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Early runners at the Grove City Mother's Day 5KCurious what it takes to photograph a running race? Today I’m going to take a behind the scenes look at what some of the planning looks like, the race itself, and the hours after the race.

I’ll use the most recent Mother’s Day 5K Inclusion Revolution race held in Grove City, Ohio as the source for this behind-the-scenes look. Jeffrey Tadlock Photography was a proud sponsor for this event. I’m always happy to see 5K races take place in the local community. In addition this local race partnered with Team Heart and Sole to help those with disabilities participate and raised money for KidSMILES and awareness for Mt. Carmel Foundation Women’s Health Fund.

Preparation

There are several areas of prep prior to a race. That ranges from communication prep, how many photographers to adequately cover the event, and the gear itself. I’ll take a look at each of those areas.

Communication

There were two major forms of communication I prepped prior to the race. First, the fliers to include in the race bags. The purpose of those was to help let participants know there were going to be race photos and where they should watch to see when they posted.

The fliers were designed about two weeks before the event and shared the web page where the photos would be announced and posted. Social media information for Jeffrey Tadlock Photography was also included on the flier.

The web page had to be completed by the time the race bags were distributed. Prior to the race the page noted the photos would be announced and posted there. The web page also allowed people to either follow the Jeffrey Tadlock Photography Facebook page or register for an email list where announcements of photo availability would be made.

Photographers

It can take a lot of photographers to fully cover an event without missing too many shots.

There are a surprising amount of photo opportunities at a race. There are pre-race photos as people arrive and get ready for the race. The Mother’s Day 5K also had two preliminary races – the Mother’s Day 100 and the Primrose Children’s run – prior to the main event starting. And don’t forget Stinger was there to hang-out as well!

There is also the start of the race to capture as the runners take off, as well as photos from the actual race course as the participants make their way along the course.

As the runners return there are finish line photos to capture. As the participants move past the finish line they claim their medal and can visit the recovery stations. In addition the Mother’s Day 5K includes a banner for post-race photos of proud finishers!

For this event we covered the race with a total of three photographers. Prior to the race we reviewed who was covering what areas and portions of the race. When the race is a shorter 5K, clear understanding of who was doing what (and when) is important or important shots could be missed.

Gear - wheelchairs all lined up before the raceGear

Whenever you see a photographer at a race, they typically have a bag of gear slung over their back. Ever wondered what we’re carrying in those bags? Let’s break it down.

In general we’ll have a lens more appropriate for before the race or after the race. For the course photos we’ll use a longer lens (i.e. a zoom lens) to get closer shots of the participants. And in the medals area and the backdrop it is back to the wider lens to capture those images.

In addition – as professionals, we will generally have backup camera bodies and lenses in the event of hardware failure. If I am out on the course and have a camera body fail, the runners and walkers aren’t going to wait – so a spare camera body allows a quick swap of hardware and the images are still captured.

Digging into specifics a little more – here’s what I had with me on race day to capture images and protect against equipment failure.

  • Camera body (primary)
  • Camera body (spare)
  • 35mm lens (preferred for pre and post race)
  • 70-200mm lens (for course photos)
  • 18-55mm lens (spare)
  • 70-300mm (spare)
  • 2 memory cards in main camera (protects against one failing)
  • 1 memory card in spare camera
  • 2 spare memory cards in backpack
  • 1 extra battery for each of the camera bodies
  • Rain covers and large plastic bags

As you can see by that gear list, I strive to protect against a myriad of potential issues by having the tools I need on hand to ensure the photos that need captured are captured.

And finally – we also partnered with Epic Image Media for some drone shots at the start of the race! So the team also had drones packed up and ready to fly as part of the gear (as well as a FAA Part 107 drone certified pilot).

The Race

As pre-race photos wrapped up the timeline became more critical. We had to be in position for the race start (one photographer), get a drone ready to be in the air for the 5K start (another photographer), and get out to the course to be setup for the course photos before the 5K started (another photographer).

We kept one photographer near the Start/Finish line to capture the events unfolding there – including the speakers on the stage prior to the start. I stayed near the start of the Mother’s Day 100 run – with a golf cart available to me to help me make a quick exit to the course. Our drone pilot/photographer began setting up to be in the air for the 5K start as the Mother’s Day 100 run concluded.

Mother's Day 5K race photo - Grove City, OhioWhen the 5K started we had one photographer at the Start, one with the drone in air for those early shots, and one photographer positioned out on the course. Everything went according to plan and we were ready when the race started.

Once the runner and walkers were completely underway, the start/finish photographer had ample time to get ready for the first finishers.

The drone was brought back to a safe landing so that photographer could fall back to the medals area. The backdrop turned out to be a very popular spot and he was kept quite busy as the finishers made their way across the finish and collected their medal, water, and bananas.

I was positioned on the course to capture both the out and back runners and walkers on the course. That made for some interesting moments as I flipped between sides as the faster runners were on their way back while walkers were still on their way out! I remained on the course from the first runner to the last walker. Once the last walker went by, I took advantage of the golf cart to get back to the Start/Finish line to help capture some candid shots in the medal area.

After the Race

With the race completed, the line for the portrait area gone it was time gather up the images from the three photographers cameras and get started on the edits for all three. That involved gathering memory cards where appropriate and ready for Google Drive links to gather the others.

By late afternoon on Sunday I had all of the photos in-hand and had already started the early edits on the course photos. Edits consisted of some cropping of an image, alignment, and fixing exposures. When there are as many photos as we had from three cameras – this can take some time!

My upload strategy was to divide the race into five main areas:

  • Pre-5K Race Photos
  • 5K Start
  • Course Photos
  • 5K Finish
  • Post-Race

I know as a runner sorting through a large number of images can be daunting when I am looking for ones of me and my family! I thought the division of photos would make it easier to find images as people were looking for them. It also allowed me to upload in chunks as images were edited.

As the images were uploaded and made available I updated the landing page that was shared on the race bag flier and announced on the Jeffrey Tadlock Photography Facebook page. Once all of the images were available their release was also announced via the Mother’s Day 5K email list, website, and Facebook page.

Wrap Up

Behind the Scenes Photo - Jeffrey Tadlock PhotographyAnd that’s it! That is an overview of what goes into a successful day of photography at a running event such as a 5K. From the initial planning, the preparation, the action during the race, and the post-race processing. Everything scales up as the races get bigger!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes glimpse of capturing photos at a 5K!

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