Preparing for Photography Coverage at a Marathon Event
Shane Brown-Daniels, Official Photographer (assigned by Brightroom, Inc.) for the Reggae Marathon & Half Marathon held on December 1, 2012 in Negril Jamaica.
Marathons have a thrill of excitement with hundreds or even thousands of participants. There’s much to capture with your camera at Marathons, especially if you are assigned to cover the event.
People are psyched up, and love to do their antics that express their unique personality or even their team’s. There may even be a pre-race ceremony with all sorts of performing arts to boost runners.
As a photographer covering the event, you definitely need to be prepared because there will usually be no space for charging a battery or borrowing a lens filter. All pieces of D-SLR equipment need to be carefully and sensibly put together.
Equipment Needed for Photography Coverage of a Marathon
Even an entry level D-SLR is good for Marathon Coverage. It may even be better on some counts to use a D-SLR with a crop sensor which gives some amount of magnification.
A D-SLR like the Canon 7D or the Nikon D7000 are great D-SLRs for action and sports. They have a number autofocus (AF) points and a fast burst rate in continous shooting mode (i.e. shutter lag is very minimal) among a number of practical features for action photography.
Equipment for Covering the Finish Line
Depending on what aspect of the race event that you’ll cover, there are particular pieces of equipment and accessories that you may need to have ready.
For instance if you are covering the finish of the race, you’ll need a tripod, a standard zoom lens, a flash unit, filters and even a remote trigger.
Not to mention an standing umbrella (for your shade) and chair since you’ll probably be at that single post for hours!
You could even add to your equipment kit a telephoto zoom lens to get some closeup shots.
Equipment for Coverage on the Course
If you’re on the racecourse, you will need a telephoto zoom lens of a at least a focal range of 70-200mm with a maximum aperture of f/2.8.
However, you can use telephoto zoom lenses of greater focal range which will naturally have smaller maximum apertures. Typically, the telephoto zoom is the only lens that you may need, but it’s always good to have a wide angle lens in your possession.
Furthermore, having two D-SLRs on your person may be most efficient, preventing you from having to change lenses. Even lightning-fast-lens-changing-photographers may miss a great shot in the midst of their lens interchange.
Telephoto Zoom -- 70-200 mm f/2.8
Basic Accessories Needed
Lens filters, e.g. neutral density filters, may also be wise to have along with you especially if you’ll be shooting on a bright and sunny day. Exposure can be a tricky thing to get right in varying conditions on marathon day -- and you need to get it right fast. Lens filters can help to cut down ambient light by a couple f-stops making it easier for you to get a good exposure.
A flashgun is also a necessity if you’ll be shooting in the dark -- whether early morning or in the night. Flash is generally not allowed in sporting events, but in an extreme situation of shooting in the dark, it may be exempted.
A monopod is essential if you’re shooting on the racecourse especially if you’re shooting in the center of the course. A monopod will be an advantage in several ways -- helping you handle the camera steadily to avoid camera shake, saving your arms and shoulders from strain. The design of the monopod is non-obstructive and is easier to move around in comparison to a tripod.
Backpack and Modular Systems
As you can see, you don’t need a whole bunch of equipment for covering a marathon, but they can be a burden on you if you don’t have a proper carriage system. After all, you’ll be shooting for hours -- at times even non-stop! You definitely need to be comfortable and have the ability to move quickly and easily with everything.
A backpack with an easy access is excellent, such as the Lowepro fastpack models. A modular system is a good choice as well, for e.g. the Lowepro S&F Modular System. A photographer’s vest can be an addition to the modular system or separate and apart. These are basic means to carry around your equipment. A shoulder bag is definitely a no-no, and will be a burden and strain on you -- unless it is very light.
Don’t forget to charge all your batteries and spares!
Quick Shooting Tips
- Use AI Servo Mode which is a special focusing mode for moving subjects.
- Use a minimum shutter speed of at least 200-250. You may need to increase that speed depending on the conditions of the day.
- Shoot in JPEG. Typically you’ll be shooting thousands of photographs. RAW files can be a ‘pain in the neck’ in this instance because they are not only huge, but require post processing.
- Shoot in Auto White Balance, unless you are in a situation where you definitely need to change settings, for instance in the middle of the day when the sun is ultra hot, you may choose Daylight white balance settings. But typically Auto WB does the job quite well.
- Use evaluative of center weighted metering. Spot metering requires too much of a specific focus for fast shooting.
- Shoot in Aperture Priority of Program mode. Aperture priority allows you to keep a constant aperture so that you can nullify noisy background with blur as if you shoot at f/2.8. Program mode automatically selects aperture and shutter speed settings dynamically.
- Frame runners/walkers consistently.
These are not rules but basic guidelines. As you develop your skills, you may tweak a number of these suggestions, or even go otherwise such as shooting in full Manual mode.
The action is heavy at a marathon, and there are tons of unplanned happenings within the race. Some persons may even stop to dance with a volunteer instead of taking a refreshing drink from her. Some folk may be well over 80 years old and doing their thing. There’s a lot to see and capture.
Be prepared with your equipment, keep hydrated and happy shooting!