Trail Racing at Night

Yesterday, after my own 20 mile run, I headed out to Mule Shoe Bend on Lake Travis, near where the Pedernales flows in, to photograph the . Well, flows when water actually exists. Not this year in Texas.

Anyhow, This was an interesting challenge. Take pictures of a small band of runners as they travel 37.2 miles across rocky terrain. In very little light. While being safe. Make them interesting.

My first task is usually location scouting, where to find a good place to be while the runners come at me. Joe Prusaitis told me of a little rise with a good rock outcropping to get runners coming down. Allright step one complete.

Next, get the runners at the start of the race. This was different because I captured them within the first half mile of their journey, so there were more clumps of runners than normal trail conditions. Once I got them running. I knew I could return to my little outcropping to setup my lights for their return loop.

I wanted a strong front light with a big lighting zone so that I could get the runners as they moved through my area. I also wanted to add some “moonlight” with a strobe coming from high, angled down with light blue gel to it. This would help light up the area of movement as well.

Everything up to this point was good.

Threw on a Wide to Normal f2.8 Zoom and let the shooting begin. So long as there was some ambient light left I was ok, I could still track runners with AI Servo Mode. And most importantly, I wasn’t blinding runners as they tackled a tricky downhill section.

Then the ambient dropped to darkness. Focus wouldn’t Follow runners.

Lights were a little strong for the runners.

Josh learned his lesson.

So how do you take pictures at night, of trail runners, while maitaining safety, with 1/250th or greater shutter speed, and make them interesting?

Hmmm. Not sure. Some Form of Continous lighting? Leica Noctilux f0.95?

Holler if you know the answers to this question cause I am stumped so far.


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  1. Hey Josh,
    I came across your site after having met Rick at the 2010 Bandera 100K race. Anyways, great work incorporating some strobes into sports event photography. I think you might be able to get away with dropping the shutter a few stops (from the 1/250 you mentioned) to take in the ambient (as it gets darker) and depending on what lights you’re using, the flash duration should be fast enough to freeze your subject. As per focusing when its fairly dark, I’d recommend prefocusing on a certain spot of the section your photographing and as the runner hits that spot nail a couple of quick shots. Check out this image I shot during last years Bandera 100K:

    It’s shot at iso400, 10 second, f4, with two strobes at 1/2 power to freeze the runner. I know in event photography you can’t leave the shutter open that long since, you won’t know when they are coming and you may miss other runners immediately following. I checked out yours shots on enduro and they are pretty sweet. Maybe once the ambient drops too dark, turn on the portable generator and power up some cheap shop lights : ).
    Hope to see you out there some time…

  2. Guy, thats a sweet shot you posted. Diggin on your portfolio as well.
    The problem at the trail race was I was concerned about being in an area where I might blind the runners. Any flash at dark in the location I was in could be detrimental to the runner.
    I like your runner shot, I will have to try that out sometime.

    We had a guy at Bandera this year with a generator and some studio strobes with modeling lights on, but I am not sure how much I want to pack into the wilderness. At Bandera, Carrying my battery flashes, stands, food and water 2 miles into the course was bad enough:)

    Thanks for the post

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