August 13, 2012

On the Value of Derby Photos

Let me start by saying how much I love photographing roller derby. I love capturing the action and emotion, I love how challenging it is to shoot, and I love helping to grow the popularity of the sport. This'll probably be a controversial topic, but I'd like to talk about the value of derby photos. I'm going to try to convince you to think about compensating your derby photographers, if you aren't already. And if you're a fellow photographer, I hope you'll give careful consideration to the leagues that you choose to support, and the terms that you're willing to accept.

Like most of us in derby, I've gotten used to working for free. We all contribute our time and money — not to mention our blood, sweat, and tears — and we get paid in attention. I get that. My photos help bring attention to the skaters, and I get some attention in return. For years, that seemed like a fair trade to me, and I happily signed agreements that required me to give leagues free promotional use of my photos.

Recently, however, I've noticed that the leagues who agree to compensate me for my photos are much more appreciative than the ones who expect to get photos for free. These leagues realize that their marketing relies on great photos to help sell tickets, so they have significant monetary value. When other leagues require free use of my photos, they imply that the photos have no value, and they seem more likely to take my work for granted. And with many photographers agreeing to that valuation, it's easy to see why those leagues maintain that requirement.

Oly Rollers vs. Naptown Roller Girls (1/400 sec, f/3.5, ISO 3200, three remote flashes)

Last year, WFTDA created a very reasonable photo agreement for their Big 5 tournaments, thanks to the efforts of tournament director Janis Kelley (aka Skullateral Damage) and many photographers who provided their input. The most notable section of the agreement says: "The photos you take at an Event are your property. WFTDA claims no right to use those photographs without your prior consent. WFTDA has a right to view the photos taken at an Event and may request a license agreement with you for use of a photo. Terms of the usage agreement are at the discretion of the photographer and/or media organization."

Given this precedent set by WFTDA, I've decided to shoot only the leagues with a similar agreement, or who agree to compensate me for using my photos. In other words, I've stopped shooting the leagues that require free use of my photos. My compensation is flexible, and in some cases I may still donate my photos for free, but only to leagues that don't demand it. In the case of leagues that are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, I pledge to donate any payment back to the league. My goal here isn't to make money, but to educate leagues about the value of derby photos, and to convince them to recognize that value.

Leagues can compensate photographers in various ways, and direct payment is only one option. Another is to treat photographers as sponsors, giving them the perks associated with a particular contribution level. A third option is to give merchandise of comparable value. In each case, the key point is to agree upon a specific monetary value for the photos. For example, my agreements with the Oly Rollers and Rodeo City Rollergirls have valued my photos at $200 per bout for unlimited promotional use, but excluding merchandise use.

Rodeo City Rollergirls (1/400 sec, f/3.5, ISO 3200, two remote flashes)

I think the fairest method of compensation, especially for leagues with multiple photographers, is to pay on a per-photo basis, with the value determined by the size or prominence of each photo. For instance, a photo used on a billboard should pay more than the same photo used on a flyer, since it's likely to make more money for the league. Ideally, the league's marketing budget should include photo licensing fees. A good rule of thumb is to pay photographers a percentage (e.g., 25%) of the total cost of any advertising or merchandise that uses their photos.

In addition to my league agreements, I typically allow free use of my photos for personal, non-commercial use. For instance, skaters are welcome to use my photos on their Facebook pages, except to make money or promote a business. If you want to use my photos for commercial, promotional, or editorial use, please contact me at to discuss licensing. In most cases, permission from the skaters in each photo is also necessary.

In writing this, I hope I've given you something to think about. Look at the marketing value you're getting from your league's photographers, and try to put a dollar figure on it. How much are those photos really worth to you, how much extra revenue do they bring in, and how much would you pay to replace them? To the other photographers out there, I ask you to consider the value that you're providing, and to make sure your league appreciates it. If you support a league that requires free use of your photos, you're reinforcing the notion that they have no value.

As always, comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!


AniceSpodnik said...

Amazing article Joe! Well said! As both a skater and a Photographer I feel a huge appreciation for all of your hard work. You are capturing moments in our lives that will last a lifetime and without them we are forced to try and mentally remember what the game was like instead of visually and for that we owe you so much more. Thanks for being the "mirror" of us as we compete!

Photography by D.E.sign said...

Thanks Joe, I had been contemplating a similar article...but I'm glad you wrote this first. I also think you need to submit it to derbylife. Great blog post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Joe!

I was training with and photographing a team for over a year, and when I ran into some financial issues and couldn't afford the dues ($30/mth) I tried to discuss having my photography seen as payment (I was shooting training sessions, bouts and parties/social events, and it was my images used 90% of the time on promotional material.) They were not willing to work with me, despite waiving monthly dues for coaches, refs and other derby "workers". It was extremely disappointing to me as I was spending many MANY hours taking and editing images, with a huge amount of disappointment being shown to me when I didn't have a 24/hr turnaround, despite being a single mother at the time and working 30+ hours a week.

It was actually very off-putting and soured me on the group to a degree... Being taken for granted is not something I wanted to feel in derby.

Anonymous said...

Joe - I love that you're talking about both sides understanding/questioning what value they are getting from their own contribution.

Like with anything you start as an amateur, you may not be in a great position to charge for your services. That goes for amateur photographers AND new leagues...and as you mature you'll need to reconsider that relationship.

A new photographer, for example, may not be in a position to require compensation for their work - because it may not be of the quality (yet!) to be useful for the league. Same goes the other way for leagues that may not have as much of the star appeal as the top WFTDA leagues. You are obviously a talented photographer, and your photos have a lot of value, and it is right for you to expect a league to acknowledge your contribution to the sport.

The WFTDA agreement makes sense to me because there is no explicit monetary value placed on the photograph to exist - which is necessary when you're considering leagues that frankly aren't in a position to pay a lot for photographers or marketing material.

Anonymous said...

Nice Work JR! For leagues attempting to find a reference in the market, I highly suggest requesting bids from "sports photographers".

Even the terms that Joe is suggesting are very similar to "free" in the real world. When you consider the cost of purchasing, mastering, and maintaining the equipment he uses, as well as the hours of sorting, processing, and posting required before you can enjoy his work, well...he (and many of us) are still "paying to play" - and it's much more than the dues paid by most skaters. (of course, that doesn't include transportation, room, and expenses on the road) See you all around the tracks!
Ziv K

Fotodog said...

Great article, Joe!

The line has been drawn in the sand. I truly hope that all leagues will now approach their league photograhers as you have stated here.

[insert applause here]

Anonymous said...

As a skater I believe that photos provide me with the most valuable feedback I can possibly get. It makes me want to get lower, or look across the track, or cover the inside line better - seeing myself from the outside really drives those messages home. I hope all derby photographers will be treated as an asset and be sufficiently compensated and continue to enjoy shooting for us.

Anonymous said...

I'm in your camp too. On bout day, I believe announcers are the purest marketing tool the game has - great announcers keep people coming back. A few of us work hard to remember or note to thank photographers at bouts. We realize that once our job is done, the only reliable record of the event comes from you and a good stats crew. You choose! Review stats, look at nice photos? OK, I do both.

It's photographers - I don't care how experienced or inexperienced they are - that give us our history. There are 600 leagues in the US. Is every league going to have the kind of photographer I consider you to be? Hardly! Yet, the man or woman at the early side of the learning curve is still documenting moments in league/skater/sport history. WFTDA has made some good hires, has begun to create a structure to assure high-profile bouts and events are well run, announced, and photographed. It gives credence to the work many of us have put into this for years. Those who care enough to make the experience better for those both on and off the track.

Joe Rollerfan said...

Thanks for all the support, you guys!

Lisagrrl makes a great point about inexperienced photographers not having the leverage to demand payment for their photos. Frankly, even I don't have much leverage when a league has other photographers who are willing to accept their unreasonable terms. But any photographer can create a valuable photo, and if a league compensated photographers on a per-photo basis, they would only pay for the photos that they decide to use. Convincing leagues to do that is the hard part, which is why I wrote this article.

Even if a league can't afford to compensate photographers, I'd advise them to adopt WFTDA's agreement instead of requiring photographers to give them a free license. Some photographers would still choose to donate their photos for free, but they'll likely be appreciated for their generosity instead of just producing something that the league thinks it's entitled to anyway.

Greg Russell said...

I'm a fellow derby shooter but in Canada. Getting some kind of recognition, payment for the photos would be absolutely great! It's tons of fun shooting derby but it sure aint't cheap to do so. Ask any derby photographer who has shot more than 1 season and I'm sure they will agree. Roller derby has a way of pushing camera gear to its limits since the light levels are usually not so good. The last time I was in the camera store they weren't willing to give a new NIkon DSLR for free, always ask but it never happens! Nothing is for free there is always a cost involved somewhere. Images, in general, should not be given away for free.

As the sport of roller derby gains more ground and as a result gets more $$$ the handing over of images for free will no longer be an option. Some kind of compensation needs to be worked out. NFL, Baseball and Hockey shooters don't hand over their images for free. Roller derby is still in the early stages of growth but it is growing fast. The issue of compensation for images is something that has to be brought up and discussed especially for the future years roller derby. I'm all for helping out leagues with images when applicable. I always take into account the fact that some leagues are still struggling. Not all of the leagues can fill 3,000-6,000 seats per bout. Some are still fighting to fill 1,000-1,500 seats and many are below these numbers. The sport is definitely growing though.

Shooting roller derby is an absolute blast and it is always a challenge to capture a great image. As photographers we just have to keep pushing the quality of our work higher and higher so that it stands above. The photography market is being flooded with average images these days. High quality images that convey something will always be of value.

It's great that you have brought this subject up! Someone had to bring it up first, glad it was you LOL. Kudos to you!

p.s. Joe keep getting those great derby shots that you always get.

Steve Brown said...

Good, balanced point, well made. I think the aim in a relationship between a league and a photographer should be mutual respect. Often the leagues feel that they are doing photographers a favour by allowing them to shoot bouts and that the least they can expect in return is free pictures. In actual fact both parties gain from the relationship, the photographer gets a great subject to photograph but the league also gets (hopefully) great pictures to use for PR.

It does partly come down to quality, I guess photographers need to think whether leagues are getting anything out of their photographing them (ie. are your pictures any good), but if you are producing good images then it's fair to expect some appreciation, whether financial, through merch, free tickets etc, or even just heartfelt thanks from skaters for your hard work.
I have produced lots of promo posters/programme covers for LRG - - and they've all been for free, but they've been on my own terms and I've done them because I got something out of it, ie. they were fun and good for my portfolio at the time. Even then it makes a massive difference when you get some appreciation from the skaters for your hard work.
Compensation doesn't have to be financial, though ultimately that is always nice, but whether it's a big hug for making someone look awesome, an ad in the programme for your photography website, a couple of free t shirts or a free season ticket it's the feeling that your hard work is respected and valued that makes the difference, and that's what leagues, who are made up of volunteers themselves, often forget about.

Chez Dickson said...

Thanks for posting this Joe.

As I've seen my league grow over the past 7 years, we've gone from employing volunteers for media production to paying for most services with cash or advertising. However, we still don't pay for photography. We've had a few photographers request compensation via cash or advertising, and we've turned them down because we have other photographers who offer their work for free.

This points to a larger problem, which is the saturation of the photography market with hobbyists, amateurs, and professionals with years of experience who feel pressured to provide free services just to get exposure and maybe get paid for future work.

As a photographer, I see a great comparison here to other photography ventures that are treated the same way. Photographers often aren't fairly compensated. Some folks are ignorant to the value of good photography, being the experience of the photographer, the cost of the equipment and software, and the time spent processing photos. What compounds the problem is that photography is common, as most people have a camera of some sort and 'take pictures' on their own. It's hard for them to grasp paying for something that so many people can do on their own. (so they think) I don't find it as common for people to expect someone to build a website or create a video recording of an event for free.

The bottom line is that if people can get free services, they'll take it. Unfortunately for the photography scene, the only thing that would make a difference is if we collectively stopped giving away our work.

To all of the leagues out there: Please pay your photographers if you're able! 'Building a portfolio' isn't compensation for skilled photographers. Producing good photography is expensive. At the least, production costs should be compensated fairly.


Neale said...

I'm trying to reconcile this article with the amount of unpaid time I put in to software development, electrical wiring, and NSO duties for my local roller derby leagues.

Do you feel like me giving away my software and/or time and labor similarly "reinforces the notion that [your photos] have no value"? If not, could you help me understand the difference between what the Rinxter development team does and what you do?

Joe Rollerfan said...

Good question, Neale. With regard to your Rinxter software, I think the answer is no -- giving it away for free does not imply that it has no value. But the important difference is that nobody is requiring you to give it away for free.

It's important to note that I don't have a problem with photographers who choose to donate their work, as long as their league recognizes the value of what they're getting. There's nothing wrong with being generous.

My complaint is with leagues that demand to get photos for free. This changes the relationship from one of generosity to one of entitlement, and it's that attitude of entitlement that devalues photographers' work.

With regard to your NSO duties, I'd love to see officials get compensated as well. But it's really up to you to decide if your league recognizes the value of your time and labor.

Neale said...

Cool, thanks for answering. This really helped me understand your argument.

Introducing new demands into any relationship is going to strain it. One way to introduce new demands is to make volunteers and donors feel un-appreciated, like demanding free photos. You've done a good job here expounding on that, and you clearly had the moral right to be miffed and seek out other leagues to photograph.

Another way to introduce new demands is to start requiring payment for something you've been donating for free. I know that's not what you're suggesting in this blog post, but I think it's worth pointing out that the demands can go both ways.

The small leagues in my area all require membership dues. The skaters aren't just volunteering, they're paying money to play. If the photographer demands to be the only person making money from the league's activities, who has the attitude of entitlement?

(earlier comment had awful formatting, sorry)

Joe Rollerfan said...

Neale, that's a great point, and frankly it's the reason why I expected my article to be controversial. I realize that the skaters are paying to play, and ideally they'd be getting paid instead. Each of us has to decide whether we're getting enough out of the sport to justify the time and money we put in.

However, there are many other people who are making money from a league's activities. When a league wants to print posters or bout programs, they don't expect the print shop to work for free. When they want to place an ad in the local paper or on the side of a bus, they don't expect to get those for free. They might negotiate a fair exchange of services (such as sponsorship), but they would never present those businesses with a contract demanding free service.

I understand that my position might seem similarly demanding, but I think most photographers (and other participants) will gravitate toward the leagues that most appreciate them, as I have. There are many ways to recognize the value that each of us contributes, and that's really the discussion I wanted to spark.

bane-ana said...

Fantastic article, Joe. I don't know that anyone can argue any of these points.
Well done!

Merryjack said...

Thanks Joe, some great advice and cool shots, cheers, Jack

David L Photography said...

I know this is a very late post to this article, but I think it is very relevant.

My son and I have been shooting roller derby teams in southern Michigan area for 3-4 years. Some are close by (our home team) others are more than an hour away.

We have a good calling for our work and really enjoy shooting the sport. If we didn't enjoy it, we wouldn't shoot it. But as you stated, there is always a cost involved. This is the same in any hobby or business endeavor.

For the photographer there are number of cost factors to look at including equipment insurance and the wear and tear on equipment. We have all burned out flash units, wore out shutters, had to have lens and bodies repaired, and none of that is free. Yes, we do other kinds of photography too and that helps to pay for the equipment, but as others have stated what about travel?

Advertisement compensation is great in your home area, but if you travel out of your area the advertising is appreciated, but is of less value because there are usually local photographers that take up the business. In this case if teams would offer to compensate photographers for some of their travel expenses (like gas) it would be a great benefit.

As you stated, there is a value to roller derby photographs and needs to be recognized.

Thanks for pointing this out.

Joe Rollerfan said...

Thanks for the comments, David. The issue of cost is often raised, but I think it's more helpful to focus on value instead.

Everyone has costs for doing things, but that doesn't make them entitled to get reimbursed. If you want compensation for your photos, you need to convince people that your photos are valuable to them, regardless of the costs you've incurred.

John Conway said...

Excellent article Joe

Hope more leagues (Down Under) take the opportunity to offer some compensation to the photographers who give them good exposure (no pun intended)

Jason Orton said...

Great Article. I just started taking photos for my team this year. Maybe someday I'll be one of the people this article is directed at...but for now...I pay for my ticket to get into the bout and I take photos for the fun and enjoyment and learning experience. I've only been taking photos with something other than a point and click/cell phone camera since last November so I'm just having a blast taking photos. Getting compensated by a nice thank you from members of the team is payment enough for me. I'll be attending the tournament in Wisconsin next month with camera in hand, but I'm not going to be doing any WFTDA photography. I haven't reached the skills in photography to go beyond Facebook. I'll be more than happy to tag WFTDA of course, but I'm not good enough to be one of their photographers.

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