Trail running photography can be a challenging but rewarding sport and genre to shoot. If you’re getting into it or want to improve your skills, this article will help you determine what settings to use. As well as important tips and pointers for capturing amazing trail running photographs.
How Do You Take Trail Running Pictures?
A fast shutter speed is crucial for trail running photography, as it will freeze the runner in motion and prevent any blurring. Aim for a shutter speed of 1/500 or better.
Anything less (or slower) runs the risk of blurring the movement of the scene. Unless of course, that’s what you were going for.
If you don’t want to worry about the rest of the settings below, you can put your camera in Shutter Priority Mode. This is shown to be the ‘S’ on most beginner and non-pro level camera dials. By choosing Shutter Priority Mode, you can choose the shutter speed while the camera’s computer automatically chooses everything else for you.
I like shooting wide open with my lens when I do trail running photography. It gives a great look to the photos and makes using them for marketing purposes really easy. Which is most of what I’m shooting for. Whether it’s for my own business or a client.
Wide open would be the lowest aperture your lens can go. Mine are prime lenses that go down to f/1.8. So that gives me plenty of bokeh and a really clear subject that helps it really pop.
Some higher-end zoom lenses get down to an aperture of f/2.8, others only down to f/4 or f/5.6. Just work with what you have and see how you like it. Then maybe rent or borrow another lens that allows you to get down to f/1.8 or f/2.8 to see how you like it.
This setting can vary greatly depending on the available light and time of day.
I would normally also say “and whether you’re shooting inside or outside” but here we’ll assume you’re shooting outside for trail running photography.
Generally ISO 100 or 200 for bright sunny days, 400 for cloudy/overcast, and 1600 as a safe max for evening or night shooting. I say safe max because, typically, any more than that you run the risk of adding noise or grain to the images.
Depending on your camera, the safe max for ISO might even be higher. You’ll just have to test it to see what works best for you.
Don’t be afraid to use the camera’s Auto ISO setting. Especially when changing environments frequently, like going from the shaded single-track trail to the wide-open bald of a mountain. In fast-paced shooting environments having Auto ISO on will be one less thing to worry about.
Should I shoot in RAW or JPEG For Trail Running Photography?
You can shoot either, depending on what you’re looking to use the photos for. JPEGs allow for quicker shooting and take up a lot less space than RAW photos.
However, they don’t have as much editing leeway.
If the photos are going to be a part of a marketing campaign or someone’s brand. RAW is likely the way to go. You’ll also likely be taking fewer photos anyway while trying to get a very specific marketable spot.
As opposed to just capturing every runner that goes by. That may be a better time to shoot in JPEG. They’ll definitely be a lot easier to manage in post and save you hard drive space.
Set your camera to continuous drive or continuous shooting. This mode allows you to hold down the shutter and take as many pictures as your camera can produce within that time.
Image count during these bursts varies from camera to camera and how fast it can write to the memory card.
Continuous drive mode will also likely start eating up the space on those memory cards faster because you’re taking that many more photos. Especially if you’re shooting in RAW, that card may fill up pretty quickly.
After you choose the camera’s continuous shooting mode, set your camera to a single focus point via your Focus Modes setting. The specific name of this setting may vary depending on the camera brand.
For my Nikon D750, it has its own dedicated button on the front of the camera to choose both continuous shooting and focal points. I just hold it down and choose both AF-C Single or Dynamic-area AF. Which per Nikon’s website “adds 9-point, 21-point, and 51-point placement. With each option, the selected number of AF points works together to keep detecting moving subjects.” As an easy way to explain.
While In Action
When the moment comes to capture the trail runner(s), move the single focus ‘box’ to the face of your subject. Activate the shutter button by pressing it halfway and holding it down just a bit to see the image in question come into focus.
Then move along with the subject, trying to keep the focus box on their face. Your camera will adjust the focus as you manually track the subject as long as you keep holding down the shutter button halfway while also hitting the shutter all the way to actually take the pictures.
Some entry-level cameras might not be able to focus as fast on moving subjects though. While advanced cameras can automatically track the runner’s face and movement. It’s probably a good idea to test it out on a few other subjects before your key runner(s) come through.
If you’re in the market for a new camera or maybe thinking about an upgrade, here are some of the best cameras for sports photography. These will be great for trail running.
Lucky for you, trail running photography pretty much guarantees an awesome backdrop for your pictures. Use these beautiful surroundings to your advantage.
Try taking pictures head-on while the runner(s) are coming through a turn or just coming up over a hill or little crest on the trail.
Then mix it up and shoot from one side, then move to the other side.
I like shooting with a zoomed-in lens, maybe 85mm portrait style, then shooting wide with a 24mm lens and capturing them as the runners pass me by. I’ll stand pretty close to the runners for this, but if I want to get their whole bodies in the shot, I’ll go vertical for a cool vantage point.
Do not forget about leading lines. These come in handy with that zoomed-in or portrait-style shot. The runner that’s coming up over the crest will lend themselves to a good leading line shot. Especially if you’re able to set up the shot on previous runners.