The Etiquette of Roller Derby Photography

I’ve decided to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard to write something useful for once, rather than a load of usual inane ramblings or b******t, as it may be better known.

What is the etiquette when shooting Roller Derby? After meeting some very professional photographers and some, well, less so on the circuit, I decided to put down my thoughts.

As yet, there is little or no money in Roller Derby within the UK so everyone is (in most cases) putting in the hours for the love of it. It’s got to work for both parties, so what to expect?

From the photographer’s side it’s our responsibility to treat it as a professional sport and cover it as any sports photographer would cover a sporting event.

The first distinction to make is between those that have been asked or have requested to cover the bout and those that turn up merely as spectators. The latter should stick to the clearly defined spectator areas. The former to have greater freedom but adhere to the rules set down by the league.
Roller Derby gives photographer a lot more freedom, at present, than most sports, where you are given a defined area you must stick to. As such it’s in our own interests to act professionally to maintain that level of freedom.

However, here comes the sticking point. Indoor sports requires good equipment, fast telephoto lenses, a ready supply of pork pies, none of which come cheap. Professional sports photographers have the luxury of selling their images for editorial purposes to recoup their costs. Roller Derby doesn’t as yet. So much is dependant on the good will of individuals to invest in equipment to further their hobby and Roller Derby photography.

Chicken and egg scenario, or money and lack of it.

Here’s my attempt at what I’d do.

Firstly, restricting access to the track to accredited photographers. It is entirely up to the league as to how many photographers they allow trackside. My rule would be one for home and one for away team, plus two for local press coverage. This may all depend on size and access available at the venue. This reduces the number of people wandering around. When you take in to account all the skaters, refs, NSOs, it can get pretty crowded.

This of course can be mix or match depending on who is available. They should be asked to wear an identifiable garment, hi-vis jacket (not really my thing, I find the colour doesn’t match my eyes, but needs must). Not only does this make them easy to pick out if any issues arise but also dissuades the general public from wandering in to restricted areas to take photos. It also allows those accredited more freedom to ask non-accredited people to leave restricted areas (if you ain’t wearing one of these, you ain’t coming in). Some leagues already do this and it’s a bloody good idea, whoever thought of it.

Areas should be clearly marked out as to where people can wander. I would say the sides of the track down to the team benches but no further. You don’t want photographers interfering with play by crossing in front of team benches or hanging around the penalty box, unless of course there is access that does not interfere with play and it is acceptable to the league. These venues are few and far between. If you want to get candid shots of people in the penalty box, buy a decent telephoto to do the job. At a professional football match you wouldn’t expect to be able to wander over to the subs bench to take a photograph, so why expect it at a bout.

And I think it’s that simple. The only thing I would like to see changed is the unwritten rule of not photographing injured skaters. I can understand why, as you don’t want people barging in, especially by those that behave less than professionally, compounding someone’s distress. After all it’s not a professional sport, but by not documenting injuries, the full story isn’t being told, that Roller Derby is a full contact sport and people do get hurt. But until that policy changes we must abide by the rules.

My next comment may cause a divide and professional photographers will see it as a heinous crime.

I feely give copies of my images to teams, and not just lo-res copies. It’s a hobby and there’s no money in Roller Derby photography. Ok, I may make a few quid here and there, but not enough to retire on, just enough for a few pints now and then.

I like to see my images being used so teams are free to use them however they want. That’s not to say I relinquish copyright. I will always defend the photographers side over rights to images. It’s your time, your equipment and your knowledge, you own the copyright. So if you decide not to supply them to the league that’s your right. But you probably wont be invited back. So go for the kudos, get invited back and help the sport grow. When skaters are on £10k a week and can afford my services I’ll charge them full whack, but until then it has to be for fun.

Well, they are my thoughts, some may be contentious, but maybe not. Like any good teacher I’ll leave you with some homework. Discuss. I expect 1,500 words on my desk by next Tuesday, and the excuse ‘The dog ate my homework’, just wont wash.


  1. We are extremely lucky in our league to have several excellent, committed photographers who regularly attend our bouts.
    I understand what you are saying about injuries, they do happen, but I think there's a time and a place. As line up manager I have previously had to step in between a skater (being treated by two medics) and a photographer at a league we visited. I just feel skaters are so vulnerable at that point, I certainly wouldn't want pictures of me at my weakest floating around on the internet when derby is supposed to be about empowerment.

  2. That’s fair and I understand your comments. On occasion I myself have had to step in and stop photographers from taking images at inappropriate times. The way we consume images has radically changed over the past few years. In print, images would have to go through some form of editorial control and be contextualised, sadly this is no longer the case with the web. I would argue it is not the images themselves that are the problem, but how they are distributed and the lack of control individuals feel they have over them once they have been created.

    There is a fine line between empowerment and exploitation and it is a difficult call, but as a professional I’d hope I’d know where that lay and in what context to use images.

  3. Great read! I'm in the process of writing an agreement for official photographers for our league and was going to include something about 'access all areas' for photographers as opposed to spectators, so good to see I'm barking up the right tree!

    Also, I think leagues should be crediting photographers as well whenever their images are used, regardless of whether any money is involved. Is good to say "This person took this awesome shot".

  4. Thanks, I'm glad it was helpful. I think it's all about getting the balance right so both parties benefit.


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