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The rise (and fall?) of the event photographer

If I had a pound for every time I was asked to sell an event photo I would be a rich(er!) woman, instead the vast majority of the time I have to apologise and state that images are for media use only with just a few exceptions, meaning a large proportion of e-Venting’s photos will never be for public sale. As a professional photographer being restricted from selling images obviously impacts my income, but I’m also a competitor so would like to feel I could see both sides of the debate. If I’m honest this article has been stewing for a while, but recent discussions online have encouraged me to actually write it!

_Q9A2074Most would probably think we would be immediately in favour of being able to sell e-Venting’s photos to competitors immediately after an event, and it would most certainly help cover the costs of running e-Venting if we could, but actually we are against it and this is where we tell you why.

The current climate is becoming increasingly challenging for the official photographer and the numbers covering eventing are notably decreasing. It is no surprise that a small number of businesses are growing and covering more and more events as they attempt to keep their businesses viable.

The current rules governing photographers at events are very vague and normally come down to individual events as BE issues no set guidelines. Some events, mainly the internationals, have clear rules as to who can sell what images and when, but many do not. Previously there was a gentleman’s (and woman’s!) agreement between photographers, that one did not step on the toes of another selling photos at an event they were not the official photographer at, but with the rise of social media this has started to be breached, with many photographers (accredited or otherwise) seeking to and actually selling images, often uploading their images for sale on the day of the event.

With the increasing quality of entry level professional cameras and in turn their reducing price points the number of ‘photographers’ at events is growing almost exponentially! Currently the vast majority of the time these photographers go unchallenged and are allowed to take limitless photos and do with them as they wish. 95%  at an event will be of no issue or concern to the official photographer or organisers. About 4% will fall into the category that are a possible issue, as they won’t sell their images but will share a large number online on public unrestricted websites and pages. Lastly, the final 1%, those that publicly sell their images immediately after an event to competitors despite being unauthorised to do so. From an official photographer’s point of view they are stealing sales. From the organiser’s point of view, that photographer has not paid a pitch fee so is profiteering and may well not have public liability insurance which is a significant concern from a safety aspect.

How much longer will a single official photographer be viable at events?

How much longer will a single official photographer be viable at events?

Most competitors want to see as many photos as possible of themselves, me included I will freely admit, but does there need to be more control over who can take what at events? I don’t think anyone would support a ban on non-official photographers, but perhaps there could be more concrete rules on who can sell, and perhaps share what, where and when, especially if the current scenario of a single official photographer is to be maintained. This could be difficult to police though, and several events already implementing such rules are facing criticism for approaching spectators carrying professional equipment to check their intentions. We are not aware of any genuine spectators being asked to stop, or worse asked to leave an event, the criticism lies purely with the approach and questioning. I genuinely can’t see an issue as long as officials and in turn the spectators are polite. Common sense will allow officials to quickly gauge who is a genuine spectator and who is not, something that is simply not possible to clarify without questioning as professional equipment is now so mainstream amongst amateurs.

Looking to alternative options, one being heavily mooted by competitors is to allow everyone to sell photos (I would add the proviso that this should be limited to those correctly accredited and insured) therefore creating somewhat of a free for all scenario. But what would the result be for competitors, photographers and organisers alike? Personally I believe the standard and range of photos available for sale would quickly plummet. The official photographer pays to be there, if they had direct competition they simply would not pay, the event would lose revenue unless they charged a smaller fee to all those allowed to sell. So instead of 1 organised and structured photography company at an event you would have perhaps 4 or 5 (if you’re lucky) individuals but all doing their own thing. The showjumping would have to become a photographer free zone inside the arena (can’t exactly call dibs or alternatively allow 2+ in the ring at most events!) and cross country photographers would move about or potentially choose the same fence as one another. You would think it might be sensible to not have two photographers at the same fence but when at certain events you know without question one fence is going to sell 10 times more than any other, everyone will want to be at that fence. Result: riders finding 4 photographs of themselves at that one fence and no others!

Lots of people love taking a photo and that should never change nor they unable to do so

Lots of people love taking a photo and that should never change nor they feel unable to do so, but maybe they should be limited where they can post those photos afterwards?

Next, riders would also then have to search in as many places as there were photographers to find their photos, and wouldn’t be able to get bulk deals as all photos would be for sale in different places. Currently official photographers will have 3+ photographers working at an event and each may miss a few riders a day if unlucky or if the weather is particularly horrid, but the others will have normally got them. If not working as a team the chances of a rider being missed in their entirety significantly increases as well.

If a photographer could not have exclusivity the chances of making a reasonable profit from an event is drastically reduced, and personally I could see a number of the current eventing photographers giving up and moving to other more profitable areas of photography, so meaning there is actually the chance that at some events there would be no photographer at all. To be honest, I expect at least one accredited photographer will always turn up at an event (as long as not raining!) but the skill and ability of that photographer could well be questionable, which brings me again to foreseeing a reduction in standards. I can see on site print trailers vanishing as well, rather than 2 or 3 appearing at an event, as they are very costly in both set up and running costs, never mind the extra staff member to run them. With no on site printing, online purchases would become the only option. To get photos up online fast to try and beat the opposition, editing (cropping/colour balancing etc) would be sacrificed until after purchase which is in itself fine, but riders cannot then expect instant quality downloads.

So if the status quo is to be maintained with a single photographer how can riders and photographers alike be kept happy? Here at e-Venting we would make the following proposal to BE for implementation at national events:

  • Only the official photographer can sell images to the public within a month of the event.
  • Accredited photographers/media outlets can publish ‘X’ photos per day of the event of competitors within the first month for publicity purposes. All photos can be sold immediately for commercial purposes and after 1 month to the public.
  • Photographers without accreditation, professional or otherwise can publicly upload up to ‘X’ photos within a month of the event (Publicly being clarified as on a website including social media which is viewable by anyone and not restricted to a closed pool of individuals. Private uploads would not be restricted). After a month they can upload further photos but at no point in time can images be sold.
  • Photos intended to be posted publicly under points 2 and 3 above should not be taken on the cross country course at the same fence as the official photographer.
  • Photographers found in breach could be reprimanded in many ways from verbal and written warnings to being barred from events for repeat offenders in extreme circumstances.

‘X’ to be defined but one option could be 10% of the number of starters that day during the competition phases meaning that candid photos taken outside of the competition arenas/courses would not be restricted by this limit. A 10% limit would at a national event be equivalent to approximately 25-30 photos.

Offenders would be easily identified after an event by simply monitoring the main social media sites and to be honest the 1% that are the notable issue are known by sight by the majority of official photographers anyway, just currently there are limited rules in place for the organisers to stop them! Because of this there shouldn’t be a need to approach and question multiple photographers at events.

International events offer a slightly different situation especially at 3* plus. At these events a different policy would be required due to the increased media demands from both the public and the event organisers themselves.  Restricting photography at the same fence as the official photographer would be impractical at events at this level both in terms of limiting media output and also attempting to police hundreds of spectators at a fence! The proposal though would act as a suitable starting point as a framework.

 

_Q9A0983

The balance must be found to find a policy that is easily and fairly policed, so to control the 5% that misbehave whilst not victimising the 95% that are never at issue.

It is important to make clear that the above proposal would not restrict the parent photographing their child, nor an enthusiastic amateur with several friends competing, as long as they were posting their images on private pages not public ones.

About the author

Katie

1 Comment

  • My take on it is have an official photographer, who will always in theory get the money shot. They will be in the SJ ring, they will be at the big XC fence (or so you think) at an event and you will always get people reveling in the great day they have had and wanting to capture the moment. But more recently the quality of the picture taking isn’t always at its best, and the selection of some of the XC fence pictures at events has left a lot to be desired. They haven’t captured you at your best – left legs, not the “perfect” take off shot etc

    I like the fact i have options; that said, not once have I bought a picture from an unofficial rep. However recently for the first time someone has captured a truly lovely shot of my horse at an event. Not jumping a fence, just in the landscape and I want it on my wall because it was an amazing day to be proud of. I don’t want it locked in an online vault of “press only” when the likes of the average competitor will never get it in to the “press” for it to be seen. I also like the fact that other people roam at events, they capture different horses at different fences, and for those of us wanting to get an understanding of courses around the country and abroad it allows this to happen. If that helps a rider make a better choice, and ultimately have a safer round, its win win.

    At the end of it all, if someone wishes to gift the picture, or pay a token gesture for someone having captured an amazing moment, what is the harm? The equine community is just that, one who shares in people’s good and bad days. A picture is just capturing that moment, which for some of us takes every ounce of blood, sweat, tears and money to make it happen.