How to take good race pictures

Dan and I have competed in countless races since we met.  Ok, more Dan than me, but I have done my share of races!  It wasn’t until this year that I started taking pictures of races professionally. 

I showed up to my first race telling the other photographers how much better I am than most of the ones that have shot Dan’s races professionally.  Boy was I wrong.  I had no clue how hard it was.  Shooting just a few athletes/race is not the same as shooting 15,000 athletes.  Also, professional races are usually capped at about 70 people, so I had fewer people to dodge to find a good shot of my target.

Now that I’m shooting with the professional groups I realize how much more challenging it is to try to get one shot of each athlete when they are coming at you in packs of 50.  As I was shooting the Denver Rock n’ Roll Marathon last weekend I was thinking about what people were doing to get good pictures and I compiled a list.

1.  Photographers are usually seated or crouched on the ground, look down to try to find them.
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2. Check out the pictures from last year, usually photographers go to the same locations year after year, so if you look at last year’s pictures you’ll have an idea of where you need to smile.

3. Start posing as soon as you see the photographer.  Photographers often use long lenses (200 to 300 mm lenses) so if you pose close up it’s too late!

4.  Take long strides.  Great action shots are made when your feet are off the ground (and you look like you are running super fast!)
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5.  Run to the side of the pack.  Photographers are often posted on the curb of a road so if you are in the middle of a pack we can’t see you.
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6. If you are right behind someone move to the left or the right, we can’t see you if you are running on the shoulder of someone else.
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7.  Wear your bib on your stomach and make sure you don’t cover it up with a jacket tied around your waist or with your arms as you text on your phone (true story!)

8. Wear something interesting.  We couldn’t help but notice the Elvis, the bee, and all of the people wearing sparkly shirts and tiaras and tutus.
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9.  Do something interesting (but read #3 first).  One woman was eating a bag of chips as she was doing the marathon.  Not sure if she’d want to frame that picture but we definitely got one of her!  Most people waved, smiled big, did a big victory sign etc. Those people caught both of our attention and probably got a great picture.

10. Like penguins, photographers often travel in packs so if you see one, there is probably another one near by.  Also, most big races hire many photographers, so if you miss one shot you’ll probably catch the next set of them.

So, these are my top ten.  What are your tips for a great pro race photo?