Announcing Unsplash 4.0

The Startup
Published in
7 min readFeb 25, 2016


Today is a really big day. Is it bigger than Christmas? Debatable. Your parent’s anniversary? Depends. But what’s assuredly true is that this is the biggest day of the month… the biggest Thursday of the year… and the best February 25th of ALL TIME! — at least for fans of Unsplash.

Here’s why:

  • Unsplash Collections
  • Unsplash API
  • Unsplash Likes
  • Unsplash Search

First, a bit of backstory… this year, our humble little site, Unsplash, became the third largest photography site in the world, and runner-up to the fastest-growing photography site of all time (the team in the lead is pretttttty solid).

What you might not know, however, is that unlike most big photography sites, Unsplash didn’t begin as a start-up with heady ambitions — it started as a Tumblr account with a simple premise: 10 new curated photos, every 10 days, but with one super-special secret ingredient: every photo was 100% free to use.

As it turns out, giving people the freedom to use beautiful photos for whatever they wanted (personal projects? company websites? album covers? magazine visuals?) is a surefire way to make those photos spread like wildfire.

We know the word “viral” gets thrown around a lot — but there’s no doubt about it: Unsplash is the most viral photography platform in the world. Photos featured on Unsplash are viewed more often than photos that appear on the front page of the New York Times, the cover of TIME Magazine, or Kim Kardashian’s Instagram. After appearing on Unsplash, photos will appear in all sorts of random places — on billboards, Apple Stores, Buzzfeed articles, websites, apps, Twitter accounts — left, right, and centre. They are reimagined and remixed into movies, posters, and other formats we’d have never foreseen.

The Billboard 100; Adobe keynotes; Pinterest homepage: just some of the places where we’ve seen Unsplash photos pop up

Today, Unsplash’s community is 40,000 photographers large, and their photos are viewed more than 600 million times every month. The Unsplash diaspora is even bigger.

As you might rightly presume, when you get into “hundreds-of-millions-of-photos” territory, the technical requirements become a bit more daunting, so we’ve had to build a lot of infrastructure for Unsplash since our distant days as a Tumblr blog. But in addition to having a blazingly-fast site, we’ve also been hard at work developing new ways to make the Unsplash experience even better. And we don’t just mean adding more photos of cats.

Today we’re happy to introduce 4 (big) new features for our community:

1.0 Unsplash Collections

What makes Unsplash special is that every photo you see on our site is absolutely, totally, astoundingly beautiful. We get thousands upon thousands of photo submissions, taken by photographers from every experience level imaginable — from iPhone amateurs to professional photographers to celebrities like NASA. And sorting through all those photos is no joke.

While popular photo sites let you see your friends’ photos, people come to Unsplash to see the photos. To make sure that every featured Unsplash photo is an 11-out-of-10, we enlist an army of curators to dig through our archives and decide which photos to feature on the Unsplash homepage.

Previous curators include Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress), Khoi Vinh (NYT design director), Guy Kawasaki (of Apple fame), Jeffrey Zeldman, Dann Petty, Brit Morin, Dave Morin, Tobias Lütke, Om Malik, Chris Messina, and other illustrious ladies and gentlemen.

But you don’t have to be famous to have good taste. Which is why we’ve crafted a whole new experience for the Unsplash community that lets you curate your very own collection of Unsplash photos. We’ve been vigorously testing this feature for a long time (starting with our celebrity friends) and today we’re proud to share it with you. Check it out:

2.0 Unsplash API

Thanks to our photographers and curators, we’ve helped build up the largest (and most beautiful) database of reusable photography on the internet. While that’s a feat in itself, we wanted to make it even easier for other people to use Unsplash photos for their projects.

Behind the scenes, we’ve created the Unsplash API, a powerful tool that lets developers populate their apps and websites with content from the Unsplash database.

So now, in addition to handling all of the photo requests on our own website, our API now handles the photo requests for thousands of other apps and tools. Here’s a shortlist:

As well as a bunch of other apps that don’t use the formal API (like this and this and this and hundreds of others).

We’re consistently surprised by the novel use cases that people find for Unsplash photos. Thanks to the Unsplash API, millions more people will be able to enjoy Unsplash photos in other apps — without even knowing they’re Unsplash photos! We can’t wait to see the clever tools that our developer community comes up with in the coming months.

3.0 Unsplash Likes

The world is filled with buttons. Buttons for shirts. Buttons for elevators. Benjamin Buttons.

The humble button has a long and storied history. But the fruits of button bliss have yet to befall the citizens of Unsplash. Until now.

That’s right: our roughshod days are over. Unsplash is finally buttoning up.

Yes, okay — ‘Like buttons’ have been around for ten years. But give us some credit: we’re Canadian. News to here travels slow.

After months of rigorous testing (and hundreds of thousands of likes), we figured it was worth announcing formally:

Next to every Unsplash photo, you’ll now find a big red juicy heart. You can heart as many photos as your heart desires. Just click the button to like the photo… or unclick to unlike it. Because what you do with your buttons is your business, man.

On your Unsplash profile, you’ll be able to see all of the photos you’ve ever liked. And if you look up the profile of any Unsplash photographer, you’ll be able to see what they’re liking, too.

Use the like button to bookmark photos for inspiration. Use it to tell your favourite photographers you think they’re awesome. Or, if you’re like our accountant Chris, you can use it to like every single Unsplash photo with a pineapple in it.

Because what you do with your buttons is your business, man…

(To join our tight-knit community of button gluttons, set up an Unsplash profile here. We hope you like liking as much as we do.)

4.0 Unsplash Search

Yes, that’s right. As if it wasn’t enough to steal from Facebook’s playbook… we also stole one from Larry and Sergey’s.

This one’s been in the oven for a while now, but we recently hit a big milestone: 3,000,000 searchable tags, created by living, breathing humans. (Not bots.)

Unsplash Search is now one of the most robust, user-friendly photo search engines out there, all thanks to incorrigible efforts of the Unsplash community.

Four big features: collections, API, likes, and search. So whether you’re curating, liking, API’ing or tagging photos, we hope you’ll enjoy the updates our team has baked into Unsplash 4.0.

This wouldn’t have been possible without you ❤

So feel free to give yourselves a round of applause.

PS: We’re publishing a book.

Unsplash 2016. No rights reserved.



The Startup

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