Pictorama: The Mobile-Only Take On Microstock

Why it works and why it does not.

by Pu on July 23, 2012

Last week I have been testing Pictorama, an app that combines mobile photo taking with elements from microstock photography. Pictorama is quite simple: you take photos; you submit them for evaluation; if they are good enough, they are sent to the app’s marketplace, where people can purchase them. Part of the profits from the sales of your images is your own. At entry level, you earn 20% on sales. After deducting VAT for each purchase, Pictorama pockets the rest for “marketplace fees” that will be automatically withdrawn from your PayPal account. Talk about penny-pinching! As the number of your contributions grows though, your earnings will also increase, with up to 50% when you have more than 2,000 photos in the marketplace. You can keep track of your stats and revenues from the app’s main site, Pictorama.com.

Pictorama App

Pictorama's Homepage. Can you guess which one is our photo?

What I described above is roughly how microstock works. In case you are not familiar with the term, microstock is a form of stock photography where you sell photos as Royalty Free material for very low rates. I should mention that microstock is one of the most controversial forms of commercial photography ever invented. Unless you can take a considerable and consistent amount of pictures, you cannot expect to make money on microstock’s competitive market. Selling depends greatly not only on your marketing skills but also on the number of photos you can provide. Many photographers choose to avoid microstock, unless it is just a side job to easily complement their income making use of the means they already have or unless they’re totally desperate.
Right now, microstock is not focused on mobile photography and on its audience. Microstock requirements in terms of image specs are often too high and controls too strict, in special way given the average profits per image sold — which is also why many professionals consider the whole microstock notion insulting. Mobile photography will eventually conquer a relevant position in microstock in a few years from now, especially as mobile cameras become more and more functional and the image quality they can deliver improves.

Pictorama is thus an exception, as it is solely targeted at mobile photographers. Even if the app’s team pointed out in the FAQ that their service is different from that available through other microstock sites (the various Shutterstock, Bigstockphoto, Fotolia, Dreamstime, etc.), the way Pictorama works at its core is the same. Minus the control you have over your submissions.

Unlike with microstock sites, photographers can only submit photos taken in-app. There is no way to fine tune images and to make even the most basic adjustments. As commercial photographers know, some degree of post-processing is required for most digital images destined to commercial ends, and this takes into account also stock photos. With Pictorama you have to do everything in-camera, correct framing and exposure included. This wouldn’t be so bad if the iPhone camera was equivalent to a professional or even an up-to-date prosumer camera. We all know, however, that photos straight out of the iPhone are actually more in the point-and-shoot quality range, as the camera has almost non-existent control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You can get very lucky and once in a while take that awesome picture that doesn’t really need any tweaking, but most of the time iPhone shots will require a little bit of contrast, brightness, white balance and saturation adjustment, straightening and cropping, in order to make them look consistently good. Therefore it is not surprising that the majority of pictures in Pictorama’s community — a bunch of mine included — look like crappy snapshots a 10-year-old took during his first school trip.
The worst part, however, is that you cannot save photos taken in-app to your device for personal enjoyment: even from this point of view, it seems the user is not in full control of his own content. Perhaps you take a great shot within Pictorama, but you cannot use it outside the app, even in the case you decided not to upload the photo or if it was rejected at a later date. If I own all the rights to my photo and I only grant to the service provider non-exclusive license, as the Terms of Service state, I would expect to be able to do with it what I like. If there is a way to use my own photos outside the app, I couldn’t find it out.

This leads us to the question of the approval of submitted content. For this purpose, Pictorama relies heavily on its community: each contributed photo is judged by other community members, picked at random. To upload every single photo, users spend a fixed amount of credit points, which they can earn by voting for photos by others. In Pictorama’s guide it is stated that if 50% of the community likes the picture you submit, the image is sent to the app’s internal staff for final evaluation and approval. However, it is not clear how this 50% rating actually works. As a test, I submitted several pictures over a period of four days. On the first day, a photo with 5 out of 5 positive votes was accepted within few hours. It looked like a promising start: not only said photo was immediately approved and sold one copy, it was even chosen as Photo of the Week. Days after that blazing start, other pictures I submitted at the same time as my infamous Photo of the Week are still in community check status, even if some have 25 or 28 out of 30 positive ratings (which equals respectively to above 80% and 90%). If you get a series of upvotes in a row, you immediately pass the first stage; if you don’t, things get trickier and you need more upvotes in a row than you required at the beginning to actually pass the community check. I must admit that, given my hostility to anything involving math, I have not invested enough time to figure out the exact Pictorama approval/rejection algorithm. And while we’re at it, it is also worth noting that no other sale came after that single occurrence on day one.

The community check would be great in a perfect world (or perhaps in Germany, the country of origin of the app) where people are diligent enough to just do what they are supposed to do: judge the actual quality of the image, leaving aside any other personal consideration. I am afraid in the real world people are not like that. Where money and even the slightest social prestige are involved, disruptive behavior is bound to surface, especially if anonymity encourages it. In clearer terms: trolls are everywhere and they especially love to do their trolling at other people’s expenses. Years of experience taught me that one in X users of any service is a troll and he will make a point to cast negativity upon the work of others, most of the time just for the fun of it.

Pictorama App

My photos under community evaluation.

Leaving aside trolls, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust the judgement of random users like my mother, who don’t care in the least if I spent 20 minutes of my time sweating blood to keep my iPhone steady to get a sharp image with no tripod at hand, or if I tried to find a way to use proper lighting instead of the cheapening on-camera flash of my phone. My mother would likely go all “Oh” and “Ah” over the most boring, blurry, awfully framed and poorly exposed flower pictures, ignoring all about quality. To be completely honest, I couldn’t blame this kind of user too much, either. I am familiar with microstock’s ridiculous requirements and usually I can predict quite accurately if a photo is going to be rejected or approved; nevertheless, I had a hard time judging a few of the photos I was asked to vote for by Pictorama’s community checking system. At the resolution of iPhone’s screen, it is really tough in some cases to figure if a photo is good for the trash bin or for framing on the wall — unless it really has no redeeming points, that is.

I understand the will to keep everything community-friendly and even the will of — heck, why not? — filtering the gazillions of photos submitted for the benefit of Pictorama’s “internal experts”, but I am not sure this is the best approach we can hope for: especially if the app is going to get ridiculously popular as other social-oriented ones, it might take more than this to ensure that worthy submissions can reach the internal staff. I could also add as a criticism that the whole principle behind Pictorama may result detrimental to commercial photography and that this app and others of its kind may lower stock photography standards that are already quite low thanks to microstock’s prosperity.

To sum it up, what did I like about Pictorama and what did I dislike?

The Pros

  • That in-app pictures only are accepted creates a fairer marketplace;
  • The chance to make a few extra bucks while having a good time taking pictures anywhere, anytime, makes it a casual and appealing take on microstock;
  • Using a camera phone to take the best pictures possible without all the usual gimmicks — a variety of lenses, equipment items and an array of fancy filters to choose from, for instance — can help boost your creative side.

The Cons

  • The lack of basic editing features;
  • The impossibility to save photos taken in-app to the device;
  • The lack of an option to disable/remove geolocation data from photos;
  • The high platform fees;
  • The questionable community opinion in terms of actual quality and value.

Overall, Pictorama’s idea is simple and effective and it might work just fine — well, at least I think it will for its creators. If you are interested, you can check out the app and see if it suits you. Be sure to read the app’s FAQ, agreements and terms of service before snapping and submitting.

Pictorama - Pictorama

RILA July 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Hey Pu,

Not an utility I would use in near future; but still, good to see a new post on appotography. Any app reviews in the pipeline – Hueless, MatteBox, Alien Sky?

Alysia July 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

Definitely not everybody’s ideal way to take photos. I usually don’t like and don’t use apps that make money off my own photos. If I wanted to sell my photos, I would be doing it differently, I think. This kind of apps give people the illusion everybody can be a pro with just a camera phone and no skill whatsoever, meh.

Pu July 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

It seems that on average readers are not much into app reviews, so we would have liked to change the focus and format of the site. But things have been turbulent and getting hold of the new iPhone has been quite hard here in Iceland and all in all we couldn’t really plan any renovation.

Tim July 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

I’m Tim and a Pictorama employee. First of all we’re really excited that you took the time and really took a close look at the app. You’ve raised some important points and while we like hearing about pros, the cons you listed are probably more important for us. We’re a young company and our app hasn’t been out for that long. Therefore, it is important for us to hear what people are thinking.

A lot of your critisism has also reached us from your user base.
So let me adress those cons:

>Lack of editing features/The impossibility to save photos taken in-app to the device – With our next update you will be able to import pics from you camera roll. That way you can retouch them and you have them on you device.

>The lack of an option to disable/remove geolocation data from photos – This will also be implemented in the next version, since it is not necessary for some pictures. Also sometimes users take pics in locations they don’t want to be revealed.

>The high platform fees – I’m sorry you are unhappy with them, but for now our structure will remain as it is. Our fees are in the same range as they are on other platfroms, where people can sell their pics.

>The questionable community opinion in terms of actual quality and value – We really like this feature and it will remain in the app. The photography skills of our users willincrease with time, since we give them feedback, also by raising the number of votes necessary we can “fight the trolls”. Of course we also check community rejected pics regularly, to make sure our system is working and great pics aren’t getting rejected.

This turned into quite a long post, sorry. I just had to “defend” my baby 🙂
But keep the critisism coming, it’s the only way for us to improve.

Best regards from Germany,

Pu July 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Hi Tim,

thanks for taking the time to reply and explain everything about future updates and new features. It’s nice to know that you care about your users’ opinions. I see your points as a part of the internal staff and it’s good to know that you check everything, rejections included.

Leah July 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Hi Tim,

I am also a Pictorama user… Even though I have not been contributing much with my own photos yet 🙂 I have read with great interest both the review, with many interesting points, and your reply to the reviewer’s opinion and I am a little concerned about your intention to open the app to importing photos from iPhone’s albums. Will not this turn Pictorama into another site that accepts everything? I mean, it will be harder for us, the iPhone only users, to have our photos accepted after you start allowing photos taken with higher end cameras.


Pu July 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

That’s one of the things that I pointed out in the article: at the moment Pictorama’s uniqueness and fairness consists in the fact uploads are limited to photos taken with the iPhone. If people start uploading photos taken with other cameras, it will likely turn into something else and it will get closer to being just another microstock site. But let’s wait and see how this goes.

Tim July 26, 2012 at 7:40 am

Hi Leah and Pu,

we do recognize this problem. That is why on one hand we only allow submissions directly from the camera roll, this leaves out many pics not taken with the iPhone. Also every picture is flagged internaly so we know which ones were shoot and which ones were imported. That way we can take a closer look at the imported ones. We also have taken other measures, to make sure only pictures taken with an iPhone are published.

We’ll also make more adjustments along the way to make sure we don’t turn into “just another microstock site”, because our main goal is to stay unique.

The main reason we decided to open up was because a large majority of our users let us know they really wanted this feature, so they could upload their iPhone pictures they had already taken before they downloaded the app.

Louis Ramirez July 28, 2012 at 1:24 am

I don’t get why people are so touchy about which camera took which photo. A good photo is a good photo, no matter what the camera was.

Hilde Hansen September 4, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I agree Louis! A good photo is a good photo. I have only just started looking into these types of apps. There aren’t many around but of the ones I’ve seen I’d have to say I prefer Foap or Pocketstock. Sorry…

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