The Ins & Outs of Photographing a Running Race

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After having now photographed various running races over the last three years, I thought that I would document the steps that are required from pre-race to final photo processing. In my case I use two cameras when photographing races – first, a Pentax K-20D digital camera which is a 14.6 megapixal digital camera and second, a Sony HDR-XR550V full 1080p HD video camera.

First Step: The day before the race remember to fully charge all camera batteries. For the Pentax camera I have two batteries, one in the camera and one in the external battery grip. Before a race I always charge both. For the Sony video camera I also have two batteries. First, the battery which came with the camera – I only use it as a backup now due to its limited life – only about 75 minutes. Second, the much bigger battery which lasts over 6 hours when fully charged.

Second Step: Also the day before the race decide if I am driving, walking or riding my bike to the race. If riding my bike check to ensure tires are fully inflated and bike is ready to ride.

Third Step: The night before the race put the cameras, batteries, lenses (two for the Pentax – the main lens is a 50 – 135mm zoom with most running photos taken at 70mm), lens cleaner, rain gear and gloves in the appropriate back pack. Also put the tripod (used with the video camera) out with the backpack. The backpack, with cameras, weighs about 12 pounds and the tripod adds another 3 pounds.

Fourth Step: Set your alarm, perhaps have a drink, have a good sleep, wake up and go to the race start. Depending upon the race (length, course, whether I am on foot, driving or riding my bike) I may take photographs at only the start and finish or in some cases, one or more locations after the start and before the finish. During a race I will normally take approximately 4-5 photos per VFAC runner per location … for example, in the PRR First Half Half Marathon where over 36 VFAC runners ran in the race I took over 200 photos of just VFAC runners … and that was when I took photos at only two locations. For the video at the Finish Line, with the larger battery, I now start the camera before the first runner finishes and stop it after the last VFAC runner finishes.

Fifth Step: After the race the computer work begins. The photographs and video need to be downloaded from my cameras to my computer. No real “work” for me but, depending on the number of photographs and the length of the video, this step can take 2 or more hours.

Sixth Step: Edit the video. This step starts with importing the raw video file into the editing program – in my case, Windows Live Movie Maker. The program takes a few minutes to an hour to initially process the raw file, then you start watching minute by minute … as you watch you edit “out” non VFAC runners. After this first edit, you watch a second time and refine the edits (ie. shorten), then identify each runner and add text re name/time, add a title slide, watch and review, then save the file in wmv format. After saving you can upload to YouTube or Facebook or both and, after YouTube/Facebook process the uploaded file it is ready for viewing (this upload/processing part can take up to 2 hours). The final step for the video is to send out links to the file. In the case of the 2012 PRR First Half Half Marathon the original 45 minutes of video was edited to a final 5:23 … the total process probably took 4 to 5 hours.

Seventh step: Edit the photos. Part 1 – have the photo editing program rename the files (so you can find them in the future) and add photographer information. Part 2 – quickly review each photo and delete any out-of-focus or wrong runner or too-bad-to-post (ie. awkward position or a facial expression that even a mother wouldn’t recognize or love). Part 3 – review each photo in more detail … crop where required (almost always), adjust exposure/contrast (sometimes), delete if not “a keeper”. The three photos below show how the image can “change” from the original to the final.

Original Raw Photo:

Original Photo cropped:

Original Photo cropped and edited for exposure:

Part 4 – upload photos to Flickr – at least you can rest during this part as the computer does all of the work.

Part 5 – organize the set on Flickr which includes sorting by date/time of photo, changing posting date (required since Flickr automatically shows the last posted photo as the first photo in the photostream … and, in order to not have a running sequene of photos “bury” your other photos you need to manually change the posting date to a much earlier date at the beginning of your photostream) and finally change the viewing permissions from Private to Public. After this last step you can send out the links to the photos. The total time for this step is dependent upon the number of photos involved … usually anywhere from 6 to 8 hours or more spread over one or two days.

Eighth Step: Rest and have a drink!

2 Replies to “The Ins & Outs of Photographing a Running Race”

  1. Whoa – that is a lot of effort. Thanks for being as obsessed about photography as you are about running. We all win!!

    1. Thanks Rebecca. I do enjoy both! Tomorrow I will be running (or at least trying to run) the Sun Run. Next race to photograph will be the BMO Marathon/Half Marathon.

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