Disgruntled Snappr photographers say the on-demand photography start-up is marred by low pay, poor communication, unrealistic client expectations, and an intimidating rating system.
There’s also the issue of client ownership. Some photographers share business details directly with clients to receive ongoing work outside the app. This breaks Snappr’s strict ‘Non-Circumvent’ policy, which charges photographers US$5000 if they’re caught sharing contact details with customers.
However, there are some upsides. When landing the right client Snappr provides quick, easy, and painless cash.
Snappr is the ‘Uber’ of pro photography
Snappr is an Uber-style, on demand service platform that matches vetted photographers with clients, offering shoots from $75. It was founded in Sydney in 2016 by two young entrepreneurs, Matt Schiller and Ed Kearney, neither of whom had any background in professional photography.
Snappr handles the booking, billing, marketing, and offers public liability insurance. It takes a 20 or 35 percent commission fee, depending on the shoot.
Like Uber drivers, Snappr tells photographers they are not employees and therefore it won’t handle taxation. Photographers are considered independent contractors, meaning they must have an ABN and, also like Uber, the start-up isn’t accountable for below-minimum-wage remuneration.
In 2017 Snappr scored major investment support from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist firm, and relocated to San Francisco. The company also acquired competitor Photographers.com.au last year.
While continuing a marketing campaign involving Google and YouTube ads, along with Facebook and Instagram sponsored posts, earlier this year Snappr unleashed a PR campaign announcing its spread across American cities.
The company is now well-and-truly established in Australian and American cities. But has it actually ‘disrupted’ anything?
Snappr insists its goal is to open photography up to a new market: those who couldn’t otherwise afford it and wouldn’t pay for an established professional. Tinder and dating app profile portraits, or a last minute photographer to attend a birthday party, for instance.
The low cost has certainly brought ‘professional’ photography to a new market. It’s also obvious some Snappr clients would have approached an established professional photographer, but are won over by the unbeatable price, promoted by a seemingly bottomless marketing budget.
Big names, low prices
A Melbourne-based commercial photographer who uses Snappr and requested anonymity, said it’s shocking how many high profile businesses use the service. He has seen major ad agencies booking work through Snappr, as well as big companies like Specssavers, real estate agents, and high-volume fashion, food, and product retailers.
‘I hate them passionately and use it to connect with new clients, but also understand what they do and where the market is going,’ the photographer told Inside Imaging. ‘Trust me, there are changes happening and there are plenty of big companies now using them as way to circumnavigate the way traditional photographers work.’
The photographer lands one or two jobs a month, with preferences set to specialise in commercial-based work.
The photographer said some photographers are pressured to work overtime to please clients. This is partly attributable to an Uber-style star rating and review system; along with a large portion of the Snappr fleet being aspiring or inexperienced amateur photographers, who take extra time to perform a job or are easily exploited by a client.
There is no problem with pleasing a client, but the Melbourne photographer said racking up extra hours often leads to pay way below minimum wage.
The rock bottom pricing also tends to attract the occasional unsavoury or rude client, with unrealistic expectations or a perception that photography is a giant rip off. For example, some Snappr customers may underestimate how long a shoot will run, and time runs out before the shoot is finished. The photographer must then ask the customer to send an e-mail request to Snappr and see proof the e-mail is sent before staying overtime.
Both photographers speaking with Inside Imaging said disputes and unhappy customers arise more often when booking through an on-demand app like Snappr, compared with traditional leads.
On the job
Snappr recommends photographers capture one ‘suitable’ photo per minute. Every suitable photo must be post-processed with ‘standard Lightroom edits’ (white balance, tone, presence, etc), and uploaded within 48 hours.
Snappr photographers upload a portfolio and bio, specialties, and a calendar.
Communication is mainly handled via e-mail or with an at-times irritating overseas call centre. It’s difficult to receive a clear answer for a query that falls outside the scripted set of responses, Inside Imaging was told.
The Melbourne photographer explaind that Snappr is best for simple and undemanding jobs that don’t require serious planning, attention to detail, or extravagant post-processing. The better jobs are high-volume product photography, odd jobs like photographing a billboard or poster for an ad agency’s report, or corporate head shots.
Brisbane photographer, Roger Arnaud, who used Snappr for six months in 2016, agrees.
‘It works sometimes. Maybe a few quick publicity photos. I did a shoot for Flight Centre, and it was done in half an hour. That works,’ he said. ‘But a major fashion shoot that lasts all day? Where they might want specific backdrops and all that? A photographer might just turn up with a camera and a speedlight and have no idea what they’re expected to bring.’
Roger and the Melbourne photographer’s experience are similar, although Roger’s main gripe was communication, which appears to have improved. He claims Snappr attempted to handle all communication between the client and photographer, with everything done via e-mail. Customers were often frustrated by this, and photographers are left unprepared.
Snappr now allows photographers to call the customer to ‘go over expectations and confirm details’.
Both photographers highlighted obvious drawbacks, such as factoring in additional expenses like travel time and parking.
Off-platform activity comes at a cost
‘I got my first job with them for a lady selling sandals at a market and online, and wanted photos of the products,’ he explained. ‘I took the photos and established a good client relationship. She was annoyed at Snappr, because she had to pay the fee upfront, wanted more photos but had to pay $15 per image. She asked me “well, what can I do?”. I said “I can’t do anything”. Later she called me directly, after searching for me online and asked me to do another shoot for her’.
The same deal played out with an indigenous fashion company.
‘They hired me through Snappr, but for a major on-location fashion shoot. I realised I had to go down and see them before the shoot. Snappr didn’t pay me for that, but you just can’t turn up at a shoot, and have no idea what they want or their expectations. It would be a disaster. In the end they decided to hire me directly. I know I broke the rules but I have no problem with that. They (the fashion company) asked me to do it.’
The Melbourne photographer also mentioned sharing contact details with a client that led to well-paid off-platform videography work.
The two photographers broke Snappr’s non-circumvent policy. Snappr said it ‘takes instances of off-platform activity very seriously‘, and has an aggressive policy to charge US$5000 to anyone caught.
‘If we are made aware of an instance where you asked our customers to circumvent us and book you directly, we will dismiss you from the platform immediately,’ Snappr said in its Australian Photography Information Pack (PDF below). ‘This includes handing out personal business cards, sharing your personal email and accepting payment through other means. You will also be responsible for the $5000 fee, as specified in our terms.’
Here’s the term:
‘As Photographer, you acknowledge and agree that a substantial portion of the compensation Snappr receives for making the Site available to you is collected through the Snappr Fee described in Payment Terms. Snappr only receives this Fee when a Subject and a Photographer pay and receive payment through the Site. Therefore, for 12 months from the time you identify or are identified by any party through the Site (the “Non-Circumvention Period”), you must use the Site as your exclusive method to request, make, and receive all payments for work directly or indirectly with that party or arising out of your relationship with that party. You may opt-out of this obligation with respect to each Subject-Photographer relationship only if Subject or prospective Subject or Photographer pays Snappr for each such relationship by paying an “Opt-Out Fee” of $5,000 USD.
It’s understandable that Snappr doesn’t want affiliate photographers doing a workaround and cutting out the middleman, but this seems harsh. (This humble trade journalist isn’t well-versed in Restraint of Trade clauses, but if anyone out there is, feel free to weigh in if this fee is even enforceable in Australia, or merely a threat?)
Roger left Snappr after a headshot shoot of 200 Woolworths staff. He said everything seemingly went well, with the client responding positively and promising to book him again, but then complained to Snappr. This led to a dispute with a ‘rude and obnoxious’ Snappr staff member, and Roger vowed to do no more jobs.
This article outlines just two photographers anecdotal experiences, one of which is admittedly outdated. There are many more photographers who use the platform with varying degrees of satisfaction.
So far Snappr has mostly been well-received by its customers, and Inside Imaging hasn’t been able to find any reports or testimonies from other photographers who use the service.
Roger mentioned that his friend occasionally does Snappr real estate shoots, and enjoys the easy work.
Want to know more? Here is Snappr’s Australian Photographer Information Pack (4MB)!
Inside Imaging contacted Matt Schiller for the article, but he did not respond.