Photographing marathons

Published on Fri Nov 1, 2013 by David Colbran

As a freelance photographer variety is the spice of life. One regular area and type of work I undertake is endurance sports and particularly marathons. Over the past 8 years I’ve travelled across Europe to shoot various races and have met some incredible people. These events are always exciting, dynamic and very busy days!

Technically shooting marathons is tough. The goal is to get as many shots as perfect as possible to increase the chances of a sale. Hard when a model is static, super hard when they are zooming past in a massive group in a race. Therefore for sharp images shutter speeds need to be 1/250th of a second or above. Another issue is the power usage of the camera. Continuous auto focusing or reviewing taken images, kills the batteries pretty quickly. So the most efficient way is to set static focal lengths and points in advance and lock down the camera away from any auto settings. Thus as a runner crosses the ‘in focus’ line, the shutter is pressed. I tend to shoot most sports in manual mode and this gives me complete control over the image. Of course this means being able to quickly judge accurately any light changes over the course of a day and change camera settings accordingly. The worst light conditions tend to be lots of rapidly moving clouds, which shift the ‘in focus’ area between sunlight and shadow.

Preparation of course is the key. Ensuring you have the correct equipment is essential. Backups of everything is ideal and of course plenty of spare battery packs and memory cards. I try and have a few zip locked plastic bags with me as well, in case of wet or muddy conditions. Also waterproof packs or camera cases to store the extra equipment. The final piece of equipment I carry with me for marathons is a small seat or stool, as a lower angle often works best and of course saves standing all day.

Other things to think about which make the shoot easier include full waterproof clothes and boots. I’ve lost track of the number of photographers I’ve seen at events that are not kitted out for inclement weather. Also bring along enough energy drinks and food to keep you going through the day. Marathon runners don’t stop for lunch and neither do I.

Shooting events is a lot of fun, but it's also tiring and a lot of work to do right. For me preparation is key.

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