Want to Cover the Olympics as a Photographer? Forget About It!


Photography: Peter J. Dean

If you’re hoping to take your DSLR with you to London to watch the Olympics, shoot some pictures and perhaps make a few bucks by selling them… there’s a good chance you’re going to be out of luck. Just as you won’t be able to buy fries unless they’re produced by Tier 1 sponsor McDonalds (or if they’re sitting alongside some traditional fish) or buy a soda if it’s not made by Coca Cola, so you can’t sell an image shot at the Olympics if you’re not an accredited member of the media.

Getty, an official partner, will be there with more than a hundred photographers, producers and field editors taking thousands of images mostly for editorial buyers but also specifically for some client brands. But if you’re not one of the 5,600 accredited members of the media, you’ll find that your problem won’t only be the view your ticket provides. You’ll also be specifically prohibited from selling the pictures you take. Amateur Photographer has pointed out that the conditions of entry to the Olympics games make clear that selling your images is a breach of organizer Locog’s terms:

“Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally, and may not exploit images, video and/or sound recordings for commercial purposes under any circumstances, whether on the internet or otherwise, or make them available to third parties for commercial purposes.”

You Can Tweet the Olympics

That might sound unenforceable, especially the bit about publishing images taken at the Olympic games to social media pages. You don’t have to look far on Twitter or Facebook to find shots of people sitting at the hockey or watching the beach volleyball, a usage that, despite the policies, Locog does, in fact, appear to allow.

Those shots tend to be pretty amateurish though, the kind snapped on a mobile phone as a momento rather than an image composed for sale. It’s the commercial use, the sort that enthusiasts will find the biggest opportunity, that Locog is trying to stop. And it’s doing it with more than a policy that’s badly worded and hard to enforce. According to Petapixel, the Olympics security staff at most venues are also allowed to confiscate all camera equipment over 30cm, including tripods and monopods. And because there’s no storage there’s a good chance you won’t be getting your gear back when you leave. As the site points out, if your expensive lens or monopod mean something to you, you’ll probably want to leave them at home.

Not all of those conditions are entirely unreasonable. Spectators arriving to watch the games shouldn’t have to try to see over a photography enthusiast putting up a tripod or squeeze past a giant telephoto lens. And athletes should be able to run, jump and throw things without wondering whether their look of disappointment is going to appear alongside an ad for a painkiller. You won’t be getting a model release, so there’s little point in trying to get a close-up.

And yet, there is plenty of demand for Olympics images. PicNiche, a service that measures the difference between the frequency of keyword searches on microstock sites and the size of the inventory available to meet that demand, gives “Olympics 2012” a score of 575.4. The site nominates anything over 100 as a “niche,” its highest ranking. That’s a rare opportunity in an industry suffering from saturation.

Meeting that demand while obeying the restrictions placed on photographers won’t be easy. You can forget about selling shots of athletes, and logos of either the Olympic rings or the London 2012 symbol are protected. Third party sellers will reject them and buyers will recognize them in the inventories of photographers’ own websites.

One option is to sell Olympics-related images for editorial use. You’d still have to take out the shots of the sports themselves, unless you’re accredited, but you could shoot buildings and scenes around the games as well as the logos. The highest-selling Olympics-related image on Dreamstime, for example, combines a shot of Big Ben with the Union Flag and the Olympic rings. It’s only for editorial use but it’s sold 57 downloads.

Focus on the Tagging

The problem with that strategy will be the connections and the timing. Big editorial buyers will be picking up their images from the accredited photographers, leaving lean pickings for independent enthusiasts; those 57 downloads will have barely paid for the image’s cost of production. And once the Olympics are over, the demand is likely to drop.

“I think the demand will primarily be before the events for commercial use, and after the events for editorial,” says Robert Davies, the creator of picNiche. “If photographers don’t have Olympics-themed images in their portfolio already, they’re probably too late for the vast majority of commercial sales, and will have to rely on editorial (which is of course during the events a significant market, reducing somewhat heavily afterwards.)”

Considering the restrictions on photography at the games themselves, on the commercial use of the images and the difficulties involved in both creating editorial images and getting them to the market in time, the best opportunity for photographers attending the games might be in the way the images are sold. “Olympics 2012” might have a picNiche ranking of over 500 but that figure drops into the fifties when you take out the year.

According to Robert Davies, it’s that extra detail in the tagging that makes the difference between one image among thousands and an image that can stand out from thousands.

“It’s not exclusive to the Olympics; it would apply to virtually any dateable images,” he says. “Specificity ‘usually’ (but not always) leads to higher conversions and thus higher picNiche ratings.”

If you’re looking to make money from the Olympics forget about taking your camera to the games. Start mashing together images related to Brazil and sports. Make sure that you tag them “Olympics 2016”… and enjoy the Games on television.

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