Pick Your Story, Find Your Location & Make Your Lens Choice

I have been shooting sports professionally since 2002 and for those who know me, understand that at major events, such as the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and the Ironman World Championship, I like to prepare a detail plan and work with a select group of great friends / photographers.  These days it is hard for me to say if they are first great friends or great photographers! We do have fun and get some great shots.

The Sunday morning after the 2005 Kentucky Derby I was standing in line at Starbucks, just like most other mornings and I looked at the New York Times. Above the fold was a fabulous long lens shot of the horses just after they had broken from the gate, my guess it was a 600mm shot.  In reading the credits, the lead photo was by Don Emmert /AFP / Getty. I had met Don at the 2004 World Cup Biathlon in Fort Kent, ME. Needless to say, I bought the paper.

What struck me was that the six photos that the NYT published were by five different photographers. It was at that moment that I clearly understood that no one photographer could fully tell the story.

Fast forward to the 2011 Kona Ironman World Championship –

Below are two photos of Chrissie Wellington taken at almost the same moment! The wide shot is by my good friend and colleague Kerry Yndestad and I took the tight shot of Chrissie. Kerry and I were standing about five yards apart, but the stories are completely different, neither one would be complete without the other.

I knew that I wanted a tight shot of Chrissie, as our plan was to have a fundraising auction for the Blazeman Foundation with autographed prints (FYI – the prints sold out the first morning!).

I was shooting with my Canon 1D Mark IV and my 70–200 IS II and Kerry shot with a Canon 7D and a 16 to 35mm.

Take a look at Kerry’s shot and all of the spectators with holding their cell phone cameras high in the air, getting their own finish line shot of Chrissie.

Pick your story, find your location and make your lens choice.

If you ask me, Kerry had the SHOT OF THE DAY! This shot was the First Wave opening double page spread of the January 2012 Triathlete Magazine.

Let me know what you think!

Triathlete Magazine – 27 Top Photos from 2011

I am pleased an honored that Triathlete Magazine requested and posted my favorite photos from the 2011 race season. I have been extremely lucky to have the opportunity to be at some fabulous venues and work with a great crew.

None of these images would be possible without the my good friends and colleagues, Bob Kupbens, Adam Bettcher, Jacob Gibb, Kerry Yndestad, Matt Moses and my favorite partner in crime – Jon Phillips.

I hope you enjoy the gallery for my 2011 favorite triathlon photos!

We Need A Cover Shot – You’ve Got 20 Minutes!

I have been lucky, I have had a great relationship with the folks at Triathlon Plus magazine in the UK since its inception in May 2009. I am privileged to have seven of their covers.

The pro field at the 2011 Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) was just too good to pass up.  Six weeks after Kona, IMAZ is becoming the last race of the year for pros to validate their next year’s slot at Kona.  It is also become a race of redemption for those athletes who have not done well or finished at the World Championship.

I emailed a copy of the pro start list to Editors at Triathlon Plus and they said they wanted a swim exit shot of Eneko Llanos! Eneko, in addition to being a great guy has had some great performances; unfortunately the 2011 Kona World Championship was not one of them. Eneko had pulled out on the bike course at Kona, but came back two weeks later for a podium at the Xterra World Championship in Maui.

I was thrilled with the opportunity to shoot the cover, however the reality of the course set in quickly. Since the swim is in Tempe Town Lake and the athletes must exit the lake using a set of aluminum stairs, make a sharp turn and then a long run into transition, the chances of even getting into position for the shot I wanted were remote and the morning light was going to be iffy at best.

The solution is simple, do the shot in advance. Through a series of email, Eneko and I planned the shoot for Friday morning. The catch is that Eneko while willing, certainly doesn’t want to impact his race prep!  I promised him, I would make it convenient, easy and we would be done in 20 minutes.

Once again, this sounds easier that it sounds.  The swim exit area of the race wasn’t suitable, so I went looking for pools in the area. The Arizona State University pool is a great facility, but the morning light, which was critical for our planned Friday morning shoot, was poor.  As unlikely as it seemed, I was able to get early access to the pool at the Mission Palms Hotel, which was hosting the race.  The background was not perfect, but my guess was that the morning light would be good.

We had planned to meet at 9:00 on Friday right after Eneko had a breakfast reception to attend. On the way to the pool, I stopped by the reception to do a final check in with Eneko and then I headed to the pool.  I cleared pool furniture out of the way, set up an off-camera fill flash and was even able find someone up by the pool so I can do a couple test shots, so I could identify my ‘sweet spot’ for the shot.

When Eneko arrived just after 9:00, he put on his race kit and wetsuit, we chatted for a minute and then he would jump in the water, get out and run directly toward me for about 5 yards and I would get off a few shots.  After repeating this a few times, I downloaded the low res images to my iPad to check what we had (I never just trust the back of the camera).  We made a few adjustments and did three more series of shots.

Here is what we ended up with! A nice clean shot with the magic of great Photoshop /graphic arts, we have a cover!

It was great fun, but the cover was clearly secondary to Eneko’s performance. 7:59:38, for the win, a course record and the 16th fastest Ironman ever!

Here are a few more shots of Eneko you might enjoy!

Chrissie Wellington Autographed 2011 Kona Victory Photo

Four-time World Champion, Chrissie Wellington has autographed six posters which we are selling on eBay for $125. Each photo, printed on 16 x 24 premium glossy paper and will be shipped in an individual mailing tube.

100% of the proceeds will go to support the Blazeman Foundation to further the research for a cure for ALS.

This is a unique gift for your favorite triathlete and if ordered by December 24th, I will e-mail photo ‘gift card’ that you can deliver on Christmas Day!

The Importance of Biomechanics

I have rules. I don’t have very many; there are just four that I go by every time I shoot. In part these rules keep my mind on what I should be doing and no pun intended, keep me focused. Today’s blog is only going to talk about rule #1, the rest will come in time, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Rule #1 – you truly have to understand your sport!

There are moments of power and moments of grace that show the beauty and elegance of sport and then, well then there are transitional moments that no one needs to see.

Personally, I believe that it is my job to make the athletes look good and I promise each athlete that I will never put up a shot that makes them look bad. If they happen to collapse at the end of the event, that is part of the sport and it displays the intensity of their effort.  Similarly if there is a bike crash and they are back up and riding, ripped race kit and road rash, again it is about their dedication and perseverance. However if they have a wardrobe malfunction, I will not include that it. I am sure others would, but that is just not my style.

At least a basic understanding of the biomechanics of each particular sport is critical in making the athlete look good.  Perhaps the easiest sport to articulate the importance of understanding biomechanics is running, since about three times the athlete’s body weight is transmitted to their feet each time their foot strikes the ground. The force of the impact has a visible distortion of the leanest runner’s body.

The good news is the today’s high frame rate cameras and our ability to shoot in burst of several shots, the odds of getting just the right shot are dramatically increased, that is provided that we can identify that shot when we see it!

Here are a few examples of the difference a 1/10 a second will make.

From the 2011 Arizona Ironman:

The first two shots are of my friend Daniel. Daniel in addition to being a great guy is an elite amateur triathlete.

In the first shot, Daniel is at the top of his stride, shoulders are up and he is smiling! In the second shot, Daniel is at the point of the full impact of his weight and while his left quad shows strength everything else has succumbed to the natural weight transfer inherent in running.

Just looking at Daniel, you can see his legs have the power of a cyclist, on the other hand we also have pure runners.

The lead pack of the 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon is at about the 23-mile mark in the race. In the left image as small and lean as Joseph Mutinda (#10) is, you can still see how his shoulders slope at the bottom of his stride.  In the right image, where his right toe is just about to lift off the ground, he looks relaxed and light. (Mutinda was ultimately second to Sammy Malakwen, in the red).  Malakwen made his move in the next mile and cruised on in for the victory.

I don’t shoot baseball very often and in this situation I was there as a guest. Contrary to my rule #1, I really don’t know a lot about the subtleties of baseball, but I do know that Wrigley Field on a sunny day in May is about as good as it gets.

Here are three images, the wind up, the pitch and well, an awkward moment in the follow through.

For me, the first two images are classic positioning. The concentration and poise of the wind up, the pitcher’s potential energy. The second image is moment of full power, and although the final shot does show the ball just after release, the pitcher’s position is one of those transitional moments that neither displays his skill nor his power.

We have the ability to shoot huge numbers of images and carefully select only those images that best tell the story – choose wisely!

Check back soon for our next post – We Need a Cover Shot – You’ve Got 20 Minutes!

Shoot with Intention

Shortly after the 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon a friend of mine asked me Do you just go around and take random photos?’  I smiled and replied  ‘very little of what we shoot is random.’

It really doesn’t matter if you are shooting on assignment, freelance, as part of an event, or even a portrait – planning is the key!  For 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (MTCM), we had:

  • Six photographers;
  • One photo assistant;
  • One photo coordinator;
  • Four videographers; and
  • Twelve moto drivers.

Clearly, I cannot tell the photographers, hey guys – go get some great shots and see me at the media tent when you are finished!  The odds are we would have had some great shots, but getting what we needed would have been purely coincidental.

Each year for MTCM begins with an early season planning meeting with the marathon director and marketing/ communications department to talk about areas or topics they would like to visually highlight.

From there, I develop an initial shot list and location list. In addition to shooting at the race, I also fill the role of Director of Photography and my job is to make sure that I meet the visual communications needs of my client. Besides, as the great philosopher Yogi Berra said ‘If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else!’ If you want to have a successful shoot and relationship, you must take the time to find out what your client really needs.

Ultimately our 2011 MTCM Photo/Moto Plan was 23 pages long. Not only did our plan include locations, but by necessity also included when the photographer had to arrive, how long should they stay and their preferred routing. Access via moto is critical and each photographer and driver work as a team to get to the right spots, at the right time and without undue stress. This job is supposed to be fun, we love it and believe that our passion shows through in our work.

I pick locations where our photographers will have opportunities to get great shots. Locations with great backgrounds, lighting, and crowds. Locations that will give the runners an opportunity to look good and where there is a probability of something dramatic about to happen. I am not trying to restrict the creativity of our photographers. I am trying to give them the best resources to allow them to do their best work, and as luck would have it, they always do!

Shooting with intention is not only understanding what story you are trying to tell, but also how to tell the story in a manner that will visually engage your viewer – the key question is how!  Some of the questions to keep in mind include, but are not limited to:

    • Is there a local iconic backgrounds that convey the beauty of the venue?
    • Is there an opportunity to put a remote camera in a place where a photographer cannot go?
    • Is there a personality of the event that can be visually conveyed?
    • Is there an emotional presence that will come from the crowd as opposed to from the field of play?
    • Can we use a long lens to make eye contact with the athletes?
    • Will viewing our images encourage people to want to participate in next year’s event, as an athlete, volunteer or a sponsor?

Remember you are telling a story and you want to engage the viewer.

We shot over 16,000 images during the weekend of events (all raw). We delivered approximately 2,600 images to our client. Most importantly we had 3 images for the rotating banner of their home page before the end of the race and approximately 30 captioned high res images available for media download by 6:00 pm. In a later post, I will review my work flow.

Here are just a few images from what was a visually spectacular day.

Medtronic Twin Cities 10 Mile – USATF National Championship

Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

Check back soon for our next post – The Importance of Bio-Mechanics