Turn your Instagrams into a business: Snapwire, a new mobile stock photo website, opens to public

For a generation obsessed with selfies and taking pictures of any meal set before us, mobile photography has become second nature. We reach for the closest camera — normally our phones — and take photos of everything from sunsets to coffees, posting them to Instagram to see how many likes we can get. Snapwire, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based startup emerging from beta mode, wants to connect the new photography generation with clients who need their talents and are willing to pay for it.
“This new generation of photographers did start out on mobile and they are the ones who have the most passion for their photography. They’re the ones who are assembling in San Francisco to do Instameets and to really get that validation on the photographs,” said Chad Newell, founder and CEO. “So we built Snapwire to give them the opportunity to sell their work, the ultimate validation really.”

Snapwire's homepage invites users to search for an image from their growing library or to create their own request. Photo courtesy of Snapwire

Snapwire’s homepage invites users to search for an image from their growing library or to create their own request. Photo courtesy of Snapwire

The site has already attracted more than 8,000 users and 50,000 image uploads — not to mention the eye of some bigger advertising clients like Denny’s who are looking for images — and they’re now working to secure another round of funding. Snapwire is different from normal stock photography websites in that it specializes more in creative collaboration and crowdsourcing — think 99 Designs more than Shutterstock.
Anyone looking for an image — whether it’s Denny’s wanting a late-night diner shot or a mobile app looking for a brand image of strangers falling in love — can post a creative request and assign a price based on their budget. Photographers can then upload photos to match or ask questions to the requester, similar in style to TaskRabbit.
Screenshots of the mobile app show a list of requests, a sample request for a photo and a photgrapher's profile. Photos courtesy of Snapwire

Screenshots of the mobile app show a list of requests, a sample request for a photo and a photgrapher’s profile. Photos courtesy of Snapwire

The buyer goes through and nominates finalists, which in turn rewards the photographer with points, before purchasing their final photograph under a royalty-free license. Snapwire then collects 30 percent of the earnings with 70 percent going to the photographers themselves, who also get to keep the copyright. Snapwire also has the option of selecting some of the images to add to its standalone stock photography library that anyone can search and buy from (although the pricing and payouts are different).
The advantage of the request system is how well it works in mobile. A photographer can open the app and see that someone needs an artsy photo of coffee and take a quick photo next time they stop for a cup of joe. But to avoid flooding the marketplace with every image of a coffee cup ever taken, photographers first have to submit a portfolio of four photos to be approved by the Snapwire staff. Once approved as a photographer in the app, users can earn points when their images are purchased and move up in the site’s photographer rankings, essentially gamifying it too, Newell said.
And the site isn’t strictly mobile either. About 30 percent of the images still come from DSLRs and can be uploaded through the main site or through Dropbox integration in the app, Newell said. Someone with a DSLR can check the app on their phone, see an assignment for the Golden Gate Bridge and grab their camera to shoot it.
“The lines are blurring right now on mobile versus traditional,” Newell said. “So many of our devices can be used because it’s the most convenient camera that we have with us.”
Snapwire’s not the first to head into the mobile realm of stock photography though — and it’s a tough market to break into. Other companies like Twenty20 also allow photographers to shoot more authentic photos and upload from their phones. Foap also specializes in the the camera phone to company, including a Foap Missions feature similar to Snapwire’s request function to help brands direct the photos they want.
Most recently, Getty Images quietly released Moment, a similar app to Snapwire that lets mobile users directly upload to Getty and respond to requests. That means a very big dog just entered a very crowded fight for mobile photography talent.