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Culture, Reality

Money Eyes

by Lisa Parnell / 18.09.2012

In a time of iPhones and Instagram, ‘all the world’s a studio, and all the men and women merely photographers’ to corrupt the original Shakespeare. These days anyone can shoot and share their view and experience with the world, the sheer volume of images being uploaded onto the internet runs the whole gamut from the exquisite to the mundane. Against this backdrop a South African woman, Sibulele Ngomane, has co-created a potentially powerful app that allows people to monetize their new social media photography habit: Pictorama.

Let’s face it, most of us secretly fancy ourselves as semi-pro photographers anyway. My iPhone is full of crap that I think are pretty hot shots; the obscurely cropped, the artfully over-exposed… but seriously would anyone else rate them enough to actually pay cash for them? Pictorama is trying to do exactly that by combining mobile cameras with what they call “microstock photography” (also called “micropayment photography” for good reason. It’s a royalty free, cheap and easy way of sourcing millions of images).

Born and raised in Durban South Africa, Sibulele received a full scholarship to study ‘Global Economics and Management’ at Jacobs University Bremen, Germany. “After attending a couple of business conferences I met Christopher Becker, the founder and current managing director of Pictorama.” She explains. “His idea married two of my primary interests: my love for photographs and entrepreneurship. And thus we began to build what is now the first iPhonography application that lets you to earn money with your iPhone pictures.
“I have many friends who take really good pictures but nothing happens to them or at most they are put on social sharing sites such as Instagram, Tadaa or Eyem.” Sibulele continues. “But these brilliant photographers or those who do it as a hobby do not get the proper credit they deserve.”

Pictorama is sadistically simple… you take photos; upload them for evaluation by your peers; if they are good enough according to both the community and Pictorama’s ‘panel’ they are loaded into the marketplace where they can be bought. You, the artiste, get a cut of that sale price.

Here’s the feel good stuff; I like the whole idea, love it actually. Build a community of entrepreneurial creatives that can share their photography and make some cash from it. Think of it like this, your iPhone is your kit, the world is your studio and Pictorama is your pimp, I mean gallery.

But that’s where the problem lies. As an introductory offer you get around R2.60 per shot (paid in Euros, via PayPal). After that, at entry level, you earn 20% on sales, minus VAT for each purchase, while Pictorama pockets the rest for what they call “marketplace fees”. I’m just not convinced that anyone can generate enough cash as a contributor to earn enough money with Pictorama.

At these rates, you’re never going to make it rich, let alone get out of that dodgy mould ridden apartment, by uploading even a hundred photos a day. But I guess that is not the aim. If you want to make a little extra coinage on the side, then get trigger happy and show the rest of the world what real South African street life is all about, and let’s be honest, that’s probably where you’re going to be living if this is your sole source of income.

The reality is that the amount you earn actually comes down to the quality of your photos, since the pay-out being based on a percentage of the sale figure. The better the shot, the more it’ll get used and the more you get paid. That’s fair. Take some shit hot photos that ‘go viral’ in the Pictorama market place and the cash rolls. The truly wild images (the ones that capture UFOs and Big Foot and giant squids) will potentially make fortunes, while the good yet everyday humdrum ones will continue to generate a couple of bucks a pop.

“It can only get better,” says Sibulele. “As our photo stock increases we also have more and more buyers interested, so the chances of selling a good picture are pretty good. Moreover, South Africans have a huge advantage as our country is known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse culture and there are many buyers interested in these pictures.”
Especially since the rates on Pictorama are much more competitive than your average stock library and the shots are ‘real’ as opposed to the posed and cheesy ‘character’ shots you’ll find in the libraries.

I didn’t rate the app until the recent upgrade, which now lets you import photos from your camera roll. Not only does this mean you can make use of all the previous shots in your library, but you can edit them first before putting them in the Pictorama gallery. You can make sure they are all ‘Hollywood’ by cropping, white balancing and upping the saturation, ‘cos let’s face it the average smartphone snap needs a bit of a nip and a tuck before presenting it to the world.

For the first time vast amounts of humans are recording their lives in the minutest detail, soon there will be no more secrets, everything will be recorded and documented… by amateurs. Crowdsourced professional photography. Yes, the lines are getting blurry. Yes, Pictorama brings photography to the masses but will the democratization of media through these new technologies eradicate excellence in commercial photography or fling open its doors to even higher levels of creativity and excellence? Probably a little bit of both… in a sea of mediocrity.

Through new technology and social media, “people are allowed to freely share their opinions whether in the form of words, pictures or photographs in our case.” Says Sibulele. “It is almost impossible for states to actively intervene in the content that is online especially if generated via smartphones. A prime and inspirational example is the Arab Spring which merely started off on Facebook but led to several revolutions in that region. So with that I think we are in a very fun yet crucial point in social history where new/social media is more important than most choose to admit.”

Pictorama’s interface is neither slick nor clunky, but somewhere in-between. It does the job without really impressing but thanks to Sibulele and her team’s continued efforts, it’s getting better all the time with each new version. Obviously there’s a tipping point, the more images that are uploaded into the library, the more effectively Pictorama can deliver and start to supercede the traditional (and expensive) stock libraries. Most cool is that a Durban-born technology whizz has co-founded an app that could change and improve commercial photography forever: from the community for the community.

Try Pictorama for yourself here.

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