How to shoot a race

January 04, 2013  •  1 Comment

There is a huge difference when you pick up your camera to shoot a kid, or a wedding, or your spouse - then there is when you pick up the camera to shoot a race. Whole new kettle of fish. As my buddy Vince recently found out when he tried to photograph us at the Hangover Classic 5k on Jan 1st, 2013 - people move quick and there are a LOT of them. Spectators get in the way. Weather elements ruin your day.

So - here's a quick primer on things you should keep in mind when you show up at a 5k road race, or obstacle course event, and want to photograph the runners (whether that is *all* the runners, or just your family and friends).

Before you leave the house.

  • Spare batteries - shove them up your shirt. The cold weather will eat them.
  • Pack the longest zoom lens you have. Personally, I take a 70-200 f/4 L.
  • Pack a flash, and an external battery pack. With spare batteries. Shove them up your shirt too.
  • Pack a small stool. I got mine from Dicks for less than $30.
  • Pack a monopod. You can get them from Walmart for $15.

Of course, you can spend a TON on any of the above, and there are a bunch of different options, but this will get you started.

143_20150503_9825

Location.

Getting to the right spot is essential.

  • The common "finish line" shot is a LOT harder to get than it seems, and folks will look at their absolute worst during the final sprint to the finish, so I rarely go for it. I may bring an "autocam" and leave it on an intervelometer if I think I can do so safely.
  • Once the start has gone, walk backwards into the course and look for a spot about 1/2 mile in that will be photographic as a background, but also thin the runners out a little - a long straight shoot down a road for example. For a 5k road race, you've got about 15minutes before the winner is going to be coming by - don't delay.
  • Once you have your spot, find a piece of course and go and sit on it. Get inside any barriers, move cones - do whatever you have to to be between the public and the runners. Once you have your stool, monopod and zoom lens out - folks will leave you alone. I have NEVER been questioned when I do this.
  • Park your butt on the stool, attach the monopod, set a shooting angle so you're shooting UP at the runners, not directly at them, and patiently wait for the lead guy.
  • Pick a shady spot for the runners to come through, or get the sun to the front and side of them. The flash is for those moments when you find the course is putting the sun to the runners backs and you've got a terrible problem with back lighting.

Settings.

Configuring your camera correctly is essential. I shoot with a Canon 7D, so most of my settings will have that in mind. Nikon shooters, you're on your own.

  • Single point auto focus - this will let you put a single dot on the runners face/body and focus on it. using group focus modes will focus on their arms as they swing forwards, or the traffic cones in the middle.
  • AI Servo - this will then track that focus point, and lock your focus down. Note - there are a bunch of custom functions that let you control the sensitivity and speed of this mode, and until you know what they do, ignore them.
  • Shoot in JPG - controversial, as most pro photographers will recommend RAW all day every day. This is the exception. You may be taking LOTS of photos in quick succession, and you need the write speed to your memory card. You may also want to consider reducing the resolution your camera is shooting in, again - smaller files mean faster write speeds. Of course, shooting in JPG means you had better get your white balance and exposure correct before you even start shooting.
  • Manual mode - be careful. Set your aperture, set your shutter speed, but be aware of changing conditions and cloud cover. Slightly over expose if possible, and be wide open if possible. 1/400th should be the slowest shutter speed you go for. f/4 or wider if possible. ISO is where you have the flexibility.
  • Single Shot mode - the best way to spot someone who doesn't know what they are doing is to listen to their camera. Does it sound like a 12 frame per second machine gun any time someone passes them? Then they are praying like hell they get a shot. Don't be this guy. Instead, get the running in your frame - let them get closer. Lock your focus point on them and track them. Let them fill the shot. Click. Now move to the next runner and repeat. When you have large packs of runners coming at you, this process is no different, just quicker.

Your goal is to come away with one well exposed, well framed photo of as many runners and athletes as possible. Once you are comfortable with the basics, you can start worrying about additional lighting, leg and foot locations (try not to chop them off at the knee as they run), and interacting with the runners (I frequently ask them for a smile, or a thumbs up, or shout encouragement).

 

Fitness Concepts 5k 2012 - part one of the North Country Quad Series

 


Comments

Dawn(non-registered)
Good info thanks. I shoot a lot of races/runs and its not as easy as it looks. Thanks for the tips.
No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January (2) February (3) March April May June (2) July (3) August (3) September October (3) November December
January (2) February March (2) April (3) May (1) June July August (2) September (1) October November December (1)
January (1) February March April (1) May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December