Saturday, 20 November 2010

Runners World Photoshoot (November)

Here is some behind the scenes of a photoshoot for a running magazine.

Runners World is a Magazine I regularly shoot for. They usually call me up for any portrait of someone they need or if there is a big race that fits in their magazine that they need some shots for
At the end of this post I shall attach some of the videos of shoots I have done in the past.

Ps feel free to print this out and have it as toilet reading material.
(none of the photos in this blog are the final edited shots, these are all the Out-of-Camera images, only the editor of the magazine will get the Edited versions)
This week I get my email and it reads like this:

 Hi Dom, are you available to take a full body portrait of a runner in Glasgow, this Sunday14th november, or Sunday 21st at 9.30am or Wednesday 24th November. Would need lights for outside portrait to keep in style with other shots I'm getting around the country.

 Also a guy in Edinburgh who is off wotk on Monday 22nd November and available but could do a weekend if necessary for the same article.

I email back saying sure no problem and call up the two runners who he wants me to shoot and I arrange to do it this weekend (as soon as possible)
The Editor emails me back before i go to do the shoot and gives me some more details of the look that he wants to get from the photos.

I open my email

Hi Dom,
Just thought I'd let you know that the runners you are due to shoot are for a feature about breaking a time barrier in their next marathon.
So I'd like to see some images of them looking determined with arms folded or on hips from a 3/4 view gazing past the camera into the distance looking suitable stoic like the old Russian constructivist posters of the noble worker.
If you shoot from a crouching position you could get a dramatic sky in the pic. With this pose I'd like to see them lit from one side to create dramatic shadows
But can you also take some nice lit straight on pics with them looking at the camera, looking confident just in case the other photographers who are doing the other people don't quite come through with what I want on the first idea.
In all cases, I need them looking determined and confident, not mean and moody.

This is brilliant, I have got a look that he wants me to get. Many many times for magazines I get asked to take the shots but not given an idea of what they want and I have to just guess, so this is nice and helps me focus the look of the shots that I am wanting to get for the magazine.

One slight problem is that the last 4 days it has been terrible weather, freezing cold, bitting wind, and lots and lots of rain!  Those ingrediants do not make a happy model, and generally at this time of year it is overcast making getting dramatic looking sky a touch difficult, but that is where flash comes in handy.

Amazingly on both the Saturday and the Sunday the weather settled down and stopped blowing at gale force 10.  I went along to meet the first runner Hamish and I met up with my assistant Gamma. It was still cold so this kind of shoot has to be fast.  We need two types of shots, normal jogger shots (in action and standing straight on) and then also dramatic, strong, high contrast shots,  and I need to set this up shoot it and have it packed up in 15 minutes so the model runner does not die of hypothermia as they also have to be in their running gear which does not consist of all that much.
I give Gamma the Fuji S5pro with the 50mm f1.4 and set it up so it is firing the Nikon sb900 flashes automatically, all ttl sync'd with the camera and I keep the Nikon D300 and shoot with the wide angle
The shoot with Hamish is at 10.45am and in Scotland in november that means the sun is already setting!
Well not really but it is still very low in the sky as it just doesn't get very high up. So any shot where the sun was going to be popping out from behind a cloud it was going to give me cool looking (not cool as in blue) directional light. Which I would try and use as either a main light or a rim light or a full on back light depending on the angle and brightness.
Hamish was there spot on time, and quickly we went into the Meadows (a big Edinburgh Park in the city) and stood at a part where we were just at the edge of the shadow line of the trees.

Even before I have got all my kit ready or asked the model runner to strike a pose or get in a position I will blast out a shot or two and see what exposure I am getting. In the olden days you would set up fully, get a light meter out, meter the background, meter the subject adjust camera settings then take a posed photo.
But with the joy of digital photography you can take a shot straight away check it on the back of your screen and instantly adjust your settings. As this shoot was asking for a look with dramatic sky the job is to under expose the ambient light.  This makes the runner totally underexposed as well which is not a good look so I make sure my flashes are getting triggered from my camera. I am using the Nikon D300 which allows me to fully control the external flashes with the pop-up flash on the camera.

here you can see that the flash is firing so thats me happy.

Next I will point the flash to the runner but this is just to check that all the settings are working

happy with that I then ask the runner to look to the right of the camera (at my assitant) to give the "looking into the distance" look the Editor had wanted.

Now with the nikon sb900 flashes you have the ablility to zoom in the flash, here it was zoomed in to almost 200mm meaning that the only top part of the runner was lit.  My question to myself is, "do I like that?"

maybe I do but not for this shot. here I am seeing all the way down to his feet and it does look a little like there is a police man shining a light in his face so I am going to un-zoom the flash, move it a little closer and also get myself closer so that we are not seeing his socks and shoes.  Lighting from the sun i am very happy with , it is giving a nice rim / back light on his right hand side and is also an point of interest in the background

Some times you have to make sure your flash and your camera are checking, The chimping I do (chimping meaning looking at the back of your camera everytime you take a shot) is to make sure that they have communicated correctly and fired at the same time.
That shot really needed the flash to go off so time for a second shot.
Ah the tiny movement of either Hamish or myself and the sun is now popping from behind his ear like a big orb of bling!  have to so a slight adjustment and get it so the sun is properly behind Hamish.

Thats better.

With the runner not being an official model some simple directions are required. to keep him looking strong and confident there are really only two poses needed arms crossed (but that can seem a little aggressive) or hand on hips.
There aint going to be any hands in hair, hands touching face, pouting lips poses.

Thats the kind of shot I was expecting to get.  a wide angle shot from slightly below giving an empowering look to Hamish. A underexposed image giving a dramatic sky. The sun behind Hamish giving the look of Hamish again being powerful and blocking out the sun yet it gives him a golden halo especially around the back of his arms. flash off to camera left pointed in with no umbrella giving strong dramatic shadows.


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The next shoot was in Glasgow. I called the runner Ruth and told her I would be through at around 10am. I got up at 8am and went along to pick up my assistant Gamma at 9.10.  Driving from Edinbrugh to Glasgow on a quiet Sunday morning should be no more than a 40 minute drive.  However my GPS managed to take me on a bit of a detour (an extra 20 miles of motor way which had a 40mph speed restriction and average speed cameras all the way along! very very annoying.  Finally we get into Glasgow and the GPS says you have arrived, I look at the street name and it is not the street name I typed in! I should just have bought a map!

Fortunatly the Runner was not far away and two minutes later after a quick call we were then following her to her local park where she does her training.
The late arrival has proved beneficial as now there is a bit of blue sky and if I look hard enough there is  a tiny bit of sun starting to peak out from behind a cloud.

We are taken to a park which had a pond in it which had a few swans.  I am sure the pond is beautiful in the summer but at this time of Autumn / Winter it is just a black leaf ridden hole.
no a better location is actually along the path where she jogs. This is falling into the same sitation as the first shoot, we are just on the edge of the shadow line from the trees. Quickly I set up a flash and just take a shot of the location to judge the exposure level.
Too right, I need to get the sky in. So again I deffinitly need the flash.

I change the settings and although the forground is dark and there is little details in the trees the sky is starting to come back in to the image.

But there is a problem. being the time that it is on a sunday, there are now a lot of people using the park, taking their dogs for walks and generally strolling around.  After a previous shoot where a dog pee'd on my bag I put it up on one of the chairs in the park.
so might not want to shoot in this direction, also there is a bin in the background, not cool.

So we do a little turn around and have Ruth standing more in the park, not by the path.
 Here she will be looking into the direction of the sun.  This makes shooting a bit better as the background is still dark clouds so less exposure compensation is needed.

Now i just need to make a quick white balance change so that it is not all nice and warm but more serious, bringing the wb temp from 7thousand down to 5000k helped

But the image itself is dull.  I am going to bring in the flashes again. One to camera right and another to camera left (behind the model, shooting towards the other flash, giving a cross flash look)

I am happy with this look. so now i just do a couple more shots, working on the angle and location of the model in the photo as you have to think what the magazine might want, and they may want your photo to be the main picture a 2 page spread if so then having the model at the side  and then text can be put on the other side.

Right that is enough of this. More details of the camera settings and flash settings will be put in the  up coming book.


  1. Hi Dom

    Really like the post and video.

    When you say, "I am using the Nikon D300 which allows me to fully control the external flashes with the pop-up flash on the camera."

    How does that work exactly?


  2. via the nikon cls system. i guess ill have to make more videos on that

  3. hey -
    i really like your work!
    Making clean and high quality, I love the way you view the main object in the picture - no wonder you work for high-quality magazines.
    Excellent blog!

  4. Loved reading this. As a newby photographer it's great to be able to follow you through the whole process from the first e-mail you received. More like this please.