This morning I was a contract shooter for a company that photographs triathlons. This was a big event – over 3,400 women athletes participating in the swim / bike / run race sponsored by Danskin (they’ve been doing this for 20 years now).
This also marks the first time I’ve shot JPEG in probably 8 years (and likely the first time my 1DMk2 has ever been in JPEG mode!) and possibly the most my flash has ever been used. I shot over 1,700 photos in 4 hours (which is probably low compared to others on the photo team) and while it is embarrassing to say considering what the athletes were going through, it was pretty intense as a photographer and I think I sweated several pounds off today. (I also have no idea how well I did because they keep all of the photos — a bit nerve-wracking.)
The challenge, for me, is one that photojournalists deal with all the time and my respect for their ability to pull that off on a daily basis could not be higher. I normally shoot in RAW mode, which has numerous benefits but has one significant drawback: it demands a certain amount of post-processing (using a program like Lightroom or Aperture). When you have 8 shooters and 3,400 subjects that equals a potential 10-20K images that need to be processed at the end of the event — so they are counting on the photographers to deliver “finished” images in the camera: exposure, composition, and white balance.
When one shoots RAW and expects to do some post-processing you can be a bit more cavalier about some things. White balance is one thing that I NEVER worry about in the field — that’s something I consider to be thought about and chosen later. I’m usually pretty picky about the exposure, but composition kind of sits in the middle: there are times when I know I’m going to crop the photo later on so the composition in the camera isn’t as important. (I also don’t think about whether or not the image fits nicely in an 8×10 frame.)
Interestingly, many of these disciplines of getting the white balance and other aspects of the image nailed down are still required for video. Until we all get the equivalent of a RED camera (which is probably only a 2-4 years away) that shoots RAW video, it’s very costly to not get all aspects of the shot right in the camera.
With all that said, if you want to sharpen your action photography skills I can highly recommend trying to photograph a race (say a finish line or some other discrete event). When the goal of having full-frame individual photos of each participant comes up against 8 athletes arriving more or less at the same time, you learn how to prioritize, frame, and shoot very quickly. While your pulse may not be the same as someone finishing a half-mile swim, you’ll probably be burning some calories. Add in that there’s no “RAW crutch” and there might even be a little sweat fogging up the eyepiece.
Anyway, my camera is safely back in RAW mode and after I clean off the beach sand and sweat stains it’ll be back to my comfortable shooting practice. But it was certainly fun to have to perform “out of my element”, if only for a few hours.
And to the 3,000+ women who ran today’s Danskin triathlon: you are all amazing.