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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Trail mix

Nova Events is Brendan Foster's event management company that organises the Great North Run, the World's biggest half marathon, and the Great North Swim. Now they've taken on the Karrimor Great Trail Challenge. Will this morph into the World's biggest something too? No idea, but I'm happy to say they asked me to shoot some trail running photos around the course for the pre-event PR and the website.

Of course, typically the weather was just awful. Cold - I mean really cold - windy, rainy, January; perfect pre-race publicity conditions for a summer running event in the Lakes. Actually it might be quite realistic come to think of it! Such is life for photographers. Locals to the Lakes might recognise Paul Cornforth in the photos, 90's rock climbing super star and now complete running beast! He also builds a mean climbing wall at King Kong Walls, check them out - very cool designs.

So we all gathered in the rain at the Blencathra Centre, above Threlkeld to think up some shots. My plan involved trying to overcome the crappy lighting and gloom with some off-camera flash and cool lighting effects but there was a problem. My new Pocket Wizards (Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 kit) hadn't turned up yet and I was stuck with standard RF triggers or Nikon CLS. The CLS system is great, works really well, unless you want to hide flashguns around, behind, underneath stuff - which I did. Because CLS is line-of-sight, triggering from the camera, flashguns that are behind you or behind trees (so they aren't seen in the shot) can be tricky to trigger.

So I went with the cheap wireless triggers that I had in my bag - and oh boy, did I have problems! Don't get me wrong, they worked, the flashes went off, the pictures had lighting, but reliable? Nope! The problem is that the battery chambers are rubbish, the batteries move around and fail to trigger so you never really know if you're going to get a flash; then sometimes the flash goes to sleep so the trigger doesn't fire - at which point you remember to set the flashes to cancel the "power saving" or sleep mode, and then, because it's radio frequency, sometimes the rather low energy signal just gets lost and nothing happens and so on and so on.

I started getting really frustrated as I re-shot and re-shot the runners hoping each time that I'd get a consistent flash result - which I did in the end. The trick is to stay calm, keep smiling and act like everything is perfectly normal, whilst underneath problem solving and improvising like crazy. It's the typical "swimming duck" analogy - everything calm on the surface whilst underwater...

Up on the hill in location number two things got a little easier when the sun sprang out for a few fleeting minutes. Only because the clouds where being chased across the sky by a sub-zero, gale force wind. So I shouted and screamed at my cold and suffering runners to shift their bums and run across the skyline before we lost the sun and then do it again, and again, and again (ad inf.) whilst I panned with my 80-200 f2.8 and tried for a shot that looked, well sunny at least. The landscape looked dramatic with the sun, clouds, shadows and looming rain - quick lens change for the wide-angle version to capture that - and then finish up quick before we all died of hypothermia.

I tell you, when you're shooting for a great new client, this is not how you imagine things are going to be. You have dreams of doing your best-ever creative, arty lighting and sports action angles with everything smooth and controlled and relaxed. And here we are surviving the wind and the cold and the rain and the complete lack of any decent light or ambience. Everyone want's to get off the hill and go some place warm and dry and no-one really want's to do the shot again and again to try and make it better - but everyone does, because that's why we're here and we're all professionals!

Anyway, we do finally get a pretty decent selection of shots in the bag, enough to work with on a tight deadline and now they are appearing in magazines and websites and promo ads and stuff. Most won't really notice either way if the shots are any good or not, and certainly won't consider what we went through to get them. But that's OK - because the shots are just there to do a job - a good job hopefully - and if people don't notice the problems and the compromises then presumably you have pulled it off.

So jobs like this are a challenge and one that I'm always up for because I'd like to think I'm equal to that challenge, I can overcome, problem solve, create and produce the goods - snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, so to speak. Bring it on...

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