5 Photo Crowdsourcing Platforms for Brands Wanting More Authentic Stock Imagery

New York Times cover shot

The Wednesday, Jan. 28, cover of the New York Times showcased nine crowdsourced images of the winter storm.

On January 28, the New York Times featured a story about the blizzard that had been raging across the northeastern half of the U.S. The blizzard itself wasn’t necessarily anything new in January for that part of the country, however, the nine images that dominated the front page along with the story were…

Two days earlier, the Times had asked their readership to share their Instagram photos of the storm with the paper by using the hashtag #NYTsnow, and the nine images were later selected this way. At the time, this was the first instance where crowdsourced photos were used on the front page of the paper.

Stories like these are becoming more common as media, marketers and advertisers alike realize the importance and usefulness of crowdsourcing and user-generated content (UGC).

According to Tanya Dua of Digiday, UGC and crowdsourcing are attractive to brands because they make them more approachable, their campaigns more authentic, and they build greater loyalty and engagement among fans who get to become co-creators of content.

Crowdsourcing is usually when a brand has a problem and petitions its consumers for a solution. It helps a brand create new content, while providing an opportunity for recognition of participants within the brand’s social community. Campaigns created through crowdsourcing are unique because they’re a departure from the more traditional types of marketing strategies, and they can generate a lot of buzz for a brand.

Last year, AdAge said that 2014 was the year that solidified crowdsourcing not just as a trend, but something that is here to stay, with big name marketers adopting the strategy and profiting from it. For example, PepsiCo increased its crowdsourcing by 325 percent in 2014, and other big name brands ran successful campaigns including McDonald’s, Disney and Coca-Cola.

Not only do crowdsourcing campaigns help build consumer loyalty and increase engagement between consumers and brands, but they are also more cost-effective than traditional forms of marketing because they eliminate the need for a brand to go through the motions of producing their own content.

With the popularity of crowdsourcing, new services are beginning to crop up that offer brands options when considering the use of crowdsourced content.

The Birth of “Photography on Demand”
In the world of marketing and content creation, the need for unique, eye-catching images in the content creation process is never ending. We need images for our blogs; images are needed for landing pages or to accompany product descriptions; we need images for social media campaigns and/or email marketing.

In the days of old, brands would turn to such online paid image services as Getty, iStock, Dreamstime and many others. But images on these services, though professional, are often well-used, and brands today are beginning to look for more relevant, timely, and less stale forms of photography to include in their communications materials, combined with opportunities to provide them with a closer connection to their fans. Plus, with the proliferation of many different forms of mobile technology, photography is no longer limited to the professional photographer with traditional camera in-hand.

Several mobile crowdsourcing services have cropped up in the last five years to feed this photography-on-demand need. Here are just five you might want to take a deeper look at if you are thinking of using crowdsourced images for your next campaign (Note: These are NOT free services).


Scoopshot home page

Scoopshot is a photo crowdsourcing service launched in 2010.

Launched in 2010, Scoopshot is a photo crowdsourcing service that seeks to connect both amateur (mobile) and professional photographers with media companies and other photo-buying entities. By 2014, Scoopshot’s free app had been downloaded around 600,000 times, and the service had paid out more than $1/2 million to amateur and professional users worldwide. You can search the sites inventory of images, or you can request a “ScoopShooter” to collect you specific photos or videos.

In Scoopshot, a brand who is looking for specific images can do a manual search by localized area, or can pinpoint a specific area on an interactive map. By doing this, the map will show you how many photographers are in your chosen area.

You’ll then create a task, set a title for your project and a description (you’ll answer the question “what type of photos do you need and why?), and then post your project. You have the option to pay a ScoopShooter per photo/video, or you can choose a package that can range from $500 to $2,000. Not only can Scoopshot crowdsource images, but brands can run photo competitions, do content marketing, gain consumer insights and much more.

CEO of Scoopshot Niko Ruokosuo said of the service in 2013: “For the first time, [brands] can request exactly what they want and receive it within minutes and without spending a fortune. The birth of on-demand photography will be as much of a game changer for the photo industry as iTunes for the Music industry.”


Twenty20 Cover image

Twenty20 is a crowdsourcing photo service that caters a little more to the artistic community.

Twenty20, formerly Instacanvas, lets users turn images into physical products like wall canvases, prints, t-shirts, smartphone cases, magnets and greeting cards. In 2014, the company began allowing users to license their work commercially as stock images, and the site has quickly begun to gain steam with advertisers and content marketers looking for more authentic stock images.

The site caters to two types of users – mobile photographers looking to advertise their images, and individuals and/or brands needing images. As of April 2015, the site serves almost 260,000 photographers, more than 150 different countries and has an inventory of almost 50 million images. More than 30 percent of all Twenty20 buyers purchase a second item from the site within two months, according to the company. The company offers a “Zappos-style” return guarantee, but sees less than 0.1 percent of all purchases returned.

Twenty20 caters a little more to the artistic community, and non-photographers have to pass certain criteria before their images will be made public on the site.


Foap cover image

Since its launch, Foap has amassed 500,000 registered users.

Launched in 2012, Foap allows smartphone users to monetize their photos by selling them through Foap’s marketplace for $10 and keeping 50 percent of the revenue. Like Scoopshot, Foap offers brands the option to create tasks – called “Foap Missions” – to find content from top Foap photographers.

According to TechCrunch, Foap has run nearly 200 ‘Missions’ for Fortune 500 brands and leading advertising agencies over the last two years, and has amassed 500,000 registered users who on average upload 30,000 photos per week. Brands who’ve utilized Foap include Volvo, Heineken, Honey Maid, Master Card and many others.


Snapwire cover image

Snapwire is one of the newest crowdsourcing image services.

Having just emerged from beta mode in 2014, Snapwire is the newest service attempting to connect the new photography generation with clients who need their talents and are willing to pay for it. The site has already attracted more than 8,000 users and 50,000 image uploads.

According to a Gigaom article in mid-2014, Snapwire is different in that it specializes more in creative collaboration and crowdsourcing. Anyone can submit a request for an image and assign it a budget. Photographers can then upload their images and/or ask questions to the buyer. The buyer selects finalists, which rewards the photographer with profile points.  Snapwire collects 30 percent of the earnings with 70 percent going to the photographers themselves, who also get to keep the copyright.

‘Moment’ by Getty

In 2013, in an effort to compete with mobile crowdsourcing services like Snapwire and Scoopshot, big-name stock photo service Getty Images quietly released its own mobile stock photography app ‘Moment’ to their current contributors. A year after its launch, Getty Images had posted more than 200 requests to ‘Moment,’ photographers had submitted more than 120,000 in response, and the amount of image views on the app totaled more than 3 million. ‘Moment’ currently appears only to be available for users with Getty Images contributor contracts.

These are only a few of the mobile crowdsourcing photo services making headway in the market today. If purchasing images through one of these services is not an option, other crowdsourcing techniques can be utilized on social networking sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Flickr. You can run a photo contest on your social networking sites, asking users to hashtag their posts and images, or you can simply ask your fans for images just as the New York Times did.

If you choose to gather your own crowdsourced content, remember that new rules are always emerging about how to use UGC and crowdsourced materials, and you should be familiar with what you can and can’t do.

Have you had experience using any of these emerging mobile crowdsourcing platforms? Do you think that mobile crowdsourcing tools are here to stay?


2 thoughts on “5 Photo Crowdsourcing Platforms for Brands Wanting More Authentic Stock Imagery

  1. I use stock photos, video, and audio often and I’m not sure how I could miss this crowd-sourced movement in photography. Thank you for the introduction! I will be addressing your post in my production team meeting on Friday. I did some searching for free stock photo sites.
    Entrepreneur Magazine posted an article listing 14 Amazingly Free Stock Photo Websites. Here’s who made their list:

    1. Unsplash
    2. Super Famous
    3. Pic Jumbo
    4. Pixabay
    5. IM Free
    6. Gratisography
    7. Morgue Files
    8. Free Images
    9. Little Visuals
    10. New Old Stock
    11. Picography
    12. Getrefe
    13. Jay Mantri
    14. Public Domain Archive

    Ark, Casey. (n.d.). Entrepreneur. 14 Amazing Free Stock Photo Websites. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/238646


  2. These sites are awesome. I can’t wait to see if my employer can start using them for our photography needs. Photos are key to our social media posts and the typical stock photography is relatively boring. The typical stock photo is overly produced, overly happy, overly staged and overly priced for what they are.

    I really like that the photography is crowdsourced. The photos look like they are sincere and have a personality. However, a lot of questions about the use of the photos pop into my head especially when a company/brand would want to use them for commercial purposes. Many of the sites you mentioned say that the photos come with “unlimited commercial use,” but I would really have to dig to make sure that’s the case. The last thing you would want to do as a brand would be to use a photo that the photographer didn’t agree with in a medium they didn’t expect.

    Great post!


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