Squarespace-Unplash Partnership Revisited

I recently posted about the new relationship that Squarespace has established with Unsplash, the online, free stock image company. Well, since that time, boy has the outrage exploded on the Internet! Go look at the responses to Squarespace’s announcement on Twitter, and you’ll see a lot of angry photographers chiming in. It’ll be interesting to see how Squarespace now responds, as they haven’t really yet; at least not publicly.

From a general (non-photographer) user standpoint, I can still see both sides of this. From a photographer standpoint, though, I’ve since learned about some real concerns with the Unsplash platform. One of the big concerns is that of model releases for any images involving people (or property releases if shots were taken of/on a private property) if the image is used for commercial use. Lack of proper releases could result in huge liability issues for the photographers.

For example, take the image at the top of this post, which I pulled from Unsplash. If I used this photo for commercial purposes, and the person came to me ready to sue because she hadn’t authorized such use of her image, I could just go back to the photographer and say, “Hey, where’s the model release? Cough it up, or this lawsuit is coming your way.” Any responsible, experienced, professional photographer would hopefully have such a release in pocket to provide. However, the problem is that many of the photographers providing images to Unsplash aren’t professional photographers and often don’t even know about the need for such releases, so had never secured them from their subjects in the first place. Because of that, they’re now open to being sued.

As a business owner and/or website creator, I leave it to you to decide if the use of such service is valuable. If you’re a photographer, though, I’d caution against uploading your images to this service, as it sounds like they have everything setup to pass through all liability issues back to the photographers. I invite you to watch/listen to the interview that noted commercial photographer, Zack Arias, conducted with one of Unsplash’s founders back in January, which you can find here. He goes into great detail over a lot of these concerns with the founder. It’s an interesting conversation, and definitely leaves me a little more wary of the whole thing.


Squarespace Integrates Use of Unsplash Images

(not my image)

(not my image)

We Squarespace users got an email from them this week, letting us know about their new feature of integrating the use of free Unsplash images within their service. For those of you that aren’t current customers, here’s their online article describing the new feature.

This is an an interesting and potentially very useful new feature. For those not familiar with Unsplash, as I wasn’t before being notified of this new integration, they’re a stock image service like Getty or iStock (which is now also owned by Getty), except that their images are totally free to use for both non-commercial and commercial use. The only real exception to free use that I can see after reading through their FAQ and terms is that you can’t turn around try to offer your own stock photo service by offering photos you got from their site. Other than that, use away, including any modifications you see fit.

For photographers such as myself, this feature probably won’t be used much, as we typically tend to use our own images. However, for anyone else building a site that isn’t a photographer and can’t afford to pay for professional photography, this is a very powerful new feature, as these people now have access to a ton of imagery to bolster the visual impact of their site without breaking the bank. Look at the image I posted at the top of this blog post, which I grabbed from this Unsplash integration - pretty cool, powerful image, and I got this from barely scrolling down the first main page that pops up when I clicked on the search pane in Squarespace’s add-image tool. If I were writing a blog post about mountaineering or simply looking for a decent header image for my outdoor-based website, this would be a very cool image to be able to use for free.

Now, as a photographer, many of my fellow photographers might suggest that I should be upset by this, that it’s devaluing our work, making it harder for us to get paid. I totally get that. On the other hand, as a technologist, I can see the immense value in this, as this would be a VERY handy asset to have in place when building a website for a potential client, as the sky’s the limit when it comes to free imagery they can use for their site. I could build them a site and charge them a lower fee because I only have to charge them for my time and output, and not extra for my or anyone else’s photography that costs some real $$. At any rate, any photographer who has a problem with this model would have to take it up with Unsplash and the photographers who supply them, as Squarespace is just providing a free service to its users that’s made available to them.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As a photographer, how do you feel about such services? Valuable exposure and a chance to share your work with the world, or cheap manipulation that devalues your work? For the rest of you, what value do you find in such a service?

Also, for the photographer crowd, here’s an article about a photographer who unleashed his photo archive onto Unleashed, detailing how it lead to more work for him. Take from it what you will.

Squarespace's Image Management Problem

Squarespace has what I consider an image management problem, at least when it comes to using images in blog posts.  Inserting an "image block" into a post in order to display an image is relatively straightforward, but when it comes to choosing the image in that block, that's where the problem lies.

You see, oft times the image I want to use as the leading image for a blog post is an image I already have on my website in one of my existing galleries.  However, as SP's image blocks work today, you can't simply point to an image in one of your galleries; no, you have to upload a new image.  So that means, even though I have an image on my website already, and thus already taking up some of my allotted space, I have to re-upload that image separately into the image block if I want it displayed in my blog post.  That's ridiculous!  You should be able to point to the image files already on your website without having to duplicate it - hell, I could easily do that with a super-basic HTML-only website.  But I can't do that with an advanced CMS like Squarespace?  Again: ridiculous.

With slideshows, as I have displayed at the top of this post, there's a little more functionality, but there's still really less than there should be, in my opinion.  For a slideshow, you can at least point to an existing gallery on your website; you don't have to upload new images.  That's a big step in the right direction.  If they gave us that same functionality for single images, I'd be relatively happy.  However, one thing I'd like to see them implement is the "collection" functionality like you get on photography image-hosting web platforms like Zenfolio or SmugMug.  On those platforms, you can create galleries that are really just collections of photos from other other galleries; that is, the photo isn't being duplicated in the new "gallery", but is simply pointing back to the photo in the original gallery.  This makes it easy to create a collection of Fall photos (for example) that's really just collecting Fall photos from your other various landscape image galleries, and then present that collection as a slideshow in a blog post, on another custom webpage, etc.  It's a really handy feature.  I've been a Zenfolio customer for years, and I've really enjoyed that functionality.

Now, you might be thinking, "well, just use Zenfolio or Smugmug then; Squarespace isn't a photography site."  I would get your point, but really, Squarespace markets itself heavily to visual artists, and to photographers in particular.  Listen to any photo podcast or watch any photo vlog on YouTube, and Squarespace sponsorship is all over those things.  I don't think you can find a single one that isn't sponsored by them!  As such, I think these photo management touches should be a major focus for them.  I don't really do photography professionally anymore, so I've been thinking it's time to finally turn the second, professional site off (it's already got a front page saying, "thanks for the memories; buh-bye").  I'm kind of debating whether the platform I stick with should be this Squarespace or my other Zenfolio site.  My personal space has always been here, and yeah, there's a little more website customization flexibility overall with Squarespace, but...  I still get a blog with Zenfolio, the templates are mostly good enough, and the use of my existing imagery within that blog is MUCH easier/better there than it is here.  Considering most of my focus on my website is on my photography and I mostly use the existing images in my galleries for my blog posts, what's the argument to stick with Squarespace over Zen?

So Squarespace, I hope you're listening, as I really doubt I'm the only one that feels this way.  These asks are actually pretty basic things to implement - one of your interns could probably code it.  So please get with 2011 and get us this functionality already.

A frustrated photo blogger.