Make a splash with your work and own it!

There has been lots of buzz about a platform called Unsplash. In fact, the idea has become so controversial that the one-and-only Zack Arias took it upon himself to tackle the issue. I don’t want to repeat all the arguments so please watch these two videos and make up your own mind about it. I did!


Over the years, I have been one of the biggest cheerleaders of innovation. It is natural that while some industries die something new is created; it’s never an easy process.

But there’s another side. As you know, every business cycle has its ups and downs. On the edges of real innovation there will be some companies and individuals who hitch on to the innovation and disruption bandwagon and try to make a buck or two. These companies often wave popular flags: community, collaboration, exposure, success, change, etc. No wonder many people jump on, afraid of being left behind, without doing any due diligence.

Some of the “innovations” are based on very clever ideas. Everyone wants to be associated with the novelty and reap the allocated fifteen minutes of fame. From FREE reporting, FREE news and FREE assisting to FREE images – industry after industry has learnt that there is no longer any need to pay for others’ work. FREE has become a buzzword wrapped up in, quoting Zack Arias, “Warm fuzzy feelings of contributing and giving back and inspiring others.”

Here is an example close to home. A local university used to hire a photographer to shoot imagery for their brochures (no, it wasn’t me). However, they figured out that instead of paying professionals to do that they could organize a submission process along the lines of “show us your best images from the university” and you will be featured and get $100. Of course, such a contest looks friendly, harmless and fun. But once you read the disclaimer (who reads those nowadays?) you quickly find out that they require a model release with each image and ask you to give up your rights to the submitted images. In other words, they can use your images for commercial purposes. Of course, they have the right to do so and I don’t blame them. It’s your choice to submit or not.

Let me divert again. Have you complained lately about fake news? If you are one of those who drink “FREE is great” Kool-Aid, then don’t be surprised that news and reporting is now done by inexperienced people who are paid 1/5 or less than full-fledged reporters or journalists. Those reporters who remain are working under the enormous stress of being cut next. Why bother with professionals if there is a line-up of volunteers who will provide reporting for free!

And why do they do that? For the sake of exposure and fame! Many organizations just cannot compete with the torrent of FREE, fast-food news stories, which often mingle complex problems, which really require investigative journalism, with flashy headlines. Think long and hard. You don’t want fake news so maybe it’s time to consider paying for your news and supporting professional journalists! You wanted FREE – you have it! But look at the outcome.

Let’s go back to photography. I have recently talked to some photographers who have reached a point in this FREE FOR ALL economy when they feel ashamed to charge substantial amounts for their services. They shouldn’t. When I go to my car mechanic, I don’t see him being ashamed for charging me for his services. Neither should you, my photographic friends. You deserve to be paid and you need to find clients who value your work. From my personal experience, I can say that if you pour your soul into your product (whatever it is) and deliver it honestly, your clients will be happy to support you! Many of us still value craftsmanship and want to pay for quality and individual experience!

Here’s the key point of today’s ramblings. You must own your work, believe in it and stand behind it! Stop giving away your hard work for free! You, as an individual, as a human being and artist, create one-of-a-kind “handmade products and experiences” – something no corporation can ever do. This is your advantage! 

You can still give back to your local photographic community! Charging adequately for your services, knowledge and products doesn’t clash with being involved in the community! I could even argue that those who value their work are often those who contribute to the community the most (Zack Arias, Tomash of FujiLove, the founders of Creative Live and so on). The idea that one excludes the other is one of the greatest fallacies pushed on us today!

In summary, don’t let bullies corner you with sugar-sweet propaganda especially if it is sprinkled with “free exposure” confectionary. If you don’t stand by your own work then who will?

Accept real innovation which improves our lives but always, always be wary of FREE. The price you eventually pay is much higher than you imagine. I don’t know about you but I certainly cannot afford FREE.     

Here are my visual explorations for today. Enjoy.




2018 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved

20 thoughts on “Make a splash with your work and own it!

  1. Thank you so much for this blog post, Olaf. From time to time, I drop by and read some of your thoughtful posts. My style of photography is very different from yours. Still, I find both your images and your words inspiring.

  2. Perhaps I am simply a contrarian on some of these points, but at the risk of being hunted down like the dog I am, I will share why I disagree. Mightily.

    Background: Professional Photographer/Designer since 1981. Full time living at making images for other people. Ad agencies, designers, corporations including some pretty big names.

    I do not see any harm in Unsplash.

    Reason one:
    Go their home page. Scroll down 100 images and count how many images you see there that you would consider the types of images a client would commission.

    I have done this once per day since Arias’s post. Usually I find between 3 and 0. Today I found one: a lovely portrait that could be used in a variety of ways. How much to commission a pineapple on the beach? What would the fee be for a sunset over anonymous mountains? Who is creating a layout with a guy in a hoodie hitchhiking – one where they need the work of a $2500 a day shooter?

    Nope. The work is basically stock. Nice stock to be sure. But stock type images none the less.

    And we know that stock was killed already – hell, iStock butchered stock to $5 a shot so is that a big deal to fall from $5 to free? iStock took us from $750 to $5 and photographers couldn’t upload their stuff fast enough.

    Reason Two:
    The vast majority of the people and photographers who are posting on the site are not interested in an ROI / quid-pro-quo return for their images. So discussing the value of the image, or how it ‘damages’ the industry is simply a non-starter. They are NOT part of the industry, and they don’t care. Why, really, should they.

    Buy your own coffee machine puts the local barrista in a tight spot.
    Buy your own lawnmower and you are undercutting the professional gardening companies.
    Digital – vs film? Do I really have to even spell that one out. (Kodak? – Remember them?)
    This blog exists on the internet with well reasoned discussions, lovely photographs, and well written content. That is putting the hurt on the photo magazines, right? (Just ask them – they will tell you flat out how self publishing has impacted the sale of their magazine.)

    But we don’t care do we. Did you lose sleep over your lawnmower purchase thinking about all those lawn crews that were going to be desperate for a market you just dented? Of course not.

    Reason Three:
    I hate to say this because no matter how it is said, it will be taken as snark, and I implore you to understand that it is not meant in anyway to be disrespectful to any photographer. I love photographers and have spent my adult life working in this business.

    But we are, as a group, negative and invested in the systems of scarcity. We want to protect our turf instead of sharing it. I cannot tell you how many photographers will not give the time of day to youngsters coming into the business. We see every other photographer as a competitor, a person to be avoided or – if possible – exploited. It is a shame.

    If we are going to be worried that a bunch of images on a stock site is taking our work away, we may take a few minutes, hours, or months to think what the ramifications of that actually are.

    I think they may be actually incredibly challenging. Oboe players are not worried about amateur oboe players taking their symphony spots from them. They are worried that other COMPETENT oboe players will sneak in and snatch their seat. Same with writers, firefighters, jet pilots.

    But we photographers whine about iPhones, amateurs, neighbors, moms with cameras… it’s all so sad and regretful.

    (I mentioned in another article that the same day that Arias wrote his missive, I was working with a client who needed a new website for her consulting business. 8 photographs and not one of them could be found on Unsplash since they were specific images, done with a specific attention to the parameters of her gig. A local website, and nothing at all available on Unsplash for that client.

    Reason Four:
    I hear this all the time: “Can’t buy groceries with exposure.” As if that has any real world application at all. Here is the damn fact: cannot get hired if they don’t know who you are. Showing up in an email, or sending a note is NOT gonna move the needle as fast as having word of mouth promotion. I have been in this game way too long to be fooled into thinking that ‘exposure’ is not a valuable currency in the world of professional photography.

    Exposure is your credibility. Whether paid or not.
    Exposure is your brand. You do have a brand, don’t you?
    Exposure is your mission.
    Exposure is who you are to those who want passionate involvement.
    Exposure is the reason why Ad agencies and PR firms exist.
    Exposure is the most powerful tool an artist has in his or her arsenal.

    And where this idea that it has no value came from is beyond me.

    This is the best time in the entire history of the world to be a photographer. But we photographers can always seem to find something desperately wrong with the industry.

    It was exactly that way when I did my first commercial shoot back in 1981.

    1. Donald,

      I can assure you that on this blog no one will ever “hunt you down like the dog.” I strongly believe in honest and respectful conversations about photography, even if they sometimes make us uncomfortable. Thank you for providing a much different perspective on the subject. Let’s get to it.

      I respect your viewpoint, however, I have to say I disagree with most of your points.

      Reason 1:
      You didn’t mention the key issue with the site cited by Zack Arias – that is misinformation about a model release.

      Reason 2:
      Your barista or gardening examples are completely irrelevant to the problem discussed – in my view of course. When you buy a coffee maker, you don’t take someone’s cup of coffee and make it your own. You create your own cup of coffee from scratch.

      Reason 3:
      Your point about protecting “your own turf”; please don’t mix healthy competition and contributions to the community. As I said in my piece – I know many photographers who contribute, share, promote young photographers but at the same time respect their own work, charging adequately for it. The idea that one excludes the other is one of the greatest fallacies pushed on us! Having said that, you may be right saying that some photographers have tendency to behave aggressively and dismissive of newcomers. I observed such behaviour on several occasions.

      Reason 4:
      I agree that exposure is important. No question about it! However, I strongly disagree with your notion that any exposure is a good exposure. Most successful photographers I know care about their own brand and are extremely careful about their presence. They have full control over their online and offline presence. Knowing where to be and which places to avoid is indeed a very valuable skill. I had numerous websites, publications or even companies that approached me but I decided not to work with them because I have been building a specific and unique brand! They don’t fit into this plan. In summary; some exposure has no value at all. Furthermore, there is a certain type of exposure, which may actually hurt your brand!

      “This is the best time in the entire history of the world to be a photographer” – agree. However, there is a difference between being a photographer and making a good living. There are lots of great opportunities out there but there is no question that it is incredibly hard to support yourself from the craft. Saying otherwise we are being dishonest with many young photographers/aspiring amateurs who often have distorted reality how running your own photography business looks like nowadays.

      As I said at the beginning. Even thought I disagree with most of your points – I truly appreciate your perspective. Great discussion!

      Warm Regards,


  3. Dear Olaf,

    FREE is like a drug. You spoil your customers for more business. The longer one sells goods and services for free, the sooner one is broke. Simple economic rule. And you’re right at the core: if YOU do not first appreciate your work, who else should do it? As a professional should, no, must be the equivalent for appreciation money. As an amateur you have to realize what appreciation means to you personally. Have a nice Weekend,


  4. I’m curious as to what the definition of a published work is. Is it posting on facebook,a blog,unsplash,instagram,flickr etc or is it being paid?
    Ignoring for a second the whole lets give everything away nonsense im surprised that GDPR hasnt received more attention. Maybe ive been hiding under a rock but i havent heard/seen much about how it will affect photographs containing shots of people that are identifiable.

  5. Hi Olaf,
    Sorry for this comment to be a bit long 😉

    For me, the point is a bit tricky and need some explanation, even if the final result is:
    YES. I totally agree with Zack, who is for me a master in his art. I have followed his work and his dedication to transmitting knowledge with talent.
    To make it simple, any service given by a professional (photographer), out of the relatives ring, should be paid. Generally speaking, I just feel normal to pay for a professional service, should it be photo, mechanic, marketing, medicine, etc.

    Professional photographers should be paid for their services and shouldn’t give up their rights.
    Amateur should be amateurs, and should be able to accept they are not professional.
    Then, the point is what about the customers. They generally want gold and pay silver…

    Few weeks ago, I had a very nice chat about the way to define our own photo activity, with a great guy photographer here in Bangkok, Nick McGrath.
    I end to tell him: « I am an amateur guy, walking in the streets with a camera and trying to make some nice photos while interacting with people. And I am so happy with that.”
    It sounds easy to say, but it needs some real thinking about the “WHY” we are involved in photography.
    Doing that, we can push away the ego and try to find out the real motivation for our actions.
    Then, maybe being a bit lucky, we will see truly if we can (or deserve) to be a professional photographer. If yes, then start working as a professional (with all the risks and hard times) and make customers paying. If no, just let’s keep on being an amateur, a lover, and enthusiast or whatever we want or feel to be, but do not interfere in the professional world. And let professionals making their living with their art.

    The main point of Zack’s statement is also about photographers giving up the property of their work in order to be published and get some fame. It’s to me a sad situation and a wrong career forecasting.

    As an amateur and photography lover, I have a lot of respect for the real professional photographers, and I do learn a lot from what they decide to show. The important point is this one: “what they decide to show”.
    And a lot of great photographers are helping us to learn for free or quite cheap…

    But the evolution of technics, the multiple easy way to post-prod digital pictures and to make them “acceptable”, the “likes” on FB, can let some people think that they could easily become a professional photographer and a photo master…
    As for the TV songs contests, some people think they all can become stars.

    Flattering people’s ego is the big secret of business. There are so many people easy to be flattered…
    The perception of photography is becoming somewhere a bit weird.

    Buy my side, I just need to have a look at the fantastic portraits made by Damien Lovegrove and his mastering in lights, and compare to the basic photographer’s results I can see everyday on social media (or to mine…), and I am quickly sent back to a descent level of humility…
    I can easily guess how much time, dedication and money Damien had to invest to reach such a mastering level.
    Can he give his work for free now? Surely NO.

    I am not a professional photographer, but I am doing my living by designing and producing furniture.
    So, I can tell that I know a little bit about creation and design property matters.
    In my business I have 2 inflexible rules:
    Rule 1.
    Family = Free.
    Friends = Cost price.
    For any other people = Must pay the price.

    Rule 2.
    In all situations, any of my original designs remains my design.
    Any design developed with a customer has no owner and is free for other uses.

    I am still running my factory and giving descent salaries to my team, just because our customers are paying the price for our services.

    Last, let me give you a short story showing a part of the evolution in photography business:

    In France, the Harcourt studio is a very famous portrait maker, where almost all the movies stars, singers and famous people from all over the world had to get one day their very special black and white portrait done.
    After a bankruptcy in the 90s, Harcourt started again their activity, and added in their proposal to have an Harcourt portrait for about 10€…
    Of course, even nice, the result is far from the 900€ « instant » or 1 900€ « prestige » portraits.
    Even the Harcourt signature is replaced by a simple « H ».
    Plus, you do it yourself in a photo booth.
    But at least, people are paying a fee to satisfy and flatter their ego…
    Nevertheless, people who can afford to have their high quality portrait by Harcourt Studio are still coming.
    So, never give up 😉

    The problem raised by Zack about Unsplash and any other “FREE” system, what you call “sugar-sweet propaganda“, is in fact beyond photography.
    It is related to culture of ego, poor education, and desperate run to fame.
    There is still a lot to talk about misunderstanding between passion and professionalism, and respect.

    1. Alex,

      Thank you so much for taking your time to write such in-depth analysis. You made many great points in your piece. You put it so well at the end saying “there is still a lot to talk about misunderstanding between passion and professionalism, and RESPECT.”

      let’s keep this important conversation going. Looking forward to your future comments.

      Warm Regards,


      1. Olaf,
        Thanks for your comments.
        I am reading your posts and do appreciate that you are caring about more than just clicking to make a photo.
        I do like your photos mastering as well 😉
        As you could read, I am also living from some kind of art, and I have been concerned by these matters about creation, services, amateurs, professional, free, pay, etc.
        Above that, my personal path in photo is a real matter of pleasure and it also brought me to think about the way I am loving photography through others creations and through what I am doing by myself.
        I know times are changing and people are becoming more users / consumers, but I am somewhere a dinosaur, and I keep with me the pleasure to understand things that I am doing…
        For this reason, the WHY and the HOW are quite important for me.
        This surely is linked to the notions of misunderstanding between passion and professionalism, and respect (in the general acceptance of the word).
        I have no doubt that we will have opportunities to share more ideas about these matters.

  6. Watched the first video, but only for 50 seconds and had to turn it off. My heart sank. Sad day for photography 😞

    1. Tracy,

      Thank you so much for your note. My experience was similar to yours. However, there are still some choices we can make to keep this industry alive. I think Zack did a very good job exposing faults of such platforms.

      Hope to hear from you soon,


  7. Dear Olaf,

    great article, as always. I have to agree with you!
    In my own experience, it even starts in the circle of friends. As they know that I have a camera, some asked me to take their portrait, cover their wedding or baptism.
    In the beginning when I started my photographic jurney, I did some portraiture for free in order to learn. But when I was confident with my work and when it came to weddings or baptisms I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it for free. As soon I told them my price, I never heard of them again or they said I was too expensive (compared to other local photographers I truly was not expensive).
    I think that in times of social media, most people think art is for free and they won’t need to pay for it. And as a social media consumers, it is our own fault that it came this way. We upload our work and as soon as the pictures are on e.g. Instagrams servers, the companies behind it have the roght to do anything they want with that picture. And we accept that as we agreed to their terms and conditions.
    Things need to change or otherwise photography will be dead, maybe, it already is.


    1. Yes, Kevin. I agree with you that we as media consumers share some blame. However, we still have so much power with our money. For example, by subscribing to great magazines and newspapers we support people who work there. We as society need to do some media consumption cleansing – I mean stop browsing and start reading and experiencing content.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective,

      Will see you soon,


  8. I stay clear of any contest like the one you mention at the university. I have also seen how these contests can get some pretty crappy results. The national park where I work does one every summer and they show the winners at an event. The winning photos aren’t very good, so I can only imagine the pile of crap photos they have to sort through to get to those.

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