Annie Spratt of Unsplash – Photographer
What impact has giving away your photographs had on the way you approach your work?
Annie Spratt is a photographer living in Southern England. She’s a member of the community and editorial staff at Unsplash.com. She’s given away nearly 5,000 photographs on Unsplash.
Notes and Links
Get a look at Annie’s work by visiting https://unsplash.com/@anniespratt. You can also find her on twitter and instagram at @anniespratt. Here is an article about how Unsplash, started as a side project: https://medium.com/who-what-why/how-side-projects-saved-our-startup-a83a80f3b3ae.
One Thing Real Quick is produced by Evan MacDonald.
Here are some of Annie’s photos, all of which are available for download at Unsplash.com.
Host: Hey there, my name is Evan MacDonald. I'm the host of One Thing Real Quick. It's a brand new podcast that brings a single question to creative person each week. This week. My guest is Annie Spratt. She is an amateur photographer, but she also helps manage the community over at Unsplash.
I'm excited to share this conversation that Annie and I had for two main reasons. The first thing, Annie is a self proclaimed amateur photographer. The reason I think that's an important thing to call out is that as professional creatives, we often feel like we have the market cornered on creativity and that's simply not true. Now the second reason why I'm really excited to share this interview is because of her role at a company website called Unsplash. Now I'm going to go out on what I think is a pretty sturdy limb and say that if you're a graphic designer like I am or if you're a photographer, you probably know what Unsplash is.
Now, if you aren't familiar, Unsplash is a website where you can go and download high resolution photographs that were taken by amateurs and professionals alike. According to the website, it's a community of over 100,000 contributors who have uploaded 800,000 photos and the visitors to the website have downloaded for free 700 million photographs. Now a site like this automatically raises lots of questions like how do they make money? But at this point I don't, I'm not interested in that question.
What I am interested in is the fact that a site like this is beginning to disrupt the stock photo community. Now I don't know if companies like Adobe stock photos, Shutterstock and Getty are shaking in their boots because of a site like Unsplash. Well one thing I do know is that there are a handful of professional photographers that are not happy with the fact that a website and a community of photographers has begun to give away the product of their creative work for free.
And so there's naturally a bunch of controversy around this. And this is really the focus of my question for Annie today. The question that I'm about to ask Annie to answer is what impact has giving away your photographs had on the way you approach your work? Kind of buried in that question is the bigger question is giving away your work for free, actually giving it away for free or is there something to be gained? And I think you'll find that Annie does a pretty good job of answering that question. Now I know I said that there was two main reasons that I was excited to share this interview, but I've got to put a third one in here and that's that Annie Spratt is an absolute delight, which I am confident you will agree with me once you hear the interview. So with that, let's jump right in. My name is Evan MacDonald. This is One Thing Real Quick with Annie Sprat.
Evan: Annie Sprat. Welcome to the show!
Annie: Thank you for having me!
Evan: In the emailing back and forth and setting up this interview. I've noticed in your signature, in your email signature, you say you give away 10 photos a day through the Unsplash community. Can you, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about that, how you work with Unsplash and a little bit about the photos that you've donated, how maybe how many you've done overall.
Annie: Okay. I'm kind of a hobbyist photographer. I would call myself a serious hobbyist photographer. Um, I choose not to be a professional photographer. Um, okay. Which is a bit unusual. I know. Um, and I got into photography, uh, probably six years ago. Um, I was blogging, I was blogging at the time and blogs became like super visual and all of a sudden photography was like a key part of having a blog. And so I kind of started taking my own photos and taught myself from black. Yeah. Uh, so back in 2015, I checked this out this morning to see when I joined, I joined Unsplash and I started sharing some photos I had leftover from my blog once I'd use in blog posts, but I was getting to a point where I was getting more money to photography and I just wanted to kind of share my work with people and get some feedback and I find myself Unsplash and I just put some photos out where I was impressed with the kind of response they got. Um, the reaction to them.
And at the end of 2015 I saw they were hiring someone to help run the community over that. And I applied. And so I've been helping run the community at Unsplash since January, 2016 and my job is to go through all of the photos that are submitted and I pick the ones that we feature. So yeah, I look at about 3000 photos a day at the moment. So it's a, I see a lot of photos, which helps inspire me
Evan: Looking through some of the collections and some of the work that you've done on Unsplash. And I'm going to recommend anyone listening to go check out Annie's work and I'll put a link up in the show notes up on One Thing Real Quick.com. Your work is fantastic and not only are they beautiful photographs, but you have such a creative way of editing your photographs that they are a really heavily stylized, but they don't feel like, um, it doesn't feel like a, like a gag or like a gimmick. It feels like, it just feels like art feels very creative. So, um,
Annie: Oh my goodness. That was so lovely.
Evan: Oh, don't worry. We'll cut it out.
Annie: I just need like a sound of that as a kind of a, like a mantra to listen to every morning when I wake up and then I'll just be kickass everyday of the week. It'll be amazing.
Evan: Are you going to jump right in to our question? Okay. You ready for this?
Annie: Hit me.
Evan: What impact has giving away your photographs had on the way you approach your work?
Annie: Amazing impact. It's given me a huge amount of confidence. Uh, the reaction to my photography has been wonderful. Um, and that's just kind of like empowered me to carry on trying new things, creating more content.
Evan: Fantastic. Do you have any specific examples or maybe instances, stories that you can share of a of a time when, when that response, a specific instance when someone has responded to your work and, and that has infused your work with confidence?
Annie: Ooh, most of people will email and say thank you. Um, people will maybe use the photos for book covers or album covers and we'll offer to send me a copy. So I've received a few magazines and books with my photos on, which is pretty cool. Um, I always wanted to sort of be really cool to see my photography and print. I think it's one of those things that everyone wants to kind of see their work in a book, so to, to kind of unintentionally appear on so many and in so many as then as been kind of really cool. I'm surprised by the people who use the photos who occasionally donate money or send me something. One guy used a photo of some wild flowers to decorate his holiday rental property and sent me a lovely blanket that he made to say thank you, which just kind of really cool but like unexpected.
So not everybody uses the photos or email me or tweet me or contact me on Instagram and say thank you. But lots of people do. And I really find that kind of gratitude in like today's society especially, you know, the online, you know, give it to me now, fast free, Blah Blah Blah. So there are still people who will take time to email or write a letter and say thank you. It was really cool, especially when they know they don't have to do it. They just choose to do it. So it kind of, I've been, it just makes me laugh, but the humanity is still there. People are very, very kind. So, so yeah, there's a lot of Nice people out there. And also, I mean I don't, I didn't take photographs professionally, but more and more now I'm having contact with people who want to use my photos for prints and cards.
And set up royalty agreements for that because you can't print this brush voters to sell on products and things, but more but more and more people are finding them or they want to print them. So they're getting in touch. Uh, an, a couple of my flower posters are gracing a chain of high street shops in the UK. So it's really cool to be able to go into a shop and see your picture being sold and you know, and you know, you're getting royalties from it. But I did it. It's just very strange to think that that they can be out in so many different places has been used for so many different things. I only put them in one place to start with, you know, I didn't kind of do any marketing or how to target. So it's kind of unexpected. Goodness, it's pretty cool thing. Yeah.
Evan: Some of the people that are going to listen to this are going to be hobbyists. Some of them are going to be professionals and there is in the professional world you see people talking about, you know, don't enter contests, don't do work for free. And um, you know, there seems to be some controversy around that. But just from what you've said it, it sounds to me like even if you are a professional, that there is a benefit, there is something to be gained from being generous with your creative talents, with the creative work that you do. What would you say to someone who has no inclination to do, to ever do anything for free and to never give away their work for free? What would you say to that person?
Annie: I wouldn't rule it out is what I would say. I would never tell any professional to give away all of their work or to give away anything. However, these things can be used as a marketing tool if you're that way inclined. And if you do things properly, you know, you can use it as a marketing tool . It's been, uh, intentional marketing tool for me. And it is one of those things that, you know, if you have great content and you're sharing it, it's not dissimilar to being on Instagram. Um, sharing with kind of featured accounts. Um, several to maybe several times a year I have conversations with various professional photographers who usually tweet and ask lots of questions about why are you giving your photos away for free? Um, Are you devaluing the photography community for professional photographers. And I would, I always say the same thing, which is people will always want custom photography, you know, wedding photographers, product photographers, location photographers, portraits.
These are things you'll never going to find all three stock for websites that will completely suit your brief. I think the stock photography industry has been dying for years. It's not doing that great. Um, maybe it's because of sites like Unsplash who knows, but it's, it's a changing marketplace and it's very much a time of adaptation. The same as when music was suddenly available for free and people weren't happy about that. Um, but audio books and you know, content on the Internet and free videos, there's been lots of changes in the past where things have suddenly become free and other people have adapted. It definitely won't kill professional photography if any. If anything, long term, and this is just my opinion, I can see that custom photography will be more in demand because there are so many free photos because people will want unique content because a lot of, a lot of the free photos that are really popular, they're being used in hundreds of thousands of places like all across the Internet and so soon, soon I can see it coming full circle back to actually people will want unique content that they can only get from a photographer.
Somebody asked me on Twitter just yesterday that they would like to hear the point of view of a professional photographer who isn't part of the Unsplash team on why they share on Unsplash. So if it's okay, I could just read it out. It's, it's literally, it's on Instagram and her name is Brooke Lark and she says, I once had a lovely gentleman email me to tell me I was cheapening the craft for everyone in the world. They're giving a few of my shots away was the equivalent of ruining the industry for anyone hoping to craft a career out of it. And I get it, many brands don't really value creative work. They don't understand its value. They don't pay realistic wages for arts, which takes years and years of time, investment and skill development, not dementia, equipment, supplies, props, spaced studio fees, payroll for assistance and so on.
I get it. This is my life. I do have babies to feed and I need my work to be valued, so why do I give some of my work away for free? It started years ago because I loved the answer. Brush concept, love the idea of sharing something I created with others who may need it. The site was small then and it has grown and by grown I mean blown up. It's massive and it's marvelous and it's the best marketing tool I've ever used. I have more than 20 million views per month. Fancy. Find my work, their brands who find my work there. And last week I went into talks with a magazine. We've found my work there. Why do I give my work away for free because I want to share and it makes me happy. And how do I find most of my clients these days through the site that freely shares my work. If it isn't a wind wind for our industry, I don't know what it is. So I thought that I did. That was a really cool like, like nobody asked her to post that. She literally posted it and I just thought it was really cool because you know, often my opinion gets kind of conclude by professional photographers because I'm part of the team of course. So, so, so I kind of have a bias, you know, I only joined the team because I really believed in the work they were doing. So
Evan: Right, it is amazing to see that so many people are accessing and using this. If, if, if there's 90,000 people contributing to the Unsplash community and you as one of them has experienced 9 million downloads, I, I just can't begin to fathom how many people are utilizing this resource.
Annie: I feel that moving forward is probably going to be very much the opportunity is that the, at the moment photographers are getting paid on Instagram as influencers, you know, to share their work for one post that's been a peer and then it's going to disappear down the feed last forever. And I, I can see very soon it's going to blow up on Unsplash where photographers will be paid by brands once they work out that it's the most amazing marketing tool they're ever going to have to share their photos. Because you know, like for example, I've had 1.6 million views, billion, sorry, views. And that's just on Unsplash. Yeah. And then that's not the people who then see it. So for example, I can see somebody, a brand paying a photographer to shoot some photos of that branded rucksack. Yeah. So that every time I blogger uses an image of a rucksack and they choose that image.
If they choose that image there, then posting that image and they're then organically marketing their brand like nobody does this at all yet. It's kind of like my own little kind of like, like look to the future kind of thing that I can imagine happening because it's crazy. It is like all down at the marketing, you know, it's just like you can get, you can get other people
Evan: That is so cool.
Annie: To spread the word of your product because they need a photo. Say Ivan Raptor and you've got a rucksack and you know, every time anyone might support a post or an article on the news about backtracking there, it's going to be, you know, and then their audience are going to see it and it's just this kind of evergreen content that just spirals further and further around the Internet pretty. It's pretty kind of mind blowing when you look at it like that.
Evan: There's two things that really stand out from what we've talked about. One is the power of generosity and the impact that that's had on you that it's had on these other artists. And then also the power of gratitude and how that has empowered you as a photographer with your confidence and your, your desire to continue to create content, to take photographs. What can creatives do? Not everyone is a photographer, but what do you think creative people can do to get themselves into this upward loop of generosity, gratitude, generosity, gratitude, which can help propel them to the next level as as a creative we're adding. What do you think about, like how do you think creatives can do that?
Annie: I think the first thing that I like to do is sit down and think of all the things that I use the free for me to use. So all of the apps that I use, the Internet, like when I was blogging, my wordpress, wordpress was free. Twitter is free, Instagram's free. We use all of these tools for free. Like I use so many free things every day. And so when I look into like how much I take and how much I give back, I still wouldn't get anywhere back as much as I take. I take an awful lot. And I think it's just, it's as simple as like making sure that you say thank you to people like, like because I feel like the more appreciated people feel, the more compelled they feel to give. So it's kind of starting almost like the other way round and just, you know, reaching out to people and being like, hey I use, I use your photo or I really love that design you did.
Or you know like Hey I listened to your song and it was great. You know, it's like, like positivity and thank you in a comment. Even if it's like a youtube video and it's, you know about like cleaning a blocked drain, you know, you can still say hey thank you cause there's always going to be someone on the other end who's going to be like, oh my God I helped that person. Oh Oh I feel so good about this. Hey, I'm going to go and like share another video that will help more people. So like the more people say thank you, the more motivated other people are to like give and then it's just kind of taking that step forward and just sharing some stuff, putting some stuff out there. You know, you don't need to overthink things. You can just kind of just take a photo and put it out there and just see how it goes. You know, it might be for you or it might not be for you, but like if you don't try, you're not going to know. You know, and you can always take that photo back down later if you really don't want it out there. But it's, that kind of is suggest, you know, just try doing something for free to somebody else. And, and personally, I love the feeling it gives me.
Evan: Nice. Well, thank you for sharing that. I have to say I've been inspired by our conversation and um, I'm going to go look through my family. We were traveling all the time. We're taking photographs and, and uh, my wife is a great photographer. She's a bit of a hobbyist herself and were going to start sharing some stuff up on Unsplash cause uh, you've really inspired me with this idea of generosity and awe and gratitude and the role that those have in creative work. So, oh, amazing. Any, how can people find you if they would like to see more of your work or if they want to get in touch with you, how can they reach out to you?
Annie: I am @AnnieSprat pretty much everywhere. Twitter and on Instagram and Unsplash.
Evan: All right, we'll put links to that in the show notes and you can find all that information. OneThingRealQuick.com. And thank you for your time today.
Annie: Cool. Thank you so much. It's been really interesting to talk!
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode of One Thing Real Quick, if you'd like to find out more about Annie Sprat as well as see some of her work head over to One Thing Real Quick.com. I've got some images that I downloaded, some of her work that I downloaded for free from unsplash.com because you can do that at Unsplash. I've also got a link to her Twitter in case you missed that in the interview and I'm also putting up a link to an article, a pretty interesting article about the importance and the power, the Roi of side projects. It's an article about Unsplash and how it was created as a side project by the firstname.lastname@example.org I need to throw in a quick disclaimer.
Unsplash did not compensate me. There's no advertising arrangement or agreement with Unsplash to create this episode. As a professional creative, I have a tendency to be a little bit protective when a company comes along and starts offering high quality creative services at a really steep discount or for free. And so I find myself interacting with Unsplash with a little bit of cautious optimism. That said, I do think that Unsplash has a place in the creative community and I really appreciate the insights and the thoughts that were shared by Annie Sprat in the interview today. If you have a strong opinion about Unsplash and services like Unsplash, please send me a tweet. I'd love to hear your thoughts and I'd love to have a conversation about the pros and cons of services like this one. You'll find me on Twitter @EvanMacDonald. I always have to stress the A and my last name, m a c Mac Donald.
One Thing Real Quick is recorded and produced by me, Evan MacDonald in beautiful Argentina. All music for the show was created by yours truly. If you have yet to subscribe to One Thing Real Quick, please go find it on Apple Podcasts or any of the places where you might listen to podcasts and if you'd like to support the show, maybe you want to say a little thank you. Go leave a review and post a rating over on Apple Podcasts. It's a great way to support the show without actually shelling out money. I am not asking for any money to do this show, but the ratings and the support that comes from sharing the show helps other people find it, which is the kind of support that makes my day. And if you have subscribed, by the magic of podcasting, you will probably have already downloaded the next episode of One Thing Real Quick, an interview that I had with a surfer and filmmaker from right here in Argentina, Joaquin who is one of the two brothers in the surfing filmmaking duo, Gauchos del Mar. I think you're gonna like this interview, so if you haven't subscribed, go get it. That's it for this week. Thanks for listening.
Evan: Annie, one last thing before you go? What are you reading?
Annie: I am reading a book called Wabi Sabi. It's all about using this kind of Japanese inspired embracing the an imperfection change your life, like your home life and your work life. Yeah, it's great. And funnily enough, it was sent to me by someone but that's not why I'm saying it now is just because she sent it and it's right next to me. So it's a really good book because I wanted these people who use the light sheet so much stuff and I'm trying to like deep and decide, you know, like the parts of my life I can do online at home, so that's pretty good.
Evan: All right, fantastic.