I realise it’s been a little quiet on the blog lately (understatement acknowledged!). The short reason is that the time I would normally put towards the blog has been taken up with other things, in particular doing a sponsored charity swim over the last few months of 2013 and running over the first half of 2014. I’m hoping to develop the running into another charity fund-raiser in due course, but in the meantime there’s a photography angle I want to share with you. More after the jump…
One of the ways I’ve been working on my running is by taking part in some of my local parkruns. Parkrun is a grass roots running organisation that, using volunteers, puts on a weekly 5km measured and timed run in various locations around the world, with many across the UK and clusters in Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Denmark and Poland, amongst others. Although it’s timed, it isn’t a race. The runners typically come from a broad range of backgrounds and experience levels, from first-time runner through to “good club runners”. I’m lucky enough to live near to the Durham run, which means I can get there without having to drive; I’ll cycle there as a start to my warm-up. I’ve participated a few times but one weekend in April I wasn’t feeling 100% and still wanted to take part – so I took up the volunteer role of photographer for the morning.
Having run the course a few times I knew the route pretty well and had already picked out some shots. I had worked out I could capture the start and end of the first lap before switching locations to get everyone mid-run and finally head to the finish funnel to get everyone as they approached the line. Not every course will accommodate the same pattern, but I would always try to get the start and finish if possible. Each course has its own route description – such as here for Durham – which can help in planning shots, although be aware that circumstances can force the organisers to change the route, so if you don’t know the course it’s worth talking to the organisers well before the start.
Firstly, kit. I was shooting on my Canon 5D mkII – not what most sports ‘togs would choose, but I’m working with what I’ve got here! My point is that it doesn’t really matter what kit you have, it’s more important to be able to use it well. Running isn’t as fast paced as motor sports, for example, so I found I didn’t miss not having a higher frame-rate, the latest autofocus system etc. I was shooting medium RAW format to give maximum control over post-processing while not having an excessive file size. Even so, I expected to have a high volume of shots, so I made sure I had plenty of card capacity available, carrying two 8GB and one 4GB cards. In the end I used one full 8 gig and part of the 4 gig. I was also carrying a (fully-charged) spare battery, just in case – in the end I didn’t need it but it was better to have it available.
As usual, I shot on aperture priority, mostly at or near maximum aperture. I used continuous drive mode and mostly AI Servo autofocus mode. I started off with ISO at around 400 as it was quite overcast before the run and this made sure I had short shutter speeds. Image stabilisation was turned on for my longer lens. I needed to be mobile so this was no place for a tripod, although I would have found a monopod useful for some support with the heavier lens.
I started off on my 70-200mm f4 lens taking pre-run candids around the track, including the first-timers’ briefing (for new parkrunners and visitors who have run at other parkruns before).
As the 9am start time approached, I moved over to near the start and switched lenses to my 17-40mm f4, still gathering pre-run shots.
I left the 17-40 on to capture the start and end of the first lap. For the end of the lap, I had a particular shot in mind – low and wide angle:
Once everyone had made it through the first lap, the course took them on another half-lap of the track and then a few hundred metres away from me before doubling back along the riverside footpath. This gave me a short interval to change lenses to my 70-200mm and move a few yards so I could catch everyone coming past again:
Once everyone had passed, I moved a few yards further up to the footbridge over the River Wear with the intention of catching the leaders as they came back over…which I did, but I prefer this shot of one of the younger participants:
Having bagged shots of the first two runners coming back over the bridge, I had a minute or so to peg it the 150m to the other end of the running track to the finish funnel. I got back with time to catch my breath before the first finisher arrived back and from then it was simply a case of trying to catch everyone as they completed the course:
As ever, all my post-processing was performed in Capture One 7 Pro. After downloading my cards, I performed an initial edit to discard any disasters and select the best shot from sequences. Being an event, wanted to make sure I kept as many people as possible, so kept more than I would have done if I was being ultra critical. For example, some of the shots that made the gallery aren’t pin-sharp focus.
For processing, I wasn’t trying to create anything overtly artistic, really to capture a true reflection of the conditions on the day. As I was in the same position and using similar framing for large groups of shots, it was relatively quick to correct for exposure on large groups of shots. I added a small amount of saturation and punch and in some cases some high dynamic range highlight to recover a little cloud detail. On some I found I needed a little rotation to straighten the shot or some cropping for the framing I wanted. A little noise reduction, sharpening and standard meta data and that was all that was needed.
Using Capture One’s recipes I set up two standard outputs, one higher resolution for flickr and one lower resolution for Facebook. I made one mistake on uploading the shots to the Durham parkrun group, which was to do it in two separate clusters (one from each card download) and doing the first card then the second. Flickr grouped these with group one in chronological order (oldest first) then group two oldest first. This meant the shot order in the group went from Card 2 Shot 1 through to Card 2 Shot X, then Card 1 Shot 1 through to Card 1 Shot Y. Not a disaster, but not how I would have chosen to present them. Once they were posted I didn’t seem to be able to reorder them or remove them, so I had to leave them as they were.
Durham parkrun also put photos in albums on their Facebook page. In order to upload them, I put them in a cloud folder which I then shared with the Facebook page admin so they could copy them over. This got around the need to mess around with the Facebook permissions.
As ever, I can’t leave without picking out some learnings:
- A second body would have made the shoot a bit easier, probably using a crop sensor body with the 70-200mm on it and leaving the 17-40mm on the full-frame 5D mkII for wide angles.
- Using a monopod to support the 70-200mm would have made some of the longer sections more comfortable without compromising on flexibility.
- Before uploading a group of shots to Flickr, group them together in a single folder and upload in one go.
I’m looking forward to putting some of this into use next weekend when the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire!
And as a final footnote…I completed my first (organised) 10k race today inside my target time, so the training has paid off. Don’t be surprised for this theme to appear again!