Race Photography: A Closer Look

A conversation with Robbie Little, Co-Founder of FinisherPix, on the current state of race day photos

Race day photos: They’re an essential ingredient of most runners’ best moments, like that first marathon, a big personal best time, a fun run with your best friend, or the major race you trained for harder than ever before.

But for event organizers, photography can be something of a headache. Races of varying sizes take many approaches to how they handle on-course photos, with the only true constant being that runners want them, and they’d like to look great in them.

We recently caught up with Robbie Little, Co-Founder of global photography provider FinisherPix and proud Running USA vendor member, to hear his thoughts on the current state of race day photography as we know it. Here’s one key takeaway: “The photos are not free. Someone is paying.”

Gain more insight in this important race day area in Little’s interview:

RUSA: What’s your take on the current state of endurance event photography?

RL: Up until a few years ago in the endurance space, participants were regularly paying for photos with little to no objection. Even now, depending on the event, many still are.

While “free” or “sponsored” photos may be relatively new to the endurance space, it is not new in the world of photo-marketing and is something I have seen as far back as 25 years ago. So, imagine a market where customers (event participants in this case) are paying a premium for photos, the lion’s share of this photo revenue is going to the event organizers and then, overnight, the idea is spread that photos should be “free.”

Event participants love it (who doesn’t love free?) but the rest of the market scrambles to make sense of it all. That’s the fly in the ointment here. The photos are not free. Someone is paying. So an organizer may have gone from getting a check for as little as a couple thousand dollars from their photographer to tens or even hundreds of thousands for one event and then suddenly is being asked to subsidize the service in some form or fashion. It’s a big ask. I think the dust is beginning to settle on this topic as many events have experimented with various approaches and photographers, but only time will tell.

RUSA: Tell us about the FinisherPix model for race photography – how does it work and how can events use your services?

RL: As it stands now, most races are either in a traditional “retail/participant pays” model or a “service/free” model although various hybrid approaches have also been experimented with. At FinisherPix, we don’t have a particular model and instead think it best “being Switzerland.” We focus on offering excellent photographer and cutting edge services in any model that best suits the event, its shareholders and its participants. We pride ourselves on being dependable, scaleable, debt-free and trustworthy. In terms of how events can use our services, they just need to reach out to us and say hello!

RUSA: What do events need to know about their investment or lack thereof in professional photography services?

RL: There is such a wide range of events out there from short distance with a few hundred runners to marathons with 50,000+ runners so the approach to photographer should be a reflection of that. What works for one may not work for another. In my opinion, events should strive for an approach to photography that is sustainable, whatever that means to them. (Shameless plug: FinisherPix has a proven track record and we are happy to help define and build a sustainable model for events of any size!)

RUSA: What do participants need to know about race day photos?

RL: A couple of things come to mind:

Depending on the model being used by the event, they should be informed, as appropriate, at the right times throughout the event lifecycle. The photography should be seamlessly integrated into the event’s website and social media channels so they don’t have to dig for information; and speaking for FinisherPix, this type of photography is hard work in variable conditions with long hours. We are often some of the first to arrive at an event and the last to leave. They should know that photography is a hugely competitive business and the people working behind the scenes do this because they love doing it. Many of us at FinisherPix participate in events ourselves, with numerous Ironman, 70.3, marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 5K finishes so we know that it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.

RUSA: How many events/race participants did you shoot last year? How many photographers do you contract with?

RL: We covered about 325 events around the world in 2017 which amounted to about 550K participants. I don’t have an exact number of photographers but it’s probably between 1500-2000. 2018 is shaping up to be our biggest ever with over 425 events currently listed on our schedule!

RUSA: What other topics along these lines can you inform us about?

RL: With new races, new photo providers and new technologies popping up all the time, a lot of noise can get in the way. I would encourage events to have a clear idea of what a reasonable expectation for photography means to them and then choose a photo company with means to get the job done. There are also intangibles which events should discuss with their photo partner such as insurance, tax compliance, financial position with their photographers and other vendors. These are not always fun questions to ask but could avoid a lot of headache (and more expense) down the road. We are always happy to have a conversation with events to see if we make a good match. Event participants want and deserve a good photographic record of their achievement and we spend every day working to be the best at providing just that.