LAST UPDATED: 12 May 2023

Race Photos

Race director Josh Reed and pro race photographer John Kelly on free vs paid photos, planning for amazing shots, and using race photos to grow your race.

John KellyJosh Reed John Kelly  and  Josh Reed

Race Photos

Besides race medals and finisher shirts, the one experience item participants have come to expect from a race, particularly in this digital age, is a good set of professional race photos.

And perhaps because of the cultural changes that have come with the digital age, the purpose of race photography within the endurance events business has been swinging back and forth between race photos as a secondary revenue stream vs race photos as a marketing tool.

So, do you offer paid photos, as a means of boosting your current bottom line? Or do you give photos away for free, as a marketing investment aimed at higher participation growth in the future?

This and other questions is what we’ll be discussing today with the help of my guests, race director, race consultant and general race-jack-of-all-trades Josh Reed of On Path Events, and professional race photographer John Kelly of John Kelly Photos

Among other things we’ll look at how modern race photography works, from snap to download, how you can work with your race photographer to create some really memorable shots for your participants, and, as mentioned earlier, we’re going to be looking at the various business models around race photography, how they’ve been trending lately, and which might be best suited for your event.

In this episode:

  • The difference between event promotional photos vs participant/race photos
  • Enhancing the participant race experience through race photos
  • Who buys race photos and why
  • The cost of race photography for different types of events
  • Looking at your course through the eyes of a race photographer
  • Picking good spots to shoot from
  • Creating spectator areas
  • Working with your race photographer
  • The journey of a race photo: from shooting through sorting and tagging to being delivered to participants
  • Is delivering race photos fast important?
  • Free participant photos: the argument for and against
  • Typical purchase rates for paid photos, and impression/download stats for free photos
  • Getting sponsors involved in race photos
  • The future of race photography

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:08  
Josh, John, welcome to the podcast! 

Josh  2:10  
Hey, it's good to be here.

John  2:11  
Thanks for having us.

Panos  2:12  
Well, thank you very much both for coming on. How are you both doing today?

John  2:16  
Doing perfect, man. I'm excited to be here. It'd be fun to talk about it.

Josh  2:19  
Yeah, just doing great. It's the calm before the storm as we all get ready for the big season here in the US. March is when things start ticking off. So just getting ready.

Panos  2:28  
Indeed. 2023-- a new year, a new dawn, and hopefully the year when we eclipse 2019. Let's see what happens. Fingers crossed. I think we're going to be needing some introductions for the audience. So why don't you guys take it in turn and maybe tell us a little bit about what each of you do in the industry? 

John  2:45  
Yeah, sure. My name is John Kelly. I've been involved in some components of event photography for endurance sporting events since 2014. I am a photographer and I also own a small endurance photo company. We do marathons, triathlons, mud, runs, 5K's, and all those things. I've been integrated with other companies since I first started for a couple of years. Then, back in 2017, I went my own way and started my own company. So I have a lot of diversified experience with photographing the events, software that works around getting the photos out and just kind of coordinating with marketing in order to promote the events.

Panos  3:23  
You look quite young to be kind of, like, in this industry. How old are you? 

John  3:27  
I'm 28.

Panos  3:29  
Indeed, and how many years have you been at this?

John  3:32  
I started in 2014, so about 9. I started when I was 19. Yeah.

Panos  3:37  
Okay, awesome. You must love what you do. 

John  3:39  

Panos  3:40  
Well, it's great to have you on. Josh, I think a few people might know you from the group and other places. You're quite active on social media and in the community. Why don't you tell everyone a little bit about yourself?

Josh  3:49  
Yeah. To do the math to say how old I am, I'm 37 this year - I have to think about that. I've been in events since college. I've been in the racing world for 10 years. I have a background in community development. So I've always been super passionate about travelling, exploring the community, racing, and learning what people are doing, and I've kind of turned that into a passion for just trying to stay on top of the best, what's new, what's exciting, kind of what different companies are doing - that's how I met John. I do businesses, On Path Events. I work on a lot of the big races - you'll see me at them - but I'm really passionate about helping establish race directors find the best tools and processes out there, kind of learning to speak to work better with their timers, photographers, and registration companies. I'm here for photos because, from 2015 to 2017, I worked at a large marketing agency and kind of took a little break from races. I got to see a lot of what was being done with photos and videos on the big level. So when I got back into races where I want to be, I worked with Pic2Go USA, I worked with EnMotive helping what's now RunnerTag be developed, which I think is one of the best photo platforms out there. Then, about five years or maybe four years ago, I went on my own way to do what we've talked about, which is really taking all that knowledge of photos, time in production, and helping race directors see what's best. So I'm semi-retired and kept in touch with people like my good friend, John Kelly here. I'm still very interested in how photos can be used, especially pre and post-COVID - what we're looking at - to make your race more successful and to make it exciting.

Panos  5:27  
Absolutely. And we're going to be going through all of that. Josh, you're based in Colorado. John, remind me what part of the country are you in? 

John  5:35  
I am in Missouri. 

Panos  5:36  
Okay. Awesome, awesome. Beautiful places - both. Okay. So as just sort of alluded to, we're going to be talking about race photography today and, hopefully, we're going to be taking a kind of like bird's eye view on the whole thing, particularly for maybe some people who are not all that familiar with race photography, to begin with. And we're going to be looking at, firstly, what race photography brings to a race - the kinds of things that Josh touched on very briefly there - also, what race photography is, what race photographers like John do for a race, and how race directors might work with a race photographer. I also want to touch on a little bit about the different business models around photography. I know when people think race photography, they think mostly of the technical side of things and operations, but there are lots of movement in the industry and lots of new ideas and new products coming on and services around how race photography can work for an event - even basic things like should it be a revenue stream? Should it be a marketing instrument? Should people be paying for photos? Should you be giving them away for free? That kind of thing. And I want to touch on that a little bit as well. I want to start us off with another thing that many people may not be totally familiar with, which is something that John mentioned to me on our last call, which is the fact that photographers do two things for an event. They're there on race day to take the race photos and all of that. But a very important component - one we're not going to be spending a lot of time on today, which is why I want to sort of, like, get it out of the way - is the work photographers like you, John, do in producing promotional photos for events like the kinds of wow photos that someone would see on a website, that kind of thing. So do you want to, like, briefly walk us through the difference between the two services that a photographer might offer a race, which is the race photos - like, snapping pictures of races - and the other bit I just mentioned about more, like, promotional material. 

John  7:38  
Yeah, absolutely. As you mentioned, we kind of do two distinct services. One is the promotional photos and then one is the participant photos or the race photos. The race photos are really those photos that are meant for the runners themselves whereas the promo photos are meant for the actual events or the venue or the sponsor. So there are two different target audiences when we produce these photos. The participant photos - we're trying to get as many participants as possible - are something that they can take home download, share with their friends, and be happy with, but there are thousands of participants at an event, so we try to find good spots to shoot for consistency and reproduce very similar images. We'll be taking tens of thousands of those - I don't know that - so you're usually looking at one or two photographers, maybe, producing only one or two different shots each. If it's a big event, you might have many more. But, they're all more or less in the same spot on the course. They're going to be producing participant photos for the participants that are a little bit lower resolution just because we're taking so many. They're not getting the individual attention that a promo photo would be doing, but they're usually large enough resolution and they're of good enough quality that people are generally happy with them. The big thing we want is consistency. We don't want some people to get, like, 10 wow photos and someone else just to get, like, two mediocre photos. So we really try to balance having the ability for the participant photos to be consistent and strong. They're not like those wow-blow-your-mind photos, but they're pretty good. They're a solid photo where they're a particular isolated subject, they're sharp, and they look cool. We try to get a good backdrop and we try to give them different options of it. So some of them are wider shots, some of them are tighter shots, but they're consistent by the photographer. 

Panos  9:24  
And you were telling me that, in reaching out to you, particularly, first-time race directors engaged in speaking to a race photographer, they tend to mix the two up a little bit, right? So they think that it's sort of like the same thing. Do many people, in the end, opt-in for also having promotional-type photos taken when they hire a photographer?

John  9:46  
Yeah. I guess, just to kind of give a little background about promotional stuff for people that aren't familiar, those ones are going to be more individualised. You're getting basically a unique shot in your gallery. Unlike the participant photos where we're getting tens of thousands, you're only getting between 1-200 individually edited individually shot-up promotional shots. So we get a lot of first-time events that are looking for marketing material for banners, websites, social media, advertisement campaigns, and sometimes merchandise that really jump on the promotional stuff. And then, we have our more interesting themed events. So like, you have your mud runs or colour runs that almost always do promotional photography just because of something unique about their event and they really want to showcase that. And then, it's about 50-50 from our standard endurance races such as a triathlon, marathon, and half marathon that do promotional work. And that just kind of depends on the needs of the event. We have some clients that are looking to grow, so those promotional photographers at their events can help them get the marketing material to grow the event. We have some clients that are content where they are and they're not really needing to grow, and they have promotional material from previous events. So, it might not be something that they need to pay for their event.

Panos  11:05  
And can, for instance, a race which is what I often see, particularly, with smaller races-- is it okay for a race to just take some of those participant photos and use that in marketing materials? I guess it won't have the same effect, same punch as, like, a proper promo shot.

John  11:23  
Yeah, there's no rule against that. People are welcome to use each photo how they want. But the big thing is the participant photos aren't going to be in that super large format. They're not going to be that dense resolution that basically lets you print them as large as you want. If you wanted to share, like, a participant photo on, like, social media like Instagram, Facebook, or whatever email campaign you have, it's going to be plenty big enough. It's not going to have that crazy wow factor that you might be looking for it, but we do have people consistently find participant photos - they do enjoy that for showcasing various parts of the course.

Panos  12:02  
So let's look at the case for race photography as a whole. I like to start out with these kinds of things because-- and Josh would know that pretty well, as well as you, John, I'm sure, having dealt with race directors all the time. Race directors are a very kind of, like, cost-focused bunch. When they spend money, they want to be sure that that money is going to have a return or is going to add value to the event. More and more race directors, hopefully, are catching on with the whole idea of providing a great race experience which may be part of this falls. So, from the both of you, what is the case for someone spending a good deal of money on hiring a photographer and, sort of, investing in participant photos as well as promo photos?

Josh  12:49  
Yeah, I'll start with that. And John, you can have some things you can follow up with. The point I want to make to any of the race directors that I work with is the best free marketing you're going to get is a happy participant that's telling all their friends and going around town, whether that's with a really cool shirt of high quality that they're going to wear or simply just posting about it on social media. One of the best tools you can have is some really cool photos - not just one photo that's going to get posted, but an album that's going to go up there that's going to stay as their profile photos. It's gonna get you views, engagement, and comments - things we can talk about a lot more later. Now, that said, we'll want to talk about if you're going to hire a photographer, you want to maximise the product that you're getting by figuring out what those varieties of shots are and giving your photographer the right information so they can give you not just that one photo, but your marketing priorities, your sponsor priorities, and, in a way, kind of thinking as a promo photographer when you're a race director so that you can maximise that product.

John  13:55  
Yeah, I'd say I really agree with everything there. The big thing that most of my clients are looking to get forward is, 1) some sort of sign-up incentive for their participants. It's a great incentive if people think they're going to get professional photos because everyone's going to be taking photos anyway - if they can get really nice ones that really show those awesome action shots throughout the day that people love and they'd love to have the material for promoting the event themselves. So usually, it's just a standard marketing expense for them. They're paying, in our case, a flat rate and they'd get unlimited uses of the images they want. I'd say most of our clients are pretty vocal about the happiness or how much happiness they have with their return on the photos. There are occasionally people who just don't promote the photos of participants and they might not get something out of it. But for the most part, it's really just kind of a marketing incentive to bring in new participants, retain the ones you have, and then give you materials to promote the event.

Panos  14:59  
And let's get this out of the way as well, since you mentioned it. We'll return to this a little bit later in the discussion. The whole thing about people nowadays - spectators snapping photos of participants and stuff-- they're really not a replacement for a professional race photo, is it?

John  15:15  
Right. Yeah, it's not just the skill and the equipment, but we do a lot of preparation work that's specific to the event. We have access to course maps ahead of time. We coordinate with the race director. We get access to areas other people can't, which really kind of gives us a distinct advantage in producing those really great high-quality shots. I'm not going to say there's never a case where some bystanders get a cool photo but, in terms of consistent return on your investment, it's kind of like a safety net because you know, every time, we're going to put the effort in to do it right.

Panos  15:48  
Now, my impression as a racer-- when I started out going to races maybe, like, 11-12 years ago, I used to love buying photos, and they used to be even more expensive, I think back then than they are now. Since then, I've been getting less and less interested. When I go to a race - going out and buying race photos - am I correct in thinking that the sort of addressable market for race photos in an event is mostly, like, first-time runners - the kinds of people who may not have tens of sets of race photos from other events? Or is it a thing that people do on a repeat basis - you get some folks who will just go out to any race and want to memorialise it and buy photos from any race they attend?

Josh  16:35  
For first-time runners, certainly, I'm sure there's some more appeal. But I think there's also just a lot more people going out with their friends, for example. Like, any other event, if I'm doing something with my friends or family, I want to commemorate this. I think, as an extension of that, if the race is unique or if you're showcasing what's unique-- I'm sure that, like, the Ironman, for example, obviously, is a huge thing that you've you've spent a lot of time planning on - or the Disney races or things where there's something exciting - and I would like to think that if race directors do more to make their photos more exciting - showcase the participant journey, the start line, the finish line, the photos, cool things that were taking place on the course and at the festival - anybody would be interested in it. So I guess the answer is yes and no. I think there is certainly more excitement earlier on, but I don't think that it naturally or needs to decrease over time.

Panos  17:31  
I mean, you mentioned Ironman and those kinds of events, which are really iconic and anyone who participates in it has put so much of themselves into it that they'd want to take away the photo. Does that apply equally to maybe, like, a local nice 5K or 10K? Or do you see sort of, like, photo uptake that involves less kind of, like, epic type events being less than a race like an Ironman?

John  18:00  
Yeah, I was actually looking last night at just some of our statistics from 2021 events. I sampled a handful of events that I considered that the race did a good job of indicating to participants that they would be getting photos. They did social media posts after and then they sent links out timely to the participants. What I was finding was, usually, the more difficult and the longer the race, the higher percentage of people that would actually actively go search and download their photos, and those easier 5K's that happen every year and our smaller tend to get less results. So for example, I sampled a few events that were half marathons, marathons, or ultra runs from 2021 and, of those events that did what I would consider a good job of relaying the information to the participants of when to get their photos and where, we had almost 75% - 80% of all participants that finish the race coming and looking for their photos. On the other extreme end of things, we had a few local 5K's that-- while they promoted the photos to their participants, they just had, like, a short 5K or something that people don't really have to-- I don't want to take away from people running a 5K, but there's a lot less investment into running a 5K than, like, a marathon. We're looking at almost 33% of people actually going and getting their photos. So it really does-- I guess, in my events experience, the effort people are putting into the event determines how many people are actually following through to download these photos.

Panos  19:29  
So let's talk a little bit about - just to set the scene a little bit on the operation side of things and the business side of things - cost. Some people who may not have engaged with a race photographer in the past may be completely unaware of what that service costs. They may be airing either too high or too low on what that might be. I know it's a little bit of a "How long is a piece of string" kind of question without specifics about an event, but just to set a range for people with a couple of examples, what kind of cost would a race director be looking at for hiring a photographer or a team of photographers to come out as the event might require and focus specifically on participant photos so that they will be able to offer race photos to their participants?

John  20:17  
Yeah, I can kind of touch on that. As you mentioned, it's obviously going to be really dependent on the event, but there are different pricing models. My company-- we do a cost-per-service and a cost-per-photographer and a cost-per-time. Other companies will just do a base rate per participant, some will do a commissionable model, so might just be getting sales revenue or something like that. So it's going to depend on the method the company is actually doing. In my case, there are not many scenarios where, even for a very small event, you're gonna come in at less than $1,000. For larger events, it can go up to $10,000. So it's really hard to kind of narrow down the range there, but I'd say most of those events tend to be on the smaller side - 1,000 to 1,500 participants. Those will be at the lower end of the scale, obviously. It's going to really depend on the services you're getting and the location of your event. We have a lot of events that are in big cities like Chicago and Kansas City where there's an abundance of skill that's available, and those are low costs. Then, we pick up a lot of ultras and marathons in, like, remote parts of the country like Montana or Southwest Colorado where there are no really local photographers available. Then, you'd incur larger travel costs, which are the majority of the expense.

Panos  21:40  
So just to sort of narrow it down a little bit, if I did, like, a 10K in a small town, how many photographers would you suggest that come out to the event? And what would be the cost to me, the race director, to be able to offer those race photos? 

John  21:59  
Yeah. I couldn't give you an exact quote, but the way I would go about pricing that is, I would say, "You have a 10K. How many participants are you expecting? Do you have any other distances being run? And do those distances run on separate courses or the same courses? Because that's going to affect how we staff our photographers. Is your 10K out and back? Is it a loop?" Because if it's an out-and-back, photographers can double up on photo spots, so we can get by with less. If it's a loop, photographers generally can't move later on in the course efficiently enough, so there's gonna be a lot of factors there. Then, we're going to also look at what are your needs. Are you needing that promotional photography too? Or are you just needing the participant photography? And then we usually have options from there of, like, "Here's the minimum we would recommend, and then here's the ideal amount we would recommend." One thing where my company is really big on is, if we can't do it with, like, the minimum amount, we will refer you elsewhere, maybe, to another company that's comfortable doing it with less. We really want to make sure we do it right. So I couldn't give you an exact number because there are just too many variables, and I don't want to confuse people, but that's kind of our thought process in quoting out these events.

Josh  23:07  
If I can tag it on something maybe a little more familiar to race directors, it's very similar to hiring a timer. Pretty much all of you have hired a timer in the sense that there's a base expectation as a timer, and that's at the start and finish with the timing mats. As you get into other splits and other coverage points, you've got your same fixed costs and variable costs - their time or their timing chips may each have a cost. But as you get larger and larger, you hit maybe these intangible tears where you need to bring on other photographers, timers, or timing boxes, etc to make sure-- and it may not be clear cut at certain sizes or coverages. For example, a timer or a photographer may be able to run from point A to point B based on the logistics and the needs, or they may not, and that's a big part of why you really have to talk through your timeline, your needs, and which points you want to cover with either of those people.

Panos  24:04  
Yeah, that's a great example. Actually, John, you mentioned the course, which is so important in so many things, even Josh's race timer example, right? I mean, some courses simplify costs tremendously and others are just a total headache, which is why I always tell people, "Think hard about your course." Scenery and all of that stuff are great, but practicality is gonna affect your cost in so many things. Is it part of your preparation for a race to go scout the course to find sort of, like, good places to shoot? Or is that something that you expect the race director to help you out with without you having to go out to the race? How does it work?

John  24:40  
Yeah. In an ideal world, we'll put as much effort into planning out those course photos as the race is willing to work with us. So if we can have a photographer for a new course scattered out, that's spectacular. We often don't need to put a person actually on the course for a lot of our events that are local just because we're familiar with the area. But if we go to a new city or if we have, like, a really large course with several thousands of participants where position needs to be more critical, well, absolutely. At the minimum, talk to people who have been on the course before, but we'd like to actually have someone check out spots, look where's the sun going to be at this time of day, what's my background going to be, am I anticipating bottlenecks, and those kinds of things.

Josh  25:22  
And as a race director, you can think like that. I mean, obviously, sending the same things you want on operations, your course maps, and timetables-- when I started in photos the big thing that just blew my mind that was so obvious was to ride your course backward. Look at it like a photographer is going to do because, really, a photographer is looking at your runners, either backward or from a slight side angle. Think about it that way. I mean, as you're going in your course, take the time to think of it as simple as driving in reverse, and that goes a long way to putting yourself in the mindset of a photographer.

Panos  25:55  
So speaking of that mindset, besides, obviously, the finish line, which is a great place to shoot, what other places would you look for? I guess, you'd want to be taking a range of photos. Like, I've seen my photos in a few marathons - like, starting pristine clean and ending up a total wreck. I guess you want to take the full spectrum of that journey, right?

John  26:14  
Yeah. In an ideal world, we would put some photographers early in the course, some in the middle, some at any important landmarks, and some at the finish, but it's going to be dependent on the size of the event and the number of photographers we have. If we have a 5k race, there's obviously less distance and time to station photographers there. If we have a marathon, we can have several photo points and we can actually shift photographers around in order to maximise coverage and get not just spots that are easy to catch a bottleneck of people but spots that highlight the course well, spots that the people will look cool when compared to the course, spots that just have a pretty sky and kind of get you that diversity in your core shots.

Josh  26:55  
Another big tip I've had for race directors who are trying to make more excitement on course is to create spectator areas. It's as simple as putting them on a map. People ask, "Where should I go?" So I've been really trying to find these intuitive areas where there's a water stop, where music is-- because races find people who just come out every year, right? They come out every year. They sit in a spot. They put some music on - the handout, shots of beer, or whatever they do to people, and wear costumes. I want to know what those spots are. Obviously, the photographer doesn't know these things. They're not going to know these things until race day. So, I think that, in your mind, as a race director, or maybe your course director knows a lot more than the race director, "Oh, there's just a guy in a costume that high-fives everybody." That's a heck a lot better than a neutral shot of any kind.

Panos  27:45  
Now, in terms of that very important relationship between the race director and the photographer, from your point of view, John, what kind of race director do to make your life better as a photographer before showing up to the race? And then, Josh, what I want to have your thoughts on is the flip side of that, which is what kind of race directors go out of their way to do to make sure that the race photo that they're going to be getting is going to be awesome.

John  28:13  
Yeah, absolutely. So probably the single-handed biggest component in us having the ability to do the maximum preparation and get the right people is just having your course mapped out early on. We have so many clients that will contact us nine months out and say, "Hey, here's our event. Here's our course map." That's awesome because I can look at the course map and I can go, "Oh, you know what? I got a photographer who's got the perfect experience and equipment for this kind of stuff. And I've got another guy who would go really well here." We're not just picking assignments. We're picking the right people for particularly, sometimes, tough assignments. And we do get some events that send us the course maps the day before and things happen, things change, but there's only so much planning we can do. So we kind of have to fall back to generic photo spots with those just because we don't have the ability to do specific preparation. Just an example of specific preparation, if I have course maps way ahead of time, I'll do, like, a Google Street View or Google Maps walkthrough of the course. I'll look at the sun's direction, how much shading we're gonna get, and if it's going to be even or hard lighting. I'll look at my photographers in the area. I'll go, "I got this guy. He's got this really long lens. I could put him on an elevated platform here and he's the best person for this spot. And I've got this guy. I think he'll go really well at the finish line because he's got a really good wide-angle glass and there's a really pretty background that we can try something different." So having those courses laid out and finalised early on is single-handedly the largest component of our pre-planning that makes a difference.

Josh  29:50  
Yeah, and just thinking from the race director side, as you're making your course maps - maybe, this is you or your course director, if you're not out on the course - don't just think about where the cool scenery is. Of course, think about landmarks, but also think about where are your water stops, where do people show up every year to play music, wear costumes, and high-five people at the same time. This is unrelated to photos, but where would you tell spectators to go to have a good time? As we develop all those things, think about putting a photographer there. I mean, even if it's just a guy in a costume that goes out every year and gives high-fives to somebody, that's a heck lot better than a neutral shot. So definitely, anybody who's on the course, you kind of keep a running list of that because it's useful for many reasons, especially for appointing a photographer, who would otherwise just say, "This is a pretty stretch of road."

John  30:41  
Yep. To piggyback off of what Josh said, we have a couple of events that do actually just that. They'll email us ahead of time and say, "Hey, last year, we had a big group of people from this neighbourhood come out with banners and signs, and it would have been an uneventful last few miles of a half marathon, but we're able to find a spot where there are 10 spectators, that we can frame that looks like the whole streets just lined with spectators. It really just spices up the shot and looks really cool." It's something that's really simple and might not seem like a big deal, but we can oftentimes work with a lot of those things just to kind of give it more excitement. Will it work for every shot? No, but maybe half of the participants at least get a shot that completely filled the frame behind them with people cheering for them, which is really cool.

Panos  31:27  
Yeah, I think that's actually really important. I see lots of race photos, particularly from slightly smaller events, and you get this feeling of sparsity, almost like a little bit of sadness almost in the race photo - right? There's maybe, like, one spectator in the distance or something, nothing to signify there's a race there kind of thing. So you definitely would want as much as possible to bring out the race atmosphere through the photos. So at least, at the spots that you shoot at and in the photos people take home, they have lots of spectators, lots of noise, a band maybe like Josh said, like, whatever your race might be able to throw at people. Okay, let's take a minute to discuss a little bit the technical side of photography, which I'm guessing has evolved quite a lot over the last couple of decades, at least. Lots of very cool stuff happening with how photos are sorted, distributed, and shared out to participants, but let's start off sort of, like, on the ground. Maybe, John, can you walk us through the process of what you guys have to do from taking the photo all the way to delivering it to the participant?

John  32:36  
Yeah. There are a lot of ways this can be done. I can talk kind of about ways we've done it and what we've done in the past, but it's not an inclusive list. Initially, there's the whole pre-plan that goes into how are we going to get the photos from the photographer on the course to the participant. We have to decide, "Are we going for as quickly as possible here? Are there time constraints? Does the client just want some marketing material quickly?" One thing we've been playing with recently is editing every single photo and touching up every single photo before we get them out to people. So we got to figure out what the end goal is, and then that kind of changes our plan. But generally speaking, you'll have a lead photographer or team lead at every event who will either distribute assignments and memory cards, and then collect them and upload them, or each photographer individually will just upload photos directly to our web server. Once we receive the photos, they pretty much immediately get sorted into these finish line photos that these three photographers contribute to the same area on the course or this guy by himself at just kind of physical location-- sometimes, one photographer moves around and will break up the photos. After that, something we do - that is not normally usual - is we actually do a quick touch-up on every single photo. So it does add a little processing time to the event. Every single photo will get colour corrected, white balanced, sharpness, clarity, all those things. We'll work with dehazing if there's, like, an overly bright sun background because of the sunrise for an early morning race.

Panos  34:17  
And is that not something that technology can take care of itself - sort of all of these balancing the touch-up that you that you do? Because it sounds fairly labour-intensive to be doing that for every photo.

John  34:28  
A lot of it is automated with software or assisted with software that the human component is very minimum. There is a small human component because a person is going to make the decision better on, "Hey, does this picture need to be dehazed? Do I need to pull clarity?" That kind of stuff. But there is a huge software component there and the human component of that is very small. And then, from there, all the photos that we take will go and get tagged and, for us, that is a human process assisted by optical character recognition and some software that tries to match people and photos together. Other companies will do purely optical character recognition. Some places do purely data entry and some places do facial recognition. So there are different ways that can happen.

Josh  35:18  
Well, some companies are doing a combination thereof, right? Like, RunnerTag - I don't even know everything they do - a combination of facial bib recognition. There are all these algorithms that are going from, like, 95% to 99%. I think in regards to what John was saying, that's the difference of getting that last few percent of photos to your participant.

John  35:38  
Yep, exactly. And then, from there, they pretty much just go to our CDN or content delivery network, and they sit on a web server waiting to be downloaded by participants.

Panos  35:47  
For what you described, what kind of timeframe would that be from start to finish?

John  35:52  
So if we are going for an event that just wants things done quickly, we can get them online the same day as the event, which is something we were really pushing for a few years ago. More recently, we've been having events that have been wanting us to take a day to actually do the touch-up on every photo, and we've been seeing a little bit higher download rates with that. So, right now, we're looking at Monday morning if your event is on, like, Saturday or Sunday. Before work or around the time to go to work, your photos are ready.

Panos  36:26  
Since we’re on the subject of race photos today, I wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit about RunSignup’s awesome RaceDay Photos platform. 

What does it do? 

Well, for starters it does all the clever automatic sorting and tagging of your race photos you would find on high-end, dedicated photo services. What that means is you upload a bunch of your race photos to the platform and it uses all kinds of fancy machine learning stuff to figure out exactly which participants are in the photo and tag them on it. So that when a participant or a friend or family member comes looking for their photos, they just punch in their bib number and there they are - all their race photos!

Then there’s the sponsorship and branding opportunities you get by being able to add watermarks on your photos. That way, when a participant posts their photo online, your race logo or your sponsor’s logo is there, front-and-center, making the rounds on social media as more people download and share your photos.

And, what’s really cool, is that your own participants can also upload their own photos from the race and they all show up in a nice album that adds those nice, personal moments they have shot from your event to your overall race photo album. 

All of these photos, of course, are displayed on your amazing RunSignup custom website and linked to individual participant results, so each of your participants gets a nice personalized page with their race result, race certificate and race photos - something they can keep coming back to over and over again.

So, do check this out and see how awesome it all looks in one place, your photos, your race results, all your race info, by going on, and take some time to have a look at all the great free features you get by signing up your race on RunSignup, race directors’ favorite all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. More than 26,000 events (and growing) now using RunSignup, and that’s for very good reason. 

Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… How much of a difference does delivering photos that soon make? Does it have a significant impact on the uptake - how many people would want to see them and download them and stuff?

John  38:40  
Yeah. Josh can probably talk on this a lot too, but there are a lot of factors that depend. We have some events that are best candidates for getting photos up as quickly as possible. A lot of events that people are travelling to for destinations are really good examples where people want their photos before they hop on a plane to fly home. But we do have some events like mud runs where people usually don't mind waiting until Monday because we can get a little bit better quality images out there just because the shooting is a lot more difficult, and we do see that. We give the event the promotional photos right away - we'll get those a few hours after the event -and they'll be able to do some social media posts and kind of tease photos and get participants interested in checking back. And then, on Monday or so, their downloads are ready and they can go and get them and they look really nice. So there are different candidates for different things. While some events definitely are great candidates for getting them out as quickly as possible, there are some that are better candidates for taking the time to get a little bit higher quality with a touch-up and stuff like that, and that's gonna be on a case-by-case basis.

Josh  39:46  
Yeah, I would say we could talk for longer than we want to about this. I did get a good stat from RunnerTag and Miro yesterday saying 68% of participants are more likely to share photos when they are received on race day, and that just goes down to the excitement of it. I'm going to make this Instagram post no matter what. So, if you give me these photos now, I'm going to make sure they're in there. Now, John and I had some debate on this. Does this mean you need all your photos right away as quickly as possible? I would have argued yes at one point. I always tell the story of Hot Chocolate, Chicago - tens of thousands of people. We were running a moped across Central Park to a fibre line to get the photos up as quickly as possible. And does that matter? I'd say yes and no. I think - and John would probably agree - that there's some benefit to taking time in cultivating and, obviously, editing these photos, or maybe teasing it out a little bit more and making social media posts. I don't have all the analytics. I wouldn't break your back on trying to get all the photos up right away, but I would advocate very strongly for communicating it to participants, figuring out a plan for it, and getting some of that stuff up fairly quickly for all the reasons John said.

John  40:57  
Yeah, and just to piggyback off of that again, one thing that I've kind of noticed is, if you and you have some photographers that are just producing spectacular shots, ultimately, like, a day wait isn't going to be a big deal but, just to be blunt, if you have some people that aren't great photographers covering an event, sometimes just getting them out quickly while people are still excited about it is going to make them just download it and share it before they even really wait since that good of a photo and there are just some things that you got away there and consider. So if you are putting photos out quickly, you do kind of have the advantage that people are more receptive to them and they do have that intrinsic excitement leftover from just finishing the race that's going to make them share that. But if you're producing a good quality image, we're not seeing-- at least with my company, we're not seeing a huge dip. We're actually seeing a slightly higher download rate by getting photos out Monday morning.

Panos  41:48  
Yeah, I think, as you guys say, it's difficult, I guess, to find the perfect balance between those things, but I see this in so many contexts. I did this podcast a while ago on race surveys and that same thing came up. You want to make the most of that one day, two days, whatever window after the race where there's peak excitement, peak engagement. You don't want to lose someone's interest, whether it's through photos, whether it's sending out your race survey results, or even after-race publicity. Like, those still have to be very busy days for the race director, for the photographers, for the timers, and for everyone involved. So yeah, it's an interesting balance to keep your eye on. It sounds like the bottleneck is this touch-up process, right? It's actually taking the time to take a picture from being good to being great.

John  42:39  
Yeah, that's our biggest bottleneck. I think that's just the difference. You could get, like, 95% accuracy and quality by just going fast, but we're just kind of striving for that last 4% to 5%. Whether it's worth it or not is kind of going to be up to the individual. We kind of strive for that quality over quantity and speed. But there are some people that just want that quick results, and that last 4% to 5% isn't as important to them. So it's going to be really a case-by-case.

Panos  43:07  
Now, since we're on that topic and we've started touching on how important it might be to get your photos out and the effect that's going to have on the uptake, let's take a quick look at some numbers. I want to focus first on what seems to be the predominant business model in the market and one that Josh was telling me the other day might be coming back for some of the larger races, which is people still paying for photos. I say the predominant and not the only one because there's also the other model some people may be familiar with, which is the event gives out the photos for free. There are many benefits to that because more photos of the race circulate, and there's the marketing uptick from that and all that. But let's start by looking at the paid model. John, you mentioned earlier the different ways you might work with a race director, whether it's on commission, whether they would just pay you out, like, a fixed fee. What is the most common way of working with an event? Would it be that you would get a cut of the revenue from the photos? Or would you just get paid for your service and then the race would get all the revenue from the photos? How does that work?

John  44:13  
Yeah. My company only does the free photo model, so I have very limited ability to speak on the paid model. I've never integrated with an event that does the paid model. I only know about it from just talking with people that operate those companies. So I don't have the firsthand experience to really comment on the paid model. But in terms of the free model, my thought process is, if the events are the sponsor, the venue is paying a set cost upfront, we're managing expectations. There's no risk to the event. There's no risk to the photographer. There's no risk to the photography company if the photos don't sell. So it's kind of a guarantee of, "Okay, everyone's been paid. The event budgeted this. We can do the best we can with the budget we have." With the paid model - again, I haven't done this, so this is just what we're trying to avoid - there's always the risk that if an event doesn't download very well, someone somewhere is going to take that hit. It could be the individual photographers, it could be the photo company, or it could be the event, or it could be all of them. My big thing is offering that consistency and safety that this is a marketing expense. This isn't, like, a commissionable sale for you. You can use this to promote your event and, at the very least, you're gonna get some material to do so. But, hopefully, the participants also take the photos and promote your event that way. 

Panos  45:36  
Just to clarify on that, because I think there might be, like, a slight misunderstanding in the way that I use the terms, at least - or maybe I'm using them the wrong way - so maybe it's better to break it down to three different models. One, let's call it, like, the fixed fee model. I come to you, the race photographer. I'm like, "How much do I need to pay you to give me the photos?" You're saying that you do, as a company. Then, it's the kind of, like, more hybrid type of commission model where I pay you. But then you also take photos and take a commission on the revenue from that event, which is what you were saying you wouldn't do because there's a lot of risk to you that if photos don't download well, then you're out of pocket. And then, there's what I would call the free model, which is, regardless of how you get paid, as a photographer, I give the photos away for free. So there's almost, like, two layers. How do you guys get paid on the race photography side? And then, there's the other element to all this, which is, "As a race director, do I give the pictures away for free or do I charge people to do that?" 

John  46:45  

Josh  46:46  
I talk about that a little bit in the history. I guess, without going too deep into the history of races, I really got into free photography as it was starting to become really popular. And again, that was about six or seven years ago. What I found was that a lot of these-- Panos, what you said is basically accurate. A lot of the largest races are actually receiving a check from photographers for the right to shoot the race which, of course, the photographer makes his budget. Then, somewhere down there, in lower races, those checks get smaller and smaller. I think that the big conversation that was being head over the last several years is that, with cell phone cameras and such becoming more popular, those numbers were going down to where you go from photographers paying for the right to photographers making the decision of "How much money I make on this?" You need to cross the line to where it goes from being free to the photographer to the photographer getting paid, or the photographer in some sort of revenue stream-- that revenue stream share could exist at anything. It could exist from photographers paying for the right to do it to photographers being paid. So it's a little more complicated than that. But to kind of tie that up, what we saw before COVID was some races were starting to see those checks getting smaller, and that was a big part of the incentive to go to free photography whereas, after COVID - and not naming any names - a lot of races that were on free photography have gone back to paid because of, again, that spectrum of how much money do they think they could get to zero cost to actually paying for it or needing a sponsor to pay for it.

Panos  48:25  
So what was it that led so many events to move to free photos in the first place?

Josh  48:32  
Well, I don't think any race director thinks that a runner wants to pay for a photo, of course. I think we all want everything for free. Yeah, John kind of talked about how obstacle racing was sort of at the forefront of capturing free photos because they all wanted to showcase their party, their different obstacles, they were really thinking ahead, and I think that got a lot of tension. And like working with Pic2Go USA, we were doing a lot of the obstacle races and trying to leverage that into saying, "Oh, hey, well, running, road events, different types of events have different things that we can showcase too." I'm probably telling a small part of the story, but I think it was a combination of the people saying, "Well, runners are going to take photos anyhow. So how are we going to get this high-quality product out there and compete with that?" But yeah, also, just the creativeness fed itself. Obstacle races are doing this and the costs are going down, so if we're not going to be making money off of it anyhow, if we're gonna pay money, we want to experiment with how we can just make it free to runners and make it more interesting.

Panos  49:37  
I asked that question because, if giving away race photos for free makes sense as a kind of marketing expense - as John was saying - for the event and the return is there, then, really going back to asking people to pay for photos during the pandemic, even if money was tight, ultimately, doesn't make a lot have sense economically still, right? Because if it made sense for it to be a marketing expense before, it surely must still make sense to give away photos for free if you're going to get more participants in the future.

John  50:12  
Yeah, I think this is just a small piece of the puzzle. I think one of the big factors is some events that do the paid model tend to be those events that require a great deal of training, preparation, and their destinations. So there's a lot of expenses that already go into it. So someone travelling four hours by plane to go do a triathlon or six hours to fly to Hawaii to do a triathlon, they get a hotel, and they have a nice bike, $50 photo is almost negligible in the grand scheme of it. But if someone spends $49 on a 5K, signup isn't going to pay $49 for their photos, that just doubled the cost of their morning outing. So I think a lot of your target demographic is going to be, kind of, the big dividing line there. And then, on top of that, when these bigger events have photos, whether they're free or they're sold to the participants, the smaller events need some way to compete with them. A smaller event might have difficulty getting a paid company to come in and do that because the money is not there to be made, so they might have to default to the free photo model just out of necessity for being relevant in the industry.

Panos  51:26  
And from your point of view, Josh, when you speak to a new customer, a new race director approaching you, and they ask you, "What do we do about race photography? Do we go free or do we go paid?" What's the discussion you're having with them?

Josh  51:41  
Well, I mean, I think there's at least one race director here shaking their head listening, saying I would love to do it, but it's not in the budget. So I think, obviously, again, not doing a lot of photography myself, but coming from that photography background, I do talk to my clients about, "Well, let's be smart about it. What are the key priorities we want to hit and how can we do that by maximising the budget? Or sorry, minimising the cost and maximising the budget." I don't have a clear answer. I mean, I think this would invite a great conversation in the comment section from other photo companies who I know follow the page, but I don't think there's any photography company out there that says, "No, we want you to do paid." They want to shoot photos. They want to work. They want to put out a great product. So I think it should not be slaved to a question of paid or free. If you like your photographer, you should not even be slave to the photo platform that you're going to use. I mean, start with what you really want to achieve. If you're trying to cut costs, don't see it as an argument of paid versus free. Think of it first as getting to the core of the product that you really want to get and go from there. I mean, it doesn't matter what photo company you hire. A lot of them will tell you-- a little secret is a lot of photographers work for a lot of different same companies. What really matters is that you're going to have an account manager and a company that's going to work with you on the right price and the right product. So I'm dodging the question a little bit because, again, I know budgets are-- post COVID - we're all recovering from it in the same way, but I think it's first a question of being smart and figuring out what you want, and communicating that with your photo company to find the best price. Again, to find the best option, I know that many photo companies will work with you on free versus paid. And again, these photographers and the photo platform, I'm sure they have ones they like more, but a good photographer who values the relationship should be open to either one of those models, and I know many are.

Panos  53:41  
Historically, for paid photos, that's probably something that John knows quite well. What has been the return on those in terms of how many participants actually continue to pay for paid photos? Is that rising? Is it on a decline? Is it sort of, like, holding steady?

John  53:57  
I actually have no statistics on the individual benefits of paid photos. I know some larger events or bigger names that have gone back and forth, so I'm kind of familiar with that. But in terms of the return they're getting, I actually don't know their downloads. I only know my company's download rates and stuff like that for free photos, so I wouldn't be able to give you any meaningful information on that.

Josh  54:20  
Yeah. I mean, it's declining. That's why these conversations with free photos were even happening. Yeah, it's tough because I've spoken privately with photographers over the year and I've heard numbers ranging by multiple or two or three - not anything statistically significant that I would go off of other than to say that everyone agrees that they're generally in decline, again, in favour of cellphone cameras, basically.

Panos  54:46  
Interesting. For the free photos, do we have a sense-- because they're more of a marketing instrument, do we have a sense of the return that someone might be getting on that - like a marketing return on that budget - that they spent hiring a photographer so that participants may have free photos? Do we know how many new participants may be signing up on the back of that?

Josh  55:10  
I don't have that last number that you said. I do have some interest interesting statistics that came - I mentioned one before - from RunnerTag and Miro that their CEO, Evan shared with me yesterday, and that includes-- like we said, 68% of participants are more likely to share on race day 4.5 minutes when you have a good fleshed-out gallery, 45 image views per participant, 115 people reached on average via social media, 200-plus impressions in the end per runner, and then you have your advertising value equivalency, which is a formula that every agency will calculate differently, and they say that median value for each of those 200 impressions is between $1 and $1.25 to as much as $5. So again, wide ranges that we're working with here, but I thought those are some interesting statistics because - especially if you've got sponsors or you like large zeros at the end of your numbers - obviously, 1000 participants adds up to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of impressions that you wouldn't otherwise get without a photo product.

John  56:19  
Yeah. I have similar data. I don't have an exact number to what new people signed up for it. We do have some qualitative feedback that we get from people that say, "Hey, we saw the photos of this event last year, and that's why we picked it." But we don't have any hard quantitative data. But just touching on some of the numbers we talked about earlier, we do know that, for events that go through the process, we recommend to communicate the photos to the participants - how to get them, when to get them, and where to get them. We're seeing 70% to 80% of participants actually find their photos, and then 90% of that 70% to 80% are actually download the photos and do something with them. And then, just for Facebook alone, we're seeing about 180 to 230 impressions per share.

Josh  57:04  
About the same as what I said, Yeah. Sounds good.

Panos  57:07  
Yeah, these are strong numbers. From discussions I've had previously with some of the services that focus on free photography, it seems that the sponsor is a very big part of making that dynamic work. I guess, getting a sponsor involved that may have their company somehow promoted through the race photos, through a watermark, or through some kind of way - maybe shooting with the background of the sponsor, but I don't know many use cases of that - seems to be key because, when a sponsor gets involved, a lot of the costs associated with that go down and then it's, like, a no-brainer, almost - like, offering free race photos when a sponsor is in board. I wonder, on the ground, how smooth those discussions with sponsors are and how successful race directors are in making the case to sponsors to get involved with photography at that kind of level.

John  58:03  
Yeah. That's a good question, and I can just comment on the clients I work with. I know that we have a lot of clients that we work with on reoccurring yearly or twice-a-year basis. They do offer sponsor packages and photography, and call to action on the image tagging site. Watermarks and logo placement on the images is a huge component of what they sell and the sponsorship packages. But for our smaller events, we're also just seeing smaller events - we're talking events under 1000 people - just go without the sponsor and just pay for it themselves in order just to have that competition to say, "Hey, we also offer photos." So I think it kind of depends on the size of your event. It's a lot harder to get sponsors for those smaller events, but those big ones were willing to work with the sponsors to create, like, custom call-to-actions and prompts so that, when people go to find their photos, they can be directed to a sponsor site or sign up for a future event or product. For big events, that's a huge component of why a sponsor wants to actually give money to be part of this. That's generally, like, the biggest single piece other than course branding that we see people advertising.

Josh  59:16  
Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. I mean, obviously how to get sponsors and keep them is a big topic and the question that everybody's asking, especially right now, and there are a lot of different answers. To John's point, we're not really giving a cost per participant for photography because it's impossible, but it's not 10 cents a participant and it's not $10 per participant. So we're usually talking in this few dollars range. There are some race directors that are totally fine adding a few dollars to the registration fee if they're planning it that far out before registration is open, and there are some who aren't. And again, let's just pretend that we're talking in the dollars range, not in the sense of many dollars. So if you're going with that, maybe that is palatable. As far as sponsors, I've seen it done so many ways, kind of working with some of these big marathons in the past few years or several years ago. Yes, of course. The photo overlays is the one everyone knows. Panos, you mentioned having something in the background of the photo - an arch and activation. I've seen those at many marathons. Again, talking about cheer stations, I would definitely go to your sponsors, like in any case, and say, "What would you want out of this?" Whether you're selling a photo sponsorship or just a value add to a current sponsor, think about what the sponsor wants. Is it branding? Do they just want to see their logo everywhere they look? It's still great. That's great. Do they want to see a bunch of zeros after numbers, saying millions of people saw their logo on something or their branding? Also great. I think, with each one of those-- John's kind of talked about-- and again, this is a much longer conversation. Think about what that sponsor wants and go in that direction. If they want more views, take more photos. If they want more branding, work together on an activation and put the photographer in that space, and I've seen many of them. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. It could be as simple as some banners and telling the photographer, "Stand in front of these banners or this fence and make sure you get it in every shot." I think that it goes a long way. Right? I have no secret formula. I don't know if anybody has a secret formula for sponsorship, but that's where I would start with it.

Panos  1:01:21  
If what you say is, sort of, like, ballpark and providing race photos for free is a matter of a few dollars per participant, I would definitely personally enter an event that's $5 more expensive - all other things being equal - if I would be getting free photos at the end of it, rather than not be getting photos at all or being faced with, like, the 30, 40, or whatever dollars that you see some race photos sell for - right? I think, to me, at least as a participant, the answer is obvious. I don't know how you would see that.

Josh  1:01:59  
Oh, no. It's 100% how I see it. I mean, yeah, every photo company, when they price their photo packages, is doing a math and they're saying, "If I sell this for $50, I'm gonna get X percent." I know you know plenty of economics and talk about elasticity of demand and such. They're finding a place where they think X percent will get it. They're not expecting that every participant or, I'm sure, even close to them are going to download those photos. So yes, if you really value-- again, looping back to the beginning of this conversation, every participant marketing your event with your photos, and with that experience, it's a no-brainer. It's better for the experience for participants. It's better for your overall marketing, definitely.

Panos  1:02:41  
So in a way, when you sell those $30, $40 packs, essentially the minority of people who go and purchase them pay for the service of having the photographer there. So they're paying way above what it would cost for the event to be giving that away for free, right? It's just that, as you say, you need to work backward and say, "What percentage of people is going to pay for this? Therefore my price needs to be that to cover my costs," which is why all of those packs seem so ridiculously expensive to any of us going out to races - right? I mean, to be perfectly honest, may be when I was starting out, as I said, I might be paying $30, $40 Now - call me a little bit spoiled as I know many race participants are becoming on so many things - I actually expect, like, a race that I pay close to triple digits for to be offering these things for free, right? And charge me the $5. I don't care. How would I know anyway between paying $95, $100, or $105? Just don't ask me. It's almost like you go to these, like-- it used to be the case a lot more in the old days. You go to these like four or five star hotels, and then you have to pay, like, $15 or something for internet or Wi-Fi, and you're like, "Why? I'm paying $500 per night. Like, why are you asking me for $15?" It just pisses you off, right?

Josh  1:04:01  
That's why I go to three-star hotels all the time. But yes, I get your point. 

John  1:04:04  
Yeah, that's a great point. That $15 in a $515 night hotel and you get the Internet for free. You wouldn't think anything of it. But because you're making a separate transaction, you do think about it more.

Josh  1:04:14  
That's a perfect point. Thank you for bringing it up. I've never heard that.

Panos  1:04:18  
I mean, you're just rubbing people the wrong way when you're asking them something so personal at the end of the day, which is a race photo, which is you, at that moment, when you're asking them to pay something that seems extravagant at the end of the day. I don't know. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Looking forwards, we've had so many great new technologies hit the scene. Things seem to be changing all the time. Video is catching up with some really exciting stuff. What new should we expect in this field over the next few years?

John  1:04:50  
So I think the biggest technology changes will be on the distribution side. I don't think there are going to be significant advances in the next 5-10 years in actually how the photos are captured and taken. I'm sure there will be stuff, but I really think the distribution is going to be more streamlined. It'd be more integrated with the event itself. I think not just getting your time and results somewhere else, and then your photo results somewhere else, and then your finisher packet somewhere else. I think is going to all kind of start integrating together. So you finish the race, and you're gonna start getting your timing, your finish, your packet, and your photos all at the same time. It's just a faster and more convenient model, I think, going forward.

Josh  1:05:30  
Oh, absolutely. And then it's all about speed. I'm really excited to see Starlink become more mobile accessible, or 5G, or just more access to fibre because, in the last 10 years, I've had so many conversations with race directors who've said things like, "Well, can we show their photos on the screen with custom data when they finish?" Yes, if you can get those photos up fast enough. Can we have video walls and things in the banners? I've seen limited activations of things like this. I've had people looking for lost children, asking my photos to say, "Where are they with their parents? Can we see a picture of the parents?" because I've had photos up. We could go down a rabbit hole of how-- if you're up to uploading photos fast, you can use that for all kinds of live experiences for the participants and even more subtle things like participant tracking, and additional timing points if you really thought them reliable. Again, I'm excited to see the big companies start to really get photos up faster and the technology allows it a lower cost - how we can go and extend from a minute after the finish to a day after the finish with that custom data. And I think, like John says, the photos are going to be an integral more integrated part of the experience, whether it's showing the time on the photo, or showing a custom message from your family, or something more complicated.

Panos  1:06:52  
And there's been lots of development with video in particular. As technology and bandwidth and everything expand, lots of new personalised video products hitting the market. I did this podcast last year with iRewind, a Swiss company that works in this field. The point of that podcast was that video will not replace photos, but it would sort of, like, live alongside photos. Is that how you guys see it going forward?

Josh  1:07:18  
I guess I'll start with that. Yeah. I mean, obviously, I've worked with Pic2Go on some of their video product. I know the US rep, Don Mulligan for iRewind - he's a good friend of mine - and we were talking quite a bit about this at Running USA last week. Of course, it worked within EnMotive as well. So I've kind of seen it from three different perspectives. And yeah, I don't think it'll ever replace it. I think that, until you have your magical robot taking videos of every participant and getting them perfectly, the video is going to be kind of a different thing. It's going to capture the energy around the area. You'll get the person in the shot. I think that I don't want to see it replace photos. I do want to see iRewind showed some excellent stitched-together videos of points on course, and stitches a video, and you can have photos. I think is part of a dynamic package. It's amazing. And yes, that's something that all three of these companies have touched on. Creating that custom two or three minute video-- not to keep plugging iRewind, but I was really impressed with this - that is something that sponsors love and they've said publicly, "Sponsors are eating up shoe companies and such over in Europe." It's not just a photo or video but a whole product or brand experience of a few minutes. So both in the next few years and in the long term, that's where I would like to see video go, and I think it will. I think they're doing great work with it.

John  1:08:42  
Yeah, and I agree with a lot of that. I think, in the current state of things, videos tend to benefit more of the event and the participant, but we're moving towards the participants getting more and more out of videos. And part of that also is just kind of how social media evolves. Things like TikTok, for example, are really heavy on sharing short clips so that people can post stuff on that. You don't really see many videos shared on things like Facebook. So it going to be whatever the social media trends are, but I do think that, as we go forward, it's going to be progressing more towards a video also for the participant and not just the event and venue.

Panos  1:09:17  
Yeah. I was about to say social media is a big factor in all this - how the two sides have sort of, like, evolved side by side. And in many ways, iRewind, which I've been familiar with for a long time, and some of these video services that have been in the avant-garde for many years, it seemed to me, in the path, that they were almost a little bit ahead of themselves in terms of where the market was to be able to absorb that product, but they're sort of, like, coming into the role now. There's this seems to be that moment where video is, sort of, finally arrived in a way. One other thing that used to be a thing - I don't know actually how much of a thing it is these days - was the whole idea of moving race photos to a crowdsource model. There were a couple of companies doing that in the US. Basically, the idea would be that you build a platform where spectators, amateur photographers, or even professional photographers would all upload their photos for an event, and participants would choose which ones to download and pay for from there. But you're sort of almost, like, democratising, which is a very kind of, like, trendy buzzword. You're sort of, like, opening up the race photography function to anyone who wants to upload photos. Is that still a thing?

Josh  1:10:35  
I don't know how much of a thing it is. I mean, we won't name any names, of course, but there were some issues with various companies where photographers would come in at the same time as the official photography company, and either produce photos slow, late, or - due to SEO reasons - would confuse people on how to find them. And I think they rubbed races a little the wrong way. Again, I think it's an intriguing concept, but I think the biggest issues with it are truly just quality control, participant perception, and maintaining that. I wouldn't argue against it being more involved, but I think it needs to all be very clear so that participants aren't seeing something of a lower quality than that which you want to present.

John  1:11:21  
Yeah, a lot of that is exactly what I would say. And I would just add, a couple of years ago, we kind of saw it popping up and experimenting, but I haven't seen it really anywhere in the last year or two. I think a lot of the issues people were having were what Josh said. The event doesn't have direct coordination with the photographer. In many cases, you'd have all the photographers crowding at the same spots because they weren't working as a team, they were working as an individual, and photography is really a big team effort. Most people want that finish line photo and they might be the coolest shots, but you still need someone taking those more difficult shots at the start of the race to give race diversity, and not everyone wants to do it because it's more work and the shots aren't as cool, but it's an integral part of the photography package. So you get less of a cohesive team. You get less coordination with the event. And the event now has to coordinate it with, like, 20 random photographers instead of one point of contact coordinating all the photographers under them. And then, after the event, participants don't really know what to expect whereas, when there's a company, they go, "Okay, this company usually puts up photos 24 hours after the event. They're going to have photos in this resolution for download." And you don't know when each photographer puts their photos up, if they're free or for sale, what the quality is going to be. There's just a lot of unknowns. So you're really getting that determinism. Whether it's paid or free model, you're getting more deterministic results.

Josh  1:12:46  
Yeah, a great way to get participants upset is to make them think there was only one photo and then nine of them show up days later. And again, having worked with a team ensures all of these things - the quality of it, the release timetable - again, I think it's intriguing, but it just creates a little bit of an anarchy and we all know we don't need that stress on race week as a race director,

John  1:13:08  
Just an example. Back in, I think, 2019 or 2021, those were kind of popping up. My photo company used to get a tonne of emails being like, "Hey, we saw this photographer at this spot and we can't find her photos on our website." I'm sitting here and I'm like, "We didn't have a photographer there. I have no idea what this is about." Sometimes, the photographers are doing weird stuff. Sometimes, they're interfering with the race because they're trying to get photos and they just kind of make the event look bad, and they make us look bad. So personally, in my company, we don't let people bring in any third-party photographers or crowdsource anything like that just because it creates a lot of confusion with participants and detracts from the experience. Is it better than nothing? I'd say, "Yeah, it's better than nothing, but I think there's a huge difference between it and an actual photography company."

Panos  1:13:56  
Yeah, I think it goes back to what you were saying earlier about the touch-ups and stuff, which I wouldn't have thought would be necessary, basically. I think, for people who may not have been race photographers themselves for a while - being more, like, technology people - I think there might be a tendency as in so many other races to think that everything can be solved through technology and be, like, fully automated. But it sounds like you can be having, like, an actual professional photographer there picking the spot, taking the pictures, touching them up, and all of that stuff, which is great for race photography and for us racers, actually, for the future. How can people reach out to each of you if they want to, maybe, discuss some of these things? John, being a race photographer, maybe someone wants to discuss some of their options around photography and the services. Or Josh, someone wants to reach out with some advice on all of this stuff. Do you want to take turns in giving sort of, like, a shout-out to how you can be found and where?

John  1:14:53  
Yeah. The easiest way to get a hold of me is just to go to my website, We have a contact form. You can email us there. Usually, I'm the one responding. If it's a busy weekend, I have someone else responding. But we'll get you estimates and breakdowns of our services pretty quickly and we try to be easy to get a hold of.

Josh  1:15:12  
Yeah, I think all of our listeners - or most of them - are probably in the Race Directors Hub Facebook group, where you'll find Josh Reed asking questions and trying to give good answers. Or otherwise, you can go to and shoot me a note there.

Panos  1:15:32  
And you were working on a book - weren't you? There was a specific angle to it, wasn't it?

Josh  1:15:37  
Oh, it's Getting On Path. I mean, we had a long conversation. But yeah, I'm working on a little book right now and it's just kind of along the lines of what we're talking about - just going from what's inside your own head as a race director and figuring out how to speak the language of your photographers, your vendors, how to organise yourself a little better. That's out in the basic form. There's still a little more work to do on it. 

Panos  1:15:59  
Awesome. Is that available on the website?

Josh  1:16:01  
Oh, yes. So I've got the first, let's call it, slightly preliminary release of it out on my website as well -

Panos  1:16:09  
Cool. Well, guys, I want to thank you both very, very much. I think this might be the first but not the last time we get together to talk about race photography because I wanted to just-- as a first contact with this subject just to give a bit of a bird's eye view for people who may not be super familiar with some basic things. That's why we touch on some really basic concepts just to paint a picture for everyone. But maybe, we can come back and sort of do a deeper dive on some things that are a little bit more advanced around the topic. 

Josh  1:16:37  

Panos  1:16:38  
I'm really grateful for your time. Thank you very much both for coming on. And thanks to everyone listening in, and we'll see you all on our next podcast!

John  1:16:46  
Yeah, thank you so much for having us.

Josh  1:16:47  
Thank you, Panos. Good talking to you guys.

Panos  1:16:55  
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on race photos with John Kelly and Josh Reed.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about race photography or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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