Making ... Marathon Runners

A painting starts with a blank canvas and from there, out of imagination and perception, the painter builds an image.

A photograph, on the other hand, exists in its entirety before it is made. The photographer watches what is taking place and captures an image. Sometimes that image only appears for the briefest of moments.

This means, to make good photographs, the photographer should have the techniques of the art, and the rules of composition embedded in his memory. They should be so firmly fixed that they become second nature, allowing concentration on the ever-changing sequence of images.

To give an example ... imagine a painter wishing to paint an image of a marathon race. She will watch races, study human form, anatomy and motion, maybe even take photographs to help. But when she sits down to paint she will select what she shows and how she shows it.

The photographer is more constrained. To achieve his image he must select a point from which to make the image, choose camera settings, and make the photograph at an instant when the elements of composition come together ...

When photographing this race I felt that a high viewpoint was necessary to eliminate distractions, and found one as quickly as I could (it was on a fire escape). I decided on a medium telephoto zoom lens (50-200mm) giving me the ability to bring the subject as close as possible if need be, but I ended up using it at 65mm. I switched off the autofocus as, in sports photography you can miss shots whilst the camera is trying to focus. Instead, I focused on the tarmac. I set a relatively fast shutter speed (1/350th sec) shutter speed as I felt I didn’t need motion blur. Runners, particularly if you capture them in mid-air, are obviously moving fast. And I used a medium aperture (f8) to give best lens resolution.

I had to do all that fairly fast as the runners weren’t hanging about. Having done it, that left me free to concentrate on the composition.

Make lots of photographs and get to know your camera well. That leaves you free to concentrate on design and composition.

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