Friday, May 03, 2013

*Updated* Covering a Marathon as an Official Photographer: My Experience

This upcoming Sunday is the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon 2013. I'll be joining a wonderful team of MarathonFoto photographers to cover the event. It will be my fifth time helping out with the amazing event.


Grab a cup of coffee, or in this case -- a caffé macchiato -- and read how the upcoming weekend typically unfolds for me, an official marathon photographer for the day. There won't be any food porn. I'll write about the food later. Continue if you'd like.
*Edit: Changed some things around so that they actually made sense.*

Since I'm currently living in Ottawa, I'll be heading to Tarana on Saturday morning to be able to enjoy lunch. In the past, I've gotten together with friends for my annual Libretto pizza fix. I have plans to continue this tradition. I like to say that it's part of my prep for the Toronto Marathon.

We (the team of awesome photogs) usually have a team meeting in the evening at the hotel prior to the event. We get briefed and also pick up our credentials. Then I usually grab dinner with some fellow photographers or head out to meet some friends again. The night ends quite early for me. You see, we usually have to leave to be on location around 6 am, depending on where we were assigned. It's tough to get to sleep before 10 am because the playoffs have just begun. Luckily the Sens will be playing tonight and then on Sunday evening.

I've had breakfast bagels from McD's all but last year. It seems as though it has also become part of my prep. I usually pick something like a breakfast bagel and orange juice. Once breakfast is done, the teams of photographers meet up and then we head out to our locations along the course. We introduce ourselves to the course officials, security officials, and police so that there are no issues.

Assuming we weren't supposed to do candids or pre-starting line photos, we find our positions with a flattering background, we make our measurements, adjust our exposure values and take a couple of test shots before any event participants run by -- at least we try to. The lead marathon runner always seems to catch us off guard. Afterwards, it's a hard constant grind to take photos of the thousands of runners. We have to battle the weather conditions; one year, it was rainy, windy, and cold. It was a bit frosty out another year, but that was because the event was held at the beginning of October. Last year was pretty sunny and warm. We ended up shooting with the sun beaming down on us. My cheeks and lips ended up getting sunburnt. I didn't even know your lips could get sun burned. The following three days were uncomfortable. My lips felt like they were burning at times. I've learned my lesson Mother Nature. I'll bring sun screen and lip chap that will give me some protection from the UV rays.


I've learned to bring an mp3 player to play in the background. Even though we might have four fellow photographers at our location, we are usually spread out to get a better coverage of the athletes. We're usually still within an earshot, but once I find a rhythm, I tend to get totally focused and even the background noise gets tuned out. I usually snap out of it once I see people trying to pose for the camera. This is one of my favourite perks of the job; seeing people having fun while running. It's also great when you see the rare person who wears a costume. I took a photo of Batman and Spiderman once. If you will be running in an event in the future, do smile for the camera. You don't have to, but the photos that we (the official photographers) take are the ones you'll be able to purchase online afterwards. Don't expect to look as good as the ridiculously photogenic guy though. Oh, and make sure your bib numbers are visible in the front of your body, whether it's on your shirt or on your leg.

Sometimes we have to move to another location. However brief it may be, it's a nice break. We get to stretch and hopefully wake up our sleeping legs, arms, and/or butts. Driving around the detours can be stressful. But that's why we plan our routes ahead of time.

Once the last few runners are through and the sweepers pass by, we head back to the hotel to wrap everything up. I'm usually starving at this point. One year, I stupidly had a light breakfast and was running on fumes for the last three hours. I won't be doing that again. I'll be bringing snacks like apples and tangerines this year.

Work officially ends once everything has been handed in: paper work, equipment, and bright yellow official photographer vests. Some of us usually get together for a bite to eat. A few years ago, I had an amazing prosciutto, sliced green apple, some kind of cheese (gouda, I think, or was it havarti?), basil pesto, and arugula panini. I can't recall what the restaurant was, though I sure remember how I loved the sandwich and my ice cold drink after a long day at work. The panini was ingrained into my food memory. A couple years later, I was able to recreate it with a different spin.

After the meal, we head back home and that's it.

I'm pumped to cover the Toronto Marathon on Sunday. The weather forecast looks great: sunny 20C/68F weather with 5 km/h wind. I'll try to tweet/instagram this weekend. Don't forget to follow me @teafortwo_c on both social media platforms. It should be fun! Good luck to everyone participating this weekend. See ya on the course!

Here's a little update:
The weather was gorgeous all day. Sunny warm weather with a slight cool breeze were, what I would imagine, to be ideal racing conditions. There weren't any clouds for the sun to duck behind this year, so we (the photographers) didn't have to worry about exposure changes very much. My second location to cover was the Humber River Bridge West.

Once I arrived on location, I immediately made some ugly arrows out of duct tape to notify the runners which direction the course ran. Based on last year's experience at this location, I knew that some runners weren't sure which direction to follow after the bridge. The path split up into two directions soon after crossing the bridge.

Covering Humber River Bridge W

This was me on location. I tried to encourage the runners by calling out their names whenever I could. It was amusing when spectators would ask how I knew their names. Hint: They're written underneath their bib numbers. I received two reactions; either the runners didn't react cause they were in the zone, or I got bright smiles and received thank yous. By interacting with the runners and cheering them on, it made my job much more enjoyable!

And this is the view I was photographing as the runners ran across the bridge. Isn't that a pretty sight?

The photos that we took are available on the MarathonFoto website. Just fill out your last name and bib number to see all the photos of yourself. Congrats to everyone who participated in the event! I had a blast working with the team of wonderful photographers. I hope you see you all next year.

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