Capture All The Images | Creative GoPro Race Photos

I have documented races in a variety of ways over the years. I love photography so I almost always have a camera with me regardless of how I find myself at a race. There is also a variety of tools available for photographing races.

Sometimes I find myself at a race because it is an interesting community event or I have friends running the race. Or maybe I am on vacation and I find out there is a race happening nearby that would be cool to check out. And of course even as a spectator I have a camera in my hand because that is just who I am.

I have a lot of friends who run races. From time to time I will be invited to help crew and support someone during a race. This is such a fun and rewarding experience. But often there is a lot of down time. This provides the perfect opportunity to be clicking shutters.

There is also the obvious reason I may be at a race photographing the event. Sometimes I am at race because I am working in conjunction with the race organization to provide photography for the event. This is always a fun experience. I enjoy trying to capture unique images of races.

2021 Finger Lakes 50s


There are also circumstances where you think it might be odd to be photographing a race. For example I am running in the race that I am photographing. For some this might seem odd. But for me it is a pretty regular occurrence. I probably shoot some type of photography at almost every race I run in.

When engaging in race photography there are a variety of different tools to use. The tools I use often depend on the type of race I am participating in and my role at the event. I have often used more than one tool per event.

My most commonly used tools for race photography are some combination of my DSLR cameras and their associated lenses. But I have also used mirrorless cameras, a variety of GoPro cameras, and even my cell phone when photographing races. When I am photographing a race that I am also running in I often use my smallest mirrorless camera and at least one of my GoPro cameras.

Using GoPro’s

I mostly run trail races and that is most often when I carry my mirrorless camera and GoPro cameras. It is really cool to be able to have a mirrorless DSLR camera that is small enough to carry with me during a race. But, the tool that is really the MVP of photographing races that I am actually running in is my GoPro.

A GoPro is durable and weather resistance. It is essentially designed for exactly what I am going to use it for while running in a race. Most GoPro footage is shot in video format. While I do create some of that footage my preferred way to record an event on my GoPro is using the Time Lapse photography mode.

Green Monster 25k: Splashing through a stream.

Using Time Lapse mode allows for continuous photography I just need to stay upright and point the camera at what I want to capture images of. (FYI staying upright while creating images does not always happen) A race is a fluid and dynamic event. Things change and shift in a moment’s notice. Using Time Lapse mode allows me to capture moments or scenes that I would never be able to react to fast enough to capture using any other equipment. I can also capture images of everything going on around me without necessarily having to stop during my race.

How I photograph races I’m in

When I first started using GoPro cameras to photograph races while I was running one of the biggest struggles was getting sharp images. As I mentioned most of this type of photography occurs during trail races. Trail races often occur in the woods. The trees are often full of trees. This blocks out a lot of the sun. Also I seem to run a lot of races that end up taking place during inclement weather, which further reduces the amount of light making it into the camera.

The key to creating sharp images is having bright life. This is even more crucial if the subject is in motion. And making it even more challenging not only is the subject often in motion during my GoPro style photography but I as the photographer am also in motion. This necessitates even more light.

When I first started creating images from races in this way GoPro sensors, especially in photography mode, were not particularly sensitive to light. And on top of that I could not control any of the settings the camera used to create images. It was all on auto pilot.

2021 Hills Creek Challenge: Running through the spiral.

The computer in camera seems to prioritize exposure. So it wants to make sure you end up with a photograph that is bright and look well lit. This can often mean having a slower shutter speed, especially when running through the woods. This means the photograph is more likely to be blurry.

Changing views

In the early days of me working on this style of photography I would be disappointed in the blurry photos. Over the years technology has obviously changed and improved. GoPro cameras have developed different types of capabilities. GoPro cameras became more sensitive to light. There has been improvements in different types of settings that the user can directly control.

The advancements in GoPro technology has made it increasingly likely that I will be able to create images that are crisp and in focus. I always thought this is something that I would be excited to see. And in some ways I am. But over the years I have come to appreciate some of the blurry images I have created.

I used to see blurry photographs as a problem. Now I often see the blurry photographs as cool artistic expression that I can’t capture any other way. Not all blurry photographs are good photographs, but certain photographs have a very distinct feel of motion to them. And a feeling of motion is exactly what I want to capture in my trail running imagery.

2018 Worlds End 50k: Motion while rounding a turn.

I have really come to have affection for images that have a swirling or spinning look to them where everything in the image has a circular blur to it. Often in those images whatever is the focus of the image will be more crisp and everything else will look like it is rotating around it. And it is really cool when that all comes together to center on another runner and the foliage or scenery is spinning around them. That is an effect I could be hard pressed to reproduce on my own, especially while running.

Keep what is interesting

There is often a large volume of blurry images that I just delete because they do not look good, but that can be just as true of images that are sharp and in focus because you only need so many photographs of trees. I only keep the photos that look interesting. The images that have motion or blur to the edges really give things a look and feel of motion. Even if the photograph isn’t necessarily a technically “good” photograph sometimes these images just have more feeling or emotion to them that a static technically “good” image might.

Now, with the technological advancements in GoPro cameras I am left with mixed feelings. I can set my cameras to be more likely to get sharp images or more likely to get blurry images. Either way there might be something I am missing out on. I am not sure I could intentionally set up my GoPro to generate blurry images and be satisfied with the results, especially If I didn’t capture anything I like. Then I would feel like I missed out on opportunities or “good” sharp in focus images. It was better when it was out of my control and a “happy little accident”. I am sure there are times I am trying to get sharp images and I will still end up with some blurry ones and I will just have to hope that those ones have that special quality that I am looking for.

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