Road Races

I’ve continually been too busy to update my blog.  Though I’ve been posting photos on my photo site and managed to shot a few road races.  Great job to all the runners in the races I have been to!  Even the last place finisher has done more than me by being in the race instead of being a spectator standing on the sidelines.  Click on any of the photos below to see the entire set of race photos.

Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race - (D90 1/800 f5.6 ISO 560 250mm 70-300)
Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race – (D90 1/800 f5.6 ISO 560 250mm 70-300)

If you recall from my last post, you really need 70mm to 200mm to effectively shoot a race.  70-200 f2.8’s are in short supply and currently overpriced due to the earthquake in Japan taking out a lot of Nikons production.  Since I’m not making money at this, I’m not ready to fork over the money for one.  I’ll wait it out for a while and see what direction the prices go.  On a side note I’ve been toying with shooting for charity.  I’m just not sure how I’m going to go about it, so if you have any ideas let me know.  Road Races seem like a possibility as long as I’m not competing with a larger outfit.

I’ve been shooting with what I have available.  In my case I chose my Nikon 70-300 VR that I got refurbished for only $350 from B&H Photo in like new condition.  You won’t find that price now ($469 last check), but it was a great price and it’s FX compatible.  It always feels good to get a great deal.  Its not a 70-200 f2.8, but its better then my 18-200 for this job.

Dover Childrens Museum of NH 5K Race - (D90 1/800 f6.3 ISO 200 116mm 70-300)
Dover Childrens Museum of NH 5K Race – (D90 1/800 f6.3 ISO 200 116mm 70-300)

So what have I learned shooting races?  Whew… Where to start?  Its such a great opportunity to learn.  You have an objective, you have a time constraint and you get to push yourself a bit.  I’ll first start with my technical approach and I’ll go over the pros and cons of my gear in a bit along with where I camp out and why.

Before any runners approach, I get a light reading from my camera by taking a few photos of the background where I plan to shoot.  I set it to shutter priority mode, auto focus continuous, and about 1/800th of a second. I max my zoom out to 300 (so I’ll get max aperture) and see how fast I can get my shutter to go while still keeping my ISO under 500 – preferably ISO 200.  This gives me a little wiggle room as the conditions and a runner might change this slightly through the race.  I know my D90 is really good up to about ISO 800.  If my ISO is getting too high, I slow the shutter speed down and repeat.  Ideally I’m looking for a shutter greater than 1/500th and an ISO under 800.  I’ve been shooting with VR on if for nothing else its easer through the objective.  Aperture I’m currently letting float to max though I can manipulate it slightly with altering the shutter speed (on my thumb-wheel).  When I’m all done with that I also take a brief look at my histogram just to make sure thats not out of whack.

Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race - (D90 1/800 f5.6 ISO 400 300mm 70-300)
Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race – (D90 1/800 f5.6 ISO 400 300mm 70-300)

Now my gear is ready (and I will have done my camera check from the spot I’m planning on taking all the photos).  So where to camp out?  I’m really new at races, but I’m a fast learner.  The start of the race is a pack full of people.  You can’t possibly hope to get everyone in a herd of 500 people running by at high speed.  For that you get a couple of good photos (wide shots), then quickly move to about 3/4’s or more to the end of the race (eg 4km of a 5km race).  You’ll have about 10-15 minutes since the fastest runners are running around 6 minute miles).  At 4km distance the runners have separated significantly do to speed differences and therefore you have time to frame each runner.  The location is a location with an interesting backdrop, down a long road or something identifiable in town.  A street sign that has meaning in the background, etc.

Now frame the subjects and click away.  Take at least three shots of every runner you focus on, more is better.  You’ll see exactly why when you get home and review your work.    They are running and concentrating on the race, its not always easy to get a good expression with at least one foot on the ground.  Pick the best shots and throw the junk away.  I shoot raw on 4GB cards so I also have to keep track of how many photos I have on my card and swap them out strategically when there is a break in runners. Also with my 70-300 I know it’s soft at the 300mm end so I try to keep that under 250mm, but you can’t always.  So don’t worry.  Just shoot and keep your focus point on the current runner.

Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race - (D90 1/800 f5.3 ISO 320 220mm 70-300)
Seacoast Family YMCA 5K Race – (D90 1/800 f5.3 ISO 320 220mm 70-300)

In terms of gear. My 70-300 VR is doing surprisingly well, but its not ideal.  First its a variable aperture f3.5 at 70mm to f5.6 a 300mm.  It’s a little harder to control since your aperture is constantly floating around depending on your focal length.  I have just decided to let go and try to keep a general eye on it.  My D90 is a DX crop frame, so that’s ideal because I get the equivalent of 450mm out of my 300mm lens (1.5 x 300mm).  Though it would be nice to have more focus points on the D90.  I guess thats why they made the D7000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reduce Spam, fill out the math question below to post your comment. This keeps me from needing to require you to register as a user first, thus making it easy: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.