Thoughts On Photographing Road Races

I don’t photograph people very often. As in in most of my photography people are not often the main subject of my photography. Except…. Except in a situation where the type of photography I am engaging in directly ties in to another one of my passions.

I love running. And as the years of running went by and I became more engaged with the running community I had opportunities to photograph races. As it turns out I really enjoy photographing races. And this part of my photography repertoire all began through photographing local road races for our local running club.

Running down the road during STRC New Years Day 5 Miler.

When I photograph a road race there are a couple of things I specifically think about. One thing is do I want to take a close-up photograph really centering on the runner, or do I want to create an image that shows the runner making progress along the course. If I want to create images where the runner fills the frame I will either use my 300mm lens or zoom all the way in to 200mm on my 70-200mm lens.

Close-up or scenic

Another way to do that is to wait for the runners to get a lot closer to me on the road course. But, this works best if the runners are running towards me and will be facing the camera. The challenge with waiting until runners are really close is that it can be more difficult to photograph all the runners that are on the course because there will often be less time to move off of one runner to the next because they are all getting close and then passing by quickly.

On the road running STRC Red Baron half marathon.

At the other end of the spectrum is creating images that reflect what the course looks like and the runners place along the course. One way to do this is to photograph the runner while they are farther away from me. That way the runner doesn’t fill as much of the frame. Another way to do this is to zoom out more on the zoom lens I often use for race photography. I often use my 70-200mm lens for photographing road races and that means I can zoom out as far as 70mm.

If I am creating images where the runner doesn’t fill the entire frame it can help show runners enjoying the time on the roads together with friends and fellow runners. It can also show how crowded or well attended a race venue is. Creating images where the runner does not fill the frame also helps to showcase the location of a given race.

Running hard at STRC St. Pats 5 & 10.

How’s the background look?

The second thing I think about is, what is the background going to look like? This point really makes a difference when creating images as previously mentioned where the runner does not fill the entire frame. If I am going to photograph a race one thing I really try to put some consideration into is where I will be on the course. And this is the reason that I do that. To me the background can really help the image pop or look nice.

Powering through the rain during the Wineglass Half Marathon.

If I have the option to photograph wherever I want or multiple locations I like to explore the course and see what location and positon will give me a background that I like the best. A lot of road races take place in cities, towns, and neighborhoods. But if I can make it happen I really like to create images where there are not buildings and houses in the background. I think an image looks much nicer with some nature in the background if possible. I also think it helps the runner stand out more from the background. Maybe this preference for nature in the background even at a road race stems from my preference for nature photography in general.

For all the runners out there. Do you have a preference in how your race photos look? Close up or zoomed out? Cityscape background or nature scene background?

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