It seems easy enough: hang out at an aid station or somewhere along the course, wait for the runners to come by, then push the shutter. But taking a runner’s photograph during a road race has some added complications. The course is set, and the runner is focused on the task at hand. Any posing that might happen tends to be in-stride as the runners continue their forward momentum. Helpful volunteers are back and forth in front of the camera to hand off fluids to the passing runners. Cars are constantly passing into the frame of the camera causing some additional distracting elements. Finally, the sunlight can also be harsh depending on the time of day and direction of the sun.
This photo of Kimberlee Lafferty was taken from the first aid station of the 2014 Lake Lowell Marathon. Her expression and pose (while in motion) are good, but in order to make it a great race photo, it needs some work.
This is my editing plan. It just looks like a bunch of lines, circles and scribbles, but it is the foundation of how my editing will be handled.
Here's how it all breaks down:
1. I marked off the areas that I wanted to edit. First thing I decided to do was to change the orientation and make it a vertical image. This change in orientation would allow me to crop out a lot of the distracting elements and focus on Kimberlee only.
2. With the crop and orientation complete, the focus was now clear. Unfortunately, there was still an aid station volunteer in the background. The cropping meant he was only partially in the frame. Because he wasn’t doing anything that added to the image, he would have to be removed from the background. One of the more difficult challenges that come from removing elements from an image is that I also have to replace that space with something else. The smaller the section, the easier it is to fill that space. But with the volunteer, there is a large area of spaced that he occupies. I would have to build a portion of the road, trees, and background and make it look natural.
3. I realized that even without the volunteer, there was still a telephone pole coming out from over Kimberlee’s left shoulder, and also other telephone poles further in the distance. Because these were also distractions, they would also have to be removed.
4. From here, I would have to darken up the sky in the background to blend it in with the rest of the image. Darkening the sky would also eliminate the eye being drawn to the brightest section of the image thereby taking away the focus from Kimberlee.
5. With all of the elements in place, I would then have to give the image some pop. The final image would include the addition of contrast, color saturation and vignetting. I also decided to adjust some of the highlights and balance the image a bit more because of the harsh sunlight that was in the scene. The finished image looked like this.
In all, I spent about 5 hours doing all of the editing (with distractions). People don’t usually give any thought to some of the photos that I make, and often think that it’s just a matter of pushing the button on the camera. Seldom does an image come out of the camera ready to be displayed. In most cases, there is some editing, and in some cases, there is A LOT of editing. In the end, it’s about being able to produce an image that will draw people in and in the case of race photography; it’s about making the audience want to be a part of that race the following year.