The aim of the day was not necessarily just to improve the technical skills of the photographers – correct exposure, getting things in focus etc – but to alter and add to the type of pictures that get taken. Brownbacks’ photographers are already pretty good at the focus and exposure stuff. But they’d become a bit locked into just getting close-up shots of single racers. The type of pic that the racers themselves like to see of themselves. The trouble with these sort of pics is that they’re not all that interesting to other people. They don’t give a feel of what the racing, or the location, or the vibe of the event is. This is what I was tasked with doing.
There would also be a lesson in image analysis and post-processing stuff done once the racing was over. Nothing too complex as the emphasis would be on improving and speeding up the photographers’ workflow and getting good results in as reasonably a quick time as feasible.
Come race day I arrived pretty early on so I could grab hold of a copy of the course map and have a scout around to find three or four good photo spots. One of the points that I tried to get across to my ‘class’ is that having a plan is the most important thing. Don’t just turn up (just in time) to the race and hurriedly rush around trying to shoot as much as possible. Aimless activity results in poor pictures. It’s far better to be much more selective. Don’t try to shoot everything as you’ll end up missing everything. Choose fewer locations and make better use of them.
To take pictures that illustrate what the event is like we needed to find suitable locations. Locations that illustrated the essence and variety of the race course. Brownbacks’ courses are known for being ‘proper’ race courses. Berms, rocks, rubble, sheep-track, jumps, fire-road slogs, pump tracks even! The courses are hard but entertaining. We discussed what makes a Brownbacks race a Brownbacks race and listed potential trails/terrains that we should make sure we capture.
And when it comes to firing the shutter button, take fewer pictures but make what pictures you do take count. Try not to worry too much about trying to get a photograph of every single racer. You’ll get more than enough racers snapped. If we try to make the pictures interesting in their own right then everyone’s entertained, even the handful of racers who escape our shutters.
So we found three definite photo spots that we’d use during the race and a fourth one was shortlisted as a potential if we got all we needed to get at the other three spots. These locations covered a variety of different trails and terrain. With each of the locations we then tried to find two or three different viewpoints. Basically: racers coming at the camera, racers going away from the camera, looking down on the racers from above. If you break it down then we actually had a total of about eight guaranteed viewpoints. Which is quite a lot. But because they’re plotted and planned out it doesn’t feel as scattershot or manic as trying to think about finding eight different spots on the course to get around during the race.
With a list of locations (and viewpoints) done we then allocated time-slots for each of them. Prime racing time was going to last about 90 minutes so we gave each photo spot twenty minutes, making sure spent a minimum of five minutes with each viewpoint. Five minutes of solid, considered shooting at each spot. This allowed time to get from one location to the other, stopping to take any incidental pics that we saw en route (it’s always a good idea to get some pics of non-racers, marshals and spectators for example). On this timetable we should be able to get to the finish line at a good time to get some finish line shots and candid post-racing pics.
Once racing was underway I was on hand with a few pointers – keep the shutter speeds high, try to avoid tilting the camera too much – but fundamentally the photographers executed The Plan very well.
When trying to get decent photographs you need to plan. You need to assign yourself a remit. You need to restrict and limit yourself in order to get quality results. Don’t machine gun your shutter at everything in sight and hope that you hit something. You need to have a list – a worryingly short list – and you need to make sure you get to the bottom of this list. You need to stop rushing around, even when time is tight.
Having a plan is far more important that having a shiny new lens or tripod. It’s planning that is the mark of a professional photographer, not the size of his camera.