Lessons learned from my latest trail running shoots

Recently I have been working on a series on “real” trail runners, not the uber fit elite racers that are usually shown in advertising, but the everyday people who just enjoying going out and getting their feet dirty that make up the majority of trail runners.

In the last two weeks I was able to get out for two shoots, one with Mike Tennent, who is running 52 half marathons (mostly trail runs) in 52 weeks to raise money for Hospice ( The other shoot was with Kate Townsley and Shannon-Leigh Litt. Kate is starting up a sports wear Print My Hoodies clothing and working as a school teacher and Shannon-Leigh is actually an upcoming elite racer who has won the 100 km Great Nasby Water Race, and this year’s NZ 100km championships.

For both of these shoots I had pre visualised what I wanted to capture but ran into a few technical difficulties on each shoot. Since I wanted to have more control of the lighting, I wanted to use strobes as a light source and balance it with the ambient light and that is where I ran into my first problem. For my shoot with Mike, I packed my bag the night before, but forgot to double check all my cords. When we finally got to the location, that was a twenty minute hike from the trailhead and about 30 minute drive from my house, I realised that my sync cord to plug my pocket wizard into my quadra ranger kit was with my studio lights back at home. Fortunately, I did have my speed light and the sync cord for that, and since it was still early in the morning and the light was not too bright, I was able to achieve what I wanted by setting my flash to full power and having him run very close to it.


For the photo shoot with Kate and Shannon-Leigh, I did double check all my cords and now have a separate sync cords in each of my lighting bags. For this shoot I had to work to their schedule, since they were both from out of town and were only available after work it was going to be a late afternoon/evening shoot. I wanted to do something in the Redwoods with them and try to do some shooting through the trees of them running the trails. I did not pre-scout the area, since I knew the trails so well and didn’t realise how dark it was in the trees at that time of day. So when we got there I quickly had to change my plans for the shoot to take advantage of the more open areas and we ended up shooting the second location by shining the headlamp that they had brought along a section of trail to allow the autofocus to work and then hiking out in almost total darkness.


So the two lessons I learned is to always double check all your gear and to make things easier, write up a standard checklist to tick off as you pack for a location shoot and to pre-scout locations, even if you are really familiar with the area to check the quality and direction of the light. Also, if you have pre-visualised images for a shoot, be flexible during the shoot if the original idea is not possible or not working.

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