Written by ATRA Event Standards partner and professional photographer Joe Viger.
Everyone wants trail race photographs and the truth is they are everywhere on the internet. After any event, a quick look at social media and you can usually find all sorts of images from athletes and spectators taken with cell phones, posted by hobbyist photographers and even some professional images.
This is what it’s all about right? With better technology and easy access to publishing platforms, everyone is a photographer and we have amazing visual documentation, crowd sourced and viral at absolutely no cost. It’s a perfect world for athletes and race directors alike. Well… maybe. Maybe not. Let’s peel back the layers and explore the value trail race directors may be missing by not developing a relationship with an experienced professional photographer.
In general, our barometer for visual quality has moved downward. The flood of cell phone images we see on social media has created a lower minimum acceptable standard for all photographs. But it’s been my experience that it still leaves events short when it comes to having quality images that they can put in print, use on banners or trucker hats and proudly share with partners and sponsors. Properly focused, well exposed and processed, high resolution files from a pro shooter with professional gear will help you as a race director do all these things more effectively.
The other aspect of quality that is important to consider is the eye of a professional photographer. The creative quality of the image matters and the photos need to be beautiful, epic and compelling regardless of the location, light or weather. This creative edge is how you cut through the visual clutter of the Internet and distinguish your event. More on that later.
The best advice you can give anyone to make a better photo is to get closer. And that’s a real problem for you in maintaining safety standards at your event. Looking through the lens, perspective gets shifted and it’s easy to inch to a spot where citizen photographers can cause problems. At best, they will be in the way when you’re trying to get something done. At worst, they’ll be on the course and cause an athlete to be injured. It’s important for your trail race to have a photography policy and hiring a professional with experience photographing races is one of the best ways to ensure that your risk is minimized.
In my business, I hold insurance that supports the work I do both for traditional media but also drone work. I believe this is one of the ways that I can be a good partner to the race organizers I work with. Accidents can always happen and I feel good knowing that I’m covered. I regularly provide a certificate of insurance to race directors. In fact, some venues require them.
Here’s how I know racers love their photographs… I frequently get direct messages while still driving home after the event that say something like “Hey Joe… Great to see you out there! Where can I find the photos?” Professional images create a buzz. And a well connected photographer with their own following helps you create a buzz at your trail race. A well composed photograph makes racers look like strong athletes. Conversely, pain cave photos are also popular. People love photos of themselves that show just how hard your race was and how much they endured. A photo is as important to your race participants as a Strava entry. Bringing that perk to your trail running event matters.
“aR has worked with Joe Viger for a number of years and his images have become iconic in representing our events, effectively supporting our sponsors and representing the spirit of acidotic RACING. We work with him on a branded image strategy for most of our events and it offers us tremendous value by delivering free images to our patrons and a key tool for social media. His professional event photography supports our website and all other marketing year round. Additionally, Joe’s presence and reputation in endurance sports means aR receives additional value when photographs from our events gain exposure through his active social media efforts and editorial placement in newspapers and magazines.”
Chris J. Dunn
acidotic RACING, LLC
Of course you want a “successful trail running event” but what does that mean and what are your goals as a race organizer? How do you want your event to be perceived? Do you want to highlight the iconic view from your course or is the hallmark of your event its difficulty? Perhaps the social vibe is what it’s all about. Do you want to grow your race, attract sponsors or enhance donations for an affiliated charity? Working in partnership with a professional photographer will allow you to tell these stories and meet these goals. I discuss these priorities with race directors and make sure that we come away with the images to support their tactics and strategies to be successful.
Another important aspect of successfully marketing your event is bringing focus to your photography strategy. That is, one race gallery and specific social media channels to most effectively brand and promote your event. Having an informal network of volunteers means that your message and branding is out of your control and diluted in multiple places. But rallying all photos in to select channels drives all interested parties to single sources of truth. As a result, you maximize the impact of those channels and related Internet algorithms. Hiring a professional photographer involved in the sport also gives your event the benefit of their social media fans and website exposure.
Speaking of exposure… professional photographers frequently have editorial and commercial photography connections ranging from local papers to national magazines. It’s in the pro’s interest to get images placed in print, online and advertising. That brings great value to your race.
Lastly… using a professional photographer will give you a cache of professional images to run your marketing machine year round. Websites, social media posts, advertising and products are all easier and more impactful with a pro photography partner. As mentioned above, the creative quality of these photographs will set you apart. It will generate excitement about your event.
A New Platform for Sponsorship
In my business, I draw on my past life as a sales and marketing executive to not only help event organizers use the photos for effective marketing but also partner with them to develop a program where my photos, websites and social media are a platform for sponsorship. Oftentimes, photographers can be paid for by a willing sponsor who would love to see their name on the images, websites and social media. In my humble opinion, this offers much more exposure to a sponsor than the back of a race t-shirt or a race day banner because it will always be on the Internet and will get shared. Shared not only by you, but also the photographer, the sponsor and by race participants and other interested parties like moms, husbands and brands.
I think there are so many exciting opportunities to bring pro photographs to your race for you, your participants and partners. A photographer should be more than just clicking the shutter. For me, one of the most gratifying parts of what I do is working as a partner with event organizers to highlight the amazing experiences they create and using photographs to help organizers reach their goals.
About the Author:
Joe Viger is founder/owner and lead photographer for Joe Viger Photography. He and his team shoot mountain/ultra/trail running, bike and ski races in New England and around the country. This includes local races and national championships. He is the official photographer for New Hampshire’s iconic Mt Washington Road Race. Learn more about how professional photography can help race organizers develop marketing and sponsorship approaches using photography. Contact Joe at [email protected] or visit jvsportsphoto.com. Follow Joe on Instagram at @joevigerphoto.