Ready, set, action: Get ready for a trail running photo shoot

How do photographers snap the perfect trail running photo that appears in a magazine ad in Trail Runner magazine or a Runner’s Worldrave run?”  Having been on several photo shoots with professional photographers – one of which was a Rave Run shoot – I can tell you that it isn’t just one shot and done.

Brent Humphreys photo of the author in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO.

The 2005 photo shoot for Runner’s World with Texas-based photographer Brent Humphreys started out with a fog bank over Pikes Peak. I met Humphreys and his assistant in Manitou Springs at 10:00 a.m. where I assured him the clouds and heavy fog would lift within a few hours so we could get a great shot in the Garden of the Gods Park.

We got to the park at about 11:00 a.m. having lingered over conversation and breakfast at Adam’s Mountain Café which offers a menu item for those in our sport – the Runner’s Breakfast. It was still a bit “socked in” for the perfect shot, but not to worry…getting set up for the shoot would take some work and some time.

Trail running photo by Keith Ladzinski

Knowing the park fairly well, I showed Humphreys some spots I thought would be good backdrops. We drove, and then walked around the park taking pictures around the boulders, by the infamous Kissing Camels, on the Ridge Trail, finally settling on a location which featured the red rocks in the foreground and Pikes Peak in the background. My role was to be the featured runner in the shot which meant running back and forth up the trail until Humphreys clicked “the shot.”

My form and positioning were to be correct – of which I had control, the colors and lighting had to be right – of which I had no control. The perfect combination of the two was achieved after about two hours which included many clicks of the shutter.

The author trail running on the front range with Pikes Peak in the background (Photo by Keith Ladzinski/Getty Images for the New York Times)

In 2007, I was on a photo shoot in Colorado Springs with Keith Ladzinski for a New York Times article featuring trail running shoes. The day of this shoot was a cool and crisp morning in April.

We met at a location Ladzinski had scouted out which showcased Pikes Peak in the background. After setting up some artificial lighting, he took shot after shot as I ran back and forth on a narrow trail periodically changing shoes and apparel to get the right color combination for the desired effect. We then spotted a puddle of water and Ladzinski, who stayed toasty warm in a down jacket while I was in shorts and T-shirt, asked me if I was “game” to do a few takes running through the water. “Of course,” I responded. After about 20 passes through the water, my shoes were soaked, I was dripping with water, and shivering – but we got the shot.

The author trail running with Pikes Peak in the background. Photo by Keith Ladzinski.

I was fortunate to be part of two more photos shoots with Ladzinski. One was on the eastern plains in Calhan, Colorado in the midst of an incoming thunderstorm. There were two of us as “models” running back and forth on a trail near the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, all the while being chased by a menacing swarm of mosquitos. By the end of the shoot, we three had welts from the many mosquito nips, but a lot of great images. The second, was in an urban Colorado Springs park with a pedestrian bridge as the focal point. I ran back and forth over the bridge while Ladzinki shot from various angles including a precarious climb to the top of the girders and shooting down.

In 2017, I was part of an advertising photo shoot for Fuel 100 with another brilliant Colorado-based photographer, David Clifford. We all met, many of us for the first time, in downtown Colorado Springs on a brisk spring morning in May. Several venues had been scoped for the shoot and we spent the entire day running over rocks, up trails, back and forth along ridgelines, while Clifford shot from above, below, prone, and standing.

Trail running photographers Scott Mason and Joe Viger gear up for the Loon Mountain Race.

One of the most interesting photo shoots I was part of, occurred in the late 90s in Mexico. The shoot was for the then Fila sponsored Skyrunning, with an international group of athletes from the USA, Italy, and Mexico. We ran up and down rocky sections near the base of Iztacchihuatl on a cold and windy morning. I wasn’t initially going to be part of the shoot, so I was rather unprepared with specific Fila footwear. One of the athletes lent me a pair to use and they were three sizes too big. I struggled, but made it up the rock-strewn trail, sometimes tripping, but otherwise staying upright.

Having been involved with these “posed” photo shoots, I’m always impressed when I see an ad, or an article featuring a trail running picture. I know the work that went into perfecting the shot, and realize it probably wasn’t just one click of the shutter.

Joe Gray winning the 2016 Loon Mountain Race. The author holding the finish tape (left). Photo by Joe Viger.