How To Make The Most Of Your Race Photography

ORM begins a series of informative and helpful articles for new OCR directors. 

Top 5 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Race Photography*

1. Give the photos away.

Back in 2012, Spartan Race were OCR industry leaders by offering free event photos to all of their customers. They realized a photo shared with their own logo was saving untold millions in marketing and brand awareness. The other big two, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, soon followed.  Eventually it became necessary for all races to provide this service if they want to be taken seriously.

If you use an outside company who charges for photos, you are letting your customers down. You are also not doing the photographers any favors as the percentage of customers who end up making purchases is almost non existent.

What getting this wrong says about your organization – Our relative works at Marathon Photo and we want to send them some business.

2. Post photos on your home turf, and make them easy to find.

If posting event photos on your website, use an obvious link that no one has to hunt for. Many times, races will hide their photos 4 or 5 links deep. Each additional click, means your audience is more likely to give up and/or get distracted, before finding photos.

Udder Mudder Does It Right

Additionally, we see races posting links to an external picture storing page like Flickr. Bad idea.

Everyone that just did your race can’t wait to share their photo of themselves muddy and, (in their minds anyway), looking badass on the one site they are on the most.

Recent surveys show that people spend 20-30% of all of their online time per day on Facebook. Sending your customers to some external site slows the sharing process down and most times, stops it from happening altogether.

In addition, you have now sent your current and future customers AWAY from your website and or Facebook, and who knows if they are coming back.

If using Facebook, create a photo album titled “Event Location/Event Date”.

You may want to post a small sampling on Facebook from any particular event, with a link that points to the remaining photos being uploaded to your website. (Or vice versa as in the photo example above).

Participants will dive in head first dying to see what pics you caught of them. As soon as participants spot themselves, they will begin sharing them asap.

If they download the pic and post it on their own page – Awesome! Brand Awareness Win!

If they share the photos directly from your page – Double awesome! Brand Awareness and Direct Traffic Win!

What getting this wrong says about your organization- We don’t understand how the internet works.

3. Post them as soon as possible.

Don’t wait a week. Get them up the same day or within 72 hours is optimal. The longer you wait, the more chance your customers have moved on to something else they are bragging about. Many OCR participants do multiple events per month. If they have done another race or two since they did your event, they are far less likely to share your photos.  Check the Facebook page of any recent event, within a couple of days, the most common “post by others” is “When will the pictures be up?”

What getting this wrong says about your organization – We are lazy/understaffed.

4a. Don’t post 1 minute in the life of the same person.

I have seen a race post EVERY SINGLE PHOTO their photographer(s) take. So what the audience sees is 20+ almost identical images.  Take the time to get rid of all those extra photos, only posting a “money shot” or 2 of each participant, per obstacle. By the way, the “money shots” don’t have to be these amazingly-epic-climbing-Mt. Everest-type photos. Just focus on quality over quantity and remember sometimes that less is more. When you are looking at multiple pictures of the same person from a specific obstacle, take the time to whittle them down to a select few.

This lady

This lady even more This lady some more

Only this woman’s mother approves of this set of 40 photos.

4b.  Tell the story of your race.

This means getting to the point and (again) not showcasing every shot your photographers took. Showing a few people as they register to establish the early morning of your race is great. 30 pictures of the registration tables, not so much. Same thing with the start line, festival area, various obstacles, etc. A few pictures of each element tells the story effectively and is more attractive to new consumers.

We understand money is tight, and you can’t always afford the best in the business. Here, you can make a money/time choice to best suit you. The first options is to spend more money up front on photographers who will capture better shots with better cameras. The second choice is to spend less money on the front end and know that you are going to have to spend more of your own time later. Your investment in time of sorting through and only posting top photos pays many untold dividends in the future.

What getting this wrong says about your organization – We are lazy/understaffed/clueless.

Taking good OCR photographs

If every picture tells a story, what are these three telling? 

5. Ask your photographers to shoot “tight”.

Giving the photographers you hire specific instructions around what you want are looking for in advance is crucial. Let them know the story you are trying to tell. Often times, a race photo will include far too much sky parking lot, or porta-potty. Don’t assume the photographers know what you want. You want your action photos to be of the action in your race. Most things past participants’ head and feet is NOT action. The exception here being your race is an exotic location or has some super majestic mountains.

Additionally, you are most likely going to have your logo on each photo. When you have a shot with tons of extra background, it’s going to be too easy for your customers to crop those photos to make themselves look better. Your logo will be the first to go if a shot is too wide.

What getting this wrong says about your organization – We were rushed on race day and don’t take the time to get things right. 

For an example of a race that takes and highlights great photos on a limited budget, check out Udder Mud Run below.

Doing it right

*This article assumes you are using real human beings to take your photos at your event and to edit/upload the photos after the event. Many races use stationary cameras, highly technical backend systems, and other features which can be automated at a much higher price point that bring their own set of pros and cons.


Matt B. Davis

is the host of the Obstacle Racing Media Podcast and the author of "Down and Dirty-The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs". He is also the only (known) #wafflehouseelite obstacle racer.
  1. One thing which is also a big distractor and ultimately make the company look bad is having a search feature for your pic which either returns a “no picture” message or an image of someone who clearly isn’t you. This has happen to me several times, only to do the search by clicking through each picture to find my “money shoots”.

  2. Great article. Smart race organizations are transitioning to “free” photos from “athlete-paid” photos by the droves. In reality, of course, “free” really means either “sponsor-paid” or “included in the registration cost”.

    Even smarter companies know to use a national photography with lean, mean and low overhead, which translates to the lowest prices. And don’t forget, before October 2014, it was not legal to post photos that people could search. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but it was true. Bad patents held the entire photography industry hostage until we overturned those patents and made this “free photo” model available for the industry. Let me help you with your free race photo solution. Learn more at or!

  3. Great piece, Matt. I would only add two quick observations. First, free photos can actually be a good revenue source for event owners. Your photographer should allow you to find your own sponsor — and your own revenues — tied to the free photos. Second, make sure that the photos are easily searchable by something other than bib numbers. Bibs tear off and forehead markings get washed away or smudged during a race. Participants should be able to quickly find their photos by sorting by obstacle and by time of day. Keep up the great work!

  4. Great post Matt!

    Providing Free (Sponsored) Race Photos – Same Day of the event (backed by an auto-tagging technology) has been proven to be a most successful win-win-win model for all parties involved, in the many events we worked with.
    While participants enjoy the chance to share their experience (for free), events & sponsors enjoy a tremendous marketing value (engagement & social reach) and photographers get paid for their work (regardless of the declining photos-purchasing trend).

  5. Thanks, Matt. Great post. And good discussion by all. People love great photos of themselves in action, and the marketing opportunity of branded photos is big for sponsors and race organizers. I’d also agree there are revenue opportunities for events tied to sponsored photos. It’s important to remember that events can be very different in their organization and underlying operating models, so offering flexible photography solutions is important. We’ve had success providing photo hosting, sharing, organizing, tagging, print fulfillment and branded marketing solutions directly to event organizers and photography companies of all sizes. And we’ve learned along the way that whether it’s a hosting and fulfillment API, photo analytics, or simply a network of great photographers, each event has different photography needs. But all should have one common goal: great photos for their participants!

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