Photographing the Afton Trail Run

July 4th weekend is the traditional weekend of the Afton Trail Run at Afton State Park just outside the Twin Cities. This long standing event is a hallmark of summer in the trail running world around the area, and is known for its ability to test runners with stretches of rugged terrain and climbing that you don’t often get outside of the Superior Hiking Trail. That makes it incredibly popular as a training run for the Fall Superior races, as well as a great way to celebrate running in Minnesota heat and humidity.

Even though I’ve run the event many times, this year found me behind the camera again. This year’s event was split into two days due to COVID restrictions that weren’t quite lifted in time for permitting a single day event. I signed up for the Friday shift and got assigned to the finish line. When photographing in a single spot all day I set up with a monopod (Manfrotto Element Aluminum) and Strobaframe camera flip bracket to give my arms a break from constantly holding up the camera. Although it sometimes limits me in capturing shots away from the finish line, it’s worth the sacrifice for taking the load off.

For the most part my role at the finish line is to capture the runners as they flow through chute. Because of the blazing sunlight I was able to go manual at1/2500 at f/2.0 and not worry about anything. Even if a cloud came over I was still within a stop (plus I still had ISO set to auto to help with any random changes). Traditionally I’ve stuck to a portrait mode aspect ratio and snapped off a few quick shots in succession as they approach. However, this year I experimented with some landscape style shots that came out really nice. Thanks to the Strobaframe I could switch between the two quickly. If the race has been as busy as a normal year, I probably couldn’t have done that.

Approaching the finish!

It got me thinking that I’d love to set up with a second camera and cameraman to just take care of the portrait mode shots while I concentrated on some more artistic angles. Something to consider for the next time.

Editing a fully sunny race is not my favorite. The harsh sunlight creates so many shadows that you often end up with contrast that is over the top for finish line portraits. To combat this I tend to warm the photos up a bit to give them a bit more character, and take away some of the brutality of direct sunlight. Some years I photograph out on the course and I specifically look for shady spots to avoid this issue.

Overall, I’m happy with how it all came out. Here’s the album for folks who are looking for their pics.

Cool-down at the finish!

Featured Image PC: Ryan Cooper


Beer, running, and geeky things.

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