Running is one of the most popular sports in the United States and rapidly gaining ground worldwide, while track and field ranks as the most popular high school sport in the nation by overall participation. There were over thirty thousand road races last year, and thousands of high school cross country and track meets. In total, we, Flashframe, have had attendance at a few hundred, and plan to make that over a thousand by this year's end, but there are hundreds of other races using other photography companies to capture their event. We get hundreds of questions from our customers about the differences between different models and companies and their pros and cons; I wanted to take a minute to answer those questions and how your race can benefit from each.
Traditional Photography Companies
There are many out there. They're out at your biggest races and they've been around since the beginning of time. They charge large amounts for photos to participants, and they give the race a small cut of the action. Ultimately, not every runner may love this model, but races usually get a good kickback and its good enough to renew the contract for another year. They know how to operate efficiently, know how many photographers to have on the course, and get decent enough photos of everyone. Keep an eye out for these guys if you have a highly profitable race because they'll make it worth your while to stay by their side. Unfortunately if your race is too small it may be difficult to interest them to come to your race, however, there are still plenty of other great options that I've yet to mention!
This is a new fad within the running industry. While some people appreciate them, ultimately this 'free' photo comes at the cost of a higher entry fee or thanks to a corporate sponsor who gets to line the edges of your photo. This may be more favored by runners, but many times this model doesn't pay out as well as a traditional photography model would. If any participant wants the photo without the advertisements they still need to pony up and pay, and many times this money isn't usually given back to the race. One of the biggest drawback to this model is just finding sponsors and advertisers that are willing to pay the upfront cost of races photos and that do not have a conflict of interest with your other race sponsors. Finally, don't be surprised either when you get spam email from one of the sponsors months down the line, with that 'free' photo comes the old adage, "nothing in life is free."
A tasteful free photo from the Flashframe site, note the logo in the corner
If you have a race of less than a thousand people and want professional photographers, this is your best bet. Get on Google and just search for a local sports photographer in your area. Many have their own website and you can use it to distribute the photos, but many times they may lack the resources like a website or software to tag photos that larger companies have. Most will have a going rate for their services, but with new technologies (like Flashframe) you can suggest a commission structure for them, and allow them to distribute as well as tag photos.
The Timing Company
Depending on the company you work with this can be both great or subpar. There are many different chip timing devices and some integrate directly with cameras. Timing companies then usually integrate these finish photos with timing data, while these photos can be inexpensive, and usually free to participants, they are generally not of the highest quality--it's tough to get great photos with the right exposure and shutter speed from an automated device. Some photographers team up or follow timing companies around, from our experience, these folks usually know their stuff and are basically professional race photographers. The only drawback maybe some of the same we mentioned above, ultimately someone needs to pay them. Next time your timing company says they have photos, make sure to ask the right questions and figure out who's snapping.
A timing company's setup at a race, many timers have cameras linked to the RFID sensors on the ground
Your Brother, Sister, or Family Member
Arguably one of the best options out there, as long as they don't want to get paid! Many of the benefits of a freelance photographer, and usually a fraction of the cost. You really luck out if they happen to be a decent race photographer--stay tuned as well have some race photography tips in the coming weeks. Let them know that Flashframe is a great place to sell and distribute photography and tag it quickly by bib number.
We like to see ourselves as the as the solution to help everyone: Photo companies offering paid or free photos, freelance photographers, timing companies, and most importantly your family. We have provided tagging through our application programming interface or API to a number of race photography companies, both free and paid. We've also become the photography home to multiple timing companies as well as the professional website to many photographers. We've also become in many instances the one stop shop by coordinating free and paid photography options to races, allowing multiple freelancers to appear at a race and distribute their photos in one massive album on the Flashframe site. In some cases where races work with us directly, we've negotiated profit sharing agreements off of the commission schedule that has worked great for all parties involved. Our network of freelance photographers is large and growing, so if you're looking for alternative options within the photography landscape, consider Flashframe a valuable asset.
When it comes time to coordinate your next race, don't hesitate to reach out to the Flashframe team directly and let us assist in helping you make an informed decision regarding photography. We have extensive industry experience and have a wealth of knowledge on our team from photography veterans as well as our industry disrupting founding team, feel free to give us a shout and ask. Otherwise, keep in mind the advantages as well as disadvantages of each of the types of packages out there, no one is perfect, not even us, but you can minimize the headache you have to endure as a participant or race director.