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Photography ‘contest’ = Bad Deal for Photographers

Many photography contests are just bad deals for photographers. This is an excerpt from an email I received as a member of a local photography group.

My name is Alex Doubet, and I’m contacting you on behalf of US Road Sports & Entertainment Group (USRS). We own & operate the Publix Georgia Marathon (coming up on 3/20/11; ~18k participants) and the Atlanta 13.1 Half Marathon (10/2/11; ~4k participants).

We are starting a photo contest for our Atlanta-area marathons. The theme of the contest is “The Spirit of the Endurance Athlete”. The contest will function as follows: Any and all photographers may enter. They will be given a photographer access badge, and will take photos of the event, trying to best capture the theme of the contest.

One winner per event, decided upon by USRS, will be awarded a prize of $150. The winner will also be entered into our grand prize contest, competing against the winners of the photo contests in our other 13, nationwide races. The grand prize winner will have his or her work emailed out to our entire email database (125,000-150,000 people) with their name attached to the photo.

We are looking forward to making this photo contest a huge success, and we think it will be a great opportunity for your members to potentially reach a massive audience. As a condition of entrance, we require only the right to duplicate and use all photos taken for promotional purposes.

This is a terrible deal for photographers, as are many photography contests. The problem I have with this is that it is such a blatant attempt to create an awesome photo library for promotional campaigns for about the cost of a decent camera and lens. ($2250 = 15 events x $150 prize/event)

Not only is the ‘prize’ of $150 not even enough to get me off the couch, it’s only a little more than making minimum wage if you add up the hours spent shooting and the hours spent editing. SO, if you decide to risk the potential of damage to your gear, and you shoot some good images, and you happen to win the ‘prize’, you get an insultingly small outlay of cash in exchange for handing over unlimited usage of your ‘prize winning’ shot, and every other picture you took that day. If you happen to be one of the many photographers who didn’t win the meager $150 ‘prize’, then you’re handing over unlimited usage of your images in exchange for… nothing.

Let’s do some simple projections and figure out how big this image library is going to be. Let’s assume 50 photographers participate at each event, and let’s assume each photographer submits 100 images at the end of the day. That’s 5000 images per stop and there are 15 stops, for a total of 75,000 images. Some of those images are going to suck. Honestly, I think most of those images are going to suck… So let’s be really critical as to what goes into this new image library and assume 1 out of 10 makes the cut. That leaves 7500 supposedly high quality images for this image library.

Ok, so the total prize cash adds up to $2250. Let’s assume a contest marketing budget of the same amount of $2250 for a total contest cost of $4500. That comes out to a cost of 60 cents per image. And remember these are good images. That’s a lot cheaper than buying stock images. Istock charges at minimum around $1 per image.

My favorite part of this whole thing is actually the Grand Prize.

The grand prize winner will have his or her work emailed out to our entire email database (125,000-150,000 people) with their name attached to the photo.

So if you’ve created the best photo from all 15 events, your image will be used in a newsletter with your name attached. That is not a prize. That’s standard usage and they should be paying you a fee in order to license your image for their newsletter. I’d suggest for an email newsletter that size and assuming they use it on the web as well, and assuming a two year licensing agreement, a fee in the range of $2000 is very fair. For THAT single image. Any other images will need their own licensing agreements.

It is the goal of US Road Sports & Entertainment Group to scam photographers into handing over usage rights for their images with no compensation. The $150 ‘prize’ is a joke and no photographer that values their work should consider participating in this charade.

I don’t think all photography contests are scams, but any contest that asks for usage rights, especially on non-winning images, should be considered a scheme to get quality images for really cheap. Do your homework and read the fine print. Your images are valuable. Protect them.

I do have a suggestion for US Road Sports & Entertainment Group if they want to build an image library in a way that is fair to both sides.

Step 1- Create a Flickr group.
Step 2- Allow anyone to upload images to it.
Step 3- Allow anyone who wants to shoot the event to shoot it.
Step 4- Encourage them to upload shots to the Flickr group.
Step 5- Browse the results, select the best images.
Step 6- Negotiate deals with the individual photographers.
Step 7- Buy only the best images for a fair price and everyone is happy.

Or here is a crazy idea… Hire a professional photographer to shoot your events.