Rainmaker rant: Race photo companies

If you read my blog often, you know that I have little love for the majority of race-day photo companies.   These being the companies that are on the course during a race and take our photos, and then offer to sell them 4-6 days later via a website.  In most cases, they take general photos, middle of race photos, and finish line photos.  Usually they offer a a few photos of every participant and most are fairly decent photos.

However, what is not so decent is is the prices.  However, before we get to prices (my main annoyance), let’s first discuss my other annoyances.

The target of my rant is primarily the larger companies, because there are a number of really good smaller companies that do it all right.  Lastly, it’s just my little opinion – so I could be wrong in some cases.  But, my field is technology – and I understand photography and a bit about business too…

Delay to publishing:
Why on earth does it take 4-6 days to process photos?  It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a marathon with 40,000 people – or a small race with 400 people.  It’s almost always 4-6 days (usually a Thursday).  Of course, the vast majority of this time is spent tagging photos – basically saying that photo #32857 is really for bib #123.  However, in my opinion – they’re doing it wrong.


First off – my guess is many of these companies are letting photographers or other higher paid (and likely slightly older) labor categorize and tag the photos.  Why not hire high schoolers to do this work?  Oh – and do it via the Internet.  The speeds (internet) are there to transmit low-res identifiable photos in a semi-stream to an employee to tag at home – reducing costs.  The reality is that the majority of younger potential employees who grew up in this age can recognize and process (read: input) data soooo much faster and cheaper than most other folks.  Finally, what high school or college age student wouldn’t prefer a job that allows them to sit on the couch and get paid for it – instead of flipping burgers at McDonalds?  Pay by the picture, and by the error rate margin (how many pictures you tag correctly, as a percentage).

Btw, this concept isn’t new – Amazon does this type of work today in what’s called the Mechanical Turk – basically the idea of taking lots of work and piecemealing it out on a micro-payment system.

Finally, there’s photo recognition.  The software is there TODAY to do facial recognition.  While getting the original face to compare against is tricky in a race – what is not tricky is finding numbers in a photo.  That’s a relatively trivial task in the technological world of photo recognition (you know how you have to type a keyword in some website to submit a comment – that’s CAPCHTA – or basically recognizing text in a sea of imagery).  Apply it to race photos, and have a server simply index through 40,000 photos in a matter of hours and be done with it.  Simple.  Cheap.

Photographic positioning:

This category isn’t so much a rant with photo companies – but rather some of the photographers they hire.  Many times the photographers know how to choose good locations on a course, but in some cases they don’t.  Of particular problem is usually the bike leg of a tri.  Some day I’ll write a whole post on how to position/take photos of tri’s, but for now…

Let me offer these three simple tips to taking good bike pictures:

  1. Do NOT take photos of triathletes climbing up shallow to moderate hills.  This doesn’t look cool.  This is because everyone is on the saddle and out of the bars, which makes for a lame picture.  It makes us look slow.  Further, it reduces any of the wheel blur – because the wheels are going slow…which makes us look slow.  Taking pictures on a super-steep section is acceptable, but only if the vast majority of folks are out of the saddle – otherwise refer to the first portion of this rule.
  2. Taking directly head-on photos doesn’t generally look cool either unless we’re talking a massive pack (not likely in non-drafting races).  Take it from an angle or off to the side.  This increases the blur because of the speed of the racer compared to the background.  It’s all about the blur.  Blur of the background and blur of the wheels.  Blur = cool.  No blur = slow.  And slow != cool (!= means does not equal).
  3. Do not take pictures in the first or last mile of the bike leg.  Most of us are still getting situated or getting ready to dismount.  It’s sorta like a commercial airplane where you can’t use your electronic devices below 10,000 feet.  Same concept.  We’re not at cruising altitude yet.  We won’t look cool.

To prove my point, here’s a photo from the Kinetic Sprint (rest here):


Note, in the shade, taken near head-on, just doesn’t look as nice as this one my friend took a few hundred yards up the road:


Ok, with those little items out of the way…let’s move to the biggie.


For the love of all holy pancakes why on earth must these pictures be so expensive?  Seriously.  Who in the world actually pays $39 for a single photo – let alone just an 8×10?  (Aside from your grandma?).  Yes.  Nobody.  Oh, and that 8×10 – that was just the printed copy.  Really? I can print it myself or simply upload it to one of the 8,328 different online photo printing services (like Costco, which I can pickup 1 hour later) and pay only $1.49 per 8×10?

Oh wait – I’m sorry, some do offer a CD version.  Seriously.  A CD?  I can download entire HD movies via Netflix or XBOX and yet I have to wait for a CD to be shipped to me with a 1MB photo on it (approximately 1/8000th the size of an HD movie).  Did we not miss this whole ‘digital revolution’ thing that occurred around 1995?

Or this little concept called iTunes or the App Store.  You know – that thing that just hit a BILLION downloads in less than a year?  Yes, the concept of small payments in large quantities equals more money than a few large payments.  Not that this concept was new mind you – it’s been taught in business school forever.

I refuse to believe that a race with a 1,000 people in it sells more than a few dozen of these photos.  So basically 12X$40 = $480. (Though, since I have no real data, I could be wrong…)

Let’s say instead we offer the photos for $2.99 each – downloadable only.  Now instead of 12 people, we have 300 photos bought.  Not people – but photos.  Because some people will buy more than one – given the price is sooo cheap.  300 photos at $3 each is $900 – almost twice how much we were making before.  Of course, there’s an assumption that people will buy more photos – and I’m willing to bet that’s the case with a more streamlined system.

See – people’s interest wanes.  My interest level for seeing photos of a race is roughly the following:


That’s because I’m really wanting to get pictures out to friends and family on the weekend of the race, but after Monday rolls around – my level of care slowly decreases.  And by time Thursday or Friday comes around – my level of care is low.  I’m willing to bet this is why they sell lower numbers of photographs.

What if you got an e-mail the evening of a race or the following morning with a link to your photos?  (Remember – automatically tagged by computer or cheaper high schoolers/college kids).  Wouldn’t your likelihood to purchase be significantly higher on Sunday than Friday?  You know, an e-mail something like this (but prettier, with someone who actually has graphic design skillz):


(Note: The above store/company/e-mail doesn’t actually exist…it’s just a figment of my imagination)

Ok, I think I’ve said my piece.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


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  1. I’d pretty much agree with everything you said. It always amazes me at how resistant to change people and businesses are. I see it in my business all the time. No matter how well you present your point, they’re simply incapable of accepting the fact that the world has changed and there might be a better way to do things.

  2. what great timing, i was just complaining about professional pictures to a friend. i raced last weekend and the pictures just got up today (the race capped at 700), and like you pointed out, they arent very good pictures: the bike shots are head on.

  3. sign me the hell up for your photo company!

    you look like you’re standing still in that first photo…which is what ALL my photos look like, and now i know who to blame…for once, it’s not me, it’s THEM.


  4. Price is certainly one of the reasons why I have NEVER in 7 years of racing bought a race photo before (how on earth will I retire early if I did?). I love it, though, when races give you a photo (like you get a race shirt) or you get one as your award for placing. They are few, unfortunately.

    PS – I’m convinced that companies who cover big races do use some form of automated image recognition or time-based recognition. There’s no way in hell a human could mistake me for some of the folks who they “identify” as me unless they were on drugs.

  5. hear hear – I just di a HIM and they are charging $75 to download the pics to a CD!! Insane – my friend got much better pics anyway – just better off taking your own personal photog along :)
    BUT – I’ll sign up for a few pics when you get your company up and running…I’ll take 20 pictures to distribute to friends please, bargain prices.

  6. I 100% agree! I did an itty-bitty duathlon last Saturday – 4 days ago. No pictures yet. There were 60 participants. Ridiculous!

    So, when is RainMakerPhoto opening it’s doors?

  7. Excellent stuff. You know I’m in your corner on this one. From a business standpoint, I simply can’t see how these companies sustain themselves.

    I’ve heard that the photo processing is actually outsourced overseas to something like an Indian call center – but I love your idea to let high school kids do it.

    You should send this link to every company you can think of. Nothing will come from it, of course, but you can at least say you’ve stated your case.

  8. Hey great post specially the tecnology part I learned something nice new by the way if you need a photographer for you photo company I am willing to help

  9. Totally agree 100 percent with everything you have ranted about. These professional photography companies need to see this post… maybe they’ll learn something.

  10. Everything you said was so true! I can’t believe the companies don’t do any sort of automated sorting. What’s even more amazing is that Google Web Albums and Apple iPhoto have been using facial recognition for quite a while. Just upload all the race photos to Google Web Albums and let the racers tag themselves once to find all the pix of them. So when are you going to start your own race photography business?

  11. Agree with it all. Btw, cut down your aerobottle straws. Cylinders are the least aero shapes. I heard a podcast once that said it can save a surprising amount of time.

  12. This is a very interesting post, and insightful as usual. But don’t diss older people, and think younger people (high schoolers), receiving their low resolution streaming photos at home could or would do a better job. All the Mechanical Turk talk (the Amazon way) sounds like sweatshop labor to me, and you want it pointed towards juveniles?

    But onto better topics. The photo recognition stuff–could the athletes smile, or even open their mouths? You know that in VA at the DMV when they take your OL photo they command you to not smile. No smiling! Apparently that gums up their universal photo monitoring system that is based on photo recognition software. Did you ever read 1984?

    Yeah right, take my picture and I won’t give you my best side. I dread/can’t wait for my VA license to expire b/c I ain’t NOT smiling. Is there no OL for me in the future b/c I won’t not smile? Why don’t you just shoot me in the face with a shotgun while us chickenhawks are hunting instead.

    Anyway I’m done with my rant. You flashing forward on your bike in your friend’s photo does look better than the poorly thought-through professional photo.

  13. Oh don’t fear Peter, you know I’d always have a special spot in my heart (and my purported sweatshop) for you if you wanted to manually recongnize photos. ;)

    Though, I have a funny feeling you might enjoy it too much.

  14. THIS IS TOTALLY SPOT ON! I’d buy photos from my first marathon (they still send me emails) if they weren’t 30-40 bucks. There are a few really good ones but I can’t justify it…especially when Steve in a Speedo takes a million photos and his are just as good.

  15. Agreed. I think that most of the race photo companies need a serious overhaul.

  16. I agree with you. I actually looked in to being a stringer for one of the larger companies. If I wasn’t racing, why not use my other interest–Photography and still get my ass out there and do something. Lets just say–it did not turn out to be a great deal for me.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. I am sick and tired of this bullshit as well. I do a lot of smaller races during the year and just for fun would have no problem paying something reasonable for a downloadable jpeg from each race – just to have. But NO WAY am I paying those prices. I even refused to pay the $95 for the Marine Corps Marathon photo CD last year – but my parents bought it for me as a gift.

    But take the Manassas Mini-Sprint two weekends ago. My first triathlon – I would have been more than happy to pay for a picture.

    It was $35(!!) for ONE downloadable image or $55 for the CD – which only had 4 pictures on them. Now as another aside – what exactly costs them $20 to add 3 more JPEGs onto the CD? The extra half second it takes to copy the files?

    To say nothing of the fact that their “high resolution” images are anything but. I am also an amateur photographer and the RAW images I shoot are 8-10 MB each. The images they usually give you on the CDs are 500-800K – max. High res my ass. Memory is so dirt cheap these days it costs them next to nothing to pay for memory cards or blank CDs.

    I am a capitalist at heart but this is just plain getting ripped off.

  19. Don’t you think that if your suggestions made for a profitable business model that they’d already be doing it?


  20. And I have no problem believing they make a lot of money. Mostly from first time racers who will pay whatever it costs to get a picture from their first race.

    The Marine Corps was my first marathon last year – as it was for @ 10,000 other runners. At $100 a pop for the photo CD (of what I would consider low res, chopped down pictures vs what they call high res images) they make a ton of cash off it.

  21. YOu’re right on about all of that! Here’s what else is annoying…when you order the (outrageously expensive) plaque with your race photo and it doesn’t include the correct name of the race or has the wrong date or doesn’t include your finishing time…all issues I’ve had and I’ve only ordered 3 (count em…three) plaques. What’s that say about the statistical percentages of race photo company errors if two of the three plaques that I personally have bought have been unsatisfactory?

  22. Yeah, how can they have photos from your Ironman race printed and ready for you to pick up the next morning, but if you wait for it online it takes over a week. I don’t get it!

  23. Brucelan

    Hey, us old folks can type pretty fast too. Take that comment back.

    Also, you have the concept of a CATCHPA completely backward. The idea is that it is harder for a computer (a “bot”) to read text and numbers than it is for a human.

    Having said that, I agree with all the major points in your rant. BTW, your friend takes some cool photos.

  24. How about a pro photographer’s point of view? I happened upon your site and thought I’d provide a few quick comments. First, I too am a competitive endurance athlete. And, like many of your readers, have been frustrated by the crappy race shots I have gotten over the years. I also make my living as a full time shooter covering events and sometimes providing shots to “citizen racers.” Anyhow, here are some thoughts in no particular order:

    1. Shots in shade areas vs sunny – a good photog will actually look for a nice shade area so that they can use a slower shutter speed and larger aperture to blur both the wheels and background.

    2. Delays in getting shots uploaded – At major events, these delays come from a few simple factors. First, magazines and commercial clients who pay my mortgage get their edited images first…and often in order of their deadlines. Depending on the event, this can take a solid day or two. Second, I personally edit ALL of the shots I take of people. This simply takes time. I will often clock 20 hour days after a race to do this. Producing high-quality images that have good composition, color balance / saturation, and weeding out the crap takes time. I wish, as you suggest, that this could be done by a school kid or some dude in India, but it doesn’t work that way. Third, it takes a long time to upload a few thousand photos that are all +8mb/files…doesn’t matter how big the pipe…hosting servers at the good print houses are slow too. It all takes time…and I feel your pain here…literally.

    Prices – There is a difference in my mind between a truly professional image and a snap shot jpg that isn’t edited, taken with top-shelf gear, etc. Don’t confuse the family happy-snappy camera with what a pro takes to a race. I routinely carry more than $20k in equipment. This gear gets beat up, worn out, and costs money to replace. Ditto on the terabytes of server storage that has to be maintained and the host of dual processor machines that edit the files. Factor in travel time/expenses, edit time, etc. and at the end of the day, $30 for an 8×10 is typically a financial loser for the shooter.

    It often surprises me, as an athlete and a photographer, how people are willing to commit hundreds of hours to training for an event, buy thousands of dollars in race shoes, tt-bikes, race wheels, recovery drinks, etc., pay several hundred dollars in entry fees and travel expenses – and STILL bitch about a $30 print that they will have to reflect on for a lifetime.

    Digital downloads of photo files? Sell them all the time. You’re spot on here.

    In short, the unfortunate reality is that if you want $2.99 images, you will get a poorly crafted image, from a shitty camera, that has been shot by a kid or some weekend hobbyist with no idea what an aperture setting is and edited by the same. And, don’t get me wrong, there is clearly a market for that product…just not the same product some of us are out there busting our asses trying to provide you.

    Thanks for providing the space for me to rant back! Stop by and check out some of my recent Leadville Trail 100 images: http://www.RobODeaPhotography.com

    Ride fast!

    • Matt

      Thanks for the insight Bob. I would buy your images.

    • Thibault H

      Thanks for these insights. Very useful. These days with digital camera and access to photo manipulation software “everyone” thinks they’re photographers. Photo editing is hard work!

  25. I’ve never figured why anyone takes portrait photos of someone on a bike! As a race photographer myself (albeit in the UK) its very hard to price photos, don’t think just because they are cheaper more people will buy photos – most are happy to try and download and photoshop out the watermark. I charge £6.99 for a digital image which I think is very reasonable :) also all of my photos are up within 24 hours (although the race number tags usually happen the following day)

    If anyone is interested – http://www.adventuresportphotography.com

  26. Hi, and thanks for sharing. I am an independent freelance event photographer UK, ( http://www.johncoxon.com ) and get where you are coming from. I am not a fan of what I call the ‘ loose Canons!’ the point and shoot companies who use a camera rather like someone would use a clicker to count in people going into an arena. Maybe they have an army of slaves compiling bib number data bases I am not sure- think they have software to do that.

    I am a big fan of the triathlon community and photographing the event. I want to record people’s achievement and give them a picture of themselves that is worth keeping. So I am the guy who lies on the floor as runners go by , using not a long lens but a wide angle one. I shoot as they fill the frame – I work as hard as I can for as long as it takes. I talk to , encourage and support athletes so they usually look at me and react in some way so the shots usually have warmth , personality and so often humour. For bikes , yes maybe a shot from the side going past but also , why not on the brow of a hill, face on where they can be a dialogue etc . Same with the swim- down on my knees shooting up as they come out of the water into transition!

    I usually work on my own so getting shots on line quickly is a load of work , cropping etc. Where there are thousands of participants really hard. more to follow but it doesn’t like my word count!

  27. Recently I worked for the first time with a team of photographers lead by a seasoned pro who had converted a library van to a mobile view and print studio. For him it was an experiment and a risk. The server crashes on day one. Not a good start . Second day , the problem of not being able to make the images easily retrievable without having to trawl through hundreds of shots – and athletes quite rightly are going to get frustrated so very few sales and prints done. I suppose sheets of contact prints based on the actual time of day / event spread on large boards would work. A battery of laptops connected to a server might also work.

    With a view to covering the events next year my mind was on how to do this better and more effectively. I actually found your thoughtful essay here searching for software that is available to buy that would automatically scan 2 or three hundred digital image files and assign a file name that was the bib number. I could find nothing after an hour of using a variety of keywords and yet the software must already exist. There are a couple of big companies that can do this but they aren’t giving away any secrets I believe. I was wondering whether it would be simpler to use my cameras ability to record sound- so , say , call the bib number so it was embedded in the image file- then some way of re-organising those spoken numbers numerically. I don’t know but I am sure myself and the team leader are going to work hard to find out how we can do this on site so athletes don’t have to wait. It would , it just occurred to me , be quite possible to load the entire opus directly on line to the event website- then athletes could use a range of their own and our devices to access and order! Must be possible to wi-fi from camera directly to website- include software where athletes could do their own cropping , altering contrast etc. Another improvement might be using wi-fi to transmit images from camera directly to server.

    What to charge is always a headache and of course if you are working for someone you have no control over that. If the quality is indifferent, I agree, why pay over the odds- but if it is a great shot maybe it is worth it. Personally I try to keep my prices low, but when the take up is poor, and it generally is, it means a loss- my risk of course and I accept that. The race I helped cover last weekend had 1500 athletes over two days and three events, Olympic distance on the Sunday. I was detailed to focus on the run and the swim exit. Over the weekend the guy that lead us invested £1000 GB with six people working together. Another improvement might be using wi-fi to transmit images from camera directly to server. Will have to see where the search for solutions and software leads and get back to you. Regards

  28. Thought you might be interested to hear this. At IM NOLA, they had auto-cameras located on the bike course (along with photogs, probably to get the helmet number and match the profile shots). Pictures from that section typically came out really well.

  29. Gebman

    Recently finished my first tri after a 5 years break and went to look at the pictures (which came available 6 days after the race I might add) and was amazed to see that the price for the digital image was even more than the printed version (I have my own ideas of how I want my image printed thank you!!). I have no idea where they get their business model from.

    Taken from their site:

    –Images are emailed with a small copyright notice embedded on the photo. Due to the shipping configuration of our Shopping Cart POSTAGE IS ADDED to the cost shown, even though images are delivered via email – the total cost of this product is $27.95 per image.–

    Jeeze, I would by ALL my images if they were a normal price, instead, I buy ZERO… And to still have the copyright on them? I am 100% with you on this rant.

  30. Hi, have covered tri all levels and other events, as a lone independent, and especialy team sports field hockey and Lacrosse, editing and then uploading hundreds of images onto my http://www.johncoxon.com website. Sales of prints, however priced, are very poor , often nil and yet the hit rate is often pretty big. I have been talking with other event pros in the UK and many have become disillusioned. The honest ones realise that putting your stuff on the net, watermarked and all, the majority of visitors will take down images even with your copyright spoilers. The wisdom is that you need to print on site if you are going to cover your costs at least and make a reasonable profit. I am leaning towards not publishing them all on the net or publishing just a few as samples and the rest as thumbs that would only print post stamp size.

    Digital files present a real dilemna for the photographer. OK , say a triathlete is unlikely to want to make anything other than personal use of an image but where it is a team sport, chances are one will pay and then share them with everyone else in the team. Of course you know as well that if they buy a print , not problem scanning it to convert to a file amnd then it becomes portable all around the globe at the speed of light. I was offering digital files for £1 GB and still very few takers. Partly I blame the Facebook culture and the music file share culture where the majority don’t see intellectual property theft as anything wrong.

    I am mindful that for most people tooled up with PCs and laptops, the digital file is the format of choice for pictures of them doing their sport thing but you have to make the leap of faith in effectively giving them away for what are peanuts against the actual cost to the independent. If you have a phone cam or dompact, most will regard anything they shoot as no cost and most will dump and drop, i.e take shots straight of camera device and upoad them to a forum like Faceboook. I rarely attend an event where I take less than 4 or 5 hundred shots and that means many hours editing afterwards.

    I would still like to know what athletes want from photographers as ,. even after a decade of trying to make it pay a reasonable amount it hasn’t worked for me. I want to give athletes what they want but not for nothing at all! I have yet to meet an independent freelance photographer that has managed to make a profit from triathon or its derivatives.

  31. Gebman

    Hi John,
    I realize that a lot of times we can be too hard on companies with what we expect pricing should be, and forget that there is a human element behind the product. I don’t mean to belittle the hard work that gets put into photographing events. Even though it is probably not the case, it can seem sometimes like the pricing model of movie theater candy. $2.50 for a candy bar because we are a captive audience. But I realize that photography is different since we are trying to pay for the time of the photographer as opposed to just jacking up the resale price of goods.
    I have worked in many fields from remodeling to IT consulting and have been on the other end of this as well. There can be a preconceived idea of what something should cost, without taking into account what really goes into it, so I can empathize.
    To answer your question about what athletes want, I can only speak for myself. I am probably in the minority, but I don’t need anyone post-processing my pictures or matching bib numbers for me (though it is helpful.) if it would save money. I would be happy if there was someone at the swim exit, a good spot on the bike, and end of the run with a decent camera and lens since this is just a simple sporting event and not nature photography. I don’t need a Time Magazine worthy shot of me, just something to look back on occasionally. Upload them in thumbs in sequence separated by swim, bike, run and I can find my own pretty quickly by just knowing my place in each split (I have had to do this with the swim pictures anyway.) I can color correct or crop if need be and print how ever I want if I so desire. Offer them as a pay per download and I would be happy. Price? I don’t know how high I would go, but I know even if it was an important race I would not pay $30 per image.
    Again, just my opinion. Doable? No idea, I am not the expert, just throwing out ideas of what I personally would want.

  32. Since this was bumped to the top I revisted my comments from last season and still stand by them.

    I think photogs could make a lot more money by offering cheaper, non-touched up, full-res download files.

    Dont touch my pictures up. Dont crop them for me. Dont tell me what I want to see in a full shot. Dont tell me what Photoshop filters I want applied. Offer the raw, untouched, uncropped, downloadable file for a reasonable price and *I* will do that.

    And I dont think I’m alone. Yes I am also an amateur photographer and use Photoshop/Lightroom almost every day. But anyone else that wants to chuck them on Facebook would rather do that than pay $40 for one stupid print. I’m sorry but that just doesnt add up. Why not offer different service levels:

    – untouched, raw, download files
    – touched up, cropped download files
    – touched up, cropped files on dvd
    – touched up, cropped prints

    Otherwise, I will continue to never pay for a professional shot.

  33. Says it all ” I am also an amateur photographer” so you don’t have to make a living form it. You sell a digital file and it gets copied and shared around the net how many times? Poeple will only pay peanuts for a file. Don’t forget too that professioanls sel images for a variety of uses and one image file potentially ios worth thousands of dollars. Image theft is a reality and copyright laws are there to deter it hence , altering or cropping is a breach of copyright law. Like I said few professionals make anything from events unless they sel on site. With costs of £90 a day before you get out of bed, you are not going to give stuff away. Customers have a choice- photogrpahs will earn what the market wil take. I don’t expect much but why should I give stuff away at less than I think is fair to me. If you don’t like it rely on amatuers to get the shots as so many people do now. If they screw up for you then that’s the cost to you!

  34. I dont rely on anyone to take the shots. If my parents get a shot, great. If my brother nabs a few, fantastic. But I’m sure not paying $40 for a 500k jpeg file or $40 for an 8×10 print.

    I guess photographers must be making a ton of money then. Oh wait, they dont? Because here’s what I hear in my running/biking groups/forums/gatherings/blogs – “We would buy a lot more pictures if they were slightly cheaper.” And here’s what I hear from photographers “Too bad. Our equipment is expensive and so is our time. You will pay what we say you will pay.”

    Well, fantastic then. I know how long it takes to crop pictures. I know how long it takes to drag pictures to a blank CD and burn it. And I know race photographers are not spending hours per picture.

    My brother has @ $1,000 in equipment, a $500 dslr and one nice $500 lens. His RAW files (@10MB each) are more than enough to work with. High quality dslrs are commodity items now – not specialized equipment like they may have been considered 5 or 10 years ago. And what I see are companies charging for pictures like they are.

    I still say that race photographers should offer untouched files for purchase. And dont tell me they cant be sold and then edited or cropped – otherwise just about everyone I know thats done a race has broken the law.

  35. Gebman

    But John, don’t you think there is a difference between certain event photos being worth “thousands of dollars?” and others that are just a picture of me (a nobody) crossing the finish line? I doubt anyone would want the picture of me running, biking, or leaving the swim. I understand copyrighting photos and not wanting certain images touched or passed around, like a shot of all the swimmers lined up at the start with a perfect sunrise in the background, or a zoom shot of 10 bikers sprinting towards you, those are well thought out shots, but for the most part, the pictures are just cookie-cutter shots of individuals that mean nothing to anyone but the person in the photo. When I had my engagement picture and wedding pictures taken I was given 2 dvd’s full of raw images that were mine to use as I pleased. Obviously copyright was not a issue there and it can be done (which I realize you don’t get paid for your time unless people buy images, no argument there.) Are you really worried that we would try and make money off of the photos we buy, somehow making you lose out on potential profits? Or are you more worried I will share that picture with my parents and maybe best friend? I guarantee they will look at the picture, say “nice picture” and will never look at it again. This isn’t like the music copyright problem (again, for the type of image I am talking about) as there is no mass audience for MY picture. My picture isn’t going to get passed around on Peer-To-Peer sharing sites. If you happen across an image of me running that shows my ripped quads, face of determination, perfect round sweat drop mid air below my chin as I cross the finish line in first place (in my dreams) and think it will make the cover of Triathlete Magazine, then by all mean, copyright that and don’t offer it to me digitally. But a while after the end of the season the company that shoots our races just deletes all images anyway and gets ready for next year. If there really was some value to those shots I would imagine this would not be done.
    Again, not trying to start a flame war, right or wrong, just saying it like I see it from my end.

  36. Thanks G. for your thoughtful reply. I am an independent freelance usually always working on my own and passionate about the sport- I try to promote it with sports journalism too, but only the Women as I have only one pubishing vehicle and that is women sport only website/ magazine, not for profit. Pre January this year I had a part time job and that subsidised me covering tri and other events- Made redundant so had to try and make a proper business of photogrpahy. It isn’t working at all!I always loved the vibe around triahtlons and the really nice people the sport / life style attracts. In fact I agree with what you are saying and in the main I am there to record achievement for athletes of all abilities – in general the magazines for example are only normally intereseted in the Elites. In the past I have supplied them too and didn’t charge them. I tend to use Facebook to display work from events. As I may have mentioned elsewhere, in order to show your “products” you put them somewhere on the net. For most people, that’s it- they just want to see the stuff, and , of course exercising their right of choice, do not normaly want to buy prints or digital files. Inreasingly, for example at the last two major world class events I attended in my City, the net was soon flooded with hundreds of free images , mosty from amateur or voluntary sources and so no chance at all of making a return of any kind. I do not know one photogrpaher, working on their own, that makes a living from sport photography. I am not even sure that company’s that employ bib number shooters make that much. In the main they charge far more than I ever did ! It has been a learning curve for me, especialy this year and needed to get a more reasitic handle on it. My photogrpahs are very good-I care about what I do! But have had to accept that however good they are, the way things have changed,they are never going to sell however I adjust my prices downward !

  37. Good stuff! You read my mind on this one. I really think you should start up your own company and employ high schoolers, to tag photos, and hell… drag them to the races to take photos too! What high schooler doesn’t like to take photos (aside from sitting on their butts, and making money). The price part in your post is dead on! Lesser will equal more sales. I’ve only seen one photographer do this, and it was a small race in Arlington off the WO&D trail somewhere. Probably the only pic I’ve ever actually paid for vice using the ol’ “Print Screen” button, then cropping the watermark out. :o) See if I pay $40 for a pic of myself now SUCKAS!

  38. RG

    The quality, composition and post process is what you pay for. Give your average high schooler a DSLR and the give a pro a DSLR and send them out to get race pictures and I will bet you will see a big difference once the final product is brought to you. There is a big difference between your consumer model DSLR and a pro level body and lens combination.

    Selling digital files is a sticky point for working photographers as this is a majority of their income. If you are going to sell a digital copy of your work to someone, how much would you charge for it?

    High resolution is not a file size issue, it is a resolution issue. Different forms of file saving (jpg, tiff, bmp, etc) have different levels of compression associated with them and can be saved with different quality levels. A RAW file isn’t an image but a pile of information that most people can’t even view let alone edit on thier computer, so that isn’t really a feasible solution.

    Although I agree that is sucks that the costs are high, there is a reason. How would you feel about someone telling you that you make too much money and criticizing you while you work?

    My idea is a better one than has been mentioned here so far. Take a race with 1,000 participants, charge $7 extra per person, and include with the race “up to” 2 images included with your registration fee. Use the $7,000 as so…

    for a sprint tri, us 5 photos, and pay them $100 per hour (freelance, using their own equipment, hence the high pay). Say five hours each, that’s $2500. the use the remaining $4500 to cover your time and expenses for editing, cropping, organizing, printing and delivering about 2,000 images.

    I like this idea. Thoughts?

  39. All around the world are committed professionals ‘ love tri , but we are so struggling because for a few hundred quid, you can now buy a camera that will do it all for you, making a mockery, say , of my forty years experence.

  40. I also do not understand why they charge the outrageous prices. And much of the time their watermark isn’t enough to deter me from simply taking a PrtSc and cropping the picture out. In turn, they get no money whatsoever. If they would simply charge a reasonable price as you suggested for a digital downloadable file for a few dollars, I would be much more inclined to buy the high-res image.

  41. Anonymous

    Picture take up at most races is around 3-5%, almost irrespective of price, under $10 or over $40. . Poor photos without cropping drop that figure lower.
    What people say they will do and what they actually do are two different things.
    I had custom software that I could ‘tag’ 200-400 images per hour with. For most races that was about 3 hours work, and about 4-6 hours getting rid of the weak images and cropping others. Taking 1200-1500 images down to about 800 salable ones, from two different cameras.
    Sunday, race, Monday or maybe (on odd occaisions) Tuesday up for purchase. Prints or online. Online prices were pretty cheap – About $10-12.
    Like almost all photography nowadays, the truth is, there is no money in it. We are too used to free.

  42. I actually have given up attending events “on spec” and putting them on line – there is no market any more – you just attract window shoppers and image thieves.

  43. Tyler Haas

    Just viewed my photos from my first half-marathon; the image composition sucked (the photog was kneeling in all of them, with me dead-center in the photo and towering up. It made my shoes look huge and my torso tiny, along with totally ignoring the rule of thirds, and cropping my head out of frame half the time), and the photos were horrifically overpriced ($25 for a print. No downloadable option.). I’m all for paying professionals like they are professional, but if you’re going to charge half a race entry fee (exactly — that race was $50 unless you registered late) for a photo, it damn well better be a great photo, not the crud that I saw.

    Glad my wife was at the start and finish getting pictures. The photo series she got of me sprinting past one of the other racers in the finish was great (from about 45 degrees head on, another from about 90 degrees, and finally 45 degrees from behind, with nice background motion blur as she followed me with the camera), and will be sitting in a shadowbox with my finisher’s medal and bib shortly.

  44. Ham-planet

    Rootsandrain.com is a great example of race-day photos done right. Pricing is up to the individual photog, but is usually pretty reasonable.

  45. psywiped

    To the photographers, let me put everything here another way for you. I AM NOT SUBSIDING YOU TAKING OTHER PEOPLES PHOTOS! If you put more than 3 minuets into my photo you are doing it wrong and for that 3 minuets of time I will pay you $1, in addition I will pay you another $1 for your equipment depreciation yes this is high when your equipment can take 100,000+ shots but I’m a nice guy. I will buy every good photo you take of me in a race for $2 each as a 10mp+ max quality jpg download.

  46. J_O_S_H_U_A

    I am a race photographer and I freelance and work for different companies.

    I cannot say that I disagree with anything that you’ve said and the difference in bike photographs that you posted is night and day….. but there is one HUGE problem with photos that are not head on: You are not always identifiable, therefore you would never find those photo of yourself. In this case we can read the marker on your arms and leg, but that is very rare late in races as people sweat, smudge or block them.

    I am all about getting the best images possible. ALWAYS. and I work very hard to try and get them. Unfortunately the skill level of many freelance race photographers is not up to par, and participants are often left with mediocre images.

    One thing that puts the prices and the sales in perspective: Before I am even paid to shoot, my travel, accomodations, meals and milage can run anywhere from $150 to $750 just to get me there. Then my shoot fee often times doubles that depending on the event. The point is that these companies are making money. Big money if they can afford to pay me upwards of $1500 to shoot a saturday race. Multiply that times 25 photographers and that should put things in perspective.

  47. Interesting comments. I actually recently had the idea to have software developed to recognize bib numbers. Initially I thought it should be pretty simple. 4 companies tried, zero succeeded. And these were mainly running race photos.

    I think because in each photo, the numbers look different was the issue.
    wrinkled bibs, on angles depending on your stride etc. Maybe another company could succeed but gave up.

    One other point, I had approx 6 million photos I had taken over the previous few years. I sent out over 50,000 emails advertising $1 photo downloads before we deleted the photos to regain space on our servers. I had visions of making some decent money. Guess how many were purchased? 0!!! this is when I realized, the interest in photos is not like it was 15 years ago when an event photo was special. The business is saturated and no one will purchase a photo a every race they do, now that almost all races have photos being taken.

    Interesting discussion though

    • Interesting.

      I think in this day and age, everything is about instant-gratification and timing. Once someone gets to the point of being able to offer near-real-time tagging of bibs and offering photos for payment, people will look at paying for them. Unfortunately, days later is ‘old news’ for Facebook photo sharing.

    • Hello John,

      We have been developing software to automatically recognize bib numbers for race photographers. As this thread discuses, it does actually cost a lot of time to process photos after a race. I want to reduce that time by automatically tagging the photos with the bibs numbers. We are looking for photographers who are interest in free trials in exchange for feedback and an opportunity to raise suggestions to make the software better.

      If your interested please send me an email or sign up at our website link to racenumbertagger.com


  48. Matt

    A recent example….I did the Indianapolis mini-marathon last May. Its a big event here with 35,000 participants. It cost me $55 to register and the price for download of all my photos was $70. I paid it because I PR’d and the pictures were good in quality and quantity, but I won’t pay $70 again next year. The cost of race photos shouldn’t exceed the cost to register for the race. My wife was pissed that I bought them. Buying race photos shouldn’t upset your wife, that’s a sign they are too expensive.

  49. im hoping to solve this problem …….im a frequent cycling and running competitor and got sick and tired of the same old expensive images…

    just launched first alpha release of KrowdMe.com (alpha.krowdme.com) which disrupts the current model by having any person with any type of camera share their photos and do it either for free or a price they nominate….

    Using crowd sourcing of images we will share these with competitors and hope to have images uploaded instantly from mobile devices, or the new wifi/4g cameras like samsung have released.

    We are working on the auto bib recognition parts now and also hope to have facial recognition

    let me know what you think

  50. Just want to bring to the discussion a new revolutionary model of sponsored race photography.
    With this model – race sponsors would cover all the race photography expenses, athletes will have their photos for free(!) while in return the photos are branded with sponsor’s logo (or nicely designed watermark).

    This model is most attractive to sponsors with the recent introduction of new race photos tagging technology making use of 2D barcodes. Such special 2D barcodes are printed on race bibs to enable automatic recognition of bib numbers. The process is very fast and tens of thousands of photos are scanned within the hour.
    Just Google – “2D barcodes on race bibs to automatically tag race photos” for more details.

    In addition – an integral part of such a solution is instant posting of athletes’ photos to their Facebook profile. This creates a great real-time-photos-sharing experience for the athletes and maximize the branded-social-reach for the race and the sponsors.

  51. I know this is a really old thread but I’ve read every post with interest. I agree with so many of the sentiments here.

    My partner competes in equestrian competitions and they have the same issues. Essentially participants want good photos from their events at a reasonable price and as soon after the race as possible.

    I created a unique community photography website to address all these issues. GeoSnapShot.com now supports hundreds of events globally. The GeoSnapShot.com platform works like this.

    For an organised event:
    – The event organiser makes a booking our the GeoSnapShot calendar requesting any number of photographers and stating how much the photo are sold for (we recommend a standard price of $8.95 each)
    – Any photographer can choose to book on as an official photographer of the event. Photographers can be partners, parents, local hobby photographers or professionals
    – All photographers then upload to the GeoSnapShot website (recommended with 24 hours) and photographers are paid 70% of any sales they make.
    – There is no upfront charge to the event organiser or photographer for the service.

    As an individual photographer:
    – Ask the event organiser if you can attend the event
    – Set any price you want for the photos
    – Take photos at the event and upload them
    – Ask the event organiser to post a link a unique “quick link” to your photo on GeoSnapShot.

    In this way any photographer at the event can upload photos for the benefit of mass coverage of the event and offing photos at a reasonable cost.
    We also provide free online video training of how to take the best photos at an event and find people improve greatly over 2 or 3 events.

    GeoSnapShot looks after all; upload, storage, viewing, distribution, purchase, payment to photographers and customer service of the photos. All photos are digital download only. For this we take 30% of any sales made.

    I’d be interested to know if you think this partly or wholey solves the problem explained in this thread and if you know of event organisers or photographers that would be interested in this?

  52. There are plenty of us in the running/triathlon world complaining about the cost of pictures. For the most part, most of us just want to put up a picture on social media for family and friends to see. We don’t need super-high-resolution images; something good enough for social media is great.

    There is a new startup that is piloting crowd-sourced photography. It’s called Snapathon.com – currently on iPhone only, but Android app coming soon. Their first pilot was last week in Arizona.

    The cost of the pictures is less than three bucks and the photographer gets to keep about a third of it (or donate to charity).

  53. john

    This is interesting. I am curious how the race directors will react and handle this. Most races the photography and video are a fundraising engine. Company pay a percent usually to work the the event and they have an exclusinve contract. I have even heard an instance where USA Figure skating attornys were actively persuing someone who took photos and were selling them who did not have a contract.

    It is an intersting idea, just curious how it will play out….

    • I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that since races are held on public streets, anyone can take and sell photos and videos. Since figure skating is held in enclosed (private) arenas, the rules are probably different (the entity renting the arena may control the event more closely).

  54. Tim Davies

    Nothing changes … back from the World Rowing Masters Regatta. It started at 12:00GMT on Thursday 10th and ended at 13:00GMT on Sunday 13th

    Here we are at 22:00GMT on Wednesday 16th and the “official” photographer is still uploading and tagging … given that each race entry was €20 per person and most people would have done 3+ and are not poor students or first-jobbers you can imagine there will be some desire for their output!

    I’ve just had a look at their prices … Personal Licence 800×600 digital is US$10, and 1200×800 is US$30


    I would send them this article but their website says “Questions & Feedback Phone: 1-800-111-2222- seriously?

    • Hi Tim,

      I feel your pain. I posted earlier in this thread (post #57) about what we do.
      With GeoSnapShot.com the event organiser chooses the price of the photos and can even keep some of the revenue generated from sales for themselves.
      We’re happy to support any events globally!

      Cheers, Andy Edwards

    • Tim Davies

      Looks good Andy – if I’m stupid enough to organise an event I may well give it ago … or recommend it to those brave souls who do organise something!

      A great feature would be some status about your pool of snappers – do you have lots in the UK?

      Something coming up in your end of the world – link to worldmastersgames2017.co.nz – would be a perfect event for your concept!

    • Hi Tim,

      We’re just updating the website with information about photographers, partners, affiliates, etc.
      We have over 1,300 photographers now and covered more than 800 events in Australia, UK and USA last year.

      We cover some very large events in the UK including The British University and College Sports (BUCS) which is the largest sports body in Europe with up to 5,000 games played a week at over 160 Universities. GeoSnapShot supports all of that culminating in the BUCS national event has 6,000 participants, every day for 3 days doing 40 simultaneous sports!

      I’ll look into World Masters Games, thanks. We’re covering the Australian Master Games in 2 weeks time that has 10,000 participants a day for 5 days straight!

      Feel free to pass on our details. We’re inspiring event organisers globally to offer mass coverage, using local photographers for a decent price!

      Cheers, Andy

  55. Paul

    As above – this is still relevant now.
    I started triathlon this year and competed in Tri Liverpool (an ITU event – so not a small deal) where you would expect good photos. Sadly the quality of the photos are appalling. Then they want a ridiculous fee for them.

    I am competing in Ironman UK next year (my first IM)… and I want the gantry finish shot. I mean I REALLY want it. but its like £50 for a photo pack. Just entering the event has left me broke and I cant afford it. I take my patient wife along who uses my nice camera, but is quite frankly, useless despite many attempts to teach her what shots are good and how to take nice photos. The end result of this is that I will probably buy at least one photo (if I have the money) after the event. But that will be the only time I will have bought one.

    If photos were £3-£5 each, photographers would probably have £20-£30 of my money already and would likely make another £20 at IMUK, plus other events. It really is appalling business sense (leaving aside bad photos from alleged pros) – Charge less and many people will buy.

    As things are now, photos are still prohibitively expensive….5/6 years after the original post. its unforgiveable


    • Hi Paul,

      Firstly congratulations on aiming for your first IM next year. I hope the training is going well.

      There is an answer to the photography situation and it’s available right now.
      GeoSnapShot.com inspires talented local photographers to support any type of event in their local area. Local photographers can be partners of participants at the event or photographers from the local area who’s hobby is photography.

      GeoSnapShot enables any number of photographers to upload from an event giving you mass photography choice at a low cost as photographers are not trying to make a living from it. Here’s a video that explains the platform for photographers link to youtube.com

      We’re based in Australia but currently support all British University Games and are spreading our wings in the UK and USA. GeoSnapShot.com works globally in multiple currencies right now.

      It may be worth letting organisers know about the service or any photographers you think would be interested.

      Good luck next year.
      Andy Edwards

  56. David

    Blast from the past.

    Reading through this I can understand a lot of the dismay over race day shots, but I can also provide some feedback.

    First I will say I have been searching for a couple years now for a reliable tagging software solution, I have been unsuccessful thus far with those I have tested not reading correctly if the bib was not straight on, no creases, no shadows etc. Then it also picks up random numbers from advertisements, license plates, misunderstanding names on bibs as numbers. These in turn become even more time consuming going back through them and making sure they are correct.

    I will say yes indeed the majority of time spent between race day and photo delivery is the ingest of 20-40k+ photos (I take all photographers photos from the event) Sorting them, getting rid of bad shots, trying to save border line shots, tagging, editing if needed and uploading.

    While in theory this can be easily done with a swarm of kids or sent to foreign country via the internet, you are losing any quality control in that. While many people just want their quick shot and post on social media the photographers I work with are NOT point and shoot, we are artist, this is our craft and we prefer to deliver a superior image. Most of the shooters that work our events are also athletes and we understand what you are talking about as far as setting the scene. Variety is the spice of life, some want the side blur some want the zoomed in face grinding down the road, some want the fish eye wide shot and the sharp turn. We get it, we try to give a variety. That being said the way we have worked out the race photography pricing is it’s free. It is a part of your registration. You register, you can download the digital file. No it might not be the 50mp file (space actually cost money), but it is a good size for printing. Does it take some time to get these thousands of shots up? YES 3-5 days depending on the size of the event (usually 1200-2000 athletes with 5-7 photographers)
    Do we some times make print sales, yes as that is also an option on the site, but most would just download. I love seeing everyones photos end up on FB and Instagram, it means they appreciated the shot.

    If anyone knows of this magic software that actually picks up the helmet number, the bib number or the faded sharpie please let me know I am more than happy to look in to it and invest for a faster solution.

    Please keep in mind not everyone thinks the same way on what a great shot would be, but yeah wheel blur.

    • Hi David,

      Great post and I love reading it.
      It’s great that you manage to build in the price of photos to the registration fee. It’s a good way to provide “free” photos from the event.
      Although I don’t have a solution to your race bib tagging problem I would say that you could cut down on your workload and cut down on your cost of hosting from the processes you have.

      Firstly, I will say that I run GeoSnapShot.com, I believe that athletes and local photographers can (and should) cover events they love as photographers to provide people with memories of their achievements. What we do as a business is insipe, train and enable photographers to support these events.

      Second, I would say that you could save your costs of hosting simply by hosting your photos on GeoSnapShot. registration is free and you can sell you photos fro free…. in this way there is no cost to you or the participant. We don’t make any money from this situation but we feel it’s something that we want to provide for many people in your situation or charities, etc.

      Third, It’s pretty amazing that you, personally, would sift through 20,000 to 40,000 photos from your events! We actually train photographers (via online video training) to take photos that sell, cull and do minimal editing before they upload the photos themselves to our site. On GeoSnapShot an event can have any number of photographers uploading to it, each photographer gets credit for their work.
      Each photographer can then see exactly what photos were sold (or downloaded for free in your case) so they can hone their skills and shots that people want over time.

      We have over 2,000 photographers now, we’ve supported over 7,000 events (some up to 10,000 participants and day and many over 2,000 a day). I love it that photographers can have a platform that they can use to support events they love every weekend all over the world. They can either provide photos for free, raise money for the club/charity or make money towards their next lens!

      So it may be that the GeoSnapShot service could help you at your next event. Feel free to contact support@geosnapshot.com if you want me to contact you directly.

  57. We give photos away. No water marks etc. We look at it as good will advertising. We don’t hire photographers but we do use volunteers. Photos are online in original camera shot quality with in 24 hours.
    We want people to know that they had a good time at our race. This will get more people to participate. Also shirts are sold at cost. Real wicking tees. Buy them if you want one at registration. If your tired of Tees don’t buy one and say $10.00. Again for us it is advertising similar to word of mouth advertising. We want folks to come and have fun. We offer 5k, 10k, and half marathon for $15. Same price you pick the distance. We feel this is a new concept that could catch on. Keeping it simple. (we offer pancakes after the race too.)

  58. Bill Land

    I just stumbled across this today 9 years after the fact but thought I’d share my experience in the photo field. I cover auto and motorcycle racing at the larger east coast tracks. For the amateur races(WERA, NASA etc.) we have a special deal….for $75 we will shoot 20 action shots and one team photo of any participant and you can pick them up from our tent at the end of the race event on a thumb drive. I do this by hiring 4 of the best students from the local junior college as second shooters and 2 students that are good with Photoshop. Each photographer is paid $250 plus meals and entry to the event. Computer guys make $300 each plus meals and entry. They love the chance to do this, show off their talent and make a little money. I furnish the lenses. The computer guys use my golf cart to swap memory cards with the photographers after each race or practice session.
    We average 200 customers per event now which works out to $15,000.00 per 3 day event of which we clear about $10,000 after expenses. The photos do not have watermarks other the my company’s name in the lower right corner and become property of the participant…..we have very few complaints.