Run For The Hills | Tanglewood Nature Center | New York

I love that Tangelwood Nature Center regularly holds trail races. This is really the only trail race that is in my backyard. And I love these trails. I have run trail races at Tanglewood twice. Once was my very first trail race. And I ran on the trails here when I first began to think about getting into running. These are the trails I most regularly visit. Equal parts beauty and challenge.

I had the privilege of returning again this year to photograph the Run For The Hills 5k and 10k 2022 edition at Tanglewood Nature Center. It brings me a lot of joy to be out here on the trails photographing the people out here pushing themselves on trails that are not easy to run or hike on. These trails make you work and that is part of what I love about them.

I am really just an average runner, but I do like to think I am a pretty good photographer. And just as I like to push myself in my running I like to challenge myself in my photography. I liked the spots where I took photographs last year, but this year I wanted to see if I could find even better spots to capture the days event from. I really wanted to create some memorable shots for the runners participating in this event.

Run for the Hills: 10K hill climb

One way to help make sure that as a photographer I create good images is to be familiar with my subject. As a race photographer that means being familiar with the course. If I am not familiar with the layout or trails somewhere I will go on scouting trips to get the lay of the land. Since I was familiar with the trails at Tanglewood my focus was looking at the course map and getting a feeling for where the runners would be on the course and how they would approach areas where I wanted to photograph them.

I developed a plan for what I wanted to do prior to the event. Then I showed up a little early on race day to walk some of the course and make sure my plan would be likely work out. And that also provided me time to get out on the course for photos. I prefer to be out on the course. I personally don’t think photographs that are only at the start and finish line are the most interesting photos and they don’t tell the story of the race.

Run for the Hills: 5K crossing in front.

I wanted to start the day at the top of the hill on the Pink trail. The 10K race started first. Those runners would be climbing to the steep hill to my left. Then after the 10K runners started to make their way past my location the 5K runners would be moving around the loop from the other side and run down a slight descent and run form my right and pass directly in front of me. It was fun to move from left to right and photograph the mix of 10K and 5K runners. The only real problem I ran into on this location is as the sun rose in the sky it was shining over the tree tops and right into my lens as I looked to my right to photograph the 5K runners approaching me. This resulted in some ghosting on some of those images where I was looking more up into the tree line.

I think all runners myself included dislike being photographed climbing a hill. But to me this is the essence of trail running. It is what distinguishes trail running from road running. It is also what shows the work that the runners are putting in while they are out there running a trial race. We may not “look our best” while we are grinding out a hill climb but we are putting in the work. The work runners put in on a trail race tells the story of the race and tells the story of what runners endure to compete in these types of events.

Run for the Hills: Runners looping around the field

After all the 10K runners and a good portion of the 5K runners passed me at my first location I wanted to move over onto the Green trail where both the 5K and 10K runners would be making their way around this loop. I photographed the runners coming towards me as I moved across the trail to get to the location I wanted to be in. Then I hiked up to the center of the circle where I was at an elevated positon and could photograph the runners moving along the trail slightly below me. This gave me a good vantage point and a different perspective on the race.

After most of the runners had moved through that area I hurried to move to the third location I wanted to photograph. I wanted to be at the edge of the pond as the runners approached from the climb up off the red trail. 5K runners would be moving through the last portion of the trails before reaching the finish line. 10K runners would be running around the pond then turning right to make a 2 mile loop on the blue trail.

Run for the Hills: 10K lead runner in shadow

As I got closer to where I wanted to be I could hear cheering from the finish line. My timing was off. I had missed some of the 5K runners move through that area and they were finishing the race. As I was moving through a heavily shaded portion of trail to get into position the lead 10K runner appeared running right at me. I wanted to make sure I got photos. I had to crank up my ISO to makes sure I could get a good exposure and fast enough shutter speed for a sharp image. And I was able to photograph the lead runner even though I wasn’t in the position I wanted to be in.

I was able to get in position by the pond where I wanted to be in time to photograph all the rest of the 10K runners and most of the 5K runners. It was really a beautiful spot to photograph the race. Nice and scenic. The sunlight was bright and beautiful. And unfortunately that lead to an unforced error on my part. I had increased my ISO to photograph the lead 10K runner in the shadows. Now I was in the bright sunlight. My ISO should have been turned back down when I got into position, but since it was mid race and runners were moving into frame constantly I was focused on not missing the shot and forgot to change my settings. I did eventually realize that I needed to make that change. The ISO being too high didn’t ruin the photos but with the sun being so bright and the dark foliage as contrast it ended up with some of the highlights being very overexposed. I was able to correct that in post processing in Adobe Lightroom.

Run for the Hills: Runners looping around pond

I really liked that spot by the pond. I will likely make that part of the plan going forward if I am invited back to photograph the event in the future.

Then being right by the pond I was able to see the 10K runners return from their loop on the Blue trail and approach the finish line. So I was able to capture more photos of the 10K runners as they neared the finish line.

I had a fun time photographing this race. I am pretty happy with the results. There is always something to learn from every photo session. Be aware of the direction of light. Not sure I could do anything about the ghosting other than just wait till the runners were out of that spot to take any photos. Remember to always be aware of your settings. If you change something to accommodate one area make sure you change it back when you move. I also think that trying to be in three places during the course of a 5K/10K race was too much moving and not enough time to get from spot to spot event though all my locations were pretty close together. I may have missed photographing some runners if they were on sections of the course before I got there. I hope I got at least 1 photos of everyone. That is usually my goal at a race.

Some things to think about for future events.

Run for the Hills: 10K runners returning on Blue trail loop

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