How To Take a Great Triathlon Photo V2013

Now that our Spirit of Triathlon Contest has wrapped up and race season has begun, it is a great time to go over a few of the basics of shooting triathlon. Well not just the basics, anyone can take triathlon photo – all you have to do is look at Facebook on any Monday morning to see thousands of shots from the weekend of races and training. There will be iPhone self portraits, taken at arms length while riding, and shots of spouses 100 meters in the distance appearing as a speck on the horizon. These are all fabulous ways to share an important personal and emotional moment and a great way to remember the day.

However if you are reading my blog, my guess is that your interest is going beyond the snap that looks like everyone else’s shot and want to do a bit more. Whether you are shooting one of the top pros, elite amateurs or your spouse, partner, parent or child, you want a shot that highlights the intensity of the athlete and shows off the beauty of the venue.

My 2013 race season began with the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. It is really a great race, with an amazing pro field in a one of a kind venue. Two weeks later, I was in the Caribbean at the San Juan 70.3, another great field and a great venue. Now I am in between trips to San Diego; first for the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside and next week for the ITU World Triathlon Series events and the USAT Hall of Fame Dinner.

In San Juan, we had the advantage of being able to connect with my friend Ramon Serrano.  Although Ramon is currently living in Miami and working for American Airlines, he was back in San Juan to watch, photograph and offer unending help to whoever needed it.  Having access to Ramon and his knowledge of the locations on the island, I almost felt like I was cheating. Ramon drove us around while I tried to learn the course and gave us some fabulous local restaurant recommendations.

If you follow any of the pro triathletes on Facebook or Twitter you have likely seen some of Ramon’s photos.  He makes it to quite a few events (working for American helps with that) and he works hard to get his shots. While driving around I asked Ramon, whom I officially address as the Prince of San Juan, if he had any photo questions we could talk about. Ramon said, ‘you know, just the usual stuff, ISO, shutter speed, f-stop, angles.

2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

Ramon & Allan Torres at the start of the Ironman 70.3 San Juan ready for their day.

With that in mind – the usual stuff, I thought it would be time to have a review of some of the critical factors in getting a great triathlon photo. Not much new here but think of it as a cheat sheet before you head out to shoot your first race of the season.

The first and critical issue has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with getting the shot! No equipment to lug around, no exposure to worry about! It’s Planning!

Here are a just a few things you must know before you shoot a Triathlon (the day before!):

  1. What time does the sun come up? (Yup, there are is an app for that, lots of them);
  2. What time does the race start?
  3. How many waves are there and what interval will be between waves?
  4. What is the expected swim time for the leader?
  5. If you are following a specific age group athlete (friend or spouse), what time do they start and what is their expected swim split?
  6. What are the locations you can use for the swim start? For the swim exit?  This will vary if you are credential or not credentialed.  Remember, just because you can get access to a certain spot, doesn’t mean there is a good shot there.

The same level of planning is true for the bike and run portions of the course.

  1. What access do you have to the course?
  2. How are you going to get there? By car, by bike, by moto?
  3. What time will the athletes by approaching your shooting location?
  4. Does your location have a great background?
  5. Does your location provide the athletes an opportunity to look good? (If you are shooting the run on a steep uphill, the answer is no.);
  6. How many shot locations can you cover?
  7. What time to you have to be back at the finish line?
  8. If you do not have credentials and finish line access, where else can you tell the story? Even if you do have finish line access, is that the spot to get the best shot?

Now you are probably asking yourself if I do all of this before each race? You bet I do and then some. Since I am often shooting from a moto, I drive the course at least once, as well as meet with my driver. We talk about safety, drafting rules and how I shoot. In addition we work together to find spots on the course where we can get great shots off of the moto.

Now that you have your plan and have it written down, it’s time to think about shooting.

Just think about it at this point – pick your lens, camera bodies, flash – make sure all of your batteries are charged, your equipment is all cleaned and you have plenty of formatted memory cards.  Cleaning it before the last race is not sufficient – clean it again! Nothing frustrates me more than having something on a sensor that I have to edit out of each image.

RACE DAY – I am going to try to keep my suggestions as practical and non-technical as possible, which should be pretty easy to remember.

GET THERE EARLY - At the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, I arrived at the race site at 4:45 AM and the real benefit was that I got Rock Star parking!

SHOOT WITH INTENTION Now repeat it 3 times, Shoot with Intention, Shoot with Intention, Shoot with Intention!  This means you have to be thinking – I know you started the day before Starbucks was open, but still you have to be thinking!

ADJUST FOR THE TIME OF DAY – In the film days we could only change our ISO every 24 or 36 frames and even then our range was very narrow compared to today.  With today’s amazing technology, you can start the day with a fairly high ISO and then work down from there. Depending on the age and level of your camera, you can sometimes start the day at 4000 ISO and be shooting in very low light.  Be sure to check your ISO a least every 30 minutes and decrease it accordingly until the light is relatively constant.

Here is a shot of smiling Heather Jackson getting ready in T-1 shot at 8,000 ISO.

Heather Jackson preparing for her day in sunny Oceanside

Heather Jackson preparing for her day in sunny Oceanside

The Oceanside Venue as the age group athletes are finishing their day

At the end of my day in Oceanside is a venue shot which was at 400.

The good news about high ISO is that you can shoot in situations you never could before, the bad news is that there may be a lot of noise in the image which will need to be cleaned up in Lightroom.

DON’T JUST STAND THERE – As I have mentioned in prior posts, if you are always shooting from a standing eye-level position, you will only be capturing the view that any spectator can see, which is really a pretty mundane view. To make your shots more interesting move around, lie down on your belly for a low angle, stand on a bench for a high angle, or move of the course to provide some additional context.

Here is a low angle shot of Heather Jackson’s coming in to the final stretch. (I love that this girl knows how to celebrate!)

Heather Jackson taking the W - this girl knows how to celebrate!

Heather Jackson taking the W – this girl knows how to celebrate!

Another low angle shot of Mirinda Carfrae in San Juan.2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

PICK THE BACKGROUND AND LET THE ACTION HAPPEN – This is my Rule #4. Avoid visual noise in the background; this includes the porta-potties, rental trucks around the venue, or lots of road signs.

First we have a shot of the chase group at Oceanside with Andy Potts on the hunt, with rolling hills and towering palms as the background.

Andy Potts leading the chase group nearing T-2

Andy Potts leading the chase group nearing T-2

Next is Leanda Cave at San Juan 70.3, riding by one of the few unobstructed views of the ocean.2013 Ironman San Juan 70.3

Here is a shot of the run course rolling through Old San Juan.

2013 Ironman  2013 San Juan

Pros on the run course at the Ironman 70.3 San Juan

CONTROL THE ACTION – I typically shoot shutter speed priority, because I want to control whether I get a clear crisp image or a blurred. If you shoot on any of the automatic settings you have turned over your control to some engineer in a cubicle somewhere in Asia. For bike shots use for a 1/1600th and 1/640th shutter speed on the run for stopping the action; for a panning, use 1/160th or below.

First we have a shot of Andi Bocherer shot at 1/2000th.

2013 Ironman California 70.3

Andi Bocherer leads on the bike at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 California

Here we have Omar Nour riding through the Arabian Desert shot at 1/100th.

2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Omar Nour riding through the Arabian Desert at the 2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

WAIT FOR THE SHOT TO COME TO YOU – Patience is critical, as the athletes are approaching wait until you can tell who they are!  Otherwise, it is really a context shot.

2013 Ironman California 70.3

On his way to his 5th Oceanside win, Andy Potts leads the gang of 4 chase group.

SHOOT IN BURSTS – Shoot in bursts of 3 to 5 shots and then ultimately use the image that shows off the maximum intensity and the best biomechanics.

NEVER LET THEM SEE THE BAD STUFF – Keeping in mind that that photons are free, it is easy to get carried away and shoot a thousand or more images in a single day. At a typical long-distance race, I shoot around 4,000 (all raw files).  Edit brutally and never let anyone see the bad shots.  Take a look at my early blog post about optimizing work flow.

Follow me on Twitter @CompImagePhoto and see our #PhotoOfTheDay and some handy advice!

Now go out, shoot and have fun!

Cheers,

Paul

8 thoughts on “How To Take a Great Triathlon Photo V2013

  1. Hi there Paul,
    Always good to get some info on taking a good tri picture. Your article mentions set to shutter priority and suggests shutter speeds for certain shots but no mention of f stop / aperture settings. Can you provide some info? Thanks

    • Hi Anne-Marie and thanks for your interest!

      I can’t share everything in one post :-)!

      Instead of thinking in terms of f-stops, think in terms of having an appropriate depth of field. If it is too narrow at your desired shutter speed, increase your ISO. If it is too wide, you can decrease your ISO and/or increase your shutter speed.

      I will do a future post on shooting priorities and how your thinking has to change with each.

      Cheers,

      Paul

  2. Pingback: Keeping Your Priorities Straight | Competitive Image

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