Here at Zenfolio, we’re all about helping our photographers grow their business. Whenever we chat with established photographers, we make sure to pass on their tips to the rest of our photographer community. We recently spoke with Cory Knowlton of Fixed Focus Photography about his passion for photography, how he got into shooting racing events, and why he uses Zenfolio to streamline his workflow.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography.
I started photography back in college in the late 1990s. I hold a minor degree in photography along with a BFA in Illustration from Ringling College of Art and Design. Here I learned all of the traditional techniques from Photo 101 through studio classes, medium and large format work, and lots of dark room experience with film.
I married my wife in 2002, and she is a big part of my business. She shoots with me and helps with everyday business stuff to keep things going. It really helps to have a partner that truly supports you.
In 2018 I shot 58 events. I am busy, but I like it that way. I enjoy the chaos of the early mornings and all the logistical planning that goes into each event.
I also shoot field sports. Most recently with the Capital One Orange Bowl and the new NFL league, Alliance of American Football.
How did you get your start photographing races?
My first job in event photography was when I was in college—I was hired for a weekend gig shooting team and individual sports. This was my first taste with volume shooting, and I hated it. I vowed never to do it again. Fast forward 10 years, and I reluctantly started doing it again.
After graduating college I landed a job doing graphic design in the newsprint/publishing industry, which I still work for today. I didn’t shoot much until the digital revolution came around as film was just too expensive. In 2007, I started photography again and picked up a Canon 30D. This blew me away, and I was hooked again. I shot some weddings, portrait sessions, travel and nature stuff, and anything and everything I could. I think it was around 2009, looking for real jobs, I answered an ad to shoot a marathon at Disney World for Action Sports International. I showed up and was completely overwhelmed with the event, the amount of people, and with the assignment. I was completely out of my comfort zone. I finished the day beaten and broken, and once again vowed never to do it again… until the next month when I surprisingly got a call back asking if I wanted to shoot again. Sure, why not? I continued to shoot the RunDisney events for the next seven years. Since then I have branched out to other companies, other events, and eventually started my own business shooting races.
What does the typical morning of an event look like?
A typical race morning for me starts the night before. I like to over prepare for an event and expect something to go wrong. I have everything packed up and ready to go so that when I am on-site, all I have to do is set up and start shooting. Race morning usually starts an hour and a half before start time for me. I am on-site very early to get that coveted parking spot close to the finish line. I scope out the course locations and make contact with the race directors on any last minute changes. If it is an event that I am hired to shoot for another company, I will then wait for the team lead for that company to show up and give any last minute instructions. If it is my event, I will update my photographers with any last minute changes, hand out media, credentials, and start shooting candids or promotional photography. Once the race starts, things go very quickly, and the day just shifts to autopilot.
What’s your process for uploading and processing images after an event? How do you identify the runners in the photos?
After the event and after I have released photographers and collected all media, if I am within two hours drive time of home, I will drive home and relax a bit. If I am longer than two hours out, I will download media on-site and start the process of file size reduction for transmission. This typically can take a couple of hours. File size reduction is necessary to quickly transmit files for tagging via FTP. I outsource my keyword tagging, which is the biggest time bottleneck so anything that can be made more efficient I try and do. We tag each bib number on each participant using a mix of manual taggings and automation for the most accurate results. Once images are tagged by my vendor, I receive a CSV sheet with those tagged file names. I then use scripts to apply those tags to the image metadata. I then import into Lightroom for batch processing and output. From there, it is a matter of setting up the event site in Zenfolio, creating galleries, home page and then doing the actual upload. My typical turnaround without major travel is 24-36 hours after the event ends.
What can you make on a race, on average? Presumably this depends on the number of participants and type of race.
What I can make in net profit comes down to a lot of factors. I offer two forms of services, which include speculation and branded images. I find over the course of a year, the spec races outperform the branded image races. I shoot small to medium level events, and that performance is based on smaller scale events. A typical triathlon that I shoot with 800-1000 participants can bring in a net $1500-$2500. My larger events can triple those figures. That is based on location, how affluent the participants are, and package options available. I have also netted as low as $400 off an event, as well as $8000 off of a large triathlon, but those are far and few between.
How has Zenfolio helped your business? What do you like best about it?
The things I like most are aesthetics, the back-end platform, mini sites, and the ability to upload participant metadata CSV sheets. The tax reporting is top notch as well as the customer service. Zenfolio has helped my business by being a turnkey platform for photo delivery. I don’t have to cobble multiple sites together, worry about merchant accounts, delivery of prints, or sales notifications to customers. Time costs money, and Zenfolio saves me a lot of time. I have been a member for 10 years now and hope that continues into the future.
For more information on how Zenfolio can help scale your school and sports photography business, click here to check out the great sports photography features we offer.