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 clos