their freelance businesses (similar to an author blogging to promote their book). The photos being free, high-resolution, and with a super simple understandable license creates that audience.

What more do you have planned for the site that people can look forward to?

We’ve got a lot of cool things planned. Next up though is highlighting all of the cool things being made with Unsplash photos. We have an amazing community of creatives doing really cool things. It’s encouraged a whole new culture of remixing, simply and legally. We’d love to share the best things and encourage more people to get creative with the awesome photos.



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