Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Top 5 Photos From the Phoenix Half Marathon

I took up recreational distance running a little over 11 years ago, mostly to shake up my workout routine. But I got so into it that I've wound up running seven marathons, nine half marathons, and six 10K races since then. These days, I stick to the 10K races due the the heavy time commitment that those longer races require. But I still enjoy being in that environment. There is a lot of great positive energy.

So this past weekend. I decided to get up early and go downtown to take some shots at a local running event in Phoenix that featured a half marathon, a 5K race and a 10K race. I had actually run that particular 10K four times, but it was the last race scheduled to start, so I wanted to focus more on the half marathon and 5K races.

My blog post from a few weeks ago was entitled "5 Tips For Taking Better Sports Action Photos." The third one listed was "Get the Faces." That was my primary goal for this particular outing. Having experienced a wide range of emotions while running these races, I felt like they would result in teh most compelling shots.

I liked this shot because the runner on the left is all business, while "Waldo"
seems to be having a great time. The facial expression says it all. 
I got to the racing venue at 6:00 AM, so that gave me an hour to scout things out before the half marathon started. I spent some time playing around with my settings to see what would work best for the different locations I was planning to be. Because of the way the course was laid out, it was easy to get around it quickly. The start and finish lines were within a block of each other and it was basically an out and back design. I used my Nikon D5300 with a 70-200mm f/8 Nikkor lens the whole time I was on the course. After some experimentation, I decided to set the ISO at 1600. When the race started it was about 10 minutes after sunrise, and due to being downtown, the tall buildings created quite a bit of shade. So I needed a little more sensitivity to make up for the lower lighting conditions and the faster shutter speeds. Besides that, I was okay with the depth of field being a little shallow since I wanted to draw people viewing the photos to the runners' faces. The aperture wound up at f/3.5 with the shutter speed ranging from 1/2500s-1/4000s using bursts at 4 fps.

Now when it comes to shooting these types of races in particular, the best piece of advice I got was not to worry so much about getting the entire body and shoot from about the waist up, focusing directly on the face. That was my most important takeaway from shooting at this particular event. Here are some of the photos with a brief explanation of what I liked and/or didn't like about them.

 The winner still has a laser like focus less than 200 yards from the finish line. 
This first shot is of the guy who won the half marathon. It was a pretty flat and fast course, and he absolutely destroyed it. Here, he was at the Mile 13 marker, with less than 200 yards to go. As you can see, his eyes are focused right on that finish line. At 1/4000s shutter speed, the camera has absolutely stopped his motion, so what you can't see is that he was really moving. This was the last frame of a burst of about 15 shots, I thought I picked him up early, but he was past me before I knew it.

The next shot is of the runner who finished second. It is one of my a favorite ones because the expression on his face is more typical of someone who is trying to get to that finish line on a tank that is close to being empty. He was battling hard, and even though he is laboring, his finishing time was over a minute better than the guy who won it last year.
Trying to keep from hitting "the Wall" in the last mile. 
Getting back to the facial expression; anyone who has run a distance race of any kind knows what this feels like. Your lungs are burning, and your legs are telling you that they've had just about enough. But you keep putting one foot in front of the other as many times as it takes to get yourself across that finish line. For most of the shots I took, I didn't have a sense for whether or not it would be a good one until I got home and downloaded them to the computer. But when this runner was approaching and I began to fire off my burst, I had a feeling that this particular frame would best tell his story. He definitely left everything out on the course. I absolutely love the intensity being shown here.This guy is running on fumes right now, but he is still pushing himself to the finish line. That's pretty awesome.

These two competitors were dueling all the way to the tape. 
The next two photos show two runners who were competing in the 5K wound up locked in a head to head dual over the last 150 yards. My only regret on these shots was that I was on the opposite side of the road. The two races shared the same final two tenths of a mile. There was a tape running down the middle of the street to keep the runners separate. There was no way to get to the other side of the street in time so I did the best that I could from where I was standing. These guys were in an all out sprint to the finish line. You can see the taller runner watching to see if his pursuer has one final kick left. Trust me, these guys were absolutely flying down the home stretch. The one thing I didn't like about these two photos is that I wound up cutting off some hands and fingers. That might not have happened if I had been on the other side of the road. But since I was focusing on the runners' faces, I can live with this result. Even though the shorter runner is wearing sunglasses, you can get a sense for how hard he is working by seeing him grimace as he fights for that last bit of energy to push him past his opponent. In the second photo you can still see his mouth, and the position of his arms show that he is pumping them to keep his form and gain any advantage he can. To end the suspense, the taller runner hung on to win by one second. It was a great finish.                                       
The taller runner had enough left to hold on for the victory.

So those are some of my favorite shots from the two races I covered. Overall, I felt like I was able to accomplish my goal. Getting to the venue early allowed me to figure out where I wanted to be during different parts of the race. Experimenting with my settings helped me to be ready to capture the shots I was looking for without wasting any unnecessary time. And specific to running, I definitely saw the value in concentrating on shooting from the waist up. This helps you take the people looking at your photo right to the runner's face, which tells the whole story. Until next time . . .

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