Wanna get paid $5 for iPhone photos? Foap makes it easy

A photo I submitted for sale.

I have 2,514 photos sitting on my iPhone(s AAPL). So when I heard there was a company that will help me license those images and get paid for them via my phone, I was instantly intrigued. Foap is a Swedish company started by travel industry veterans who were always disappointed in the availability of stock photo art. The iOS app they built together is simple and elegant and is part iStockphoto, part TaskRabbit.
Here’s how it works: Download Foap, which is available starting Wednesday in the App Store (Android(s GOOG) coming later) for free. After the quick and easy signup you start uploading photos from your phone you would like to sell, tagging them excessively (this helps to surface them for those looking to buy). Foap will first have to approve your photos. Those that make it through are put on the market, which is viewable through your own Foap profile page on the Web or via the app. All photos are priced at $10; Foap takes half, you get the other half.
Foap sells the photos via packages or individually. Within the app there’s a system that lets anyone purchase credits in advance, which can be traded for photos. The number of credits purchased will sometimes come with discounts.
So, who’s buying these photos? Any company looking for stock photo art, say co-founders Alexandra Bylund and David Los. Bylund worked for a travel agency that was constantly running up against a variety of problems finding interesting, usable photos. “It was kind of boring to see the same faces all thetime in the big stock image sites,” Bylund said in a phone call Tuesday. “And one problem was that if we found a good photo, a nice, face, the other travel agencies found the same one.”
The photos often didn’t strike the right tone — not localized enough for style or place — and she also found them boring: “It’s almost like they’re the same very well-styled photos, without a spontaneous feeling, without the natural look.”
That pushed the pair to start Foap. They have $250,000 in funding from angel investors and a grant from the Swedish government. Their most prominent investor is Roland Zeller, founder of Switzerland’s biggest travel site, Travel.ch.
Foap went into open beta last month. There are 12,000 unique users submitting photos so far. Twenty thousand photos have been accepted and rated 200,000 times, according to the company.

Two examples of “missions” requested by potential buyers.

On a mission

The interesting twist is that Foap is not just a market for stock photos — Foap also takes requests. Or, in the app’s parlance, it takes “missions.” If a business wants a very specific photo — say, a girl standing on a sidewalk in New York City wearing yellow polka dots — they can send out a mission with a description and deadline. This shows up in a tab at the bottom right of the app. Anyone can go out and attempt to shoot the photo the company is looking for and submit it for review. The company chooses the one they like best, and Foap will get its $5, as will the photographer.
The licensing system is basic: the photographer owns the photos, the person who buys it for $10 is licensing it. But the photo can be relicensed/sold as many times as possible — so if your photo is good, you can make way more than $5 on one.
Some pointers if you want to try this out:

  • Getting your photo approved isn’t automatic. Of the 50,000 images uploaded to the service so far, 20,000 have been approved, said Bylund.
  • Tag your images. That will help shoppers find them.
  • Don’t rely on Instagram. Customers are not looking for photos with faux-vintage filters and frames; they need to be “as raw as possible” so the buyer can touch them up. But they do want photos taken with a mobile device — the point is to provide “natural-feeling” images, Bylund said.
  • Get permission from your subject before trying to sell an image showing the person’s face. This is both polite and will save you legal hassle later.
  • Get a PayPal account. It’s how you’ll get paid.

Foap is an example of an app that almost wouldn’t have been possible two years ago: not until the cameras on the iPhone and a variety of Android phones were equal to basic point-and-shoot cameras. And since the arrival of 5- and 8-megapixel smartphone cameras, people are starting to rely heavily on mobile phones for photos.
As a result, amateur photographers’ abilities have increased dramatically since then, says Los. “You don’t need to be a professional photographer to snap great photos nowadays,” he said Tuesday. “People are getting better and better.” So, too, are their opportunities for sharing and monetizing those photos.