Photographer’s Photos Found in Over 5,000 Wikipedia Articles

David Shankbone (real name David Miller) has been called “arguably the most influential new media photojournalist in the world.” And if you’ve never heard of him you may wonder: How did he achieve such a status? How did he get his work published by The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Forbest all while his actual day job isn’t even as a photographer? He did it all by giving away his photography for free.

Manager of a legal department on Wall Street by day, David Shankbone is perhaps the most prolific Creative Commons photographer out there today. And if you want poof of it all you have to do is browse through one of the five thousand plus Wikipedia articles that feature one of his photos. Tailor Swift? His. Betty White? His. The President of Rwanda? You guessed it, his.

His quest to fill Wikipedia with photos began in 2006 as a cheap hobby using only a point-and-shoot camera he got as a present from his sister. And from the beginning his belief — one that’s bound to stir up some controversy amongst photographers who make their living with their art — has been that “small publishers, artists, authors and educators can’t afford the time or money to hunt down and negotiate with unknown people for affordable images.” So his solution was “to create an extensive body of high resolution stock photography licensed Creative Commons.”

Whether or not you agree with his methods, many blogs and major publications alike owe the man a debt of gratitude for the amount of quality stock photography he’s released into the world, and all for free (we even used one of his photos last July).

But if you’re still confused as to why a man who could be making boatloads of cash with his photography gives it away for free, his answer to a similar question in an interview with GOOD might clear it up:

I care more about experience than money. I was at a party once where someone asked me about my work and she said I must make a lot of cash. When I said I give my photos away to the public, she looked at me like I was a fool. She derisively asked, “Why would anybody do that?” and I replied “What did you do last Tuesday?” She said that she came home from work late and watched Law & Order on her DVR. I said, “Last Tuesday I had a four-hour dinner with Augusten Burroughs, and then I photographed him. I didn’t make any money off of it, but it was a hell of a Tuesday night.” Then she smiled and got what I was about.

Image credits: Photographs by David Shankbone

  • Alex Cican

    And then David Miller because he wasn’t charging for photos, he starved to death. No wait, he had a free dinner with Augusten Burroughs. So, essentially he photographs for food

  • Jackson Cheese

    I wish I was cool enough to pull off the Jimmy McMillan look.
    That’s straight up balls.

  • derekdj

    LOVE IT! I think the ones who would argue the most about what Miller is doing are the bottom feeder paparazzi. If you remove the economics of magazines paying thousands for shots of celebs walking the red carpet or leaving dinner, you’re left with the professionals who build their business on the craft of photography not stalking.

  • Slash_Cynic

    Takes one man with a lot of money and connections to ruin it for everyone else.

  • Humble Journalist

    Shame on you! I don’t come and do Wall Street management as a hobby. Do you know how many professional photographers struggle to find work?

  • alexismadrigal

     You don’t see a difference between these situations?

  • johnny kangaroo

    Yeah! Go break his legs!

  • Knur

    SOAB !

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    If the guy can ruin your market, you don’t deserve it. That’s the nature of honest competition. Would it make any difference if he was paid handsomely?

  • 4dmaze

    Man, I wish I could find someone that wanted to help the world by doing free car repair or plumbing… Not as cool I guess. 

  • Xondra Gálvez

     No, he has an stable job with a huge paycheck that keeps him alive. This story is so annoying because makes people think that everyone should be giving their work away.

  • Matt

    Seems to me a lot of ‘professional’ photographers should go get a job.

  • Noxonomus

    There are lots of people who do things for free that other people get paid for, and they do them for many reasons.  Whether it is a hobby, or stepping up to fill a gap you think is important it is up to each person how to spend their time along with if and how they are compensated for it.

  • PhillipP

    Although I am by no means a great photographer, I use a lot of different vintage cameras which make my photos look interesting and have uploaded thousands to Flickr, all with a Creative Commons license. I love checking my stats or doing a Google search to see what online sites are using my pics. Some of which have been Wired, Travel & Leisure, Forbes, and Playboy. It never ceases to give me a thrill so I can see exactly where he is coming from.

  • Rehuy

    He wasnt interested in photography so he ruined it for everybody else… nice

  • Matt

    Ruined what exactly?  The ‘art’ of the quick celeb red carpet photo?

  • Synixia

    And this is why people don’t want to pay for photography any more. Too many photographers are falling for the “can’t pay you, but it will give you experience!” crap. It ruins it for those who try to make a living off of it. 

    “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” 

  • Rick Bennett

    To all the whiners about this guy giving photography away for free: evidently the irony of commenting on a WIKIPEDIA article is lost on you. Or, did you fastidiously avoid looking at the Wikipedia articles linked in favor of the outdated Encyclopedia Britannica tomes you have stored on your bookshelves.

  • Rjt37

    It’s not honest competition. Honest competition would be a level playing field. Not one with a Wall St Fat Cat salary propping up some egotographer

  • Rjt37

    If I was making a boatload of cash as a Wall St Legal Beagle I’d be uncocnerned about the effect I was having on the photographic industry as well.
    If I set up an office next to his and offered every one his clients free legal representation I’m sure he’d be just fine & dandy with that. Not.I’m sure his law firm manages to find the time to negotiate and sue on behalf on those ‘unknown people for affordable images’.

    That rant ranted, if the work stays in Wikipedia and isn’t out polluting the photographic market then I can live with it. Oh wait. It’s not. He’s taking food from photographers children’s mouths.

    There isn’t any such animal as free photography, someone always ends up paying for it somehow.

  • John Kantor

    Affordable keeps the industry alive. Free destroys it. He’s just a parasite using his position to get his rocks off.

  • Bd_weld

    This is why I don’t invest $6,000 dollars for a true professional camera. An I-phone will soon be an acceptable tool of the trade. The market of soccer moms (no offense) photo bloggers (please take offense) & Creative Commons are deflating the value of photography as a paid skill & art. Though, Creative Commons is a wonderful start for musicians to spread their name & talents to a broader audience. The photojournalists of this age are in danger of losing an occupation in the near future. Just as Netflix killed blockbuster. Magazines & news media will pay far less for an inferior & immediate product… The irony is that Mr Miller has the means to purchase professional equipment for an occupation in which he chooses not to be a professional.

  • 9inchnail

     That would make a difference, yes. You can take better photos than him but magazines and other publications are going to use his cause they’re free. If they had to pay the same rates for them, other photographers would have a shot.

  • Jake

    “I don’t come and do Wall Street management as a hobby.”
    What’s stopping you?  Total lack of qualification, perhaps?  Maybe if this guy’s stealing money from hard working paparazzi by taking mediocre pictures of celebrities in his free time, it shows how valuable their job really isn’t.

  • Jake

    Maybe instead of whining that some dude is ruining the industry for real professionals, those professionals should take this as a warning sign to step up their game.  If you’re a professional photographer and you can’t get a better picture of a celeb than that mediocre candid junk at the top of this page, you’re not worth your paycheck.  If you want to make money in this new world of Instagram and Photoshop, you gotta up the ante and be CREATIVE!!

  • Eziztm

    Once again, I’m convinced that so many so called pro-photographers are bunch of no good “I have a camera hence I’m a pro give me your dollars” types. If these shitty images ruin your career then you should be doing something else like flipping burgers. I’m a pro software engineer and you don’t see us bitching about open-source, in fact I’d be more than happy to contribute to an open-source project. 

  • Rehuy

     No, there is no ‘art’ in there, but you missed the point. Hardly anybody wants to pay for photographs when you have lots around for free. Thanks to people like that.

  • Osmosisstudios

    Using vintage cameras doesn’t make your photos look interesting.  It makes you a douchey hipster.

  • PhillipP

    Don’t be jealous Adam, one day you too might be in Forbes and Playboy. Just try to step up your game.

  • Virgil

    The point lost on David Miller is that his images aren’t just being used by “small publishers, artists, authors and educators [who] can’t afford the time or money to hunt down and negotiate with unknown people for affordable images.” They are being used by “The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Forbes.”

    By all means, donate to those who can’t afford. But why give your work away for free to major media giants with photography budgets when you know that you are undercutting the professional photographers who depend on those photography budgets from those publications? 

    That’s really no different than a scab crossing a picket line.

  • Ute

    Photography is the publicity for his work on Wall Street and his work delivers the celebrities for the photography. So, the photography makes him more money on Wall Street. 

  • Jpg3839

    Next Tuesday night I’m going to Wall St to give out free advice. This guy is doing it with grab shots of celebs. I have some one here who started doing sports photography for free for one of my clients, so they dropped me. Am I better, yes, but in tough times they will settle for saving money on an inferior product. Will they be back to me, most likely yes as they will have a need for quality, but can I survive long if this trend continues. You can only wait it out so long. 

    In short this guy is nothing but a body part used primarily for passing feces. He will get his someday when he is investigated for unsavory Wall St. practices.

  • Jackson Cheese

    Sorry guys, but professional photography as a legitimate career choice is going extinct.  

    It happens.  

    Maybe you all can become travel agents or something.

  • TGSF

    To all those who don’t understand how this is bad for the profession of photography, how about a small illustration:
    you are a middle cog in a big publishing concern, and you have a last-minute article that needs to go out this week; among so many other things, you are tasked to get an image for the article, and you’re faced with this option: hunt down and negotiate a reasonable market rate for a really good image, or grab a decent, “good-enough” image for free from somewhere, without having to notify or license anyone/anything. Duh – you grab the marginally decent free image, and get on with your other catastrophes of the week.

    I don’t need the income from my images either, but I travel & shoot with many professionals who DEPEND on that income; while they’re nice enough not to tell me what to do with my life & work, I fully understand and appreciate the fact that no publisher or media coordinator in their right mind would pay them top-dollar, for their excellent shots of the same subject for which I or others might have middling-to-decent shots for free – it hurts everyone (the pro photogs, and the concomitant dropping of quality across all media channels). I have a couple pics on Wikipedia too, and it’s been awesome visibility for me, but they’re not great shots and I can’t, in good conscience, take bread & butter away from these working professionals.

    The point made above about professionals need to ‘step up their game’ is ludicrous and insulting BS – if some independently wealthy person set up shop next to you and provided your business model with comparable quality for free, for fun, how happy do you think you’d be? (Don’t lie.) When it comes to mass media, the painful fact is: quality doesn’t matter anymore. It really doesn’t. ANY image of something closely related to the subject is usable, and even better if that shit is free. Would you honestly pay for Kinko’s/CopyMat’s services, on a deadline, if there were a shop right next door offering the same thing for free? Really? What if you ran a diner, and a burger cart set up right in front, giving away food all day?

    As for the bigger, unspoken issue: that “Professional Photographer” might truly be a thing of the past, possibly never to return again, like “Typist”, or “Exchange Trader/Wire Operator”, etc., that’s a valid concern that we should be considering. With the democratization of photography through cheap digital, it is quite possible that society’s need for proficient technicians and artists of this medium is simply gone (since the machines now do all the work!); all that are left are the hobbyists who will shoot anything & everything, and mass media can pick from that pool whatever they need.

  • Rudling Meatslayer

    Lets be real it is all about ego.  The photographs are ordinary at best and just happen to be of celebrities.  The only reason they are well know is because they are free.  Though the photographer based on the article wants to make it seem cool that he is fabulous by doing it for free.  He is smart enough to know no one would ever buy them. I heard he pays someone to post the images on free sites for him. So by giving them away he gets to say how cool he is at a dinner party with his rich Wall St. buddies. He will never be able to say he is a good photographer however.  I am guessing he is a good lawyer on Wall St. but who cares there more common then photographers.

  • Michael Weaver

    First, I am a photographer. With that in mind, here are my thoughts.

    There is a huge difference between someone who from time to time captures an image that gets used (for pay or for free) vs. someone who is HIRED to get a usable image for a certain project or story.  Photographers get work because the user has a budget and knows that the photographer can deliver what they need to illustrate their project.

    I run into people all of the time that just want to see their name in print or want to be able to say that is their photo that was used.  As the image quality of consumer equipment increases, more non-pros capture images that can be used.

    The real problem is that as publishers flock to “free” sources for content, they lessen the value of their own publication.  Why on earth is anyone going to pay for material that is FREE?  Don’t need to pay for Vanity Fair, heck.. it’s all online for FREE.  So, is it only the photo/visual side that it’s ok to get “free” content?  What about the written part of the publication?  Writers are worth something? Illustrations to go with the writing not so much?

    It’s all about creating a revenue stream and it’s easy to eliminate one of the two things you need to create content.  You can eliminate paid writers or illustrators, but not both at the same time if you are creating a good piece that will generate ad revenue.  As most publications have pretty much always seen the visual as something to add something to a written story, the visual is secondary.  Most content people are from the writing side, not the visual side.  Publishers are pretty much from the revenue/sales side.  Easy to do something that obviously in the short term helps the bottom line.

    Great publications understand that BOTH writing and illustration are equally important. 

    So, go try and sell ad space for a print publication that relies only on content that was obtained for free.  See how much revenue you generate.

    This guy doesn’t generate revenue, he subsidizes people that can afford to pay for images by his need to rub shoulders with famous people.  Attorneys are notoriously bad business people.  If he called someone famous and said, hey.. I’m an attorney and would love to have dinner with you sometime.  How many takers?

    Give away all the work you want or only use free content, but remember that if you have no stream of revenue.. it’s game over.

  • TGSF

    Just like to add this little thought to my rant, above:

  • Aaro Keipi

     So go do Wall Street management as a hobby–I’m sure that would be fun to watch.

    Long story short: Just because you want to get paid for doing something you enjoy doesn’t mean other people should be prohibited from getting paid for doing what they enjoy.

  • Aaro Keipi

     No, making replies like this make you a douchey hipster. It seems you’re such a hipster you don’t even realize what a douche you are.

  • Aaro Keipi

    At the risk of making a lot of people angry, it seems most of you “professional photographers” could use a real basic business/economics class. If someone offers an equivalent service for less than what you are charging, you are no longer competitive. Stop being angry at these hobbyists and do something well enough that people will pay for.
    A “professional photographer”

  • Carl

    I wonder if all these “professional photographers” who are griping about free red carpet photographs will start to refuse to use Wikipedia, which put some of the print/professional reference materials out of business.  Dust off your Funk & Wagnall’s, I guess.

    It’s a new world, and we aren’t going to change it by being pissed at an amateur who likes to take photos and give them away for whatever reason.  How many of you are pissed off that blogs and news aggregators like the Huffington Post are destroying the Times business model by chewing up their content and spitting it back out?

  • Jake

    Good argument, but I’m going to have to disagree with you.  This Shankbone fella ain’t no Annie Liebowitz.  His portraits are simply mediocore.  Fine, they’re good probably just good enough for stock photos in People Magazine, but they will never be good enough to grace the cover of Rolling Stone.  There are plenty of areas of photography where you need real talent and those who know they have it don’t give it away freely to those who know they need it.

    As for your hamburger stand argument: yes, it’s true, many people will take a free burger over my restaurant next door, but let’s put this in real world terms. McDonalds is the largest burger chain in the world, and they sell tons of cheap, shitty hamburgers to the undiscerning public who want quantity over quality.  Have they put some other burger shops out of business?  Sure they have.  Have they ended the existence of quality burger chains and independent shops?  Hell no!  And they never will!

    There are enough professionals out there who value their work enough to master it as best they can and don’t do it for free, and they will never stop being in demand.

    I never buy photography artwork from artists because I’m confident that I can create something almost as good or even better and not spend $100 on it, and I’d be more proud to display my own work in my home.  Does that make me bad for the photography business?

  • Eziztm

     Why don’t you do that? Go to Wall st. and give advice :)

  • Lelebebbel

    Wrong. The magazines and other publications can *not* use his photos, because they are not free. They are just shared under the CC-license, which prohibits commercial use. Non-profits such as Wikipedia can use them. Wikipedia is free, and the people who write the articles don’t get paid for it either.

  • HoldenKeith57

    my roomate’s mother makes $62/hr on the computer. She has been without work for nine months but last month her pay was $19052 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • Lelebebbel

    Oops, gotta correct myself here as I misread the article. He’s giving images to major publications for free? Now that is a bit bizarre. Sure, doing work for open-source like Wikipedia for free is great, but “donating” images to tabloids? 

  • peter

    man, kudos to this guy.
    I’m a professional photographer and he doesn’t worry me one bit because I make my living by making the kinds of images that aren’t easily reproducible and bear a distinct style. 
    We’ve got a (mostly) literate country, masses of people who can write a sentence yet we still have professional writers.
    See, you just have to be better or different. I mean, cmon, look at this guy’s work. It’s competent, sure, but not much more than that. If he likes to hang out after work and take properly exposed mugshots of celebrities and give them away then more power to him! If you’re a professional and you feel threatened by it then you probably aren’t working hard enough (or smart enough) anyways. Anyone who wants to talk crap on this guy is just too worried about saving their own ass, spend your time making something more interesting instead. It’s not about money anyways – Mr. Shankbone has it right – it’s about the experience. Money is a by product of that if you’re lucky.   

  • Sabot Images

    I guess working on Wall street still pays well. Too bad those of us who are going full time into trying to earn a living off of photography now that our jobs were eliminated is based off of the economy’s collapse due to lack of diligence by the legal departments of Wall street companies with mortgage derivatives. Way to kick a man when he is down. But I can not fault him for taking the photos and the creative commons of those photos, in the end, we all want our egos to be bolstered by our photos being used.

  • Knur

    He took our jobs ! he tirrrkk errrr jerrrbbbsssss !

  • Perplexed

    Your work is worth only what the market determines it to be.So if you feel challenged by the works of a hobbyist,may be it is time to introspect on whether you are in the right profession.

    If this man is “taking food from photographers children’s mouths”, am I “taking food from cab drivers children’s mouths” when I offer people a free lift? ( FYI I don’t live in USA )