• Say "Cheese!" 7 Things Spartan Race Photographers Want You To Know

Written By: Katie Purcell

 

INTRO

Race Day. It's the culmination of your training, and your first real shot to see what you're made of. Standing at the start line, you're feeling a little bit like this:

…okay, so maybe that guy did a little too much “carb loading” at last night’s pasta dinner. But we digress.

Along with your finisher shirt, and medal, and any cool venue shirts you might have gotten, there is one thing from your race cherished above all else that will live on for time immemorial: your official Race Day photos.

Most obstacle course races offer photos taken by professional photographers included in the price of your race registration, and in this day and age of “pics or it didn’t happen,” combined with the popularity of social media and cultural emphasis on sharing accomplishments (whether to humble brag, seek validation, or celebrate an accomplishment), it’s no surprise that the professional-grade photos of all of us “in action”  are easily one of the most coveted/sought after (parts?) of the whole shebang. Check any Facebook group or Reddit thread mere days after an event and you’ll see participants already chomping at the bit: asking when their race photos will be ready, and where to find them, and are you sure they’re not ready yet??

So, clearly the professional race day photos are a big deal. But…have you ever paused and taken a minute to think about where those photos came from? Have you ever considered what happens on the other side of the camera lens, and wondered what the photographers themselves think about all of us crazy people who roll around in the mud…and why they would want to work a job in those conditions??

…We did. And we didn’t just stop at wondering: we asked! What follows is our key takeaways from photographers all across the OCR industry: what they’ve been thinking, what’s on their minds, and the stuff they want YOU to know!

Spartan Race barbed wire obstacle

 

1. THERE IS MORE GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES THAN YOU KNOW

Feeling frustrated because you have “soooo many Bucket Carry pictures” ? Don’t take it out on the photographer! Oftentimes the photographers are placed at specific spots and told to shoot there, and they don’t have creative control of what to shoot. This isn’t some attempt by the race to ensure your photos are boring: the sheer volume of racers coming through all day makes it more practical for a camera to be set up in a specific spot, at a specific angle, to capture as many images as possible.

One of the most common complaints the photography team at Spartan Race hears is that people want photos at the "cool" obstacles like the Rope Climb or Hercules Hoist, and their response is that they agree those would be awesome photos! Except the team would probably only be able to capture about one-fifth of the race participants, and a lot of the images would likely come out not looking great because they would be at the wrong angles. They want to do their best to cater to both new racers AND veterans, which is why they do shoot some of those "cool" obstacles when they can (you may have seen them in an "extras" photo gallery), but they don't want to pass up an opportunity where they know they are guaranteed the most opportunities to get a quality shot.

There are many other examples of instructions the photographers may have been given/stuff going on behind the scenes that racers don't realize. For example, many times the photographers are instructed to try to capture a certain image (e.g., an image of a racer from the waist up, or a zoomed-in image that requires a special lens). If you see them sitting on a low chair or a stool it’s not because they are "lazy," it's because shooting a photo from below makes the subject of the photo (that's you, by the way), look powerful and impressive and awesome.

For races like Spartan that organize their photo galleries in correspondence with the timing chip that a racer wears, the photographer generally aims to capture the athlete when they are somewhere close to the timing mat (in an effort to help you find your race photos more easily!) As a result, they may have already snapped your photo without you even realizing it – especially if they are using a telephoto lens. And speaking of telephoto lenses: they are designed to focus on objects that are far away…meaning if you are standing 4 feet in front of the photographer asking them to take your photo, they are literally unable to do so, because you are too close.

One last thing on this point: sometimes photographers move around during the day, to catch shots of different obstacles (in an attempt to get you guys as many cool photos as possible!) For example, there generally isn't a photographer set up at the Finish Line for the first couple hours of a Spartan Beast race, because they know it will take some time for anyone to make it to the Finish Line. So to fill in that time, the Finish Line photographer may head over to another obstacle to do some shooting before taking up their post at the Finish Line. So if you are tempted to complain because you heard there was a photographer at xyz obstacle, but they weren't there when you passed it, that does not mean they were blowing you off. Placing the photographers is basically like a giant game of Tetris!

To learn more about a whole bunch of other factors the photographers have to consider from their side of the lens, check out the article here published by Popular Photography.

Katie Purcell aka Pretty Fierce Spartan at Spartan Race obstacle

 

2. THEY'RE NOT YOUR PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHER

Speaking of standing 4 feet in front of the photographer and asking for a photo…

They like taking photos. They like taking YOUR photo. Photographers generally have a sense of satisfaction when they capture the right moment in the right way, and they wouldn’t sit through the harsh/unpredictable/fickle weather of a Race Day and purposely do a bad job. Indeed, many of the photographers we spoke to said that getting great photos of racers is one of their greatest joys…because they love us and our enthusiasm for the sport!

THAT BEING SAID: it’s not realistic (or fair) to assume they’ll be able to get a fantastic photo of everyone at every obstacle at every race, and to be clear, that’s NOT their job. The race offers complimentary photos as part of the event because it’s cool and it draws in registrations (and also makes for some killer marketing when everyone posts their race photos on social media!), but there’s no guarantee that those photos will all be perfect. The photographers have 10k+ people passing by ONE of them at an obstacle, for hours on end, and we all know how crowded those obstacles can get.

To be able to get a photo of every racer at every obstacle would require approximately:

  • 30 photographers, which would create
  • 1 million photos (PER EVENT), and would take
  • Several WEEKS to upload all of them, all of which would
  • Cost 4x as much as it does now, meaning
  • You would be paying the difference in an increased entry fee.

Their current goal is to aim to shoot 5 obstacles per Spartan event...every weekend, all year long, all around the country (and the world). And considering there's no solid guarantee that racers will get any photos of themselves, we think a goal of 5 sounds pretty solid!

 

 

3. IT'S NOT COOL WHEN YOU CAUSE THEM TO MISS PHOTOS OF OTHER RACERS

Similarly, if you want to pose for multiple photos, (photo lens permitting), please be respectful of your fellow racers. The photographers are generally happy to accommodate an extra photo (or a group shot of you and your team!) when/if possible, but when an obstacle is crowded or there are many other racers coming through, you standing in front of the photographer for your additional photos is preventing other racers from getting their photo taken. Remember that those racers also want photos, and you’re also preventing the photographer from doing their job when you block other athletes.

Be aware of what’s going on around you, and if it’s cool with the photographer feel free to pose for multiple photos, but then thank them (*definitely thank them!) and move along. According to some photographers we spoke with, racers posing for multiple shots/group shots that caused them to miss photos of other racers is one of the biggest pet peeves they have.

 

 

4. THEIR JOB IS DEMANDING, AND THEY'RE NOT JUST HANGING OUT

In contrast to many racers’ opinion that they have “the best job ever,” being a race photographer can sometimes suck. Like the racers, they drive several hours to get to a venue, leaving their families behind for the weekend…to work. Then they get up at the crack of dawn: oftentimes they are positioned on course before the first Elite Wave takes off.

Then there is a LOT of pressure to get great shots of everyone but SO MANY PEOPLE coming through all day, for 12+ hours at a time, all while battling the elements. Anyone who has been to a few races knows that the weather can be unpredictable, fickle, and extreme. And while racers at least get to be MOVING in the cold/rain/blistering heat and then finish their event within a set number of hours and get some relief, the photographers are still out there. They’re often out on course BEFORE the first racers start, and remain there until the last racer goes through. So while you are enjoying that finisher beer, remember that they are (likely) still sitting outside with their camera in-hand, snapping away!

"If you think it's uncomfortable running in the rain, you should try sitting in the rain for 12+ hours, barely moving except to press the shutter button. Or imagine the last really hot race you ran, and how much you loved hitting the shaded part of the course...photographers don't get that luxury if their obstacle is out in the middle of a clearing." --Anonymous

Regardless of how prepared they try to be, being a photographer can be a lot more treacherous than you would think! Just like the athletes, there have been photographers pulled from the course due to things like:

  • Hypothermia
  • Heat stroke
  • Acute mountain sickness
  • Hornet stings which caused such intense swelling that holding a camera was no longer possible (*we double checked and the answer is yes -- this really happened.)

     

    Another note: next time you see a photographer taking a break to make a call or answer a text, think of yourself when you're at work. You're probably not working for 100% of your day, and that's okay, because breaks are good for mental health and to help you do your best work! And you don't have to worry about being "called out" for it, because no one is watching you 100% of the time. The photogs are not as lucky in this regard: they are under a micro-lens (no pun intended) all day with everyone going by, and so every small thing they do is critiqued! Photographers get very few breaks, and have to stay in pretty much the same position all day (which is why many of them bring a chair or something to sit on/lean their back against!), and sometimes don’t even get a bathroom break.

    So if you're one of those people who sees a photographer looking at their phone or answering a text and you feel like you need to complain about it on Facebook, you should probably just keep it moving and focus on your race. Or better yet, use that energy to make sure everyone around you is doing their required number of burpees, because you sound like you'd probably fit in well with the "Burpee Police."

     

     

      5. IF YOU’RE PLANNING ON GETTING THE BEST PHOTO EVER AT A SPECIFIC OBSTACLE: BE PATIENT, WORK WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHER, & BE FLEXIBLE

      As mentioned previously, sometimes there are logistics at play that could make it tough to get that "dream shot" that you've been hoping to make your next profile photo (for example, that telephoto lens could really mess things up for your "vision.") And with so many other athletes on course and the photog's attention being pulled in several different ways simultaneously, choreographing the photo you want -- assuming it's even possible -- is an exercise in both patience and stealth. The photography team is working on making it more apparent earlier on when a photo op will be coming up in a race, to give you the chance to prepare in whatever way you want to. But be on the lookout: sometimes you may see them in places you are not expecting, so be ready to strike that pose at a moment's notice!

      A prime example of this is the "promo" photographers who are not set at a specific obstacle: they mosey around the course taking pics for promotional images but they don't stick around at an obstacle for long. They are trying out different angles and lighting, and sometimes scoping out the scene to see if that could be a potential spot for a photographer to be placed in the future! They are thinking outside-the-box to get new and cool and exciting shots of racers in action, which is a good sign that they care and want to get killer photos, so don't pout if you aren't included this time around. There's always next race!

      If you want to try your best to get a good shot at a particular spot, moving slowly through an obstacle might be the best way to ensure you get a good photo, because it gives the photographer more time to get your photo but you aren't holding as many others up because you are still moving. Because remember: blocking others is frowned upon. For that epic Fire Jump shot, if it's really important to you to get the best shot possible, be patient and wait until there is no one else in the frame to photo bomb your epicness. Patience...and stealth.

      For group shots of you and all your awesome teammates, the key tips are: think ahead, coordinate among yourselves, and remember that the photographers are not magicians. This advice is more specifically aimed at photos of some of the obstacles that are popular for group action shots, like the Fire Jump. If you want to jump over the fire together with a group of multiple people, work it out between you WHEN you’re going to jump or HOW you’re going to pose, etc. The photographer can do their best to catch you all at “just the right moment,” but if EVERYONE jumped up at the same time except Susan, and she’s the only one midair with her hands up while you’re all landing, there’s nothing the photographer can do about that. (Luckily, if that DOES happen but there are multiple frames of it, there are ways you can cut/splice multiple photos together to try to create the image you were going for.)

      Additionally, a good guideline is to try to keep the posed group shots to stations that encourage that type of photo: like the Fire Jump or Victory Wall. Not only are they likely better settings for a group shot, but the photographers are placed at different obstacles in part based on where their strengths lie: so you'll probably get the best group photo if it is taken by someone who excels at group shots! Leave the Barbed Wire or Dunk Wall shots as a solo endeavor, for the photographer who's great at action shots. 

       

       

      6. THEY ARE DOING THEIR BEST & THEY HAVE FEELINGS, SO DON’T BE A JERK IF YOUR RACE PHOTOS DON’T LIVE UP TO YOUR EXPECTATIONS

      This circles back to the whole “they’re not your personal photographer” thing from earlier. You may feel disappointed if you thought you posed for the “perfect fire jump” and you don’t see it when the race photos are posted. Or you are psyched because you finally nailed xyz obstacle, but the only photo of it is a little blurry or you are making a really weird face.

      And that sucks. And it happens to all of us. But that doesn’t mean it’s cool to complain about the photographer on social media, or say that they looked like they were just sitting around doing nothing, or to insult their professional integrity by implying that they weren’t even trying. Sometimes they see those negative comments, and after all the hard work they put into the job, reading something like that kind of feels like a punch in the gut. Not to mention it is also possible that you had something to do with your photo being missed: maybe you thought you looked amazing on the Monkey Bars or the Twister (and you probably did), but maybe you were actually only hanging for about 3 seconds, and then you fell before they were able to get the shot, or another athlete you didn't notice during the race was actually blocking you the whole time. As illustrated above: being a race photographer is definitely not a “cushy” job, and 99% of them do it because they love it. They deserve the benefit of the doubt that they always do their best work, or they probably wouldn’t bother being there in the first place. The race photographers are some of the most committed people involved in the whole event, and their work is what helps us to remember some of our most awesome race memories!

       

       

      They are not perfect, and it’s a tall order to try to capture everyone as racers go by (especially when the racers mentioned above are blocking the camera!), and it’s also possible that when you ran by they were on one of those very few, brief breaks mentioned earlier. Maybe they didn’t get you this time around, but maybe they will next time! Either way a positive attitude will go a lot farther toward your goal of getting a better photo at the next race: try showing them some appreciation and thanking them for the long hours of hard work they are doing (for us!), instead of feeling entitled or miffed because you assume they are not putting their best foot forward.

       

       

      7. IT’S USUALLY THE SAME PHOTOGRAPHERS AT EVERY RACE, AND THEY LIKE IT WHEN YOU SAY HI (AND THANK YOU!)

      Know how when you go to multiple races per season, and you see a lot of your race buddies there, and you recognize them because you all know each other from racing? Well, a lot of the race companies employ photographers who will be at all their events (at least the events within the same region). One Spartan Race photographer will be shooting at 25 events in the 2019 season...that's more than almost anyone else in the whole race organization! So it's safe to say that they are as into OCR as we are...they just love it from the other side of the lens! We're not suggesting you should stop in the middle of your race to chat them up or distract them from their work for a selfie, but a little kindness goes a long way, and there’s no need to be a stranger! Thank them as you go by, or introduce yourself (as long as you’re being respectful if they’re busy), and ask them how their day is going! Just like you look forward to seeing your race buddies at races, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t ALSO be psyched to see your favorite race photographers! They’ve got a LONG DAY of work, and they ALSO appreciate seeing friendly faces or saying a brief hello to a friend.

      And because they love their job so much, it doesn't end for them when Race Day is over: they also love reading positive comments about their work! Director of Photography Production at Spartan Race Brent Doscher said,

      "It can be tempting to think of Spartan as a big corporation, but it is made up of a bunch of people all just trying to make a kick-ass event and produce the best content for people...The community aspect is the best part of this company and the industry, and the photographers who come back again and again think of our racers as their family. Treat them as the humans they are and you'll realize they are amazing people, and never forget the Golden Rule." --Brent Doscher, Director of Photography Production at Spartan Race

       
         

      CONCLUSION

      Always remember: there’s a person behind that camera (well…usually…), and they are doing all they can to create the best product they can for us. The photographers at OCR events love the sport just as much as we do: they just do it from the other side of the lens. They show a major commitment at events, staying out in the elements for 12+ hours regardless of weather conditions, all in an effort to get you a few photos to help remember your Race Day. They produce the photos which are such an integral part of our experience, and they are the ones who help us capture our Race Day experience by preserving our memories to last a lifetime. So thank them!

      Don’t take them – or the work they do – for granted. Say hello, and smile. Have patience and understanding for them like you would a good friend, and remember that their spirit of camaraderie, teamwork, and dedication makes them one of the best examples of the Spartan spirit out there. AROO!

       

      SPECIAL BONUS: A TRIBUTE TO RUSTY

        One of the most beloved Spartan Race photographers of all time - Earl "Rusty" Adams - recently announced his retirement from shooting at Spartan events. For those of you who have been lucky enough to meet him or to see his smiling face at races, you know how much he will be missed by the entire Spartan community! Always a source of positivity: he is never without a kind word for a racer and has befriended many, to the point where athletes look forward to seeing him at an event as much as the race buddies they run with.

        We reached out to Rusty to see if he had anything to add to this article, and his response was truly touching. What follows is an excerpt from his message, with the thoughts he wanted to express to the whole race community.

        I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been photographing on an OCR course and had an athlete say to me “I wish I had your job” to which I almost always reply “yes, until the tenth hour when you wish you could throw the camera in the woods and run screaming into the night!” This is the world of the OCR photographer.

         

        It is indeed a challenge to be among a select group of OCR photographers. We are required to have a newer model camera and back up, multiple lenses, food, water, rain gear, and a will to work 12 to 14 hours with constant alertness for the next great athlete photo. Short of lightning, rain or shine, northeasters or gusts, we will be there. We will rarely have time to eat, drink or use the facilities during a race. Yet, we do this happily because we wish only to see you be successful at your amazing endeavors. For me personally, this is my greatest joy. If I can inspire you with positivity or a kind word to achieve your goals then I too have become successful.

         

        However, my biggest lament has always been the impossibility of getting a photo of each and every athlete who passes my lens. On many occasions the shear volume of athletes in shorter races makes it unattainable. For me, this is very frustrating because my success comes with getting an image for you that says "you rock, and the world should know it!" My thoughts turned to how we might work together to make us both, photographer and racer, feel more positive about our shared experience and increase your chances of getting a photo of your race day. I wish only to show the world how amazing you all are!

         

        Remember that we are not picking our own obstacle to shoot. We are given a selected obstacle and I assure that each of us will shoot it as skillfully as we can. Expressing your dislike to us cannot help you but a smile can! Bring that and light up both our worlds. Remember that if you stick your hand in front of the lens you might have robbed a friend of his awesome image. So many athletes stand in front of us to pose so closely that it is impossible for our cameras to focus and meanwhile 5 racers went by without images. We are many times required to shoot a close up of you, from the waist up, which means we must to use a telephoto lens that can’t get close shots. We may have already gotten an image of you farther back as well. We also ask that you please not walk in front of us. A basic human courtesy.

         

        Please take note of the flow of the race. If the volume of racers is extremely heavy then it’s probably not a good time to ask for multiple poses or posed group shots.  When the volume is slower I welcome these shots, they help us to use more technique and have some fun. These are the shots that make my day. When volume is heavy we must “typewriter” shoot, just going back and forth across the obstacle trying to get as many athletes as we can. It’s exhausting and less rewarding, believe me. For teams of athletes, these are usually the most fun folks, a couple of thoughts for you to help get everyone into a photo. I try to always get groups to run to the obstacle with all athletes in a parallel line so I can get all of you. Side by side is much better than staggered. The worst complaint I’ve heard is, “ we were a group of 8 and he got everyone but me”. I thought I did great to get 7 but the group was staggered as they crossed so I couldn’t get him because he was behind others. The camera cannot shoot around or through people. If I can’t see you then neither can the camera.

         

        Show me who you are! Let your amazing personality show in your image. Don’t be afraid to interact, “How many people are sitting home doing nothing while you accomplish these great feats.” Don’t be afraid to show me who you are and I’ll try my best to capture your greatness. Most of all, a kind word of thanks or a great smile is something that forever keeps me going. Many of you do this for me and I appreciate it. It’s the reason I still do this even when I am tired and hungry. I never get tired of seeing all of your many victories. Give me your very best and I’ll give it right back to you. I have met and cherished so many of you along my OCR journey and I will carry those friendships and kind words with me forever. Through over 100+ OCR races and 1800+ hours on course your smiles, hugs, handshakes and kisses have been my reward. Your successes have become my successes.

         

        As an OCR photographer here’s what I will always do for you. Stay as attentive as I can, I want to be ready when your special moment arrives. Do what I can to inspire you to tame the course with words and action. Watch for my hand signals or voice directions to guide and inspire you as best I can. Most important of all! I will always be positive! What you are attempting to complete will make you stronger and more amazing and you should damn well know and feel it.  I love to interact and motivate with words of encouragement. You will always hear me “pushing the positive.” That’s what gets my blood flowing!

         

        "It ain't wrong to be strong."

        "Let that smile go - you light up the world!"

        "Did you get my good side?" My reply: "OCR athletes don't have bad sides!"

        "Don't take my photo - I look awful!"My reply: "You've never looked better than you do right now!"

        To every athlete with special needs, I always say, "You are my hero!"

         

        Lastly, please remember that when you are having that post race cool beverage and you are enjoying some well-deserved nourishment that we are still out there trying to capture great moments for all of you. Believe me, suffering or not, there is nowhere else we’d rather be than here with you superior OCR racers.

         

        Bring a smile and "Howdy" as you pass by, and

        may the course be with you!

         

        E "Rusty" Adams

         

        Thank YOU, Rusty....for making all our race days so memorable and for always having a smile on your face. You can never know how many lives you have touched over the years and how many memories were kept safe and treasured, because YOU were able to capture an amazing shot. YOU ROCK!

        A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE:

         

         

        LIVE FIERCE.

         

                           

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        1 Response

        Mark vetrini
        Mark vetrini

        October 12, 2019

        Great article about the Spartan photographers as being part of the Spartan photo team now for a number of years and shot many races captured what we all go through out there trying to take the photographs of amazing athletes and a great tribute to Rusty as well it is always a pleasure to work with and I always look forward to seeing him as part of a team when I’m out there. He will truly be missed.

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