Uploading to the Free Download Sites as an Experiment – Unsplash and Pixabay

I honestly never thought I would be writing this post but here it is, today January 16th, 2023 I’ve uploaded some images to both Unsplash and Pixabay, the giant TURDS of the stock photography world. In this post I’ll explain why and what I hope to achieve by trying to milk the last drops of value from my port. Let’s get started!


I’m still against free-download sites but hear me out (before unfollowing me)

I hate the concept of giving images away for free and have written extensively on the subject. By doing so, among many reasons, it devalues our work as photographers even more helping to further drive the price down to even more unsustainable levels. The argument goes, why would someone pay for something when with a little research they can download the content for free?

In addition, no photographer with any sort of reputation or dignity would engage in such atrocious acts of self-sabotage. So why am I doing the exact opposite of what I believe in?

Inspired / Worried by Photerloo – Best Websites to Sell your Photos Online in 2023

I recently watched this earnings report by Photerloo and it got me thinking…

In particular this slide stood out where James explained he makes most of his earnings not from paid sites but by donations at Pexels / Pixabay:

James Wheeler’s Portfolio at Pexels

So, cutting to the chase, James is earning more from donations at Pexels / Pixabay than the likes of Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. Here’s a link to James’s 299-image portfolio at Pexels featuring some stunning Canadian West Coast wilderness.

Pretty impressive to earn $600 in donations from just 299 images any way you look at it.

My Experiment – 100 Images at Unsplash and Pexels

It will obviously take me some years before I can reach James’s 656.2million views and rank and ultimately earning $50+ a month but my idea is that:

  • I’ll upload eventually 100 generic quite generic (non-editorial) images with some commercial value I’ve recently captured in Brazil to both Unsplash and Pexels, will show you wish shortly;
  • These images will be also spread around all non-exclusive microstock agencies;
  • I’ll track the number of donations received, if any, from Unsplash and Pexels;
  • I’ll also track if putting such images on free-download sites may affect the sales of paid-sites. In other words, do “buyers” shop around.
  • Will report back in 6 months time with results. Perhaps a bit longer if there’s no movement…

5 examples of the generic images I’ve uploaded to these Turds

Both Unsplash and Pexels have upload allowances for new contributors, so I’ve only uploaded the maximum for the week with some of these. here are some examples of the types of rural content I’ve uploaded.

Maybe earning donations from Free Download Sites is the next business model…

With the encroachment of Artificial Intelligence (Midjourney, DALLE-2, etc) in the creation of stock content, together with the rising popularity of free-download sites it seems that the paid-microstock model is broken. This is quite clear from pretty much all contributors reporting year-on-year steep declines in the average return per image downloaded. Therefore maybe I’ll either emerge as as hugely naïve/foolish about doing this or as a visionary haha let’s see!

I really don’t want to upload more than 100 images to these stupid sites but depending on how well this experiment does I may just have to! Until next time from a super hot Rio de Janeiro!

Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

January 18 update:

I had a good think about this experiment and all your comments and will make the following adjustments:

1. For the sake of eventually getting more downloads which hopefully will become donations, I’ll have to submit more quality content. This means that such quality images will probably lose all their value once given away for free (no doubt downloaded and re-sold by thieves), but then again perhaps most buyers won’t bother shopping around that much (which is also part of the experiment). Perhaps what may work best are the dramatic fine artsty type shots that would do well on FAA. For the sake of experimentation it needs to be done as green bananas aren’t going to be a hit; Here’s some of my latest uploaded at Pexels – https://www.pexels.com/@brutally-honest-427052750/

2. I’ll conduct reverse searches on such images to see how many have ended up trying to be licensed by thieves at micros. Could be a fun little side project, doubt this has been covered elsewhere by other bloggers;

3. Curious to see if there’s footage to be accepted by some of these sites to be given away for free. Perhaps footage would bring in more donations than stills. I don’t mind giving away some footage that has never sold for many years, particularly if it’s only HD.

Update: So far my images are pending review at Pixabay and Unsplash. Amazing how they still check for technical quality even if being given away. What they really should be checking for in view of rejecting unreleased content particularly at sensitive places which may lead to legal issues later on.

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography


  1. I saw that video too – and have the same reaction as you – I don’t want to do it, but if that’s where the money is, then will try it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have to be really catefull with your image selection, you post these images as public domain license. Under this pretex the platform owner may refuse to remove images if you want to reconsider at some point. Had to fight to get mine back and had very long and nasty correspondence with Pixabay owners.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James has a special portfolio, images with greater artistic interest, which is why his sales at FAA are higher than at the rest.
    James numbers in 2022 in free content: 300 images (Warning!: non-casual images), $600 profit, one million downloads, approx. (in the video he says 100,000 monthly downloads) 5 to 10 donations: $60 each? I’m not sure about those numbers.
    According to his statistics, earnings in free content go up and go down in the rest of the agencies. For me the reason is clear, those who paid for an image in the payment agencies, now download them in the free ones, and surely this is going to be exponential. It’s logical

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, that my cow titties and green bananas are unlikely to get many downloads / donations. So far I’m just testing the waters.

      The question is should I upload some more “quality” content that would be worthy as wall-hangers? I have plenty of those but seems risky as they’ll automatically lose all value. If so, how many should I upload?


      • This post its really interesting 😀
        I don’t think it’s commercially good to have the same product for sale, at least for an acceptable amount, and at the same time free on other platforms. A buyer with a little training will find the free image. I also don’t think that having photographs of lesser visual value will get many donations. Thinking… I think it’s more interesting to share photos on social networks and offer them for sale for… maybe 1€?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Let’s see if I’ll still get sales on the micros even if the same images are available for free. Don’t underestimate the laziness / complacency of the average person! Most buyers don’t shop around…for instance, the same image is available on Alamy and micros and I still get sales on Alamy (although it’s not as simple as pricing points).

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Alex, that’s a great post as usual, and thank you for sharing your adventures in the stock video and photography market. I’m also considering the option to upload part of my old portfolio to Pexels. I don’t know it Pexels gives the FTP option for upload: it’ll be a lot easier this way. Maybe someone in the readers can answer my doubt. Regarding Unsplash, it doesn’t seem that it has an option for donations, so I wonder if it has sense to contribute. Keep in touch!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been following James for a while because he’s the only stock photographer who openly claims to make money off free sites. Even if he’s making money, some of his pictures have been uploaded for sale by thieves on multiple shutterstock accounts. Considering shutterstock’s terrible record of following up with people who steal images, you would have to be extremely careful your images aren’t being stolen thus affecting your own sales.

    My take on James is, there is a reason he’s seeing more money off free sites than stock sites. My guess is most people who find his pictures on stock sites see there’s a free version available and go for it. Others see it on thief accounts and buy it. Only the few who don’t do reverse google search and find his images through the search algorithms end up buying his pictures. I think if he’s never put his images up for free, he would have made more money on Adobe and SS at the very least because his images are genuinely good and useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think free images make sense when you set up your own free images agency website.
    The free image downloads are sponsert then by advertisement.
    If someone want to get a free image a new tab opens with something like “this free image is sponsored by enterprise XY”
    You now can sell packages for free downloads to various enterprises.
    Like -1000 images free download package for $10 or more.
    At start you can offer NGOs free advertisement packages to get in business.
    Within an few months you will get lots of downloads and traffic that will impress enterprises to advertise.
    Its a win win situation for everyone – the costumer, the enterprise advertising and you.
    Its a possibility to start your own enterprise and not only give images away for free anywhere.
    Your free image website will be your brand and value rise with traffic on your site.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.