Photographing running events, what I learned

abel-kirui-branko-collin

I should probably make this a series of notes-to-self whenever I try a new category of photography.

Anyway, I went to the Amsterdam marathon last October, which is held conveniently close to my house (or inconveniently—I had to cancel a photo walk because I was in the middle of an artificial island bordered by blocked roads).

You can find my photos of this event at Wikimedia Commons.

Usually I check Google before I engage a new photographic subject, but since I am decent at indoor sports, and indoor sports typically is a bit harder than outdoor sports, I figured: meh, I’ve got this.

Turned out I did not.

So, back to basics:

  • When shooting sports, familiarize yourself with the sport at hand. Figure out what makes this sport interesting, what its rules are, who is playing which role, what emotions you can expect from which players and so on.

Furthermore:

  • If in the Netherlands: bring an umbrella (or at least check the forecast).
  • Don’t photograph black athletes under a leafy canopy on a clouded day (or use flash?). The moment I moved away from under the leaves I no longer needed post-processing to make facial features visible.
  • Having audience members in the background can add to the photo, but with athletes running at their side of the road, the audience can get in close focus and become part of the foreground. That can work in some circumstances, but preferably needs to be a conscious choice of the photographer.
  • Look otherwise for clear backgrounds.
  • You don’t get a second chance after all (unless the athletes are running in circles), so determining the background for each athlete (or the choice to just wing it) should be a conscious decision taken beforehand.
  • The long end of my sports zoom (Sigma 50-150mm f2.8, 3rd generation) is the weakest. So far I’ve mostly been shooting athletes indoors, where the softness of the lens at the long end is only a part of the mix of things that also influences the wide end. Outdoors the softness of fully zoomed in was too much of an annoyance, but I was struggling to figure out if perhaps I should shoot at 100mm and crop later.
  • Photographing runners near the start: everybody still looks fresh; everybody’s still running in a group. Everybody’s still running. You may get the occasional lone runner.
  • Photographing runners near the finish: solitary heroes who look tired. You miss out on runners who left the race earlier on. Figure out which you want by asking yourself the question: why am I shooting this event?

What I already knew:

  • Use a fast shutter speed to freeze a moving subject or combine a slow shutter speed with following the athlete with your lens to create a nice stripey effect.
  • Get low so that your subject appears more heroic. Outdoors this means you maybe you shooting against the sky, so adjust your exposure accordingly, that is: underexpose.

I realise this list could be much longer.

One thing I noticed when looking at Google Images for photos others took of marathons is that some photographers prefer artistic race photos, which could be interesting to experiment with.

If you want to use this photo, head over to its Wikimedia Commons page and read the terms and conditions of the license.

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