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Date: August 06, 2015

Author: Robbie Little

Great photos aren't cheap and cheap photos aren't great - so who pays?

It's no secret that the photo industry as a whole has changed dramatically over the last several years and these changes have impacted the entire process of how participant photography is conducted at endurance events.

Until the late 90s, photographs were shot on film and this film was then processed into proof-size images to be manually identified, sorted by race number and put into an envelope for mailing to the participant with an order form to buy if they wanted to. 

As internet technologies developed it became apparent to everyone that displaying photos for sale online was a natural fit and this is largely the model that is still around today. What is changing as this industry continues to evolve is how the money flows.

Historically photography companies bid on the exclusive right to take and sell photos at endurance events. From a business perspective, we had to speculate on (1) what the event fee would be; and (2) covering all costs (photographers, travel, processing, hosting, storing, and shipping of photos, customer support and more) and still be profitable - clearly a business model that is not for the risk averse. Incidentally, this is why I often smile when someone asks me how much the event producer pays us to be at the event, and how we determine photo prices.

Fast forward to the present. Digital SLR cameras are available at lower prices than ever before. Every smartphone has a camera and the technologies deployed in these are becoming more advanced.

Virtually all social media platforms and social-driven apps not only support photos in some way but also these photos are often the centerpiece of the platform. Photos are everywhere. This is proving to be a double-edged sword as it pertains to participant photography.

With respect to the endurance space, the event participants themselves, family members, spectators, event organizers, sponsors and others expect thorough coverage of all event participants. Meeting that expectation is hard work. Teams of photographers are often part of the first group to arrive at an event and the last to leave - rain or shine. 

In the traditional model, the participants (hopefully) finance the effort through purchasing photos. The latest trend we're seeing now is "free" photos. The thing is, the photos are not free. 

The costs to thoroughly cover the event still apply.The basis for this "free" model is to either pass along the costs mentioned above to a sponsor or to bury the cost of photography into the registration fee as an event cost. The good: participants are able to access and download their photos (in most cases with a sponsor logo on them) without having toreach into their wallet. The bad: the photo effort is now subject to the vagaries of marketing budgets & sponsor dollars. A great free photo experience one year may be gone the next. What to do then? Will people pay for photos in year 2 after they were free in year 1? I don't know the answer, but we soon will.

At FinisherPix we continue to focus on taking great photos and developing our platforms for photo delivery to accommodate any model. In the end, the market will decide but one thing's for sure: event participants still want and deserve a good photographic record of their achievement. 



Co-Founder of FinisherPix, LLCand 3-time IRONMAN finisher, Robbie Little has been in the photo business since his sophomore year at Florida State University. He has photographed numerous endurance events around the world including more than 125 IRONMAN events.


If you have a comment about Robbie's blog, please write us at feedback@triathlonbusinessintl.com

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