Unsplash operates an online creative platform that offers copyright-free photographs. The company's platform provides photography sharing services, such as uploading pictures to its website, which are then curated by a group of photo editors, allowing interested clients to get photographs from their website. The images can be utilized as album art, advertisements, and product art.
Unsplash was started in 2013 by Mikael Cho, founder of Crew— a marketplace for freelancers. It was born out of a need for images for the home page of his business website. He hired a photographer to create the imagery for the brand and posted the leftover images on his Tumblr account, enabling others to download them for different purposes. At the time, Cho uploaded ten images every ten days.
The Tumblr blog (which also directed people to Crew) was released on Hacker News. The company entered a partnership with Squarespace that allows users to place Unsplash images on their site directly from the website builder. The Unsplash image collection is powered by contributors who provide their images for other users or creators, and contributors range from hobbyists to professionals.
Users can scroll through images or refine their search with the suggestions at the top of the search results page. Search terms can also be used to locate images. A user can download an image by hovering over it and clicking the icon at the bottom-right corner.
Users can also click on the picture for extra information about it. Clicking the picture also works to get visually similar images or related images from an identical location. The pictures on the site are granted to the public by the photographers on the platform. Though it is legal to use the images for marketing or creative purposes, there is an option to give credit to the photographer. Unsplash provides the information for photography credit whenever an image is downloaded. In December 2019, Unsplash for Brands was released, a platform where advertisers can share their branded images on Unsplash.
In 2021, Unsplash announced it was being acquired by Getty Images. In a blog post, Unsplash’s founder Mikael Cho said that Unsplash will continue operating as a standalone brand existing inside Getty, and its free content model will not change. Unsplash passed three billion image downloads right after going past two billion downloads in 2020.
Cho says that two of Unsplash's initiatives, Unsplash for Brands and Unsplash Hire, will be affected positively by the partnership with Getty. Getty says through the combination of the three brands, Getty Images, iStock, and Unsplash, and their corresponding websites and APIs, the company will be positioned to enable creativity and communications in the global creative community.
Cho, alongside the other Unsplash founders, Luke Chesser and Stephanie Liverani, will lead and operate Unsplash as a division of Getty Images. The brand planned to release its own token as a way of rewarding creators who contribute free content to the site. This is one of the ways that the brand seeks to monetize the stock photo platform.
“I’m so proud of what the Unsplash community and team has created,” said Cho. “And it’s only the beginning. This partnership is an important milestone for Unsplash, but our mission of Photos for Everyone remains unchanged. We are very excited to partner with Getty Images to move the industry forward together.”
Unsplash's decision to stop utilizing a Creative Commons Zero license in 2017 was met with criticism since it took about 200,000 pictures out of the commons. The Unsplash license is not compatible with Creative Commons licenses, and this prevents its usage on sites like Wikipedia.
In February 2018, the brand changed its license terms to curb the sale of images without updating, modifying, or even incorporating other creative elements into the pictures. The brand also prohibited the sale of unaltered copies, including the sale of images as prints or even when printed on physical goods.