Runners Should Never Have to Pay for Their Race Photos

tina saltmarsh big lake half

tina saltmarsh big lake half

You know what I don’t like about the ‘big race’ experience? The never-ending chain of emails from photo vendors teasing you with expensive photos of your accomplishment. After paying hundreds of dollars in race fees and travel expenses, it feels wrong to be pestered by vendors looking for another dollar while holding a runner’s image hostage. Is that the lasting impression race directors want to leave with their participants?

I just received another email from one of the vendors that I particularly despise. Let’s call them Marathon Dodo. JASON, Don’t Miss Out on Our Holiday Special! $10 off on orders of $50 or more. This is for a race I ran 9 months ago. If you’re going to bother me during the holidays, you can offer me the entire collection for free as a gesture of goodwill towards all people.

Good News

Some race directors have found a way to offer runners free photos by passing the cost on to their race sponsors in return for great brand exposure and viral content marketing. The 2014 San Francisco Marathon is a prime example. They partnered with GameFace Media to take over 300,000 photos on race day and then offered them to runners for free. Each photo had the sponsor’s logo and race name printed in the corner of the image. Genius!

Big Lake Half Marathon

Runners visit the race sponsor’s Facebook page or website after the race to claim their photos. Each visit gives sponsors an opportunity to interact with their customers. In addition, most runners share their photos on social media, which encourages others to visit the sponsor site as well. It’s a great way to build relationships in the running community, give runners quality photos, and make the race experience a positive one, both during and after the event.

This model works for smaller events too. The Big Lake Half Marathon in New Hampshire (800+ runners), followed the GameFace model last year. After liking the race site on Facebook, I had access to all the high-definition race photos for free. Everybody wins!

Let race organizers know that you’re tired of paying for overpriced race photos. There are better ways to do business, and we deserve to feel appreciated. Runners are great at sharing too! So, you can be sure we’ll bring our friends along with us next year. A little courtesy goes a long way.

44 thoughts on “Runners Should Never Have to Pay for Their Race Photos

  1. I wouldn’t mind paying for the photos but the cost is so much greater than the actual cost to take the pictures. It’s ridiculous to charge $15-25 per digital photo. I have no idea how they determine these price points, but I would think they’d make more sales charging less

    1. The photographers have to pay taxes (nearly half of their income), insurance, equipment, equipment upkeep, gas, time, and the list goes on. $25 for a digital image is cheap.

      1. As someone who used to do photography professionally I can tell you $25 per photo at the scale they work on is a pretty substantial upcharge. They take literally thousands of pictures per race even if they charged $5 per individual picture not only would cover all the costs, but would leave you with a nice profit as well.

    2. Judith,

      Photographers determine what the charge based on their cost of doing business. Everyone who runs a business should be basing what they charge on the CODB. If you don’t you aren’t running a business and aren’t making money. Photographers need to earn a living, too. How would you feel if your employer asked you to work for free? That is essentially what you are doing in asking the photographers to charge less.

    3. I hope you don’t mind that we hijacked your post a little this morning, I think photographers in general are sick and tired of being told to work for free and that’s what the title of this post seemed to imply to many.

      1. I don’t think this post meant to imply that photographers should work for free. I think the post is saying there should be a better way to pay the photographers than have the runners shell out extra money for individual pictures. As a runner, I agree. I think it’s crazy when I get bombarded with emails trying to entice me to pay $35 for a photo of me at a race I paid $75 to run.

        Sure, photographers should be paid fairly for their work. I don’t know how many prints a race photographer might sell at $25 a pop, but I’ve always wondered if it would be feasible to skim a small portion of the race fees and pay the photographer a lump sum in exchange for free access to the digital photos. (Of course the photographers could also sell prints and other mementos, too.)

    4. Your right, 25 dollars for just a simple digital print is way too expensive. So I guess the actual cost to you to run the race is, let me think, oh yeah, it doesn’t cost a dime to strap up some running shoes and go run a race. Wait, what do you mean you have fees? Race entry, Travel, running shoes, running clothes, training and practice. Oh Im sorry. I guess we as photographers can just look at a person a crap out a digital print. Nope, it doesn’t work like that. We have business expenses, equipment purchase and upkeep, training, travel, website upkeep, studio costs, taxes, and insurance just to mention a few. Not to mention that most of these races and events expect a kickback on every image sold. Think about that next time you think, wow, that is an expensive picture!

  2. I love the idea of a sponsor paying the photographer. The price point is set by business expenses. Photographers spend thousands and thousands on gear to take that photo. Then software and computers to properly process it. Then pay so much money for business insurance, licenses and taxes. I cannot afford to work for exposure and give my work for free. Exposure and advertising doesn’t pay enough to cover that or leave enough to eat.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It would be nice for everyone involved to know that their time and effort go towards making someone else happy at the end of the day, while also taking care of business. This solution, if sponsors see the value in it, would probably be good for both runners and photographers.

      1. From what I’m reading talking to other photographers is that this model will not be popular with the sponsors. Many photographers are paying the sponsor a percentage to take the photographs at the race. The sponsors are not going to want to lose that income and then pay a photographer.

  3. Photographers should never have to work for free. We determine the cost of our work based on how much we want to make a year. Just like any other job we determine how much we have to make to meet our goal of whatever it is we want to make. BUT we have to usually make triple of what we WANT to make because we pay more taxes than “normal jobs”.

      1. If more sponsors respected us and didn’t think $50-$200 was adequate pay then I would love if I were paid for my time. I shoot births mainly and sometimes that can be up to 20 hours of just shooting time. Then there’s on call time, processing time. It adds up. It can turn into a regular 40 hour work week for some of us. We should be paid just like everyone else who works a 40 hour work week.

  4. Are you kidding me right now? You’re saying that a WORKING photographer has to work for FREE out of the KINDNESS of their heart? Okay, how about you go to work and work for free from the kindness of YOUR heart. Please let me know how much of your love will pay those bills.

    1. I think he’s calling for sponsors to pay for the photographers, but from what I understand from another race photographer this is very rare. The race sponsors are worried about the profit not the runners, and most certainly not the photographers. In some cases photographers pay the sponsor to take the job and sell the photographs.

      1. That makes sense. I suppose I was a little put off by the first half and the commentary afterwards.

  5. Let’s try to look at it from the other angle.

    Let’s look at the NY Marathon for example. The NYRR Association gets close to $200k from their race photographer before the first photo is ever purchased. In addition, the photography company hires upwards of 100 photographers, flying many of the best ones in from around the country. So, add in hotel, transportation and meals and you have costs of about $200 per photographer in expenses. The photographers do not work for free, so many of them make upwards of $500 for the day. So, we are now looking at about another $60k in expenses. You also have equipment to buy, maintain, rent and insure. Now, you have to have staff to upload the images, identify each of the runners in each of the 600k or so images and then host the photos on their website. This is all before the first photo is purchased. Once a photo is purchased, you have a myriad of additional costs associated with this process. Lab costs, customer service costs, shipping costs, overhead, salaries, the expense to even book the race in the first place, etc…

    This is a business, not a charity. If you can find a sponsor wants to fork over $500k or more to pay all these expenses and give the race the same kind of rebate, then please let us know. In addition, I have seen more than one complaint about the entry costs for these types of races, so if you want all of the participants to pay an extra $10-$20 up front before they even see a photo to ensure they get a free one, I can guarantee you are going to get a large amount of flack about the increased fees.

    If you do not like the current system, opt out of the emails or just give a fake one up front. Obviously there are still plenty of runners who are buying in the current model, otherwise all race photographers would be out of business.

    1. I think you’ve nailed it there Ryan.

      It’s all about profits !
      The key point to develop it from there is if the race photography can drive an increase in profits (not turnover) for the sponsor. So it needs a well structured engagement method and process for the provision of the photography and a robust call-to-action.
      Just letting people download their image files in return for a facebook like isn’t going to cut it for the sponsors bottom line.

      The main problem is sponsors only engage with a race up to the first finisher winning the race. They want the brand advertising of the headline name sponsorship – which is only promoted before the race to get race entries.
      There is a massive gap in utilisation of the post-race euphoria to engage with brands and sponsors – and that it is an area where photographers specialise (because they have to to earn a living), so there is a natural fit begging to be made.

      What is required is a capable sponsor who can measure the effect of their marketing activities (most can’t – seriously you’d be shocked) and wants to utilise the post-race emotion to engage with the competitors.

      Brands that can do that are generally few and far between…but the ones who can do it reap the financial rewards.
      There are increasingly tools out in the market that enable measurable and effective post-race engagement and ROI for sponsors using race photos that are more than just a free download and drive a genuine win-win for everyone.

      You just need to know where to look…

  6. Your issue should not be with the photographers trying to earn a living by selling their work (the photos of the marathon), but should be with the race organizers not valuing the services that are being provided to them by the photographers. If you want professional quality photos of the event, then that needs to be paid for. If you want crappy, free photos, then get a bunch of amateurs to volunteer and post their photos for free. You get what you pay for and professional photographers deserved to get paid for the job they do. So, don’t complain about the photographers sending you emails to try to earn a living, complain about the photographers not getting paid what they are worth up front by the marathon organizers.

    1. That’s exactly what this post says. Read the concluding paragraph:

      “Let race organizers know that you’re tired of paying for overpriced race photos.”

  7. Just as a general response… I presented this concept as an opportunity for photographers to be paid up front by the race sponsors and for runners to receive free photos in return for the sponsor getting some web traffic and advertising space on every photo. Seemed like a win for both photographers and runners. Maybe it’s not a great idea, but it looked promising from the runner’s perspective. Thanks for your sharing your perspective. You can see a recent article in Runner’s World at

    1. It looks promising from a runner’s perspective until their next race is $10 more to make up for professional quality photographs.

    2. The idea has been around for years! It’s not new by any means. The problem is that the race organizers want the sponsor money (and even a portion of the photography money). So, if you have a sponsor willing to donate $10k to a race, the race doesn’t want to give half of that to the photographer. So, we would need to get another big check written to the photographer in order just to cover costs and make a bit of a profit. Also, there are many significant costs to creating a system that allows runners to sort by name or bib #. No runner wants to look through tens of thousands of images to find themselves.

      So, what I am saying is that there are MANY costs to these kinds of operations and it is hard to find sponsors to cover them for some perceived advertising exposure. If runner’s do not want to pay extra up front, and they do not want to pay for professional images after the fact then the photographers will stop showing up. Then you will stop receiving all of those emails that you “particularly despise”!

      1. This is why I cannot do any type of event photos. For example child sports photos. The even or the league wants a portion of your profits. You already have dirt cheap packages for sports parents. Then you have to kick a percentage to the league. So when all is said and done you pocket $5.00. Yes. $5.00.

  8. I think photographers are not happy with this title of the blogpost, people are not reading the article. They are simply sharing the article and complaining about what photographers charge when they should be complaining about the race organizers and sponsors not paying the photographers.

  9. @laurashotphotography – in what world do YOU pay $15 for a print? Absolute crap. Assuming the largest most people offer/order is 8×10, you’d be hard pressed to find a pro lab that will ask for more than $3.

    @littleelise – it’s all very well putting forward the potential cost of the equipment USED to take and process the photograph, but the reality is that those expenses are a CHOICE rather than a necessity. You COULD spend $12k on a 400/2.8 and another 7k on a pro body, but if you’re shooting at anything OTHER than 2.8, you could have saved yourself the cost of the body on the spot. And computers are irrelevant in this instance – unless you’re alleging that the photographers don’t shoot jpg, and process each image ‘by hand’.

    The cost of the systems in place and the equipment used have long since paid for themselves. However, the time spent tagging every image should be properly compensated for. If delegating the work to someone other than the photographer is an option that could/would keep the overall cost of the print down, then it should be explored.

    From the system I use: I have an annual fee of $50, and they take 15% from each order in addition to the cost of a/the print. Beyond the initial upload, I don’t lift a finger. The company takes care of everything and ships directly to the client.

    Can we please not exagerate costs and work involved in an effort to justify our prices?

    If you self-fulfill then that’s on you. Work smart > work hard.

  10. Wait a minute … The sponsors pay for photos so they can get Facebook likes … Which are actually worth less than nothing now that Facebook has started penalizing you for fans who don’t interact with your page? There was a time maybe when social media was a valuable commodity, but Facebook is taking care of making sure that that is no longer true. I’m a photographer who still hates these emails just like you do. I don’t photograph races, never ever would. The only company I have worked for that did this kind of thing pay their photographers less than a starvation wage. In my professional opinion most of the photos are crap. Bystanders with cell phones can and often do take just as good photos as the race photographers. The solution is this: everyone stop buying these photos. Opt out of their emails. You could invest your money in a beautiful portrait of you in race gear that would be worth hanging on the wall.

  11. The issue is one of having options. Options for the photographer, event organizers and participants. It’s not one size fits all.

    It’s a bit of self-promotion but GeoSnapShot enables an event organiser to book an event and set their own price for the photos or indeed the split they want to get from the photos.

    Photographers can then choose to attend the event if they want.
    Event organisers choose to give the photos away free of charge (i.e. using local volunteer or club photographers), charge a small amount for the photos and earning go to a charity or attract professionals with the right price.

    Using GeoSnapShot means everything from local club to large events can be run with a business model that suites all. It’s a new approach and one that is taking off.

    GeoSnapShot has just launched globally so anyone can use the platform to support small or large events.

    1. 1. No one is asking photographers to do their work for free. What they are doing is asking organizers to pay the photography people from sponsors and in turn give a number of images free of cost to the people, the photographers and all involved still get paid.

      2. As someone who did photography commercially, fellow photographers need be a bit more honest, too. Equipment, software, licenses etc. are *fixed* costs. You are not buying camera bodies and glass for every race and certainly not specifically for that race. You can’t base your pricing on one race alone. Chances are, if you are in business, you have your photography “day jobs” for which you can and likely use the same gear and charge more for. In a race you shoot 1000s of pictures, even if you charge $1 per, you’d still bank nicely for 3-4 hours of work.

    1. Loktah starts at 7.50 for a 4×6. An 11×14 is $18.75-$19.50.

      Like I said, in a world where I do not sell anything smaller than an 11×14. Have a fabulous day.

  12. What world? The world of 10 pounds of photographers in a 5 pound bag. Over saturated past the point of recovery. People have very little value for it anymore and yet there are 100’s daily hanging a shingle. Real sad what a joke this industry has become.

    The reason these running assoc are asking for kick backs? Because they have a load of photographers beating the door down to be the “event photographer”. Supply and demand. Sales down and competition up.

    Used to be one of those guys, til I read the writing on the wall.

  13. When can gives me 50k worth of camera gear, all food is made free and bank decides to clear my mortgage out of the goodness of their heart I’ll happily shoot all the free pics you like. But until then…..

  14. I never buy my photos because they are way too expensive! I don’t mind $1-2 a photo but for instance the Amica Seattle Marathon for 1 photo (not digital) the lowest price offered was $18! Not including shipping! No way am I going to pay that kind of money for an ok photo of me at a race. It’s a huge rip off. We already pay crazy entry fees, travel fees, Etc. It’s a rip off.

  15. The color run photos were $2 for a digital copy, to me that is great! Better yet, The Biggest Loser Race Series gives out their photos for free!

  16. I have completed 18 marathons, numerous 1/2 marathons, 10ks, 5ks, and 2 1/2 IM. Out of this, I have only purchased a picture 1 time. Not because of the price, but because of the angle they are taken makes me look hideous. I have noticed that the bigger the race, the bigger the price for pictures. I’m not sure if this has to do with the difficulty or just a good chance to make more money. I’m not asking anyone to work for free but $30.00 per print is just to high for me to pay for a photo that isn’t that good.

  17. The logic in the comments on this post confuses me. The runners are paying $100’s of dollars on entrance fee’s, travel fee’s etc. to run outside. Something they can do every day FOR FREE…. yet paying a measly $30 for a picture of that memory is unreasonable? If you don’t like the price DON’T BUY IT. Have a friend take a blurry iphone picture of you at the race instead. Do you complain that your running shoes only cost the manufacturers $5 to make, but they are charging you $75 for them?? Or should sponsors provide those to you as well? Photos of you running a marathon are a luxury. You don’t GET anything for free. Nobody is forcing you to pay if you don’t want to. Get over yourselves runners.

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