February 8, 2013

Cowtown Marathon runners will pay to be in (still) pictures

Photographers capture the thrill and agony from the course.

Amusement parks have long used photos to cash in on the excitement and adrenaline rush that patrons feel as a roller coaster drops from its peak.

Most are hilariously awkward, but all help riders relive that moment for years after the ride.

Using the same concept, marathon photography is a growing industry focused on capturing a runner's peak moment of achievement.

Stationed throughout the course, photographers shoot a timeline of every athlete, building up to the crown jewel: the finish-line photo.

Although The Cowtown is just weeks away, preparations for the widely requested service have long been in place by the race directors and the participating photo service, MarathonFoto, a Fort Worth-based company that shoots races all over the world.

The first task was to identify about 10 stations for photographers to shoot images that runners would want to purchase. The key is to create iconic backdrops individual to the event, which for The Cowtown would naturally be downtown, Will Rogers Coliseum and the Stockyards.

To runners, that backdrop makes a world of difference, especially if they travel the world to run.

"It's actually really important," avid runner and Fort Worth resident Chance McInnis said. "One of my favorite pictures was from my second one when I did San Antonio, and they had this shot where the tower in San Antonio was in the background and the angle of it was really cool, and the picture just looked awesome because of that."

McInnis said he wished there would have been a photographer to capture him passing the Alamo.

But just as the photographers are challenged to create a memorable image, veteran runners are challenged to look presentable when a camera is spotted.

"I didn't know to pose beforehand because it's typically toward the end when you want to die and that comes across on your face when you're not thinking about it," McInnis said. "As you learn about the photos and you go back and see that picture is horrible, I learned to keep an eye out for those guys on the sides or the middle and make sure I look happy so I can remember the memory and think I was happy then."

Naturally, as hard as it might be, runners have to put on their best smile at the end of the sometimes-torturous run.

"As you cross the finish line you have to remember the photo is going off and you have to look good," veteran marathoner Lynne Caruso said.

Even before the race has finished, photographers begin categorizing as many as 250,000 pictures. They're sorted by matching participants bib numbers or the data from timing chips.

Runners then receive an email of thumbnails. They can buy prints or digital downloads. Prices from the 2012 Cowtown ranged from $16.99 for two 4-by-6-inch prints to $59.99 for a framed 11-by-14 print with three images. For $39.99, runners could have gotten a poster-sized print or package of images.

Boosting the popularity of photos is the arrival of social media, said Sean Walkingshaw, director of operations for MarathonFoto.

"We kind of call it the Facebook effect or the Instagram effect," he said. "People treat photography still as a memory, but they really are wanting to see delivery of convenience and sharability of the image. We'll see people buying digital content and they're using it for that purpose, instead of making prints from it."

Cowtown director Heidi Swartz said she's witnessed this repurposing and knows that this industry is vital to the success of the event, enough to keep prime photo-op points in mind when creating the course.

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