You know when you have an image in your head but you’re not quite sure how to make it happen?
That’s what gets me excited (and a bit scared) as a photographer.
I do a lot of my run/fitness photography in natural light. But a lot of the lululemon gear that I shoot has reflectivity built right into the garment for safety reasons.
I’ve used a couple different techniques to capture this reflectivity in a natural way, but have always thought that there is a more creative way of demonstrating it.
The concept for this shoot was to capture the reflectivity as a streak while also capturing the runner in stride.
How I achieved the Reflective Runner
A lot of people have asked me about this photo. Is it a single exposure or a combination of a few? Is it real or is it Photoshopped?
Read on to find out.
I couldn’t have made this happen without the generous help of these two people:
- Maddie is an amazing triathlete and fellow blogger who was kind enough to be my guinea pig in front of the camera
- Fatima is someone who is passionate about photography, always has a great attitude and is keen to help on shoot
To make this photo happen, I needed the following:
- Camera – obviously
- Tripod – to keep things steady during the long exposure
- Flash – to capture Maddie in the perfect stride
- Headlamp – to shine a light on the reflectivity of the garments
When doing a shoot like this, you don’t get a lot of winners. Timing is everything and so there’s going to be images where things are off by just enough to make you keep shooting. Once I had this shot, I knew I could stop.
Let’s break down how I achieved the two main components of the shot:
- The Reflective Streak – This was captured with a combination of a long exposure and having Fatima follow Maddie with the headlamp as she ran into the scene. The waviness of the lines is due to the movement of Maddie’s body as she ran; up and down like a sine wave. Fatima had to change the intensity of the light as Maddie got closer so that I wouldn’t get any ghosting and the reflectivity wasn’t too bright.
TIP: The headlamp must be on the same axis as the camera for the reflectivity to reflect directly back to the lens.
- The Runner In Stride – When we first stated, I was working with timed exposures (i.e. 4 seconds exactly). This made getting the right moment extremely difficult because Maddie had to time her running and try to be in the right stride at the right time. After many failed attempts I switched over to bulb mode so that I could be in control of when the flash fired. Instead of counting down, I would just tell Maddie when to start, press and hold the shutter and then release it when she was in the right spot. That’s why the actual exposure for the hero shot was 3.9 and not 4 seconds.
TIP: Use a bulb exposure and rear curtain sync on the flash to have complete control of when the runner is frozen.
Put those things together in a single shot and here’s what I saw on the back of my screen:
So as you can see, the image is indeed a single exposure. You can also see that I’ve done a number of things in post production to stylize the image and fix some issues, but the streaks are real.
The Post Production
Clearly the shot straight out of camera is not the same as the final image. Here’s the issues and opportunities I saw and edited for first in Lightroom:
- Maddie is too dark
- The lower left corner is too bright
- I see clouds in the background that are interesting but too dark
- The image could use some contrast and clarity
But there were still some things that I didn’t like and wanted to fix:
- The whole image lacked colour and I thought it could do with a bit of pop. The top that Maddie was wearing also came in pink, so I chose to match that colour.
- The bush on the left is distracting, I wanted to get rid of it so I cropped it out.
- I don’t like that the reflectivity starts from a spot. I wanted it to go out of the frame. Cropping helped solve that as well
- Due to the long exposure and Maddie’s dark run tights, there is some ghosting on her thigh. This is because the lights on the horizon were burning themselves onto the image for the entire 4 seconds. This makes her legs look see-through (ghosting) and so I needed to fix this for them to look real.
TIP: Taking a photo like this requires an area that is very dark and is devoid of other light sources.
These changes are more easily done in Photoshop and were the final touches on the image. Here’s the finished result of the reflective runner image again to compare:
So that’s it. If you have any questions, please comment below.
If you try this technique for yourself, I’d love to see the results. Or if you’d like a similar image for your creative project, please get in touch to discuss.
HI. I need to do something like this on the weekend. Taking pictures of a trail race….in the dark. They will be wearing head torches, so the streak of light would come from their head. Why f11 and not f2.8 for example? How did you change her top to pink please?
Hi Gwynfor, that’s exciting that you get a chance to capture photos like this! I chose f11 for two reasons.
1. To kill as much ambient light as possible in the background so that I wouldn’t get the background ghosting onto her body.
2. To give me more depth of field to work with. Since I prefocused around where I wanted her (but didn’t know exactly where she’d be, having more depth of field make sure she was in focus.
Using f2.8 will allow more light in, but may not give you the shutter speed you want to get the head torch trail you’re looking for (it will depend on how fast they are running as well). Will you be using a flash as well?
PS I used Photoshop to sample the colour pink I wanted from another image, brushed it on another layer and changed the blending mode to colour. Hope that makes sense!
Hey Matt, thanks for the inspiration.
We’re going to try this with some new Adidas apparel up here in Van. I’ll let you know if we get some decent images!
Hey Chris, you’re very welcome! Great to hear you’ve found some inspiration in this post. Let me know how it goes and link the results when you have them. I’d love to see what you come up with!
Hey Matt, just heading out with the Adidas rep tonight and wanted to ask what mod you used on the flash? Now that I look again at the image, was it on camera or off?
I’ll send off some of what we capture!
Hey Chris, I remember trying a few different set ups to get the look I wanted. I sorta needed it to be front lit, since any shadows would have disappeared. So I basically had the camera on a tripod (so that there wasn’t any blur of the landscape), with the flash on the hotshoe set to rear-curtain (so it would be front lit and help cause the final reflection in the reflectivity on the garment) and someone tracking the talent with a headlamp to get the streak. I didn’t use any modifiers, but feathered the light up to the sky to try and control spill. If I were doing it again, I’d probably look at what other solutions I could use since I still got too much spill on the ground. Hope that helps – best of luck!
thanks Matt. We’ve got reflective shoes as well as jacket and shorts so I may need two aux lights with my follow along runner. I’ll let you know!
You’re very welcome! Just make sure that the headlamps (or whatever you end up using for that) are on axis with the lens as much as possible to get the reflectivity to show up. Looking forward to seeing your results.
My name is Matt, I am getting into sports photogrsaphy in Copenhagen. After assisting on a couple of half marathon shoots and the full marathon this year I am beginning to shoot my own stuff with a local running club. And I have a coupld of questions that I hope you might be able to answer.
1. Could you run through how you brightened Maddie in lightroom?
2. Do you know what the flash settings were and how was it positioned?
Hi Matt, thanks for reaching out! Happy to help.
1. I brightened Maddie by pushing the exposure up by +1.00 stop. I also had all of my highlights/shadows/whites/black pushed to the right (brighter) by different amounts. Using the tone curve is another way of adding brightness exactly where you want it.
2. I’m not sure what the exact flash settings were, as I just played around until I got the look I wanted. I had my flash on camera/tripod set up but it wasn’t pointed directly at Maddie. That allowed me to get a less “spotlight” look due to the way the edge of the light “feathers”. Most of the power of the light (the center) just disappeared in the sky.
Sorry for the delay – I just got back from a weeklong shoot in Tasmania (it was epic and difficult at the same time!). Let me know if you have any more Qs!