SmartShoot - Connecting Visual Artists and Big Brands

SmartShoot - Connecting Visual Artists and Big Brands

The calendar just turned its pages to 2015. We have tiny and versatile cameras like the GoPro Hero 4 filming 4K video, camera companies making 50-megapixels DSLRs, and artists making mind-blowing stop-motion/hyper-lapse/time-lapse films. So why is it still so hard for artists and big brands to easily connect to collaborate on photo and video projects?

That is a question SmartShoot founders Justin McCarthy and John McWeeny asked themselves back in 2012 when they founded their San Francisco-based company. SmartShoot’s aim is to connect big brands like Yelp, BMW, and CBS who are looking for original photo and video content with the visual artists who best fit the criteria for the job.

With over 12,000 photographers and filmmakers on the site, there is no shortage of artists for the big brands to recruit. But with an open enrollment philosophy, how does SmartShoot vet the photographers and filmmakers to make sure that the companies are being shown the most talented artists in their price range? McCarthy told me:

We built SmartShoot with the guiding principle that a good marketplace needs to work well for both sides — satisfying one side at the expense of the other, doesn’t work for anyone in the long run. The majority of our jobs are “direct requests” to work with a particular photographer and are offered exclusively to the photographer the customer found on the SmartShoot website.

This model allows brands to actively review the previous work and portfolio of any photographer that fits their criteria. If a brand posts an “Open” project, we will only display that job to qualified photographers based on an algorithm we have developed. This algorithm weights hand-vetting/scoring by our production team, a high-quality profile page, proven skills, high reviews/ratings, on-time delivery percentage, and high conversion.


Recently leaving my full-time job at SmugMug, I was intrigued about the possibility of having a tool that would help me connect with clients who were willing to pay for jobs that interested me. Before being hired at SmugMug, I used to photograph weddings and events, but, it just wasn't for me. While the money was good, those high-stress jobs were not good for my health. For some reason, I just can't do them, which is why I highly respect the people that can. I would much rather be traveling and documenting an adventure for a brand's ad campaign or a destination's tourism board. I even photographed real estate for years, although not nearly as good as Mike Kelley. But that was a low-stress environment, and I wouldn't mind taking some of those types of jobs again. Slowly moving into video, maybe I could even find some corporate video jobs to help hone my skills while making a little money too.

I spent some time on the site to try to understand how it works. I created my profile and uploaded some photo albums that target the clientele I am after, although this wasn't easy, as they seem to have a maximum allowed size, but neglect to tell you this in the UI or the error message. But after wrestling with it, I was on my way to looking for clients to match with. In my client "Portal," I immediately got greedy and went to go find someone to give me money. I found a couple of open call jobs in my area that seemed interesting:

  • Introduction Video For A Doctor's Office : 1-2 minute piece to show how nice the office and the doctor are.

  • Video Edit : A company needs someone to take 80 nicely designed slides and turn it into an animated video with a voice over and happy music.

  • Event Photography : A person needs a photographer to capture him and his fiancé in a 45 minute religious ceremony and then go to San Francisco to take some "engagement type photos" ...Uh, so you're saying you want me to photograph your wedding.

  • Company Commercial Video : A Yelp-like video, showing the best side of a company in a one to two minute inspirational video.

  • Aerial Photo : A business needs a photographer to go on their roof and take some beautiful photos of the San Francisco Bay Area. Alright, now we are talking!

Well, I think I am skilled enough to make all of these jobs work! Where has SmartShoot been all my life? I quickly start to maneuver over the "Start Pitch" button when something about these projects catch my eye...

Fee: Less than $500

This was listed next to each one of the above jobs. Now, don't get me wrong, none of those jobs seem extra time consuming, but less than $500?

Then, something else caught my eye. A beauty company needs product and lifestyle photos. Budget: less than $5,000. Ah, that's the kind of money I dream about hitting my bank account. I am not much of an artificial light photographer, so I don't think I could get this job, but it was nice to see not every client expected top notch results on a $500 budget.

Only time will tell if SmartShoot is right for me. I will keep an eye out, and maybe even bid on a lower paying job if it interests me, like the San Francisco skyline job. It seems there is a community of successful photographers on the site, like Jay W. from New York. His profile is preloaded with SmartShoot statistics that the company places on your profile, so the artist can't manipulate them. Jay has racked up an impressive 287 jobs, with a minimum rate of $2,000. Who knows what the final prices are for these jobs, but this photographer seems to be making a very nice, stable income through SmartShoot jobs. Now, obviously, that is not going to be the normal case for most of us, but it tells me that there is potential in this tool.

I think the secret to success for all parties involved in SmartShoot (artists, clients, and of course, SmartShoot themselves) is that the more people get involved, the stronger their algorithm gets, and the more SmartShoot becomes a known destination for brands to find a photographer or videographer that fits into their projects. There will always be the low-end budget clients who refuse to pay more than $500. While I probably wouldn't bid on a job for less than $500, I sure do wish I had a tool like this when I first got into the industry. Those types of jobs seem great for artists who are just beginning and who would like the real world experience and a notch in their resume, all while making a couple bucks. But it's important for every photographer to never undervalue their work. The more we undervalue our work and get into bidding wars with other photographers, the more we as a community lose, and the more big name brands win. If we stand up as a group, and only work for what we are feel we are worth, the more the clients understand what results their budget will get them. For instance, if Mike Kelley starts taking jobs for less than $500, the entire real estate photography community loses.

Have you used SmartShoot? If so, how has your experience been? If not, what are your initial impressions? Is it a tool that you can see yourself using? I would love to hear from you! I will come back and add updates on my experiences throughout the next month. 

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Previous comments

I agree completely, Michael. Our creatives are encouraged to value their work accordingly and make pitches based on what they believe fair market value of the job is. SmartShoot is doing its best to make sure that both parties are getting the best deal that they're budget allows for.

The point of the middle man is to make the process easier and provide a "all in one" place to access jobs customized just for you. It saves photographers time and money spent searching through Craigslist and other traditional methods.

Great article Michael (as always) and I think this is quite an interesting and good way for photographers to potentially connect with some big brands - I totally support that opportunity! I also agree with Nathan and Michael - show good work, and bid high!

The other thing to note - it's refreshing to have someone (Casey McCallister) acting as a direct point of contact who is willing to listen to feedback and actively addressing concerns. I have personally worked with Casey in the past and know how passionate he is to ensure photographers have a voice and are happy and truly believe he will be a great asset to SmartShoot

Thanks, Tony! I appreciate the kind words and we're excited to have you as a creative on SmartShoot. As always, let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

Scott Spellman's picture

There was only 4 total gigs offered yesterday and today on the whole site. I am used to job websites were there are 20-40 new gigs every day.

Scott, this is one way that SmartShoot differentiates itself. All jobs presented to the creatives are specific to a radius surrounding their zip code. We have numerous jobs on the site at any time, but in order to save time and your inbox we try to limit the jobs that each creative receives at once. I've personally been on sites where I receive upwards of 200 emails a day. This tends to having me glass over all jobs - lending the site to be useless.

Scott Spellman's picture

The closest job is 265 Miles away from me. It would be more effective to have categories and a user selected radius.

Thanks for the article! Sounds exactly like a site I've been using for a while - Videopixie (

Check out our top ten frequently asked questions for answers to some of your questions. And to those asking, no, we're definitely not a scam :)

Did I read that correctly? SmartShoot takes 10% to 20% on your total amount charged to clients? Why that high?

Hi, Kenneth. Compared to hiring an agent, or other marketplace sites, 10 and 20% is hardly anything. It's low enough that most of our creatives simply write the difference into their pitch. We are a business in the end, and for a service that provides jobs to photographers we feel this percentage is more than fair.

rich cirminello's picture

More than fair to whom? I have been on SS for over a year and have not seen a job worth bidding on. Budgets are often lower than the cost of showing up with proper equipment (even before your 'more than fair' 20% cut) and the descriptions of the jobs don't provide nearly enough information to create a realistic estimate.
There used to be a useful feature where bidders could ask questions to the client, but that seems to have been removed.