Do race photos need to be so expensive?
Most people who run a major spring marathon or half-marathon will receive an email up to a week after the event informing them that photos of them running the race are available to view. The desire to check them out and relive the moment is usually coupled with the sad fact no one looks great when running and the instant gut reaction to the price of ‘You want how much?!’
In a world of digital downloads it scarcely seems sane to pay around £70 to download a selection of photos – in many cases, this is more than the cost of entry to the race in the first place. The photos are well-taken, but they’re usually from the haggard last few miles. At the Virgin London Marathon I was lucky enough to have supporters with cameras around the Canary Wharf section, so I wanted to see how their photos compared with the premium options.
First off, the premium photos taken by the pros. This has been reduced to a description for safety’s sake (see comment thread below!). So, you’ve got the London Eye in the background, it’s taken on a corner so I’m leaning in, and it’s nicely framed.
However, at around mile 18 I spotted my mum, step dad and girlfriend and – since I was feeling good – offered up a hearty wave and smile for the cameras before getting back to the task at hand. Possibly cheesy, yes, but still a nice memento.
And so this would seem to prove the value of that digital download, packed full of however many photos the cameras managed to take of you during the race. I expect there are thousands of people with similar side-line photos because spectators can only really guess when their runner is likely to rush past in amongst the tens of thousands of other runners.
But if you look closer, it’s a pretty decent photo of Warwick Gooch (23748, who finished in 2:56:36) and John D Bigg (31141, who finished in 2:58:16). What looks like a castaway photo of me suddenly becomes a perfectly good race photo of them, two runners from the same club having a good day out.
Hang on a cotton-picking moment, the entrepreneurial side of my brain said… What if spectators could upload their photos to an online service that would scan and identify the bib numbers in each photo? Could you attach that to an ecommerce system, so runners can pay a small amount to download photos that feature them, spectators can get paid for their pictures and race directors can get a cut? This way everyone’s rewarded and costs are kept right down.
I ran the photo through some OCR software, which is designed to turn images into editable text. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the software wasn’t able to pull out the letters (there’s probably some super-accurate software used for number-plate recognition, which could do the job). However, the numbers can be read by humans. This makes the recognition task the preserve of something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which was designed to outsource small and relatively simple tasks, precisely like this.
Which begs the question of how simple it would be to set up a crowd-sourced competitor to make race photos that much more affordable – which presumably would mean more runners would be likely to buy them. Do you have a load of photos of random strangers from races you’ve run? Would you be interested in seeing other people’s photos of you from big races?