Capturing the joy of ParkRun with my camera

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Watch out for thorns and roots" 

Not the warning you want to hear first thing on a Saturday morning as you are about to embark on an unknown running route.  Today, I finally ran my first Park Run. The temperature was creeping up and I was a bit anxious not seeing any familiar faces around me.

Park Run is free weekly timed 5K event run solely by volunteers in the local community. All abilities and ages are welcome (dogs too).  The first Park Run took place in 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington, UK and has since grown into a global mass participation event like no other.  Many of my fellow bloggers are regulars but I have never lived close enough to one to actually go.  That has changed since we moved to Forest Gate in May.  The Wanstead Flats Park Run is close enough for me to walk to so I no longer have an excuse to sleep in on Saturday morning (it is a 9am start).

Two weeks ago, I scouted out my local Park Run by taking photos of the runners. Photography is one of the volunteer jobs and I was happy to help.  My family prides itself on taking great photos and I used to shoot (with my camera, not a harpoon) whales when I worked on a whale watch in the summers. Using the tips I learned from the photography masterclass put on by Curry's, I wanted to do some experimenting but also get great photos of the runners in motion.  Our teacher (Paul, @PhotoCoachUK) had lots of great tips for action shots and I was really please with the results.  Have a look for #LightsCameraCurrys on Twitter to see all of the tips I shared, as well as some of the other attendees photos.

I started off in the woods, with the sun to my back.  I didn't like the background, so I ended up moving to the finish line.  The sun was shining towards me though, so I needed to position myself to avoid the subjects being backlit (when faces look dark/are shadowed because of the light source is behind the subject.  This is one of my pet peeves.).

Photo tips for Park Run and other athletic endeavors:

  • Play of depth of field.  Big number = little hole = big depth of field.  For example, f11 gives you a big depth of field (all runners will be focus no matter where they are in the pack), while f1.8 will has a small depth of field while the foreground and background will be blurry.
  • Achieve movement with 1/15 sec shutter speed and pan with the subject for a blurry background.
  • Alternatively use the 'bulb' setting (leaves shutter open for as along as you press the button) and let subject blur with background in focus.  You might need a tripod (or fence post) or remote control to avoid shaking the camera.
  • Get to know your camera by shooting the same scene on each ISO (which varies the sensitivity to the light. One of the most important features on a camera) to see how images change with different exposures. ISO needed will depend on the environment (shady, sunny, indoors, outdoors) and where your photos will end up (web, print, photo album).
  • Manual setting brings your soul back to photography', but leave the manual focus for filming videos
  • Anticipate what will happen next to get the money shot (for example, leaping over logs, coming out of the woods, racing the person next to you to the finish line, kids running up to their parents at the end).
  • Use people for scale. If there is a big open field, shoot from a ways off with the line of runners to show the openness of the area.

General photo tips from #PhotoCoachUK:
  • For faster uploads and processing, find an SD card with a 10 in the partial circle.  SanDisk is the preferred brand.
  • For portraits, focus on the eyes and follow the rule of 1/3s.
  • JPG quality will degrade every time you save the file.  Keep your original image safe by having other to edit.
  • Overexposure your photos for less post-production & more vibrancy
  • 'Nifty 50' lens is very versatile and affordable.
  • Literally shoot from the hip for fantastic candid shots and to see things at a different point of view. It will make the composition more interesting.
  • Use reflections (on water, windows, mirrors) and shadows as part of your composition.
  • Fill the frame so you don't need to crop the image.
  • Be brave. Be confident. (This is a good rule to follow on runs too!)
  • Women blink more than men, so take a few photos when you have a group of women (my suggestion is n+1 but it is hard to have people be patient for so long).
  • f8 is a good aperture to play with. You can shoot a street scene or get two people in focus.
  • Shoot in color and change to black and white by editing. Otherwise the image is missing a lot of information
  • RAW files are quite large and have a lot of detail. If you are not getting paid for your work, shoot as jpg and simply hand over the files.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from my Park Run. You can see the entire unedited album here with the camera setting for each photo (how fancy is that?). The wonderful thing about digital photography is that you can take 100s of photos while trying to capture the perfect shot. At Park Run, the runners will be whizzing by, so it will be challenging achieve perfect composition in each one.

This is 6 year old Oliver (adorable, eh? I wish I had my camera with me today as he was wearing a GPS watch that was almost as big as his head). Here, I have cropped my original photo of Oliver (where the frame was not 'filled') and used the rule of 1/3s to place him off-center, yet give him an open area to 'run' to.

f5.6, ISO 800,1/2000
I love photos where people are captured in the air.  This woman is flying.  I should have paid more attention while shooting and moved myself to get the man out of the background.  I do like the grass in the foreground, so I left that in when cropping.  Again, note the rule of 1/3s.

f6.3, ISO 1600, 1/4000
By the 2nd lap, the runners were getting used to me snapping away and some offered me a smile at the finish.  This final shot would have been great if I captured his entire shadow.  This is the original photo.

f6.3, ISO 1600, 1/4000

I should 'dodge and burn' the over-exposed sky, but I haven't learned how to do that yet (I do know how from my uni photography class, but only when printing my own black and white photos in a dark room).  Hopefully, Curry's, Joe Blogs, and @PhotoCoachUK will offer a PhotoShop master class soon.

I really enjoyed this #LightsCameraCurrys experience (thanks for letting me coming along, Curry's!) and hope to share my knowledge and abilities with the Park Run community this year.  Keep checking my Flickr account for more photos as I start becoming a Park Run regular.

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