You can’t believe the number of photographs we have taken of our triathletes from all of their races – well, you probably actually can if you’ve been a trisupporter for any length of time.  You start off wanting to get EVERY shot of your triathlete you possibly can.  You are so proud of yourself and can’t wait to show them the shot you got of their ass flying by you on the bike.  (Oh, come on, you know you’ve got tons of these shots on your camera).

swim start at Ironman World Championships in Kona

Swim start at Ironman World Championships in Kona. 

But, after a while, you just stop taking most of them, because they all look alike and even our triathletes don’t seem to care anymore.  I seriously have trouble even telling which race the photo is from much of the time, unless I recognize the scenery or it’s dated.  Does this sound like you?  Well, we have a solution.

I started asking some photographer friends and family for tips on taking creative, action photos that will wow just to shake things up a bit.  My brother-in-law, Mark Fellman, gave me many tips, along with Rick Gerrity, and Bryant Austin   You seriously need to check out their sites for some amazing shots.  I also actually just took out my camera and practiced taking photographs with different settings.  I came away with some really awesome tips, so wanted to share them with you.

Be advised – these tips are not designed for phone cameras.  These are tips to take with an actual camera that lets you set your own shutter speed.  A digital SLR camera is ideal, but most point-and-shoots will allow you to set the shutter speed.

We’d love to see how you use these tips, so please share some photos with us and we’ll post them all right here……

Zack skydiving - Photo by Mark Fellman

My nephew enjoying the thrill of tandem skydiving! Photo courtesy of Mark Fellman.


1.  Know your camera.  There are so many cameras and levels of expertise, it makes it difficult to give specific instructions.  But, one of the most important keys to good photography is actually knowing how your camera works.  These are the three areas you need to get to know on your camera:  APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, AND ISO.  Questions you need to answer by getting hands on with your camera:

    • How does changing the aperture (this determines how much light is taken into the camera) affect the shot?  In this mode, the camera sets the shutter speed, so you don’t have to.  It’s also great for a sunny day, which we hope most of your races are!
    • What do fast (freeze) and slow (blur) shutter speeds do?
    • And, what does changing the ISO do?  On a sunny day, set to 400 and if overcast, go to 800-1200.

Master these 3 things and you are 80% there.  Just try not to always use the automatic mode and forget it.  It’s time to up the game.

2.  If you want to try a creative blur, you have two choices – you can either blur the background or the moving subject.  Both take a slow shutter speed, like 1/30 or 1/15 of a second or slower.  To blur the background, you and the camera need to pan with the subject; do as steady of a pan as possible, at the same speed as the subject, and keep the subject in the same spot in the frame.  To blur the moving subject, hold still and do not pan.  The background should stay in focus.

blurred speeding train image photo by Carissa Rogers

Sometimes it seems like our cyclists are moving as fast as a speeding train….Photo courtesy of Carissa Rogers,

When Bryant Austin photographs runners, he uses a telephoto lens, somewhere in the 100 to 200mm range.  He then sets it to shutter priority at around 1/60th of a second.  When they run by him, he pans and follows their movement through the view finder.  As he pans, he composes several photographs.  With the combination of a slow shutter speed and a telephoto lens, you should achieve a nice blurred background motion effect.  It takes some playing around with to obtain the results you desire.  But, it’s a good start!


Blurred background with cyclist…

3.  Creative angles – Mix up your angles and shoot from the ground or at least at a low angle.  You will get such a different perspective.  If your camera has a tilt screen, you can put the camera really low and get some drama in the shot using the low angle.  Just shoot those legs running by for a change.

taking photos at creative angles

Creative angles can add an interesting detail.

4.  You don’t need a giant telephoto lens, especially for running and biking, as you can get pretty close to your subject.  For races, it’s good to have an idea as to when your subject will be coming by and most trisupporters should have a decent idea as to what your triathletes’ times will be.  You can use a wide-angle lens, 17-40mm, to close in on the action.

photos by Carissa Rogers

Photos courtesy of Carissa Rogers,

5.  If all else fails and you either have no interest in figuring out how your camera works or don’t have the time, use the sport mode for freezing action.  A fast shutter speed, 1/500th of a second, is needed to freeze the action, if there isn’t a sport automatic mode.

6.  Check your camera to see if you can set the frames per second to take multiple images or “burst” images.  Go for the maximum number to improve your odds of getting that perfect shot.

stop action photography with burst mode

Taken using 1/500th shutter speed and burst mode.

7.   Try and take shots with the sun behind your back and not looking into the sun.  I’ve got plenty of pictures that are so light, you can barely make out the objects in them and they generally ended up in my trash bin – but, you may be able to salvage them – see below.

how a bit of editing can save an image

With just a little editing, it’s savable…

8.  When you’re got the picture you like, do some editing through an editing program like Photo Shop,  PicMonkey, or if you’re using a Mac, iPhoto.  It seriously makes a HUGE improvement and can make all the difference in the quality of your shot and even save the photograph from the trash bin.  Speaking of which, don’t delete any shot you like, but may not be perfect, until you’ve tried editing to see if you can make it a winner.

So, there you have it.  Practice these tips for taking creative action photos that will wow a bit at home before the big race and you’ll be confident and ready to go come race day.   Maybe you’ll finally get some shots that you’ll be proud to frame and hang in your house or give as a gift.  Just don’t be afraid to shoot away.  In this day and age,  you can store so many photos and then delete them down the line.  No more butt shots as they ride by, unless of course that’s what you were aiming for…

Ironman Austria

Group butt shots at Ironman Austria.

If you must use your iPhone, here are some great tips from Becky Davenport of TravelingMom to help you take a better picture.