As an agency creative who very often sources photography for jobs, let me offer some thoughts…
The proliferation of free imagery has lead to zero dollars taken away from photographers. Nearly every job I work on getting imagery for has needs way too specific to make Unsplash useful for. For one thing, I usually need products in my images. But even more, I have very specific demographic specs for talent.
Finding a portfolio like Samuel’s may help me comp up something beautiful for a presentation, but it would still be a comp (and we’ve been using Flickr and Google for this already for years). And if I sold it through, I’d certainly use him for the actual shoot. In fact, I’ve had friends in the industry use my own images for comps, with the same agreement. This is how relationships in this industry get formed.
The examples of commercial entities who have used these images for free weren’t going to pay for anything anyway. CD covers? If they didn’t find an image on Unsplash, they were going to have a friend shoot it. Or do it themselves.
The world is changing, the beautiful single image of pretty much any static thing in the world is becoming a commodity — thank you social media and the democratization of photo equipment — and a lot of folks are freaking out unnecessarily- or in order to keep their current jobs relevant. The photographer is an INCREASINGLY valuable asset in advertising, not diminishing. Unsplash is only the latest tool for self-promotion and in a world where everyone and their 5-year old is a photographer, you gotta give a guy like this credit for figuring out how to stand out.