The challenge of finding a suitable photographer online can be daunting. Search results return pages of individual listings, who all have their own rates and packages which require investigation. Bearing in mind both the top half page of Google shows adverts and the photographers who then appear are the ones who have the best SEO, and are not necessarily the best in their field, the challenge can seem all the more complex. Thus the attraction of on demand photo services, where photography is neatly packaged is appealing. However are these services all they appear to be?

Offerings are broadly the same for on demand photo services such as Perfocal, Splento and Snappr; the services have agreements with multiple photographers who will undertake work at a set price. Additional services such as next day delivery and RAW files are then extra. The services list well known brands as clients (Splento lists Google, FB, Visa, Gucci etc) with the hook being unlimited images for the time booked with all images edited and sent to you. For someone looking to commissioning photography this sounds too good to be true; it is. As a photographer, no on demand photo service I have found stands up to scrutiny. 

When signing up for a service it is reasonable to know what you are signing up for and, as a creator, that includes copyright. However I have found three main hurdles when looking to join on demand photo services. One, as someone seeking work it is only logical I upload my best work to demonstrate my skills to gain new work. However some platforms insist I hand across a licence for use for any images I upload to my profile; this is incompatible with many of my best images which are exclusively licensed by the clients who commissioned them. As a client, how would you feel if you had commissioned and paid for photography only to see it being used to promote a third party for free? Secondly some platforms, such as the USA based Snappr, use a variation of a Work For Hire contract which states all copyright will belong to them. While they recognise they are not the contracting agent, they claim all rights to work taken with the client getting rights to selected their works. As a creator I can not condone the signing over of my copyright, and especially for free. Lastly some platforms such as Splento and Bark do not offer or show their T&Cs to photographers prior to sign up, which I believe is akin to writing a blank check. Why or how can I sign up to a platform if I don’t know what I am signing on for?

My next stumbling block is the offering the platforms promote. While I have no issue with they rates as my own rates are comparable with those from on demand photo services, I find the other detail of the offerings suspect. As a portraitist I know not every shot I take will be of quality; indeed during a two hour session I aim to take just five worthwhile portraits. As such where is the utility in handing over every image; why hand over images I am not proud of which I foresee the client has no use for? This offer is compounded by the subsequent wording of ‘edited’. It is worth noting I spend upwards of 30 minutes editing every image before releasing it. Editing every image from an ‘unlimited’ session would take me days, literally. Take, for example, a one hour, or 60 minute session; allowing for initial pleasantries and confirmation of the aim, assume the photography lasts 40 minutes. If an image is taken every 20 seconds the result equates to 120 images, which at 30 minutes editing is 60 hours, which makes the promised 48hours turnaround impossible.

On demand photography services are thus at the opposite end of the spectrum as to how I work. Can I change and adapt my modus operandi? Yes I can, however do I want to? I have come to my method after a decade of experience as I strive to offer quality at every point during a portrait session to achieve the best possible final product. This includes starting my sessions with 20- 30 minutes of conversation in order to understand my subjects, what they are trying to achieve and how the portraits will be used. This time is vital to building a relationship and getting on the same wavelength; there is no way to short cut this process and it is no secret the best images are taken by those with whom a relationship exists because the subjects are comfortable with the photographer; it is difficult to be emotionally honest in front of a camera without rapport. Working to the formula that on demand photo services offer takes away all the quality I try to achieve.

When it comes to well recognised clients, it is worth asking how and where photography was used. Snappr claims 53% of Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Disney and Amazon use their services but in what capacity; what was taken, where was the photography seen or used and by who? Do you think you are going to book the photographer that photographed the latest ad campaigns, product image or CEO portraits, for these companies? 

Undoubtedly on demand photo services look attractive as they claim to do the heavy lifting in regards to finding a photographer and offering standards rates and easy to follow packages. Will you find a photographer to fulfil your needs to a high or reasonable standard? You may do. Perfocal’s Trustpilot reviews which average 4.9* out of 5* over 374 reviews certainly would like you to believe you will. However be careful. As a photographer it is hard not to view on demand photo services as the fast food of the photography world; adequate for a quick fix but bound to leave you hungry shortly thereafter.