How much do you value your work? Some would say it's worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Could you find value in your work another way? Stock sites, for example, or syndication agencies could sell on your behalf. What about giving your work away for free?

A new trend is appearing within the photography sector that caught our attention and when we were told about the photographers who are giving work away for free, we had to know more. 

Samuel Zeller is a professional photographer based in Switzerland. He recently published a blog announcing the release of all of his, very impressive, images for commercial use. That means anyone can download his high-resolution images and use them for any purposes. This move may seem counter-intuitive but there's more going on than meets the eye. 

Since releasing his images, Zeller has had a host of big brand names use his work. Apple recently used one of his images on a wide-reaching advertising campaign - a job that would have earned him thousands. So, why has Zeller decided to give up the rights to his work? 

Samuel Zeller Photographer free photographs

We asked what percentage of his work comes from enquiries via the images he released? 

“I would say at least 25%, and if you count the clients I land because of past client work (who found my [work] through the free images), up to 50%.” Zeller only accepts paid work for his services. He also shoots for himself and figured that this was a better alternative than a hard drive full of images sitting idle in a drawer. "It’s not a sustainable business in itself, but a way or reaching people I couldn’t reach just by emailing them."

It raises a very interesting question regarding the marketing approach for photographers using their images for promotional purposes to generate enquiries. Seemingly counter-intuitive, this approach is working for Zeller. We were curious to get his take on Stock sites. Why not put the work up for sale instead? 

"There will always be paid stock images sites but I think we’re moving away from paying £500 for just one image. For agencies, it’s better to have a subscription service, like how the music industry is changing from people buying albums to people subscribing to services like Spotify. Also, there’s plenty of small companies that cannot afford to pay a premium price. We live in a world where we need a ton of images, a lot of brands publish daily on Instagram and they need fresh content on a regular basis. There’s also an entire fan-made content economy [that's] growing, you can now have a pool of Instagrammers that are willing to take images of your product for a fixed price. I think the future is focused on services, not single images."

What if more photographers or image makers adopted this approach. A world of completely free images that can be used commercially without restriction. We already have free stock sites such as Pixabay, Pexel and Unsplash. Aside from wiping out stock image sites, would this devalue the photography industry? Is it already so devalued that we have to adapt? If so, what does the future of photography look like?
"The value of taking a picture nowadays is zero. Everyone has a decent camera and it only takes a few days to learn how to use Lightroom or Photoshop by following tutorials online. The value is now in the photographer's vision, his creativity, his ability to fulfil a client's brief in a short amount of time, his reliability, flexibility, and expertise."
Zeller read a quote from Tom Goodwin, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Havas media:
- How can we build the world’s biggest taxi company without owning any cars? (UBER)
- How can we build the world’s biggest provider of accommodation without owning any real estate? (Airbnb)
- How can we create the world's biggest media company without creating any content? (Facebook)
He asked himself a similar question. How can I market my photography without spending a single dollar?
"I tried Instagram advertising, I tried paying for a premium 500px account, I tried Facebook sponsored posts… It wasn't worth it. By sharing some of my images freely I targeted advertising agencies, startups, non-profits organisations... The same companies that could potentially hire me one day."
Samuel Zeller Photographer
Zeller continues. "As a freelancer (in any domain) you need to constantly re-invent yourself and improve in order to survive. I find it quite sad that a lot of photographers are sticking to old methods without realizing the potential of the tools we have today (like Instagram).
We live in a world where attention span is decreasing and where everyone can take images, but luckily the need for photographers is increasing as well.
I’m not saying that exposure is the key to landing jobs, it’s just a way of increasing the chance that the right persons will see what you do."
See more of Samual Zeller's work here