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Unsplash – Beautiful photos free to use under the Unsplash License (unsplash.com)
447 points by tambourine_man on Nov 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Unsplash is a really cool resource. We actually use it (paired with another 'sister service' called Unsplash.it) to provide ever changing and semi interesting 404 error pages for our web app... I blogged about how we do it a while back - http://devan.blaze.com.au/blog/2015/11/3/errors-dont-have-to...

You might want to add a text shadow, because the error message isn't visible on quite a few images. I just loaded the page 5 times, and couldn't see it twice.


Also, it gives some strange behavior in Firefox. If I load the below in a tab, it shows a random image as expected. Then if I open it again in a new tab it shows the previous image that loaded from the first tab, and then it switches images to a new random one a second later.


Lastly, you could solve the above issues, and decrease the load time from 1s to 200ms if you just self hosted a few random images, and you wouldn't have to worry about your 404 page depending on Unsplash.

Edit: It's actually taking 6-8 seconds to load the image now, and the 404 page is white text on a white background during that time.

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I do notice there are quite a few lighter images on Unsplash nowadays, so the white text will be hidden on those. Will add the shadows to the text as you suggested to make it work better.

I'll investigate those Firefox issues too - I did most of the testing in Chrome, Safari and IE, but will do some more on FF to ensure it works OK on all browsers.

If traffic gets really high on our site, I may resort to locally hosted images to reduce load time. Unsplash.it may also be throttling the image load time for us, as I am thinking the sudden spike from this HN post may have alerted them to the fact that there is suddenly a flurry of remote calls to them from our server IP? Or perhaps the Amazon CloudFront CDN is causing a slow down there? I will investigate - thanks for your useful feedback.

You could color-sample the pictures displayed on the fly with a library like color-thief[0] and render the text in some acceptable contrasting color. We do something similar for a bit of our app that allows the users to set color schemes.


Nice library! All javascript too. Thanks for the heads up - will certainly make an interesting project to use this to calculate the text colour for the error screens.

In fact, I may be able to go back to using coloured Unsplash images. I went for Grayscale images purely so that I could stick to white text for the contrast.

Since you're worried about server load on Unsplash there is always (as I'm sure you're aware) the option to periodically ding their server and store a rotating cache of their images instead of having the user hit them per request.

Thanks. I had heard about the possiblity of doing this, but never visited it in detail - mainly because (up until this post today), we were only serving up one or two 404/500 pages per day, but if things get really busy, then I expect I will look into that.

I already use pre-downloaded Unsplash images within the app itself for the user 'lock screens'. I've curated and placed about 20 images on our server expressly for that purpose [1],[2]

[1] - https://flic.kr/p/NV8cS3 [2] - https://flic.kr/p/NN3vvY

lol, the awkward moment when you recognize the Breather used in the stock photo

What does this mean?

E.g. http://www.hrpartner.io/foo

Nice - even dare I say it much nicer than the generic smiling corporate woman on the front page. AB testing be damned, I want black and white landscapes for saas products :-)

Ha! You should have posted a graphic screen shot. The (invalid) link will always load a new random image so I can't see what you were trying to show me. :)

But thanks also for the feedback on the actual home page image. We are in the midst of (ironically) A/B testing that header image and have been rotating a few over the past weeks to see which ones have better clicking power. We've gone from abstract office shots to really corporate-y team and people shots etc. so appreciate any and all feedback!

While on the topic of your home page, I found it incredibly annoying that the header links are invisible when on white sections of the page.


Ah - thanks for the heads up. I thought that issue had been fixed, but might have been re-broken during the A/B testing. I can't load your Skitch image, but I checked the site and know what you mean. It is annoying and I will get that looked at.

I guess the Google Bot and Spammers around the globe appreciate the effort. :D

LOL - and our server logs certainly prove that too.

But just wait until the Google Bots become sentient - I am banking that we will be spared their wrath purely for breaking up the boring monotony of their crawling life!

(not a user [yet?]) seems like it'd be nice if unsplash.it let me limit ?random to a specific collection or collections. ?random[=coll0[,coll1,...,collN]]

I was recently featured[1] in collection #127, and as a long time user it feels really awesome to give back and let others use my work.

I've also been to a few of their NYC meetups and it's clear that the site is backed by an amazing community.

1 - https://unsplash.com/collections/curated/127?photo=jYYpTndzo...

Wow, congrats, you got a like from us. We haven't been featured yet, but two of our images have made it on the new page. And they got a lot of views and downloads.

You can check them out here:

https://unsplash.com/photos/FfyCtBB8fds https://unsplash.com/photos/Sgv26sTjZFY

Thanks for your contribution! Gorgeous photo. Mind me asking what technical specs went into snapping that?

Eiriksmal's post nailed it. I used the Canon 40mm[1] pancake lens (one of my favorites!) and my 5dMkII. That pic was the final night that I was in California[2]. I took a nap and slept through the time I was planning to go to the bridge, but ended up catching the last few minutes of light.

[1] - https://www.usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/products/d...

[2] - http://becker.am/blog/2014/06/05/california/

The little "i" icon in the bottom right pulls up the basic image data: https://unsplash.com/photos/jYYpTndzopI/info

Shot on a full-frame DSLR, the Canon 5D mkII, 40mm, f6 @ 1/320. ISO 160. It doesn't look like any filters were used and the fast shutter speed casts the bridge in darkness while letting the setting sun's colors come through in the sky.

How does the Unsplash license [1] differ from the Creative Commons Zero license?

[1] https://unsplash.com/license

"All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero" implies literally nothing beyond CC0, in which case they could just say CC0 and not try to confuse their intended (license-wary) audience.

(edit: clarity)

I don't understand why they call it an Unsplash license. I would have understood (and been thrilled by) this immediately if I had realized it was CC-0.

Some call it branding....

They do the site for the marketing value. People see the quality behind unsplash and that builds credibility for the agency behind it. It's not cheap to host and run (they had a blog post about that a few months back).

Having a named license at least helps spread the word a bit. The customer might not see it, but the designers, engineers and creatives involved probably will.

It's a great resource.

Could you clarify? You said "...licensed under Creative Commons Zero" means nothing. But then you said they could "just say CC0", which according to what you just said also means nothing. Why would you recommend that, then?

I think I'm just parsing this wrong.

>I think I'm just parsing this wrong

Yes. Grantparent asked "How does the Unsplash license [1] differ from the Creative Commons Zero license?" and parent answered: "All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero" implies literally nothing".

Which should be read as meaning "implies literally nothing [is different between the two licenses]" -- and not that what they wrote means nothing.

I think Palomides meant that it means nothing is different, not that it means nothing. "Literally nothing" was the answer to "How does the Unsplash license [1] differ from the Creative Commons Zero license?"

Creative Commons Zero license has no marketing value, while Unsplash licese has a little :)

Quite the opposite. If you tell me something is CC0, I know what you mean without having to read a webpage.

I actually saw the submission title and thought "Oh, they switched away from CC0 to something proprietary? that's too bad..."

Me too, I use unsplash images in a lot of client work. When I saw Unsplash licence my first thought was that I'd have to use a different service.

Seems silly to change the name when it's essentially the same thing.

I agree with the other commenters. When I saw "Unsplash license", I thought "ugh, another proprietary license that probably gives rights to the website" and didn't bother with it further.

I'm not saying it's good practice, just that I kinda get why they did this.

Unsplash is a great resource.

It's important to point out that "free" and "royalty-free" aren't the same thing. Unsplash images are actually in the public domain, whereas "royalty-free" is a license type where an image can be used multiple times for one payment.

They are not in the public domain. They are licensed under "Creative Commons Zero," which is not the same thing.

The CC0 page[1] on the Creative Commons website is in the Public Domain section and describes CC0 as a method of contributing works to the public domain.

1. https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/cc...

If you read that page, it also explains that it also has a fallback to a very permissive copyright licence in cases where you cannot release a work to the public domain.

Not all countries have a concept of public domain, and many that do have arbitrary restrictions applied to it. In fact, this is one of the reasons you should use CC0 rather than just saying "public domain" or using something like the Unlicense.

There goes my evening. Seriously, Thank You for this. This is the best free photo collection I've seen so far and I scout a lot of photo collection sites.

1) I LOVE how you group photos by subject/topic instead of just randomly posting photos and asking the user to search for what they want. Most of the time users don't know what they want and would rather just browse and look around. Browsing lists and collections is more entertaining, engaging, and useful than what other photo sites do: drop off the user in front of a search box and ask "what do you want?". That's like asking someone "tell me everything about you". It forces the user to engage in some serious mental gymnastics and fatigues them. Collections like yours are easier on the brain. Just pick a pretty picture and browse all the pretty photos in that collection. Love it.

2) The photography is beautiful and looks authentic, rare, and avoids that "generic stock photo" feel. These photos look like they're out of somebody's "rare find" folder. They are gorgeous and ready to be used with minimal photoshopping.

3) Most of these already have color correcting and filters applied. Did your site do this? Or did the photographers?

Unique. Useful. Going in my bookmarks. Thanks for this.

Always Great quality for fellow web devs out there give http://unsplash.it a try for development easy, fast and beautiful placeholder images

Interesting to see projects from coworkers on HN!

Apple products on a distressed wooden table, laid out perfectly yet supposedly naturally positioned, with an open paper notebook: check

Here's a quick script I put together which downloads a random image every hour and sets your wallpaper. Only works with Gnome 3/Unity/Cinnamon. Adjust line 5 for different resolutions (currently set for 1920x1080) and adjust line 7 for different update frequency:


6 months ago I wrote a couple little scripts to download new unsplash into a directory every 6 hours. Then I pointed macos to use random images from that directory for wallpapers. The whole thing is great - its a source of tiny delight throughout my week. Its also a small step toward making my workspace feel more hackable.

The whole thing was super hacked together - I'm sure there's nicer solutions around but I'm plenty happy with what I have. Details here if anyone wants to copy what I did: https://josephg.com/blog/shiny-background-images/

Fun fact: when this was firstly posted in HN there were mainly negative comments, about yet another website on a market with many players.

Lately it has become a favorite site for many people. So, just another incarnation of the Google story. <3

From the name I thought these photos were free to use as long as you agree never to have a splash popup on your site :)

Maybe someone could actually do that.........

I love Unsplash. They also have a Chrome extension to show a random image in your new tab page. Would recommend.


Great resource. I'm curious how this impacts photographers though given there's so many sources of free images now. Can you make a living creating and selling stock photos?

To think these guys started with 10 photos.

I'm guessing they started with none.

How do they make sure the submitter of the image is actually the rightsholder/owner?

I believe Unsplash hand curate the images they add to their collection to ensure they are SFW and not in violation of any copyright. I believe they only add 10 or so images per week, so it could be manageable.

I'm guessing that nobody is really checking that. Imagine you are using an unsplash image on your website and it was "stolen" and copyrighted... (here in Germany) you will get in big trouble. Relying on unsplash can be a risky bet.

Why would you guess that? They talk about attribution (rather, the non-need of it) and that they use curators: https://unsplash.com/faq

Ok, my assumptions where maybe not fully right but legally this gives you no protection. They don't know the photographers personally and everybody can upload to unsplash. And saying "hey, the image was on unsplash so it's free" is something different than saying "here is the bill I paid the image broker/agency for using that image royalty free". Be careful is the only thing I wanted to say. If you want to be 100% on the safe side you make your photos or you know the photographer. Image brokers base their business on trust that copyright is not violated. And unsplash: be careful.

This is true. IANAL but I was a paid photographer at various points. My understanding is that if you use a photo that you don't have the rights to accidentally you can still be liable. This post seems to concur: http://www.contentfac.com/copyright-infringement-penalties-a...

The nice part of using going through a photo agency or pro photography that despite the extra paperwork and cost, you know you have the rights.

When Virgin Mobile used a photo of a young girl that was licensed by the photographer as Creative Commons on Flickr, she and Wong sued Creative Commons, Virgin Mobile USA, and Virgin Mobile of Australia. They eventually dropped the other plaintiffs and went after VM of Australia: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12...


They seem to have lost the lawsuit: https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Chang_v._Virgin_Mobile

But in any case, the user of the photo ended up paying the most legal bills, even though the photographer had given implicit permission.

One thing that Unsplash has going for it is that all submitter of photos also have to log in with Facebook, so there's an extra barrier preventing someone from turning in a random photo. I mean, you can still do that while logged in, but that's work to impersonate someone.

I just signed up an am about to upload a photo. Will let you know if there's a special thing that I have to sign.

edit: signing up and uploading photo just tells you to read the Terms before uploading...I'm guessing there's something that protects Unsplash from a user uploading maliciously https://unsplash.com/terms

> The nice part of using going through a photo agency or pro photography that despite the extra paperwork and cost, you know you have the rights.

They say that you have the rights, but "pro" photo sites have also been found guilty in the past of either intentionally or not, misappropriating and onselling copyrighted images that they had no right to.

Perhaps the terms of agreement will protect you as the end user (purchaser) of those images, but will it in all cases? Could the fact that you purchased copyrighted images in a commercial transaction actually make it worse as it opens you up to punitive damages or other legal action?

Sure...but you'll get what you pay for. It's unlikely that Getty, Mangum, Ford Models, etc, is going to risk screwing over their reputation or their photographers. But you go through a "pro" on Craigslist, then who knows

Not sure I would trust getty that much: http://petapixel.com/2016/07/27/photographer-suing-getty-ima...

Wow, I am surprised Virgin Mobile used that photo without a model release, which is kind of orthogonal to the copyright.

At least in the US, a photographer can grant use of a photo, but if the photo isn't for editorial use -- if the person in the photo could be considered advocating what the picture is selling -- they need a release from the subject: http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html

How do they make money then if the site is costing $20K a month to run?

There's another submission from a few months back that got on to the front page that is about how much things cost: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11519085

The original URL has moved to here: https://crew.co/backstage/dispatch/what-does-unsplash-cost/

So how do they make actual revenue? They wrote a second post, How side projects saved our startup:



Great site but they must use a heck of a lot of bandwidth. How do they stay afloat?

There was a blog post about it explaining this in detail: https://crew.co/backstage/dispatch/what-does-unsplash-cost/

That blog post explains the costs but not the revenues. How are they funded?

They wrote a post about that too https://crew.co/backstage/blog/how-side-projects-saved-our-s...

Unsplash is apparently crew.co's highest source of referrals, so i guess it's a loss leader

Some of that just seems insane. $1,000/month for logging?

Log analysis. Storing a dump of .log files is probably cheap (.log.gz cheaper) but actually using those logs is where the cost comes in.

Thank you!

Wonderful to see more CC0 use compared to a lot of "free" art on the internet that burdens the users with keeping track of attribution requirements and including the license text and all that tediousness.

Great resource.

Can somebody recommend similar resource with unprocessed images? Most photos toned or converted to black-and-white.

I shared some of my best photos on Unsplash, and I plan to use it in the future. It is a great resource.

Big fan of Unsplash, great resource!

It is obviously great for users. But I am kinda sad for the artist photographers. I don't think photography should be done for money, and I doubt any photographer would make real money off landscape and generic photos. But at least having a chance of making money via sites like 500px is a good thing in my opinion. Some additional incentive for them to keep trying.

Talented individuals who are well off, giving talent for free makes life harder for other talented individuals who might not actually be well off and might have just this talent. It looks like service is the only thing that will be monetize-able in the future. Actual products will all be available free of cost. I think it will drive down the quality of the best products while driving the average quality up.

You don't have to sign a "must produce at least x photos for unsplash" contract when you buy a camera. If they want to make money off their photographs then indeed they'll use a site where they can earn money. Unsplash is not the site for that.

Talented individuals are doing bespoke work, not taking random pictures for peoples' 404 pages. The advice I can give to talented people who are not well off is learn to talk business. Your photos are great, that's why we're talking with you. Now lets hash out the business side of things, the easier you make it to buy or license exclusive access to these images we want the easier we push your invoice through accounting.

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