“Red Bull sends four guys and gals out to take nice pictures of athletes of their choice – and then they take the originals, and copyright for each and every shot? Use ‘em any way they want however often they please? For the cost of film, a three day hotel, and a few train tickets?
Run that by me again?”
EPUK didn’t say that. In fact that’s not even a photographer speaking; the above is from Adland. It’s fair to say that photographers and creatives often fail to see eye to eye, so when the latter describe an offer to the former as a “rip-off”, it’s time to take a closer look at the offer.
So what’s the deal? And what’s the beef?
There’s nothing wrong with photo contests themselves, we like them – some of us have even won a few. But remember that the photographers are not the only winners at contests. Organisers sponsor for a reason, to publicise themselves and their products. Kodak, Nikon, Canon all sponsor awards or contests which generate publicity and goodwill for their products. Photographers are happy with this arrangement, happy to win a prize and the acclaim which goes with it, and happy to allow in return the sponsor an exhibition or publication of the winning entries. And the sponsors are happy that they are putting something back into photography, gaining respect and generating good public relations.
What photo contest sponsors don’t get is copyright. The copyright belongs to the photographer. Kodak know this, Nikon and Canon know this.
But the Red Bull Photofile competition is not the usual type of photo contest. The traditional way is to invite photographers to submit their latest work in the hope of winning a prize – whether equipment, cash or merely kudos. No, the Red Bull contest is really a kind of job interview. It’s a shoot out where the best photographer is given the prize of regular work. Unlike contests arranged by other sponsors the prize on offer by Red Bull is rather intangible. Enter the World Photo Contest or the Nikon Awards and you know exactly what you stand to win. With Red Bull it’s the possibility of work. But how much work? How often? For how long? Nobody seems to know.
Sound like fun!
So it’s a different idea – but that’s not a bad thing. In fact it sounds like fun. Could be a “laff”, three days in Cornwall for the semi-finalists, all expenses paid. What could be better?
Well it would be better if the semi-finalists, after passing the portfolio vetting, were paid for their time in Cornwall. That’s the way newspapers and magazines try out new photographers. Still, it’s not that bad until you understand that you really, really will be working for free in Cornwall. At the end of the event the photographers will walk away, having worked for no pay, with no pictures. Red Bull Photofiles will keep all the pictures, the photographers having signed away all of their ownership rights.
But let’s say you really are willing to accept what many established photographers wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, and decide to enter. What are you going to win?
EPUK can exclusively reveal what the prize is worth. Five Hundred and Fifty US Dollars per day – that’s around four hundred of your British Pounds. This is what Red Bull pays the photographers they subsequently decide are good enough to shoot assignments for them. Sounds good? For a young photographer it sounds better than good. Especially when you hear that there is an additional $220 per travel/preparation day. Plus if you shoot events on digital cameras expect another $220 on top.
Actually $550 (£400) sounds good to most photographers. It’s the kind of rate the best photojournalists achieve working for magazines. But EPUK knows not just the rate, we know the value. This is not a good rate here, because unlike magazine work, where the photographer retains the pictures, controls how they are used, earns money from resales and owns the copyright, when a photographer works for Red Bull he or she owns nothing.
So what is the true value of the work for Red Bull? It is the same value which public relations or advertising photographers would charge because put simply this is not editorial photography, this is advertising.
Sport is Business
All sport nowadays is business, but at its root it is still sport. Football, cricket, tennis even the Olympics are all sponsored by various corporations. Like the relationship between photographers and contest sponsors, that between sports teams and their backers is mutual. The teams get cash, the sponsor gets their name seen, heard and known by millions. Meanwhile the teams continue to play in their league, and whoever the sponsor it’s the game ‘at the end of the day’ which matters most.
Red Bull’s involvement in sport – like the contest – is different. Here the whole point is to sell a soft drink by holding exciting events which attract young people, the intended purchasers. Red Bull don’t just sponsor teams or athletes, they create the whole event in order to promote their brand of fizzy water and caffeine. It is a public relations exercise, a form of advertising.
So this is all a bad thing? No. Red Bull are doing what is expected of them. They have a good business and a clever way of promoting their product. It’s what big successful companies are good at, working out what’s best for their business and going out and achieving that. The fact that thousands of people have a fun day out makes it all the better.
But just because it’s good business for Red Bull doesn’t make it good business for photographers. You can’t blame Red Bull for photographers’ own actions, or for taking advantage of those willing to work for far less than standard rates. They’re just getting the best deal they can; that’s why they’re successful.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for photographers.
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