Snapwire vs Shutterstock Custom: What’s the difference?

Snapwire and Shutterstock Custom help businesses generate visual content by connecting them with photographers. Both have worked with notable clients, as indicated by their testimonials and case studies. But the similarities end there.

Shutterstock Custom was created in 2017 when Shutterstock acquired a startup called Flashstock. As often happens with acquisitions, things didn’t go exactly as planned and the newly-named arm was widely criticized for being difficult to work with. In G2 Crowd reviews, users complained, “They need to have more control over the quality of what is being submitted.” 

 Snapwire, on the other hand, isn’t burdened by a parent company that’s more accustomed to selling generic stock photos, and its size makes it more nimble at meeting client needs. Snapwire has a strong reputation for delivering on-brand images and providing a high-touch experience, which it’s been doing since 2012.

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What does each offer?

Snapwire vs Shutterstock Custom

Shutterstock Custom offers product shoots and library shoots where its photographers capture hundreds of pictures for a business that the marketing team can use as a sort of in-house repository.

Snapwire offers this and more—product shoots, library shoots, and location-based photography, which puts it in a different category. This added freedom allows a beer brand like Carlsberg to, say, commission many simultaneous shoots of its beverages in the hands of consumers all around the world. Snapwire is able to offer this sort of location-agnostic service because it relies on a seasoned in-house project management team that handles the A to Z of planning and executing photo shoots and draws from a deep pool of 800,000 creators in 180 countries.

Shutterstock Custom lacks the same global creator network, which means clients must be actively involved in organizing location-based photo shoots. It’s also known for tweaking its business model and sunsetting unprofitable features, and inconsistently updates clients on what’s changed. It’s blog, as one example, hasn’t been updated for 18 months at the time of writing.

How do they work with clients?

Although Shutterstock Custom pairs you with a photographer, there’s no guarantee it’s the right photographer for your shoot. The platform has redacted many details about its vetting process that once existed on Flashstock’s site. Their Contributors page, which invites photographers and visual artists to apply, is similarly silent on the hiring process. 

Snapwire, in great contrast, is transparent about its process. Snapwire uses a greenlighting system to track photographers near a brand’s desired location and grade them based on past projects, specialization, and client feedback. The Snapwire team also works hard to build durable relationships with its photographers to ensure consistency and professionalism.


Such positive relationships don’t exist at Shutterstock Custom, which explains why former employees leave negative reviews like the one below:

Brief-Building Process

Both Shutterstock Custom and Snapwire learn about your requirements by asking you to create a project brief. But the briefing process is very different for each. 

When you create a brief with Snapwire, its project management team holds your hand from day one. They help you identify and refine your requirements for the pictures you need, and help you foresee needs and avoid common pitfalls. Shutterstock Custom, on the other hand, asks clients to complete templated briefs and automates as much of the interaction with their team as possible. On their site, they claim to rely on machine learning to improve templates. But as far as human support, that’s limited to a support line, which leaves clients up to guess to some degree about whether they’re requesting the right thing.

Shutterstock Custom’s process has declined since the acquisition. Below, a client review of Shutterstock Custom suggests needed improvements, including better tools for communicating their needs and selecting photos.

Snapwire’s briefing process is smooth and human-powered. All photographs go through two rounds of selection. As a first step, a machine learning algorithm shortlists the best images that meet the brief’s requirements before editors handpick images and confirm they have the best ones.

How does their customer service differ?

The customer service phone number for Shutterstock Custom’s overall parent company is easy to find. But for ShutterStock Custom itself? Nothing is to be found on the site or via Google search.

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Snapwire on the other hand is known for its customer service. Based in Santa Barbara, the customer service team is comprised of experienced support reps and there are no phone trees to hop through.

How Fast Do They Deliver Work?

For both, it’s a range. It took Snapwire’s photographers only one week to take pictures for The Infatuation’s website but 45 days to capture 5,000+ images from 500 neighborhoods in the U.S. for RentPath. The average project completion time is about two weeks. Shutterstock Custom has far fewer public case studies to cite, but it claims to take anywhere between three to four weeks. Snapwire may have a slight advantage, but this one’s probably a draw.

The Bottom Line

Shutterstock Custom rides on the household-name parent company but its reputation is mixed and complaints about quality are on the rise. Snapwire, however, enjoys a stellar reputation with both brands and creators and has lots of social proof verifying its claims that it shoots high-quality visuals on-time and on-budget.

Let Snapwire help you with your next brief! Schedule a demo with us today!