For somebody who has never done an ultra or known much about Trail Running, I’ve fallen in love with it this summer. Between the camp in Ouray and meeting this awesome dude, I can safely say two things. 1) I will never run an ultra. That is just never going to happen but I have an extreme appreciation and interest in the people and culture that this extreme sport cultivates. 2) Running on roads is boring and I will forever be more tied to running and biking trails than I have ever been. Whether its the XTERRA races, Ultras, trail runs, or just being outside with my wife and dog. Being in the wilderness and off the road just makes things a bit… simpler.
However, I digress… Back to the real story here.
I always try to start my day drinking my coffee and catching up on email. About a month ago I was pumped when I found an email from a local Ultra-Athlete and all-around badass, Ronnie Delzer, in my inbox. He was looking for some new promotional photos and wanted to sit down and talk about how we could create some visual content for him to use on his personal website. I was pumped and ready to meet for coffee immediately and hear more about what he was looking for and how we could help. Turns out, he loves the same things about trail running that I fell in love with while I was in Ouray and wanted that to stand out in the photos. My mind was immediately working, but I was still in Epic-Colorado-Landscape-Mode. Not exactly a mindset that was going to work for Texas. Ronnie and I talked about a few places to possibly shoot and where he trained here in The Woodlands, while I tried to convince him to go to Big Bend and shoot there. Not exactly ideal and I needed to sit down and rework my mind a bit.
After getting back from the Trail Runner Magazine photoshoot this summer, I was really hyped on shooting more trail running work with my own personal touch added to it. My only issue was that what I loved so much about that experience and those photos were the epic landscapes we were in and the athletes we were working with. Their personality and ability was such a blast to capture and the backdrops were so serene and had that, “I want to go run THERE,” pull that I didn’t know how to recreate that in The Woodlands. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live and the tall pines, never-ending underbrush, and extremely flat landscape are great, but they don’t make for the same kind of landscapes as Colorado. Let’s just face it.
With all of that in mind, I refused to be deterred or to think of The Woodlands as a crutch or excuse. I had an awesome athlete, great runner, and awesome model in Ronnie, and I wanted to make the beauty we have here pop in a way that showed it and also capture the place that Ronnie trains in. We don’t have mountains or aspen groves, but we do have wandering creeks, gorgeous sunrises, steamy Fall mornings, and plenty of green to make a runner pop and convey the feeling of being out in nature by yourself. Ultimately that’s why people fall in love with trail running. It’s the aspect of Man vs. Nature and the feeling of serenity and individuality that you find when you’re alone in the woods, pushing yourself to do something you haven’t done before. And, if there is one thing that the woods can do, it’s convey a feeling of being alone in nature.
With all of that in mind, I went out scouting a few times to try and find some places to shoot. I knew what I wanted to capture, now I just had to find some places we could do it. My first thought was to capture more of the landscape from a high vantage point. We don’t have too many hills here, but we do have plenty of overpasses. I had shot this background:
before and thought it would make an awesome shot at sunrise with the sun popping just over the top of the trees and this low creek bed always has some fog in the Fall. It was perfect and I was able to put to use some of natural light we had to create a great shot showing the beauty of The Woodlands and isolate the runner in the environment.
The other shots were going to be more personal, so I wanted some good trees and some nice grass around the trails. I located an area that we could cycle to (Ronnie is a crazy man and decided to go ahead and run it… after doing a 50 mile run the day before. And setting the course record. Yep. Nuts!) and found a few spots that we could create some diverse portraits and running shots in. Locations were nailed, time for the shot list.
For the shot list, I wanted to create some diversity for Ronnie in terms of styling, lighting, location, and content. We would start out with the landscape shot, do some quick portraits before the real running so he wasn’t too sweaty, then nail some lit shots with just one light, the sun, and a beauty dish; then take some post running shots where he was a little more worn out and sweaty. I tried to mix in some of the tactics and shots I loved from the Trail Runner shoot as well as mix in some of my normal lighting and shooting techniques.
We headed out at the crack of dawn to make sure we were set up at the overpass and captured some really epic shots of the light hitting this creek and the valley below the overpass. By framing the shot right, I was able to create some depth in the image and convey the untouched area of land that makes The Woodlands so beautiful, as well as why we love to run here. Ronnie tried not to break an ankle in the thick overgrowth and we all walked away laughing a little bit at some close calls and Sam being scared to death of the cars flying by us at 50 miles per hour.
Heading out to our next section, we kicked it off with some simple portraits before Ronnie got too sweaty by just utilizing the sun a little bit behind the subject and a Profoto White Beauty Dish as the light source to create some separation with the background. After that, we used to same setup to get a few stretching poses, and I basically wanted Ronnie to think about it as if he was warming up for a race. The same intensity, focus, and calmness that he would need before a race conveyed into the photos beautifully and it was time to get to running.
I started off trying to tone the light down a bit and have it be more of a nature capture, but I was fighting the movement and my normal sync speed of 1/200th of a second (not nearly fast enough to capture motion without the light dominating or some sweet panning skills), so I used the awesome feature on the Profoto B1 light of High Speed Sync. Basically, the light fires multiple times to allow me to bump my sync speed up to 1/800th of a second and capture the motion. It drains power A LOT faster and you can’t get the light quite as bright as you would with it in normal mode, but I was able to use it in the first photos to add just a pop of light and still freeze Ronnie. After a few shots like this, I adjusted my angle so that the light and the rising sun were in the same vicinity, upped the power a bit, and shot some more contrasty side photos that really gave some insight into Ronnie’s running stride and style.
With those shots canned, it was time to add some sexy to the mix and have Ronnie lose the shirt. It’s running in Texas, who runs in a shirt, right? For these shots, we had some pretty nice cloud cover move in and I wanted to try some more natural light shots of Ronnie running straight at the camera with the Canon 70-200 lens wide open at f/2.8. That really compressed the scene and compelled the eye to focus on Ronnie. I loved the shots we were getting that really put on display the athleticism of his body while he was running, but I was just missing that little pop in the eyes, so we added the light for a few shots and got just a little catch light in the eyes that, I feel, elevated the photos just a bit without it looking like we had lit the image.
Finally, it was time to get low and add my own personal touch to the images. I wanted Ronnie to basically be stepping on my as he ran past, and the sky and clouds above him added the right amount of drama to the image that I wanted it super contrasty and heroic. We shot a few with his shirt on, but I really liked the ability of the lighting situation and the perspective to capture his musculature as he blew past and we got some pretty kick-ass shots that even made it on the Profoto B1 website! I would love to take credit, but Ronnie was bringing it HARD for me. Seriously, the dude was drenched in sweat by the time I told him it was the last one (Really, the final-final-FINAL last shot. Not just the typical 1 more that I say 1000 times in a shoot).
After looking at him for one second just resting his hands on his knees I told him to hold on. I quickly adjusted the light, changed lenses, and threw on my Lee Filters to get some awesome post-workout shots to end on. Again, Ronnie was an awesome subject and I loved the intensity we were able to capture even when he was run down from a race the day before, an early call time for the shoot, and basically running sprints for me for about 2 hours.
Well, that’s a wrap on this one. It’s amazing how lucky you can get with a little vision, some prework and scouting, and a great talent in front of the lens. Check out the Behind The Scenes video below for more and be sure to let me know what you want to see more (or less) of in the next write up and video!
- Gear List for the Shoot:
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 50mm f/1.2 L
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L
- Sandisk CF Cards
- Lee Filter Lens Hood
- Lee Filter .3, .6, & .9 ND Filters
- Profoto B1
- Profoto White Beauty Dish
- Profoto AirRemote for Canon TTL
- Manfrotto Air Cushion Stand
Thanks for taking the time to read, hopefully you gained some insights into what goes through my mind before a shoot and how we want to tell the story and convey the imagery before we ever put our eye to the viewfinder. Thank you again and a huge shoutout to Ronnie Delzer on this shoot. He’s an awesome runner and you definitely need to be sure to check this guy out as he competes this Winter at the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Fransisco!