Photographing Runners

Pre-race Planning

  • Learn as much as you can about running. Since only really good photos are published, study magazines and websites to learn the best compositions.
  • If possible, scout the race route so you can find the best backgrounds and angles. It’ll be tough to shoot from more than a couple of locations along the race route. Try to find a place at the beginning and finish line as well as a spot well into the race where the runners have spread out.
  • Because of traffic and crowds, a bicycle will be your best means of moving along the route.
  • The best coverage will result from a team of photographers placed at different spots along the route.

photographing at a race

  • Often, the finish line area is extremely crowded and restricted to the official race camera. Still, it is the climax of runners’ effort so shots at the finish are worth considerable effort. If possible, use a step stool or ladder to establish your spot and get you above the crowd.
  • The more experienced you are the better your photos will be. Practice photographing runners before the big race. Popular running trails are a great place to learn and practice.

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Equipment and Set Up

  • Keep your AutoFocus on “Continuous”. Although runners don’t move very fast you will have the best chance of keeping the runner in focus.
  • Use your burst mode to shoot a lot of shots. It’s far better to delete images on the computer than to wish, when the race is over, you’d shot more.
  • Consider using a fill flash with a mild under exposure of the background – maybe 1/3 or 2/3s of a stop. This helps to make the runner stand out from the background as well as up their faces which might be shadowed if their head is pointing down a bit.
  • Try using a 70-200mm telephoto lens for most of your shots. However, use a wide angle lens to capture the masses at the start of the race. A 300mm lens would be useful to get those compressed shots of bunched runners.
  • Because of the crowds, consider using a monopod instead of your faithful, irreplaceable tripod. The monopod is helpful for shooting but also so you don’t have to handhold a heavy camera and lens.

 Photographing at Marathon

Shooting Techniques

  • Try and photograph the runner at the instant they reach full stride to give the impression they are running fast.
  • Get ahead of the group and compose a good photograph. Let the runners come into the photo frame then run off a burst.
  • Remember, except for some of the fastest runners, most of the recreational runners will look like they are almost walking in the photos.  Womens’ bouncing pony-tails can show movement.
  • A shutter speed of 1/500 or faster will freeze runners’ motion while a shutter speed of approximately 1/25 will show motion when panning.
  • Consider different angles. Go high – go low.
  • To photograph a jogger running past you, you’re better off at a slight distance shooting with a telephoto lens. Leave room around the jogger.

  • You can show a sense of motion by panning with the runner and shooting at a slow shutter speed. Start at 1/15 second and experiment. Alternatively, choose a fast shutter speed (1/500 or faster) to freeze the action.
  • It is difficult to shoot runners with a panning motion. In addition to runner’s body moving forward, the feet are swinging and the head is bouncing up and down. Shoot lots of bursts to get acceptable images. Hint: colorful shoes make the best slow motion streaks!
  • At a close distance, use a wide-angle lens, pre-compose your image, based on how you want the runner positioned relative to the background, and focus on a predetermined spot where you expect the runner (fortunately a wide-angle lens has plenty of depth of field, so focus isn’t a critical issue here). Crouch down and wait for the runner to go by, and shoot a quick burst when he runs into the focused zone.

 Getting different angles

Shoot List

  • Make sure you get tight photos of runners with the race logo or sponsor’s name and logo in the foreground (on the runner’s bib) or background.
  • Many races have different classes of competition. Wheelchair racers make interesting photos too – get some images.
  • Don’t forget the periphery. Get the motorcycle police escorts, the EMTs, the award presenters, the support crew. There’s a lot going on!
  • Try to photograph runner crossing the finish line banner with the timing clock in the photo. Try to be slightly to the side to show the motion of their stride. Get close ups of exhausted runner’s faces.
  • Photograph the crowd as the runners pass. There are lots of emotions in the volunteers, family members and children.
  • After everybody is in, there is usually a food line or some award ceremonies where you can take candid photos of runners and their supporters.
  • Try different perspectives. Get some shots of runners running away from you. Shoes are an important component of running – get some shots. Many runners wear unique and colorful clothing – get some shots. Family and friends often cheer runners on – get some shots. Faces show a runner’s emotions – get some tight shots.
  • Finishing a race is a significant accomplishment. Get some post-race shots of the runners after they cross the finish line – also while they cool down. Some great emotions and interactions occur away from the track.
  • The best runners will be in the front of the pack but often there are more impactful photographic stories of runners in the middle and end.

Most of all – have fun!

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