Photographers are called “Togs.” They don’t have to be longtime professionals. You hire them sight unseen.
In a daring effort to revive commercial photography, a pair of San Diego State alumni have started a business amid the flood of high-resolution smartphone cameras and the digital revolution.
Jon Margalit and Jason Kirby launched Togally.com — a service that aims to get people to hire a photographer for precious family scenes as well as corporate events.
Margalit recalls a crystallizing moment: watching adorable 4-year-old twins at a birthday party as a frazzled mother tried to keep it all together while taking pictures at the same time.
Mom got some good shots. But she wasn’t in any of them.
“Why didn’t you just hire a photographer?” asked Margalit, the twins’ uncle.
“I didn’t want to spend $300,” he recalls being told. “I wasn’t sure how to find one, anyway. And I didn’t have time to bother with it.”
So Margalit came up with the idea for Togally.com, where busy moms — or anyone in need of a photographer — can find one fast.
According to the year-old startup, photographers (called “Togs” in a rarely used term) get a free portfolio on the site, and they can bid on any job.
“Clients can browse to find the right Tog for any need, from engagement pics and family portraits to a personal Tog for their next night on the town,” said a news release this week.
“It doesn’t have to be a special occasion any more,” Margalit says. “You can hire a Tog for your kid’s soccer game or your family picnic. Get a great headshot for LinkedIn, or maybe a dating site. Or even give a photo session to someone else. It makes a unique and really great gift!”
Prices start as low as $30-$50, says the business, declaring: “Fixed-price packages provide a risk-free guarantee, so clients pay only for the pics they love and want.”
An associated Togally blog is being produced by former Copley News Service writer Diane Slagle. And a Togally Facebook page had close to 900 “Likes” Friday, as well as a survey posted in mid-November.
Togally.com has plans to go national, but for now the startup is focused on the San Diego area. Margalit and business partner Kirby are both SDSU alumni. Kirby is a professional photographer and owner of Right Light Studios just off I-8 near the campus, where he also teaches photography.
“Togs don’t have to be professionals to put up a portfolio and bid on gigs,” Kirby said. “There’s work for Togs all the way from amateur to experienced, in all specializations.”
Clients must submit a review before they can download their pics. And only actual Togally clients can leave a review, so all ratings on the site reflect legitimate, real-life feedback, the business says.
“That makes our review system much more credible than Yelp,” Margalit says.
How do Togally’s owners make money?
Slagle told Times of San Diego that Togally takes a 20 percent cut of payments to photographers.
“We make nothing if the gig is free,” Slagle said. “We’re only offering some free ones to get things moving. … Also, we want to get reviews up there on the site. Can’t have reviews if togs haven’t done any gigs.”
Togally is “doing all the work of getting the leads and generating gigs, so the togs basically don’t have to do advertising,” she said. “They can also use the site as their own website — it’s free for them to put up a profile and portfolio of their work.”
She likened the site to SitterCity, where parents find babysitters and nannies.
“The parents find a sitter (with reviews, etc.) on the site,” Slagle said. “The sitters find jobs. The site gets a cut, so it can stay in business. That’s the basic business model.”
In a July 2013 Facebook posting, Togally said:
Togally helps stimulate the economy by creating jobs. So many people are passionate about taking pictures and have awesome talent. Well, now they can earn money by utilizing their talent and doing what they love. If you have a camera and are willing to take our free online training course, you have a job, it’s that simple!
Not so simple are the industry’s challenges. In 2010, The New York Times framed the problem for paid shooters.
“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of Photo District News, was quoted as saying.
However, an industry snapshot said work was still available.
“IBISWorld predicted that revenues for U.S. photographers would increase between 2010 and 2015 but that many would need to focus on niche markets in order to maintain profitability,” said Highbeam Business.
Togally’s Margalit is keeping his hopes up, citing his own relatives’ experience.
“For the twins’ next birthday party,” he said, “I think we’ve got the situation covered.”