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“6th Annual St. Paddy’s Five Miler Race Photos – Portsmouth, NH 2015“
This was a challenging shoot and I had a great time doing it, but it was a tough shoot to pull off. Temp’s in the 20’s with 20mph sustained winds that were gusting to 40mph. The race starting at 10:30am with a clear bright sunny sky full of harsh shadows, a finish line having to shoot into the sun with a backdrop of white snow banks. A tent with translucent yellow and white strips causing color cast problems, another with red and white stripes. Add in an indoor shoot with low lighting inside at the bar and everyone bundled up and you have a full scale “event” to shoot in winter conditions. After a winter of no race shooting, I was a little anxious in terms of how I would preform under all these variables.
Planning: Good shoots don’t happen by accident, unless of course you are lucky, but luck is gambling and you are not always a winner. If you want to deliver, plan and practice.
My Goal: Before I could plan, I had to know what my goal was and that’s the first step with any shoot. Sometimes I shoot races for personal development and I’m under no obligation to delivery anything. I can simply work on technique and cool shots. Other shoots like this, I need to deliver the goods. After speaking with the race coordinators from New Heights, the goal was to deliver photography back to New Heights that they could use in future promotions (such as next years race) along with capturing the feeling of the event, but in no way capturing every runner running. Capturing every runner is a different type of shoot.
My normal way of shooting a race is to bring my 28-300 (superzoom) for the start of the race where getting boxed into either a short (24-70) or long lens (70-200) is always limiting, but also knowing that using a superzoom I’m sacrificing some quality in the process. Then after the race kicks off, change lenses to my 70-200 for the remainder. Of course another option is to simply use two bodies.
It might sound like I’m over thinking all of this, but after you shoot enough races there is actually a workflow to a race and these become things become habit. Mind you I didn’t write any of this down ahead of time, but I had a very good mental plan of what I was planning on doing. The timing of the event is critical, that requires some research. The good news was the race was 5 miles with the start line, finish line and a turnaround all in close proximity to each other. I could cover all three locations if I payed attention to my watch. My timing was this:
- Kids fun run at 9:45 (28-300)
- Tents/Indoor 10:00 to 10:20 (28-300)
- Race starting line at 10:20 (28-300)
- Race Turn around at 10:40-10:50 (70-200)
- Finish Line 10:55 for a few good finish shots (70-200)
- Inside, tents, outside for the rest (70-200, 28-3000, 24-70)
My general rule of thumb is to plan on 5.5 minute/mile pace. 5 miles x 5.5min/mile means I had to be at the finish line no later 27 minutes after the start.
Equipment: My equipment for this race:
- Nikon D700 w/32 gig 800x CF card (plus extras in my Black Rapid Strap)
- Nikon D7100 (backup body left in the car)
- Extra batteries, especially important with cold weather
- Nikon SB600 flash for indoors w/ 1/2 CTS gel
- Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII lens
- Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII
- Nikon 24-70 f2.8
- My Standard Backpack *
- Mono-pod (left in car)
- Chair (left in the car)
- 4 hand-warmers 1 in each glove and two strapped to my body.
- Long johns and a hooded coat and hat.
- Snacks, water and Motrin.
* After the Boston Marathon bombing, use care with backpacks at races. It makes people nervous especially in the northeast. If I bring one, I’ll usually have a camera clearly visible on the outside so people know I’m doing photography. Plus I’ll keep the backpack strapped to me the entire time. You don’t want to set your equipment down anyway – its a good way to get it stolen. Typically though I’ll just bring a cinch sack with just my D700 and 70-200.
Sample problem images with Lightroom adjustments:
I always want to get it right in camera, but shooting RAW and Lightroom is just so awesome that you can recover bad photos and live to tell another day. The one exception to my trying to get it right in camera is I always leave white balance on auto. In a RAW photo its not set in the data, its applied to what you are displaying after the fact. In a JPG file on the other hand its cooked in and you are trying to change it over top of what is already there. If you shoot JPG, you want to get it right in camera.
At the finish line I was shooting into the sun and it was at a relatively low angle as you can see from the shadows on the tree in the background. Yuck shooting at the finish line. I was using my 70-200 with my camera set in aperture priority mode F4 and using a +0.33 to +1.33 for exposure bias. I normally shoot manual and let the ISO float, but it was plenty bright and I wanted to use exposure bias and let the camera pay attention to the other stuff. In spite of that I was fighting it the whole way. Another reason to shoot RAW is you can recover exposures of about -1 fstops under exposed to about +0.5 fstops overexposed. JPG’s have so much less to work with. I used the radial filter in Lightroom to bring out the runner, though you can see I overdid it a little bit. Then applied a some other very basic exposure adjustments. Its actually amazing how little adjustments I made.
Inside the tent the yellow stripes really messed with my white balance. Add in natural blue light from the sides and phew…. The camera picked a white balance that was way too warm. Adjust the temp, shadows and exposure, and done deal.
Reason 357 for shooting RAW. A seriously underexposed subject with odd white balance and back-lighting rescued. Imagine if this was the one shot I had to get right. I would be screwed. In fact when I imported the photos I wasn’t planning on even trying to recover this photo. It doesn’t show the radial filter values, but suffice to say I’m sure I recovered more than a full stop (+1). Also notice I brought down the highlight to recover the background.
Again imagine if I had to get this shot. In this case I knew when I was taking the the shot that I was going to have a problem with the brim of the hat since I was bouncing my flash off the ceiling. Maybe a flash bender would have been in order, but I went for it anyway. Add in a bush stoke of exposure in Lightroom over her eyes and the photo was salvaged.
A note about risk: I shot all my photos on my D700 with one memory card and the entire race on that one card. Although mostly reliable, its taking a risk that something bad will happen. My D700 only has one slot. I wish it had two like my D7100. To top it off I didn’t swap cards. Its a risk either way. Swap cards and risk loosing them, or put them all on one card and risk card failure. In retrospect I should have shot it with my D700 and D7100 and split the shoot between the two.