Visual Literacy

Now that the 2014 Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest is officially launched I want to write a few blogs about some of the attributes of great photos.

My January 3 blog I talked about the incredible number of images posted each day and wondered if one picture is still worth a thousand words and how do we maintain the storytelling integrity of our images.

Visual Literacy is the ability to read a picture. Perhaps this is what the saying One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words was intended to mean. If we have the expectation that the viewer of our photo will read the picture, then we have the obligation to do the best we can at giving them something to read!

In Sports and Action photography there is the constant challenge to be sure that our images portray action and not merely random activity. There must be purpose and direction to your story.

Your story may be of the details of an event or the context of the venue, but it must at least get the attention of the reader and tell them something – something that will make them want to see more, learn more and be willing to invest their time.

Here are a couple examples of each:

The first shot, which I found in a folder that I hadn’t deleted anything that had shot, can be entitled Random Spectators Standing Around, Looking Different Directions and Bored! Not much here to really get anyone’s interest.

Bored Spectators!

Similarly for this next image, from the same folder of should have been deleted files. This time we have athletes standing around not with any particular direction or energy.

Age Group Athletes pre race.

In this next image we have two athletes running along the spectacular red rock background at the Ironman St. George 70.3.

Ironman 70.3 St. George on May 4, 2013 in St. George, UT
Luke McKenzie matching TJ Tollakson on the run in St. George, UT.

Finally we have Brent McMahon celebrating his victory at the 2013 Ironman St. George  70.3, enjoying his final few steps as the crowd shows their appreciation of his effort.

Ironman 70.3 St. George on May 4, 2013 in St. George, UT
Brent McMahon taking the win in St. George.

As you are selecting your images to submit represent the Spirit of Triathlon, keep in mind how you are telling the story. After all, we are all story tellers – make sure it is a story that will interest others.

Get your photos that tell the best triathlon stories and ENTER HERE.  After you enter, tweet your photo with the tag #SpiritOfTri

If you are lucky enough to move your photography to a professional level and are interacting with clients on a regular basis, your understanding of visual literacy will become increasingly important.

In an ideal world, all of our clients would also be at least moderately visually literate but as photographers it is in part our job to listen and try to best interpret what they are telling us.  At a planning meeting last fall, a client told me they wanted more Overhead Shots. I explained there were very limited places that an overhead shot could be obtained and five out of six of the possible locations were on the shot list. After a few more questions I understood what they really wanted – high angle, long lens shots showing lots of athletes.

In the end, it is our job to get it right!

2nd Annual Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest

In January 2013, we started to the Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest.  The goals were fairly simple with the thousands of triathletes racing every weekend and the hundreds of thousands of photos that have been shot; we hoped this would be an opportunity to show off the amazing efforts and spirit of the all of the athletes involved in our great sport, as well as the photo efforts of the athletes many supporters.

It’s time for the 2nd Annual Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest

As the submissions arrived and I started reviewing images in my blog, an additional goal presented itself. Using real world examples, I could offer comments and critique on how to enhance your race images with some relatively simple solutions and provide you added value to your photo and race experience. While the athletes you are supporting are out for hours at a time, you can work on your photo skills at the races. Not only telling their story, but doing a great job of preserving the memories of their amazing accomplishments.

ENTER HERE and after you enter, tweet your photo with the tag #SpiritOfTri

Athletes, supporters and bloggers, here is your chance to show off your favorite triathlon photos, have it published and win a great prize! Images may include Professional, Age Group, Youth and Challenged Triathletes, Action Photos, Venues, Human Interest and other images that exemplify the Spirit of Triathlon.

The numbers of triathletes and events continue to grow at an amazing rate with no let up in sight for 2014. In addition, we are approaching a billion photos posted each day on Social Media – it is time for some great shots and their photographers to get the attention they deserve.

Take a look at the top images from 2013 featured on

Our top three images will again receive prizes provided by my friends at ThinkTank Photo.  This year I am adding a Grand Prize as well!

As every triathlete knows a great coach can make a huge difference in your performance, it is true of sports photography as well. The Grand Prize winner will have the opportunity to join me at one of my 2014 events. Although I cannot guaranty that you will be able to be credentialed for the event, I will work with you to plan your shots, angles and locations. In addition, I will do a pre-race review and critique of 20 of your images via email & Skype, so you can start working on optimizing your shots and practice prior to our event. I am shooting all across the US so hopefully, my schedule will be close to you so you can join in the fun!

The contest will begin today, January 9, 2014 and conclude on March 9, 2014.

In addition, each week I will review three photos in a blog offering comments that I hope will benefit all triathlon photographers.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @CompImagePhoto and check out the Competitive Image Website.

Just to get you started here are a couple of my 2013 Kona shots that show the Spirit of Triathlon.

Age Group Athletes enter the water at Dig Me Beach - Kona 2013
Age Group Athletes enter the water at Dig Me Beach – Kona 2013
Frekerik Van Lierde and his father at the finish  Kona 2013
Frekerik Van Lierde and his father at the finish Kona 2013
Minda Dentler becomes the first female Wheel Chair finisher - Kona 2013
Minda Dentler becomes the first female Wheel Chair finisher – Kona 2013

ENTER HERE and after you enter, tweet your photo with the tag #SpiritOfTri

In the spirit of triathlon, a portion of the proceeds from each entry will be contributed to the Blazeman Foundation for ALS and to World Bicycle Relief. In 2013  30% of the proceeds from entry fees was contributed!

Every event that I shoot I rely on my ThinkTank gear to have my critical equipment close at hand.  In addition to having your image published in an online gallery, the first place photographer will receive a Retrospective 30 camera bag – great stuff, trust me, you will love it.

ThinkTank Photo Retrospective 30

Second Prize is a CityWalker 10 and third prize is a Retrospective Lap Top Bag.

Just a personal note about the ThinkTank Retrospective series. No matter what event I travel to and how much gear I take with me, I always, ALWAYS bring my Retrospective bag with me. It is the PERFECT bag for walking around shooting. Easy access and unobtrusive! You will love it.

We are currently gathering up a list of other Tri related prizes to be included hoping that each of the top 20 images will receive something.  More details will be available on a future blog post, but we currently have commitments from Training Peaks, Profile Designs, K-Swiss, TriTats and Castelli.

A Couple Common Questions

Last year there were a number of questions about the contest that popped up on social media and I am sure there will be more this year. In the meantime, I will try to respond to a few of the questions.

Who owns the images after they are submitted? You do! Although the top 20 images will be presented in a gallery on and perhaps in a print issue, you will still own the images and all of the rights to the use of the images beyond the single use presentation on the web and in print will be controlled by you.

Why is there an entry fee? There are two primary reasons for having an entry fee. The first is simple, I use outside software to administer the contest and process the entries, and there is a real cost for each entry submitted. Second and more importantly, reviewing, evaluating and blogging about the entries takes a substantial amount of my time. Although I enjoy this process, this contest is not about having thousands of cell phone images or post race selfies to look at. I am serious about the contest, and I hope you will be too.

Here is the fine print so to speak! The Contest Rules!


The sole contest sponsor is Competitive Image, Inc.  PO Box 19174, Minneapolis, MN 55419 (“Sponsor” or “CI”).

Duration of Contest

The 2014 Competitive Image Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest begins January 9, 2014 at 9:00:00 a.m. US Central Time and ends March 9, 2014, 11:59:00 p.m. US Central Time (the “Contest”). Information on how to enter and prizes form part of these official rules (“Official Rules”). By submitting an entry, each entrant agrees to the Official Rules and warrants that his or her entry complies with all requirements set out in the Official Rules. This is a skill-based contest and chance plays no part in the determination of winners.


Contest is open only to all amateur sports photographers who are 18 or older at the time of entry and is void where prohibited. For these purposes we will define Amateur as those individual who do not make a significant portion of their income from photography. This will allow individuals who maintain blogs and have periodic sales to participate.


Each Entry consists of an entry form, a single image, and an entry fee. The entry fee is US $12 for the first image entered and US $7 for each image thereafter. To enter, complete an ENTRY FORM with the required information, including your name, address, telephone number, email address, and photo caption; and submit along with your photograph and fee in accordance with the instructions that follow.

Submitted images may include Professional, Age Group, Youth and Challenged Triathletes, Action Photos, Venues, Human Interest and other images that exemplify the Spirit of Triathlon.

Photographs must be in digital format. Only online entries will be eligible. No print or film submissions will be accepted for entry into this Contest. The photograph need not be taken with a digital camera; scans of negatives, transparencies, or photographic prints are acceptable. All digital files must be 2 megabytes or smaller, must be in JPG, TIF, PNG or BMP format, and must be sized to 1,280 pixels on the longest side.

Photographs must have been taken within three (3) years before the date of entry and may not previously published.

The photograph, in its entirety, must be a single work of original material taken by the Contest entrant. By entering the Contest, entrant represents, acknowledges, and warrants that the submitted photograph is an original work created solely by the entrant, that the photograph does not infringe on the copyrights, trademarks, moral rights, rights of privacy/publicity or intellectual property rights of any person or entity, and that no other party has any right, title, claim, or interest in the photograph.

The photograph must not, in the sole and unfettered discretion of the Sponsor, contain obscene, provocative, defamatory, sexually explicit, or otherwise objectionable or inappropriate content.

The caption must be complete and accurate, sufficient to convey the circumstances in which the photograph was taken. Disguising or misrepresenting the origin of your content is cause for disqualification.

Watermarks are not acceptable. If Sponsor does not receive a non-watermarked version of the entry within ten (10) days following its request, the entry will be disqualified.


If the photograph contains any material or elements that are not owned by the entrant and/or which are subject to the rights of third parties, and/or if any persons appear in the photograph, the entrant is responsible for obtaining, prior to submission of the photograph, any and all releases and consents necessary to permit the exhibition and use of the photograph in the manner set forth in these Official Rules without additional compensation.

The top 20 images will be published in an online gallery on  The entrant provides Competitive Image, Inc and Triathlete Magazine / Competitor Group the royalty-free right to publish the images on line and in print for a single use of each.


Grand Prize –  On location shooting and coaching with Paul Phillips, award winning triathlon photographer and Olympic Photographer, London 2012, Sochi 2014.

The First Place winner will receive a ThinkTank Retrospective 30. Second Place winner will receive a ThinkTank CityWalker 10. Third Place winner will receive a ThinkTank Photo will receive a Think Tank Retrospective Laptop Bag. All prized are provided courtesy of ThinkTank Photo.

The Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest – The Envelope Please !!!

In January our Spirit of Triathlon Contest began with:

Everyone who spends time around triathlons and triathletes understand there is a special spirit that surrounds the sport. Thousands of triathletes are racing every weekend and tens of thousands of photos are brilliantly shot showing off their amazing efforts.

Now two months and over 100 entries later it is time to reveal the top 20 images.

But before we even get to how well an image portrays Spirit of Triathlon, the first level of review must be based on the quality of the photograph.

A successful photo must tell a story, be visually appealing and emotionally stirring. The image must immediately draw the eye of the viewer to its key element and must leave a lasting impression.

There are three critical elements in achieving a successful photo – Content, Composition and Color.

Content is capturing a peak moment, which may be a spectacular sunrise, a close up view on the bike or a battle for the finish line. This is the story, it is not an image of random activity; it has direction, flow and meaning. Content may also convey a sense of place or time.  This is what the viewer will relate to and remember.  Keep in mind, if you are able to capture this moment and it is out of focus – admit it, you missed the shot!

Composition is a key element of a great photo. As spectators we see everything from eye-level, but from a photographic standpoint most photos from eye level tend to be fairly mundane. The best way to view something is from an angle nobody else gets to see. It is important to have a nice clean background to avoid distracting the view from the image.

Color may be the tonal variations in the literal sense, but should also emotional color. I have galleries on my website dedicated to Celebrate and Suffer – these images are for pure emotion.

With this in mind, here are the top three photos!

The winning image is entitled Swimming into the Sunrise and was submitted by Debbie Faulkner, from Nottingham, England.  A sunrise start is one of the most inspiring times in triathlon. It is the only time during the race when you have a substantial group of athletes together. Here the group has one lead swimmer, captured between strokes. Adding to the context is an earlier wave swimming back with much greater distance between the swimmers. The slight fog rising from the lake adds to the atmosphere of the morning environment so you can almost feel the chill in the air. The image is visually very pleasing drawing the viewer in to have a closer look at the group.

1 - FaulknerDe_1
The start of the 2012 Vitruvian triathlon in Leicestershire, UK. An open water swim into the sunrise, by Deborah Faulkner

The number 2 image is entitled Anticipation by Dave Martinez from Atlanta, GA and is from the Mountain Madness 70.3 race in Ellijay, GA. This is clearly a view that cannot be seen by a spectator. Hats off to Dave for being able to shoot the athletes’ view of the start.

Anticipation at the Mountain Madness 70.3 race in Ellijay, GA. by Dave Martinez

Rounding out the podium is Second Place Suffering by Terry Van Oort from Ankeny, IA and was taken at the 2013 HyVee 5150 Championship. This images features 4-time Olympian Hunter Kemper wearing is USA Triathlon race kit with its Red, White and Blue side panel. Hunter is leaning over a stanchion covered in Red, White and Blue fabric, perfectly mimicking his race kit. Those who know me know that I believe that Every Shot is a Lucky Shot. No matter how great your planning, there was no way to anticipate that Hunter will stop and rest at exactly that spot setting up the perfect background for the shot. Terry did a great job in recognizing it!

Second place suffering for U.S. Triathlete Hunter Kemper at 2012 HyVee Triathlon, by Terry Van Oort

Your Think Tank Photo gear will be shipped out to you shortly, CONGRATULATIONS!

The remaining 17 images are presented in the slide show and are in order of the photographer’s last name.

Thank you all for participating! Race season is starting and it’s time for more photos!

Spirit Of Triathlon Photo Contest – What’s Next?

At the deadline on Thursday, we had 105 photos entered which have all showed the Spirit of Triathlon!

Ranging from youth to pro photos, and race directors to challenged athletes, I am really thrilled with the response and especially the quality of the photos!  Now my job is to pick the top 20 for the gallery and from there to pick the top three!

Over the next two weeks, I will be going through the images and on or about March 7th, an article commenting on the top photos and the full gallery of the top 20 will be posted.

I will also post a blog discussing all of the top 20 images.

In the meantime, I am off to the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon and I will see you at the races!

Follow me on Twitter @CompImagePhoto as our Photo Of The Day begins the 2013 race season!

Spirit Of Triathlon Photo Contest – Week 5 Review

This is the fifth and final review blog for our 2013 Spirit of Triathlon Photo Contest. As of this time we have 100 entries and I am pleased that we will have a great 20-image gallery for to post.

There is still time to send in your entries – here are the full Contest Details

Entries can be submitted until midnight Thursday, February 21.

Enter your images here and after you enter tweet your photo with the tag #SpiritofTri

This week I want to show a shot that has been submitted and how with a bit of cropping it can be really improved.

One of the things that I often speak about in my photo class is that we want to show the viewer of the photo something that is different than what can be seen by the spectator. Sometimes this is a high angle or low angle shot, both of which I am fond of; and sometimes this can be as simple as how you crop the image.

Run at Kona 12 – by Jason Falk – uncropped

This first image was submitted by Jason Falk, and well it captures a critical moment on the run at Kona, with French Pro Cyril Viennot cramping up and kneeling near him French Photographer, Thierry Sourbier. Theirry is a good friend and carries even more gear than I do. The issue with this shot is that a special moment is trapped within a lot of visual noise. Now with some simple cropping we have dramatically increased both the intimacy and intensity of the image. This shot could have  been even better if it has been shot at a low angle.

Run at Kona 12 – by Jason Falk – cropped

The next image is by Matt Moses. I am so pleased that Matt included a few of his images in our Spirit of Triathlon Contest. Matt is a good friend who lives in Northern Minnesota and while by day he is a software guy, he is a really fine photographer!

MosesI know Matt and I know that he shoots in bursts and as such is able to pick out the individual frame where the bio mechanics are the best and in this case, at the peak of the athlete’s celebration!

Finally, here is a shot by Lee Gruenfeld, sunset on the run at Kona – always a good parting shot!

GuenfeldAlthough the contest is ending on Thursday night, we are still finalizing the timing of when the images will be published on I head off to the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon on Sunday and will be reviewing images while I am gone.

Thank you all for participating in our first Spirit Of Triathlon Photo Contest. I hope our next one is bigger and better!