Why the Change?

TLDR: Having people use my HDRIs is far more important to me than money.

I’ve tried writing this post a number of times in various ways, but I don’t think it’s possible to explain what HDRI Haven is now and why it’s changed without first telling you how it began.

At the beginning of last year I launched HDRI Haven as an online store for people to buy the best HDRIs I could make at the cheapest rates I could offer. But that wasn’t actually my initial plan to be honest, and while it was working pretty well, it always felt like I had taken the easy route.

My dream from the very beginning when I started shooting HDRIs was to release everything for free, in the same open-source spirit as the Blender community, giving everyone equal access to the same tools and assets to achieve both creative freedom and freedom from financial constraints.

Unfortunately, creating and publishing HDRIs costs quite a bit of money. Ignoring the once-off costs of camera and computer equipment, the biggest expenses are travel and bandwidth. Flights from South Africa to basically anywhere else in the world are notoriously expensive, and the few 2k HDRIs I’d published before launching HDRI Haven had been downloaded over 6000 times in just a few months – if I were to publish the 16k versions of those as well, it would mean several terabytes of bandwidth every month.

I decided it just wasn’t practical to make everything free. I couldn’t afford it. But I didn’t want to put everything behind a paywall either.

Render by Zacharias Reinhardt using my Rocky Ridge HDRI

My first idea was to use some kind of PWYW (pay-what-you-want) system like Gumroad, where people could download the HDRIs for free, but have the option to donate a small amount for each one. While this sounded like a reasonable idea, I was unsure whether anyone would bother to support me and I knew it would mostly just annoy people to have to manually choose $0 and type in their email address (as most PWYW platforms require) in order to download it for free.

Having decided that wouldn’t work, I looked at how other sites like Textures.com do it: a paid monthly subscription for access to high-res textures, but with low-res textures available in a free account. For a long while, this was my plan, but eventually I thought of a number of reasons to avoid it: people don’t like subscriptions; I knew nothing about building websites and handling recurring payments; hiring a developer would cost a lot up-front.

Finally, I settled on the system that was the simplest to set up and the cheapest to keep going: selling each HDRI individually for a small price, allowing free downloads of the lowest resolution, and learning some basic PHP to build the site myself using Gumroad as the back-end.

Like I said, this worked pretty well. It earned me enough to live off, and also allowed me to travel to Cape Town and Germany last year specifically to shoot more HDRIs.

That was a lot of fun and rather exciting, but it often felt like I was doing it for myself, for the money, while only the relatively few people who bought the full resolution HDRIs actually got to use my work. The free 1k res was too small, but I thought making any higher resolution free would discourage sales of the full resolution. This was a selfish thought, and I realized that I was slowly becoming the soulless businessman I’ve always hated.

Was this just how life is? Was this what growing up and running a business meant?

Probably. But I don’t care, it’s no fun.

Render by Rachel using my Ostrich Road HDRI

I decided things needed to change. Somehow. The ideal solution was to just release everything for free outright, but then we’re back to square one: not being able to afford the bandwidth costs, and being forced to go back to some normal desk job.

The possibility of using Patreon to accept and encourage regular donations was in my mind from the very beginning, but just like the PWYW idea, I was skeptical if anyone would be kind enough to help out. I still am.

So I wondered about it for several months, alternating between “screw it, money’s not important, happiness and free content is!”, and “this is a stupid naive idea, it’ll never work, you’ll be throwing away everything you’ve worked for!”.

That’s about when I started releasing a free 16k HDRI every Friday (along with paid HDRIs on Tuesdays). I’m not really sure why I did it, I was just sort of curious to see how people would react.

Turns out, people really like free stuff. In fact people like free stuff so much, they start buying the paid stuff too. My monthly earnings almost doubled overnight, all because I was also releasing stuff for free?

This was the final nail in the coffin. I knew it must be possible, even if it’s 100 times harder and slower, to make a living from free content.

Or at least enough to appease the bandwidth gods.

Render by Ján Morek using my Dry Field HDRI

So I made the decision: everything must be free, for everyone, with no restrictions of any kind. Not even the minor attribution or share-alike restrictions of most creative commons licenses.

No, this must be 100% free, public domain.

For monies, I would set up a Patreon page and think of a few different ways to encourage people to support me on a monthly basis, without turning it into a paywall or nagging charity. Some ideas were to offer early access, sponsorship and access to a private voting system to help determine what I shoot and where, and ultimately how the money is spent.

Some goals on Patreon would serve as a way to keep my costs low initially and slowly improve the site as I begin to be able to afford it. For example, right now you can only download up to 8k resolution for each HDRI. Once the first goal of $100 is met, 16k downloads will be enabled as I’ll be able to afford the higher bandwidth costs.

But it’s not just a boring matter of keeping the site afloat, there are more exciting goals too like releasing HDRIs more frequently, shooting backplates with every HDRI, and even shooting HDRIs from a drone. You can see on the Patreon page that each goal has it’s own funding target and explains what the extra money is needed for.

Render by @nomiziro using my Gray Pier HDRI

Ultimiately, HDRI Haven is no longer just my adventure. It’s entirely up to the community, up to you, to determine what happens with it.

If you like the HDRIs that I make and want to help me keep making them, consider supporting me on Patreon even if it’s just $1 a month.

If you want to do more, you can also help by spreading the word. If you use one of my HDRIs in your work and publish it online, you can mention where you got it (even though this is not required) which might bring new people to the site.

Well that’s it for now! I have no idea if any of this is going to work, but thanks for reading anyway 🙂

Back to HDRI Haven
Read more about supporting me on Patreon

76 thoughts on “Why the Change?”

  1. Great thought !
    And your products are definitely some of the best HDRIs I’ve ever used !

  2. Thanks a lot!! I will defo give you credit if I use your images! All my work is just a hobby though. 🙂

  3. unbelievable! big respect for your work, your courage, and your goals! more and more people will understand soon, what you wrote in this text, and the world will become better…

  4. Wow, this is really something. I’m new to the industry, and this is something i can really use well. I’ll follow you around if you don’t mind! Cheers and keep up the good work!

  5. This is exciting. I’m happy that around the Internet a lot of artists and other content producers can cover their costs with patreon-like support models while making content free to everyone.

    1. I love the internet for this 🙂 It really is the great equalizer. I am hoping not to just cover the website costs, but earn a living too 🙂

  6. I got 2 mails just a hour ago, both state something different which makes it a bit confusing. So if i understand well, as long as the patroen doesnt meet the goals. They will not be free, correct?

    1. NO.
      Just forget about the mails and read the anouncement here on the site:
      All content published here on this site will be CC0, which is completely free.
      But: 16k-versions of the hdri are not yet published here. They will, as the first goal is met.
      Other Content is also in the pipipeline and WILL get published IF the goals are met, and WHEN they get published, then they wil be completely free.

      1. Exactly 🙂 there are no HDRIs for sale, Patreon supporters are helping bring more HDRIs to the site, even though they themselves don’t have access to them yet.

  7. This Text is so inspiring.
    Thanks for your Courage and your enthusiasm for your Work.
    I think people wil reward your Courage and i wish your Patreon will go through the roof – you really deserve it!

    (just as I’m writing, youv’e passed your first goal, 100$ per Month. Congratulations!)

  8. I think your move is wise. Already you are widely regarded in the Blender community and I think people will appreciate what you have done and support you. The Blender community is growing and it is a wonderful world of sharing. You and Jacques Lucke (creator of Animation Nodes ) are first on my list when the moolah rolls my way.

  9. This was Inspiring, Courageous and Honest. stretching all the way towards Good Ethics, You are surely inspiring
    doing what is RIGHT not what is EASY. Thank you so much a big RESPECT !!

  10. Hey Greg thanks for speaking your mind out and sharing it with us! I love the results with your HDRIs and wish you the best in life for your noble endeavours!

  11. That’s a wonderful post you made, Greg! I really appreciate that you’ve decided to make the HDRi’s free, but one day I’ll be able to afford to help you out. I really want you to continue. Your images have been a blessing and great help to me!

  12. Hey Greg! I dont read a lot of blogs but this one got my attention. I feel like you gave your business plan away, in a sense. But even so is that a bad thing? Probably not, more like inspiration for others to look at a business model. But alas! Youve made some of the best HDRI’s yet! So keep it going mate! Always looking forward to what you create next. Cheers!

  13. Unfortunately, I don’t use HDRI that much, but would suggest trying some other avenues. Possibly put something up on youtube showing the HDRI building process (I know it’s pretty painful, so chances of someone actually competing would be low), and I think it could be fascinating.

    Also, put some pricing in for custom HDRI’s that people might want you to make. Granted you might not get a ton of business, but it would be at least soulful business?

    Good luck

  14. My first thought is rather ironic. Now that they’re free, I feel rather inclined to setup a small monthly “subscription” to you on Pateron. I think part of it may be because when it’s paid content, I look at it from a business standpoint, and wonder if it’s the best value. But when it’s free, I feel like I’m helping out a fellow OSource community member. I’m excited to the new transition, I hope it goes well!

  15. Hi i didn’t really know about your hdri’s before blendernation post, but really good thoughts on the business plan and the reality of the free/public domain contents ! This is definitely a crossroad where you don’t want to lose what made you do this at first, and your decision, even if this could be a hard way, seems to be a good one (from my point of view) ! i’ll take a good look at your site and you can count me in for patreon !
    Good to read this kind of text 🙂

  16. Wow! This is such a big surprise. Thank you for your kindness.
    This will, indeed,encourage people to create artworks for themselves and for the world.

  17. Hmm… It is actually easier for me to make my company spend money when there is a price. If I tell my boss “I need some HDRIs for our presentation work, they cost 300€”, he will be like, “ok whatever buy them”.

    If I tell him, “I’va downloaded some free HDRIs can we donate to support?”, the answer will be “what are you talking about? get back to work!”

    1. Hi Martin, so your boss isn´t the brightest candle on the cake 🙂 He will also say that Blender can´t be a good 3D Software cause it´s free. Man, wake him up, we live in 2017

  18. Great news for the community! And I hope for your living too.

    Have you think of having a pack with all the hdri released with torrent? Maybe, it can save some bandwidth from your server and help people to download all the work at once. And as torrent are fixed you could bundle a new one each year.

    1. Torrents sound nice in theory, but getting them started will probably cost me a lot more than server bandwidth. Not sure. In any case, these are all CC0, anyone is free to start a torrent of their own.

  19. I’ve bought a few and downloaded a few free ones as well. Actually, I think your old model was fine, at least from my perspective. I’m not opposed to contributing when and if I use your work. The thing is, I don’t do Patreon because of their politics. It’s a sad thing when a platform like that which gets money into the hands of creators gets political at all. Alas, Jack Conte has done just that, so I’m forced to withdraw any support given through Patreon.

    Still, I wish you the best of luck in your new model. You do nice work!

    1. It was fine, I guess. Just not what I wanted.

      I don’t follow the politics. I have noticed some folks seem to use patreon as some kind of subscription platform (customers paying for access to content) instead of (I think) the original purpose of supporting artists.

      Regardless of how others use it, for me it’s a nice community platform with goals and rewards, keeping creators honest and allowing patrons to be involved in the work. Their fees (including transaction costs) seem to be around 19%, which is about average from what I’ve found.

  20. This is fantastic, great work and great idea. Even though I’ve only used your work in hobby and school projects, I will become a patron as soon as I start my new job (and get an actual income).

  21. All I can say is thank you!, this isn’t always an easy decision and the blender community and the 3D community by extension will definatly love you for it. 🙂

  22. Most inspiring, kind and generous gesture made to the world of CG. A big thank you, Greg, for everything you do. Will definitely become a patreon in the coming days. And also give credits to you in all works done on my side, always, even if none of your HDRI is used for a particular project. Your name is now in my forever grateful people book. Please continue what you are doing, and know that you will have a place in my heart. Wishing you all the success in the world! Kindest regards, ps.

  23. Well, this is very nice from the point of view of the user, of course. But I also think that every good work should be rewarded. If you have other sources of income, that’s good, after all everything costs money. Here you will always be remembered as the guy who gave away nice stuff for the good of the community. But do not expect recognition from everyone.

    Thank you and good luck.

  24. Hi Greeg, thank you very much for this article about your motivations to make hdrihaven.com free. Your article feels very heart-honest to me. All the best and thanks again!

  25. Wow! Such a great move! Respect to you and wish you to rise even more money for what you doing by a new financial way.

  26. This has got to be one of the most prime examples of altruism I have seen in a very long time. This was an incredible read and I give you the most emphatic of salutes. The universe-forming kind. Good on you, man.

  27. Thank you very much!
    I have a question do shoot the hdris with a Sony Alpha camera now ?
    I saw that you were using a canon before.
    I am wondering because the Sony has poor bracketing Funktions. Or so you have any soulution for the bracketing on sony cameras?
    Best regards Justus

  28. Thank you very much!
    I have a question do shoot the hdris with a Sony Alpha camera now ?
    I saw that you were using a canon before.
    I am wondering because the Sony has poor bracketing functions. Or do you have any soulution for the poor bracketing functions on sony cameras?
    Best regards Julius

  29. I love your work, Greg. I can’t make any money either, but guys like you are the ones I support when I can.

  30. Hey man. As a fellow South African I really appreciate the hustle. Having access to your material will hopefully mean great things for my business. And I’ll definitely support you on Patreon as much as I can.

  31. This is amazing, I hope it goes well, and in the meantime, have fun! Im new on your page but if it works out for me, I promise to become Patreon.

  32. Thank you very much for your kind contribution! This is very important to make students like me who barely afford the HDRI easier to finish our portfolios!!
    I will always support you by giving your name after my pieces of works!

  33. You are a good man, I totally embrace your vision of the “free to the world” Vs “business necessities”.
    I often ask myself the same questions, you explained it perfectly.
    Your choice is brave, your HDRi are excellent and I use them frequently.
    I will always mention HDRi Haven from now, thank you for sharing all this with us !

  34. Hey those HDRIs are super good quality. Good move to make it accessible to everyone. Wouldnt it be possible to share this stuff via Filesharing hosters. I think here you would be able to earn money from the traffic. A lot of peolple already pay those Hoster Accounts so why not taking a bit of that money. I think paying an own domain is a bit over, cause by giving away the links for free people will download everything just because it is accessible. We saw that same stuff happening to CGTextures. At least try to make it harder to get the links from your ftp. This will cost you a lot when everyone is doing a backup of 70GB 😛

    1. Thanks! Filesharing hosters always have a catch, they’re a business after all. So far a VPS+CDN is working wonderfully and gives me full control over everything.

      So far I haven’t noticed anyone abusing the server by batch downloading everything at once, though if it is has happened then it hasn’t affected performance noticeably, so I don’t mind.

  35. Even knowing I just win enough to live as today goes… I will make, as you did, the effort and support you and this website with every extra I can make!

  36. I would support you on paetreon for being so awesome but thats why i’m specifically looking for free HDRIs.. cause I *can’t* afford them.

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