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10 Ways to Improve your Marathon Photography

Why You Should Be Shooting Marathons

If you’re lacking inspiration and don’t know what to take photos of, then marathons are great opportunities to broaden your photographic horizons. There is such a mixed range of emotions to capture in a challenging setting, it’ll test your skills, but still produce excellent results if you follow these 10 easy steps. Best of all, you don’t have to pay to get in, and you don’t need a pass to bring your camera – so get out there and start shooting!

1 – Consider Location

Location location location, this is by the far the most important step to getting the best photos you can. I recommend finding somewhere where you can shoot with the sun behind the runner; this way you get a nice warm result (see photo below) and the runner isn’t squinting. For capturing the best emotion, go for key points on the route, consider the top of a hill where the runners will be worn out, but feeling triumphant. Corners are also good, because if you’re on the right side of the road, the runners will be much closer to you.

2 – Use A Long Lens

The marathon runners are likely to be quite far away from you so make sure you have a long lens, somewhere in the 70-200mm range should do. If your lens has image stabilization, turn it on; even the slightest movement at the 200mm end of the lens will result in motion blur if your shutter speed isn’t high enough.

3 – Fast Shutter Speed

As a rule of thumb, the average person can take a sharp, blur-free image by setting the speed to a fraction of a focal length. For example, to take a photo at 1000mm, you would set the shutter speed to 1/100 of a second; any slower and motion blur is likely to occur. It’s worth noting however, that this rule is only relevant to full frame cameras. For a crop sensor, due its magnifying effect, you would be better off choosing a speed of 1/160 of a second however, for moving subjects in broad daylight I found that 1/500 was  good speed to use. You may also want to consider a panning effect like in the photo below, which is achieved by taking a photo and moving the camera at the same speed as the subject so that they remain focused, but the background moves. This can be done with relatively fast shutter speeds.

4 – Use Burst Fire Mode

When shooting fast moving subjects, there’s rarely time to stop and review the photos between shots. Shooting in burst mode can be considered a bit of a ‘spray and pray’ technique, but allows you to get as many potentially good shots as possible. You’ve only got one chance to get a photo of someone running past you, so make it count.

5 – Use The Sharpest Apertures

Marathons are a great time to get a detailed, crisp photo of someone with sweat dripping off them, so, to do this, you want to have your aperture at around f/8 – f/11 where the lens will be a

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t it’s sharpest. Consider the crowd at a marathon (of which there’s plenty), do you want them in focus? if not, then you may want to widen your aperture. Personally, I recommend a slightly wider aperture, that way, the whole of the torso is in focus, the crowd is out of focus, and the whole image is still relatively sharp.

6 – Use A Low ISO

Using a lower ISO results in more detailed images, and in broad daylight, there’s no need to have it any higher then the minimum your camera will go. On overcast days however, with a fast shutter, and a relatively narrow aperture, it can be a struggle to not underexpose a photo with a low ISO. On days like these, i recommend upping the aperture to between 200-400.

7 – Change Your Focus Mode

if you camera has an ‘AL Servo’ mode (AF-C for Nikon users), switch to it. This will allow you to continually take photos of a moving subject and remain in focus. in AL Servo mode, the camera tries to measure the motion of the subject and set the focus correct for where it thinks it will be when the shutter opens. It’s not always perfect, but much better then other modes, such as ‘one shot’, for shooting runners.

8 – Careful Composition

With the exception of the finish line and people running in fancy dress, try and stay away from shooting the whole of the body. Shots from the mid torso and up capture the movement and struggle, while still capturing the emotion in the face. Be careful about chopping off the ends of limbs, if you’re going to get most of the arm in the shot, get it all in. Consider the crowd as interesting subjects as well, and try to include them in the photos of runners. Finally, it helps to know who to shoot, as those shots can be worth money.

9 – Monopod

It can get pretty crowded at a marathon, and there’s no way there’s room for you, your camera bag, and a tripod! Monopods will help with vertical stabilization as well as doubling as walking stick between positions on the 26 mile race. They take up much less room then a tripod, are much easier to maneuver and add the small about more stabilization required when shooting at a long focal length.

10 – Be Careful Of Your Surroundings

You’ll be surrounded by people, so there is every possibility that your equipment may not be safe. Try to travel light if possible. You’ll be outside so prepare for rain as well, the weather can turn at anytime; at the very least, carry a bag so that the camera can go away if necessary. Be respectful of the runners by not leaning over the barrier too much into their space, and be aware that they could trip and fall at any time and you and your equipment may well be in the way. 

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10 Ways to Improve your Marathon PhotographyThank you for reading my post, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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Lightroom Presets (v6) by SLR Lounge

I do 98% of my processing with this package, here's why:

    • Over 300 presets to instantly transform your photography
    • Simple video tutorials to make amazing adjustments easy
    • Get that 'professionally processed look' in seconds

Enter 'expertphotog' at the checkout to save $15!

Check Them Out Now!


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2 thoughts on “10 Ways to Improve your Marathon Photography

  1. Brett

    Josh – Thank you for writing this. I’ve volunteered to help shoot a local marathon and was looking for some confirmation about settings/strategies and your article hit the spot. Is there any value in a second body and wide-angle for capturing a “pack” of runners or runners as they pass? I hope to be in a good position, and will have the 70-200 running as my “go to”.

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