A photo may be worth a thousand words, but use those thousand words to tell the story of a photo and you’ve got something truly amazing.
In the first of a new series looking at the photographers and stories behind some of the most popular photos on Unsplash, we talk to arguably the most famous back in the world, and one of our biggest supporters, Joshua Earle.
When Joshua Earle was a child, his father would take him along on trips into the woods to photograph birds and wildlife. Tucked away in their hide, the pair would spend hours in silence waiting for that moment when their target would land gracefully on a nearby branch and cock its head just right, almost as if it were signalling to them that it was no longer a member of the wild kingdom, but a willing subject of art.
Building this type of patience for your craft takes a lifetime.
But for the 21 year old photographer from Windsor, UK, it seems to have come that much easier thanks to his first photography mentor.
When Joshua turned 18 he visited Bogota, Colombia, going on to travel to 8 countries and over 20 different cities around the world in that same year.
Since then he’s continued to explore the world, from Scotland to South Africa, finding unique locations and landscapes to share. What makes Joshua’s photographs so compelling isn’t just their perfect composure and epic subject matter but the fact that the photographer himself is present in each and every one, like his own signature at the bottom of a painting.
Since joining Unsplash in 2014, Joshua’s photos have been viewed almost half a billion (yes, with a ‘b’!) times and used for everything from ad campaigns and slideshows to posters, magazines, and even a billboard or two.
We caught up with one of our best-known contributors to find out more about the story behind one of his most epic photos:
Could you please tell us about the background of this photo: Where you were, what took you there, and how did you feel when you took the photo?
This photo was taken in Zermatt, Switzerland. It was during one of my spontaneous adventures that I try to take every couple of months. I think I had booked my flight to Geneva two days before I flew and travelled around Switzerland for 3 days by myself to try and get some fresh air! My brother then joined in and we hiked as many mountains and jumped in as many lakes as we could for two weeks.
In the background of the photo you can see the iconic peak of the Matterhorn also known as Toblerone mountain. We had walked the same hike the day before and were blessed with a perfectly clear day seeing the Matterhorn in all its glory.
As we trekked back to rest up for the evening we checked the weather for the next morning to see if we could go back to the same spot for the sunrise. It looked like there would be some clear sky between 5am and 7am so we set the alarm and got an early night to climb back up the mountain. Pretty much every Google image of the area was of the Matterhorn at sunrise so we couldn’t miss it!
After a painful wake up call at 3:50am and a very cold couple of hours hiking, we made it back to the lake about 30 minutes before sunrise at 6:50am.
A large group of people were sitting waiting when we arrived but it turned out that they had been staying at the Hotel which is about 5 minutes walk from the Lake. The clouds cleared away just as promised and left a few streaks to be lit up by the rising sun and turn the peak a beautiful pink colour for over 30 minutes. That moment has to be one of my favourite memories from any of my trips.
I will always take the hike over the easier option! A great photo takes effort and has a story behind it. That’s why I love this photo.
Logistically it must be challenging taking a photo that you also appear in, how do you manage it?
I use a 10 second timer to ensure I not only take the photo but appear in it too. I set up the shot with the composition I think will work and focus to the point where I will run and stand.
My remote broke a while ago and so I literally have 10 seconds to get to the spot and it takes one photo at a time. So it’s back and forth until the shot is perfect.
Why did you choose to share this photo via Unsplash?
I’ve been sharing my photos with the Unsplash community since 2014 and every time I go on a trip I’m looking for the perfect photo to share when I get back home.
It turned out that this would be the chosen one from my Switzerland adventure! Sharing my photos so openly and freely has been an amazing journey and I am so encouraged every time I see them used or hear of how they have helped someone with their work.
To be honest I’ve also had quite a few people say that I should stop sharing my work for free and start being rewarded for the work that I’m doing, but I really think that there is something special about the open-source community.
My photos have spread all over the internet and are used in such positive ways. In fact, I don’t think there are many inspirational Instagram accounts out there that don’t have my photos featured! And that, to me, is the real reward.
When I first started Joshua Earle Photography I drafted my mission statement and decided that my goal would always be to capture photos that people can get excited about and create a way for people to experience beautiful moments that can so often be missed in the busyness of life.
Unsplash allows you to put your photos out there to help inspire hundreds of thousands of people all around the world. That’s the main reason why I started to upload my photos and why I keep sharing!
What ways have you seen people use the photo?
It’s crazy how far a photo can reach and how many uses it could find itself in! I think the biggest one for this photo, that I have seen, was on a large billboard in California.
It’s so encouraging to hear people just say thank you. In the same way that I don’t have to upload my photos, they don’t have to say thank you! But I love it when they do.
A lot of people also get in touch to show how they have used the image and I love it every time, whether it is on a billboard or under an inspirational quote for Instagram. It puts a name to the thousands of downloads and always inspires me to remember how my photo is making a difference.
A few people asked if they could print it for their offices and others as posters for an upcoming event they were running. I also bumped into someone recently with my brother that found out the photo was of taken by me and he told us how he had used it as the feature image for a large leadership conference that was taking place all over the country. He ended up taking a photo of our backs before he left and I felt like a little celebrity!
How did you feel when you started to see how many people were downloading the photo?
It’s a surreal feeling to see the stats and I still can’t quite get my head around them! But it is so encouraging. I get countless emails saying thank you and asking about the photos, about how they couldn’t believe it was for free and checking with me if it was really true! I love those emails! Having to explain how the photo truly is totally free to use and they can do anything with it!
That’s why I take photos and why I love to share them with the community. To inspire more people to do something creative and add a little adventure to their everyday lives.
Have any opportunities presented themselves to you as a result of sharing this photo?
Most of the work I do now is actually because of Unsplash.
Everyone has seen the photos that I share whether it is first hand or through word of mouth. I now work closely with a few different brands to help add some adventure to their social media and take photos of a variety of products when I’m travelling. All of which came from Unsplash to my site. But I think in general the ideas and motivation I have to build something great out of my business owes a lot to Unsplash and the support it has given me.
The work ethic of the Unsplash team and everything they stand for has inspired me to do more than I think I can and most of all do meaningful work that inspires and helps people. There a lot of parts to my journey but Unsplash is a big one of them!
Do you have any regrets on sharing a selection of your photos for free for anyone to use for anything?
Not at all. Whatever happens with my work and whatever the next step in the journey is I hope to always have the opportunity to keep taking photos of beautiful things and sharing them for free. I’ll keep to my early mission statement and work to create more photos and better photos available for everyone.
Joshua also sells a selection of photographs via his website that not only give people a chance to buy his stunning photos but also to make a positive difference.