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!

August 12, 2011

Announcing the Roller Derby 2012 Wall Calendar!

The Roller Derby 2012 Wall Calendar is now available — has all the details!

In my last blog entry "Spread the Infection!" I described my reason for being a derby photographer, and my goal to infect the world with roller derby. I'm proud to announce my next step toward that goal, the Roller Derby 2012 Wall Calendar:

Buy the Roller Derby 2012 Wall Calendar from

This wall calendar includes 13 of my dynamic action photos in full color at 14" wide by 9.25" high, plus over 30 small photos within the large easy-to-read calendar grid. Featured in these photos are 25 of the top women's teams from modern flat-track and banked-track leagues. Once my selection of photos is finalized, I'll post all of the large photos as a preview.

I plan to self-publish this calendar and make it available on Amazon in early October for $14.95. It will also be available at quantity discounts to any leagues and retailers who want to resell it. (If you're interested in reselling it, please email me at

In the terms of my derby infection metaphor, this calendar is my vial of concentrated derby virus. I expect most buyers will be existing derby fans and skaters, but I hope you'll display the calendar where new derby victims will be exposed to it. Financially it's a pretty big risk for me, since I'll have to sell over a thousand calendars just to break even. But I think it's worth the investment to increase the visibility of roller derby, and after all, I love to gamble.

There's one more thing, and for this I need your help. I want to include the dates of as many major derby events as possible, including tournaments, invitationals, conventions, and training camps. There are just a few rules for consideration:
  • The event must be derby-related.
  • It must take place over two or more consecutive days in 2012.
  • The dates must be firm, NOT tentative, and NOT subject to change.
  • My decision is final regarding the inclusion or exclusion of any event in the calendar.

If you have firm dates for any such events, please provide the details — what, when, and where — in the comments below, or email me at The deadline for submitting event dates is September 1, 2011. Of course, I realize that many events for 2012 haven't been planned this far in advance, but I'll take what I can get.

July 5, 2011

Spread the Infection!

Two important things happened to me last week, things that really made me stop and think. Let me tell you about them.

First, I took a little trip to shoot the inaugural bout of the Rodeo City Rollergirls in Ellensburg, a town about two hours east of Seattle. It was a new experience for all of us, since I’d never seen nor photographed any league’s first public bout. Needless to say, it was a blast! The skaters were pumped, the audience was fired up, and the score was close right up until the final jam. But the thing that impressed me the most about this league was that they understood the value of great derby photos.

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

You see, unlike every other league I’ve photographed over the past six years, Rodeo City offered to pay me to shoot their bout. That says a lot. And their hospitality was second to none — they treated me like a rock star. But something nagged at me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Many of the skaters were overjoyed that a "big city" photographer like me (if Seattle can even be called a big city) would take the time to shoot their "small town" league. I totally appreciate their gratitude, but I was surprised by that notion. Why wouldn’t I want to shoot their league?

A few days later, the other important thing happened: I watched this talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire people to follow them. It’s only 18 minutes long, and I urge you to watch it, but I’ll summarize it in case you don’t have time right now. Great leaders, Sinek says, tell you why they do things, instead of merely describing what they do or how they do it.

Focusing on the "why" is such a simple, powerful idea, but until now I’ve focused on what I do, and I created this blog to explain how I do it. I’ve never taken the time to describe why I do it, or why you should care. So without further ado, here’s the reason why I’m a derby photographer:

I want to infect the world with roller derby.

Roller derby, as you know, is a highly contagious viral infection — a pleasurable one, but an infection nonetheless. Mere exposure to derby practically guarantees its transmission, and immunity is rare. Infection typically follows a three-stage progression: In Stage I, the virus gets under your skin and causes a recurring derby itch that must be scratched. In Stage II, the virus enters the bloodstream and triggers an autoimmune response known as derby fever. Finally in Stage III, the virus occupies the brain, causing the host to seek out new victims and actively spread the infection. This is the stage I find myself in, and happily the disease is incurable.

Joking aside, I want roller derby to become tremendously popular. I want to watch weekly bouts on ESPN. I want to hear derby commentary on SportsCenter. Why do I want this? Because it will increase my own personal enjoyment of the sport. I realize that some fans and skaters are opposed to this goal. Some are concerned about the changes and compromises that will happen as derby becomes more mainstream. Some are reluctant to give up their small, intimate venues and move to large, impersonal arenas. Some just want to keep derby as an underground sport that only the cool kids know about. I respect these opinions, but I don't agree with them. I believe vastly increased popularity will make the sport even more competitive, and much more fun to watch.

Now that I've covered the "why", I can talk about the "how" and the "what". If you want to infect the world with roller derby, how do you do it? You cultivate the derby virus, weaponize it, and dump it into the water supply of every town you can. You take a bunch of dynamic, dramatic derby photos, show them to the unsuspecting public and say, "See this? This is roller derby. You don't know it yet, but this is going to change your life."

By now, it should be clear why I agreed to shoot Rodeo City's inaugural bout — I couldn't pass up the chance to infect a new audience. The same rationale prompted me to create this blog. I can't shoot every league, so I want to help you capture the best photos you can. Together we can expose millions of people to the derby virus. Now go out there and spread the infection!