Actually, ever since Unsplash was launched in the first place, the photography community has been discussing why you should upload photos to this platform at all. One answer, besides the infamous “exposure”, is the gamification that makes Unsplash so special. With stats, milestones, and personalized emails, creators are encouraged to share more photos for free.

Californian Micheile Henderson, who lives in the Netherlands, started uploading photos to Unsplash in 2017 and now has a library of more than 1,200 photos. “I like being able to share my photography. Otherwise my photos would just be stored on my hard drive or on my blog“, she says.

“The nuns had just finished a game of volleyball on the beach. They then ventured off individually, and when I saw her standing there, I knew I wanted to capture that moment. A moment of tranquility. The weather was perfect, the tourists hadn’t all arrived as it was the beginning of the tourist season… it was perfect.” Micheile’s first photo on Unsplash was uploaded September 6th, 2017 and has gathered more than 550k views and more than 2.3k downloads by now.

While Micheile fills her own website with many of her beautiful photographs and shares tips for other photographers on her blog, she does not make any money from her images. “I don’t think I’d use Unsplash differently if I did work as a professional. I would definitely combine Unsplash with my business had I had one. I think it’s a great way to get exposure and bring traffic to your website.

Then, in late May 2021, she joyfully posted on the official Unsplash Slack server: “Last year in February I was at around 395,000 downloads and set a goal for myself to increase the download stats. It’s just over a year later and I’m at TWO MILLION downloads.” I talked to her about how she did it and why the stats are so important to her.

Views and downloads mean a lot to me. Not because I want to be popular, but because the stats tell me people are interested in my photos”, she sums up the feelings that probably many creators have when uploading their work to Unsplash. Especially the downloads. I create a lot of collections, and take trendy photos that can be used in blog posts, so I can imagine that people look to my photos and profile, but the downloads tell me people want my work.”

“It’s not at all popular, but I really like it. When I am creating a template, or anything that needs a placeholder photo, I almost always use this photo.”

I had 395,789 downloads in total in the beginning of 2020 and my views were at 102,560,534. I really wanted to get more balance in those stats. I wanted people to not just look at my work, but to also want it. When the Pandemic came, I challenged myself to shoot food & still life photography.”

It’s not about talent or good gear, it’s about hard work and dedication.

Micheile’s most seen photo has more than 17 million views and 140k downloads and was uploaded on January 21, 2020. She adds: It’s awful, I made it for the Unsplash Photo Club and almost didn’t upload it. One of the topic choices was money related so I had the idea to photograph a ‘money tree’. The photo is hidden on my profile, so it must be the search results drawing the traffic.”

I started binging online photography tutorials, and reading up on anything related to photography so I could improve my skill set. I signed up for free webinars, and took a few online workshops —basically anything I could learn from. I’ve worked really hard to up those stats, and still have so much to learn. It’s not about talent or good gear, it’s about hard work and dedication.

Lastly, of course, I wanted to know what she actually shoots her photos with. She uses Lightroom for editing, but would like to switch to Capture One, she tells me. “Most of my photos were shot with a Canon EOS 550D (aka Rebel T2i), earlier this year it broke and I replaced it with a full frame camera, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II.”

I’m a prop addict — I have a cabinet full of food photography props, mostly thrifted. They’re essential for storytelling in food and still life photography. My only lens at the moment is my 50mm 1.8. I use a Manfrotto travel tripod, and a CARUBA C-STAND LS-9 KIT. Most of my studio work is tethered, or shot using the Canon Camera Connect App.”

While she really loves Unsplash and the team, she also has strong opinions about the recent acquisition of the platform by Getty Images. “I feel like they really listen to the users, and are constantly trying to improve things. That said, I hate that Getty has acquired Unsplash. No way will I ever believe that they share the same ‘vision’ Unsplash claims to have. They are the exact opposite.”

I hate that Getty has acquired Unsplash.

“Also the fact that Koch Industries owns a chunk of Getty Images, makes my skin crawl. I doubt when that kind of money and power is involved that things won’t change. I just except it and try and remember what I get out of Unsplash, and forget the rest.” (For those who don’t know, Koch Industries has subsidiaries involved in the manufacturing, refining, and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, and tons of other stuff.)


I want to thank Micheile so much for the time she took to help with this article! Go follow her on Unsplash or Instagram. If you want to learn more about her food photography, go read her interview with Pexels.

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