Some thoughts on race photography…

(Yikes! Getting dusty again! The following is taken from an email I sent to mid-Michigan race directors in response to recent solicitations from out-of-state race photography companies. I’ll go into more detail about each item in future posts.)

I’m writing today after learning that many of you are being contacted by race photography services from places as far-flung as California, Georgia and Colorado. Options are a good thing in any marketplace, but as a local guy who’s covered hundreds of area races these past few years, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider the concerns I’m about to outline. I’ll spare you the detailed thoughts and just give you the broad strokes here in the interest of keeping it from getting way too long.

First up is the “buy local” concept. These out-of-state groups don’t know you or your customers, have no local relationships, and are attempting to fill a need that doesn’t exist. They’ll likely alienate your customers by bombarding them with emails, because they have no other means of connecting with them. TimeFrame Photography, on the other hand, is hyperlocal. Born, raised and based right here in mid-Michigan, I rarely even leave the area to cover events without good reason. I hang out and talk with my customers — our customers — on a weekly basis before and after races. I send one or two emails per race (maybe, very rarely, three) and I focus on building strong positive relationships with them. I’m very happy to call many of them my friends.

Product quality is another concern. I can guarantee your satisfaction with TimeFramePhoto.com purchases because I do virtually all of the work myself. It’s my company and my reputation on the line. Are these out-of-staters going to fly here to shoot your race? No, they’ll run craigslist ads looking for photographers in the area who’ll work for peanuts. Guess how much those folks care about product quality. I speak from experience when I tell you there are very few photographers in this area with the right combination of equipment, skills and judgement for this sort of work … and they’re not looking for low-paying gigs on craigslist.

Thirdly, I’ll touch on bib number searching, which most of these out-of-staters promote. I offer it but I think it’s vastly overrated. Why? Briefly, it’s time consuming, expensive and imprecise. Preparing photos for a search is a very manual process. The time and expense involved either mean higher prices or your customers are going to keep receiving emails until they buy enough photos to satisfy the vendor. Neither of those is a good thing in my view. As for imprecision, (I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but) for now I’ll just say some photos that should be included in the search aren’t, while others that shouldn’t be are. Bottom line: bib searching sounds cool, but it’s really a false economy in which little to nothing is gained but prices go up. Lose-lose.

Finally — and I hope you’re still with me here — these vendors offer many different options in terms of what you pay them and what you get. I typically operate under one of two basic approaches. The first: I shoot what I can, post the photos and hope for sales. The second: you pay me a modest per-head fee, usually as low as $1. I then do everything the same but also make Facebook-sized digital photos (which I normally sell for $8 each) available to your runners for free. It’s a tremendous value-add for a very small investment. Still, it may not be for everyone. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say: I’m flexible! If you come up with a different arrangement that might work better for you, please take a moment to bounce it off me. The worst I can do is say no, but I’m much more inclined to try to work things out.

Whatever the arrangement, I’ll pledge to work my tail off to make your event a success from a photo perspective. And I’ll never stop striving to offer tremendous value and responsiveness to our mutual customers. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss any of this further!

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