From transportation and lodging to food delivery and even umbrella rentals, the sharing economy is disrupting how traditional industries operate. Led by startups that are built around technology, like mobile apps, the goal of such companies is to take an existing service and make it more available and more convenient.
The photographic industry is not immune to this. Apps promising to be the “Uber of photography” – a nod to the ride-hailing company that’s considered the pioneer of the sharing economy – have sprung up around the globe. And these services are looking to reinvent the photographer-client relationship.
We took a closer look at this phenomenon by talking to four such companies: PhotoSesh in the United States, Pinpic in Canada, Perfocal in the United Kingdom, and Snappr in Australia. All of these companies have much in common, including a vetting process to onboard only qualified photographers, but each is taking a unique approach in its attempt to change how clients and photographers connect. Some see this as an inevitable future for working photographers, while some see it as a new market working alongside the existing one. But there are also others who aren’t convinced.
Among these names, Australia’s Snappr is perhaps the most recognizable to photographers otherwise unfamiliar with the nascent on-demand photography business model. It drew the ire of the professional photo industry in 2016 when news broke of its standardized pricing model that some working photographers felt would grossly undercut their businesses. Resource Magazine introduced it as the “Uber-like startup devaluing your photography.”
Snappr’s rates are based on the length of the shoot and number of photos included. A seven-hour session that includes 40 photos is just 450 Australian dollars (about $336), of which the photographer keeps just 80 percent. What’s more, clients are granted a full copyright over all images received, allowing them to use the photos for commercial purposes, according to Snappr’s FAQ. For a business in need of advertising images, that’s a steal, but it’s easy to see why a working commercial photographer would feel like she’d been robbed.
However, as a subsequent interview revealed, Snappr didn’t really intend on competing with the traditional professional market, but nor was it expressly a platform for inexperienced shooters to cut their teeth. Like the other companies we are profiling, Snappr sees itself as creating a new market, one the established industry doesn’t reach. It wants people to consider using a professional photographer more often for a greater number of occasions. “Around half of our customers tell us that they wouldn’t have paid a photographer if they didn’t discover Snappr,” co-founder Matt Schiller told Digital Trends.
This, of course, is a challenge – low pricing brings in more clients, but also can deter experienced photographers from signing up. So Snappr offers to handle marketing, payment processing, and insurance, which it hopes adds value to photographers. It’s a tradeoff that may not be worth it to everyone, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of photographers from applying to the service.
Snappr’s biggest goal is removing the pain points from the booking process. “So many potential photography jobs just don’t happen because of the difficulty faced when trying to find and book a photographer, especially at short notice,” Schiller said. “The most common of these are shorter-length shoots for small personal and business events – the kinds of shoots that would have previously been shot for free, or not shot at all.”
This is a sentiment echoed by U.S.-based PhotoSesh. “Our initial goal was to help hosts find talented photographers for their casual events,” said CEO Chris Seshadri. “Think birthday parties, engagements, showers, anniversaries, etc.”
Seshadri’s idea for PhotoSesh was born of his own frustration as a photography customer. Before founding the company, he worked extensively with charities that often needed photographers to cover events but had limited budgets and limited time. The traditional method of hiring a photographer is difficult for such organizations, as photographers’ websites aren’t standardized and pricing and schedules are often not public.
Snappr sees itself as creating a new market, one the photo industry doesn’t reach.
Seshadri realized there needed to be a system that could match this customer need with a professional photographer that offered value for both sides.
“We also learned that even the most in-demand photographers still had gaps in their schedules and they wouldn’t mind filling them with these smaller, simpler gigs if it was convenient to them,” he told Digital Trends. As for clients, “usually people that don’t have the time to sit and research different websites and poke around with too many steps will benefit the most. Think event planners, realtors, and anyone that has massive workflow.” A PhotoSesh photographer even covered the Bachelor reunion in December 2016.
The service allows for some pricing flexibility, with photographers able to set their rate between $30 and $75 per hour (PhotoSesh also takes a 20-percent commission). While this is on the lower end for many established professionals, PhotoSesh isn’t trying to take over a working photographer’s primary business. Instead, it could help photographers fill gaps in their schedules with jobs that may pay less, but are also less involved and come with worry-free payment processing.