Shooting the Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 Triathlon

Two weekends ago I got an assignment from Southcreek Global Media to shoot the 2010 Foster Grant Ironman Triathlon World Championships, held in Clearwater Beach, Florida (the image above is from the start of the race. As luck would have it, the athlete I focused in on wound up coming in third).

I had never shot any kind of Triathlon before (and honestly, I didn’t know that much about them), so I had to do a lot of research before the shoot to get an idea of what kind of coverage to provide. Even at that, it was a real learning experience, and now that I’ve got one under my belt, I already know all the things I’d do differently next time.

Above: The panning shot above was taken in Manual mode, at 1/50 of a second, so I could blur the background as I panned with the cyclist. Southcreek Global chose this shot, and the one at the top, for their “Hot Shots” gallery (it’s the first time any of my images were chosen to be in “Hot Shots,” so I was pretty psyched!).

The race started just minutes before dawn (at 6:45 am), as the first wave of 1,700+ athletes (including men’s and women’s pros) swam for 1.2 miles, bicycled 56 miles, and then ran a 13.1 mile half-marathon. The shot above was taken near the start of the cycling part of the event. The sun hadn’t been up for too long, so it was still a warm color, and I took a whole series of these slow panning shots directly into the sun.

(Above: This was one taken as the first of the men’s pros reached the beach. I shot this with my 200-400mm f/4 lens on a Nikon D3).

(Above: Here’s the first wave of men’s pros racing for the beach).

(Above: Once the swimmers hit the beach, they run through these showers to get the salty sea water off, but as they’re running through, most of them are already stripping off their wet suits, but even with all the swimming, cycling, and running, the race comes down to literally seconds, so every one counts. This shot was taken with a D700, using the new Nikon 28-300mm lens, out at 24mm. It worked out amazingly well for a daylight shoot like this).

The shot was taken outside the photographer’s area, so I had to fight my way through the crowd to get this shot. Sadly, it was the only one without the guy standing next to me’s arm in it, holding his cell phone out in front of us both, shooting video. And no—unfortunately I’m not allowed to clone his arm out when covering an event like this.

(Above: My brother Jeff was at the race with me—I stayed at his condo the night before which was right near the start point for the race, and since it started at 6:45 am, and I live an hour away, it worked out great. He’s the one that spotted this shot for me. While I was shooting the previous shot, after the runner’s had come through the shower, he was at the other end, and said I should check out the view from the other end because the sun was beaming through the water. I headed down there, got inside the photographer’s area, got down on my knees, and thanks to Jeff got the shot you see above).

(Above: Last year’s winner, Michael Raelert from Germany, was favored to win again this year, except for the fact that not one previous winner had ever repeated, but all the buzz was about him, so I wanted to make sure I got a number of photos of him just in case. As it turned out, he won, and that’s him above, and in the very last image of this post).

(Above: Another panning shot taken on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge, and key part of the course, and one that connects downtown Clearwater with the beaches. This one’s taken a 1/60 of a second. The sun is fully up at this point so I’m having to shoot at f/22 to keep everything from being way overexposed and totally blowing out).

(Above: I got this shot of the runner getting splashed with Gatorade as he goes through a water station. The thing I like best about this shot, is the reflection of the downtown buildings in his sunglasses, but I also like the way at first you don’t notice the cup, and it looks like he’s got an invisible bottle of water).

(Above: I took a number of shots at the water station, positioned behind the runners heading into the sun, so the water they’re splashing to cool down would be back-lit. Plus, I thought it was cool that he was representing the U.S. Army).

(Above: Here’s Michael Raelert, the two-time race winner during the third and final leg, just minutes before his big win).

The Wrap Up
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect shooting an Ironman event like this, and while I didn’t go in knowing exactly what to shoot, exactly where to be and when, and how to expose for it all, I sure learned a lot this time, and know better what to do next time. I feel pretty lucky to get the shots that I did get (and that Southcreek not only picked those two for their Hot Shots gallery, but picked one for rotation on their home page all week).

Thanks to Kathy and the gang at Southcreek Global for having the confidence in me to send me out to shoot something totally new for me, and thanks to you guys for letting me share my first triathlon shoot with you here on the blog.

  1. Superb! Some killer shots in there Scott. When I first saw the panning shot of the cyclist into the sun it made me think straight away of Chase Jarvis and as for the shot of the runner in the shower area again with the sun…well the only word to describe it would be awesome!

    Seriously good series of images here and despite not being a ‘sports’ shooter, very inspiring!

    Great work as always,

  2. Great shots Scott. My son is in the Assult on Mt Mitchell bike ride (100miles straight up) and I always have a hard time finding a “different” shot of bicycles. I will try that panning backlit shot for sure! C+KB!

  3. Great series – but what would you have done differently? I shot the Brighton Marathon last year and found very quickly that lugging a lot of gear around is not the best of ideas. (This year I’m doing a shoot of the volunteers, so I can travel light all day – 12-24 / 24-70 plus 50mm 1.4 for fun)

      1. Now , how do I view them , I am not a computer buff? !
        Oh I checked out our swim times , you had to be cold , a long swim it was ,, for all of us. Yellow buoy’s are way to hard to see with dark goggles. Next time if I ever do a cold swim again , light colored goggles for sure.

  4. Terrific shots, Scott!

    BTW – I think it is a 28-300 lens. You may have made a typo when referring to is as a 24-300. Wish is did go as wide as 24; that 4 mm means a lot sometimes.

  5. Great pictures, especially the shots of the biker and the guy running through the showers into the sun.
    Those really stood out from the pack, and i guess it´s those pictures that makes you wanna be a photographer.

    1. Hi Tyson:
      I mostly shot with the 200-400mm f/4 mounted on a monopod, which meant lugging it around all morning, which definitely gets old. The 28-300mm was on my 2nd body.


  6. great stuff!! its cool that you got to shoot at a triathlon. the athletes are amazing. this was actually a half-ironman. double all the distances for an ironman. that shows you how amazing theses athletes really are!!

  7. Wow Scott! Simply amazing captures!!! For not know what was going to take place, you did a Super Job! I really like the panning shot (as did the company) and was wondering if this is something you could put on Downtown TV as a “How To”. I’ve tried several times to do this without success. Anyway, thanks for sharing your great experiences with us. It’s fun to live an exciting life through you and your Photos!



      1. Darren, you can do either but it’s about timing, getting the right even swing horizontally. If you shoot continuously, the you will have a bunch of good shots or a bunch not good. I personally shoot everything cont.

      2. Hey Scott,

        That would be cool! I’ve learned so much from you and the other guys!



  8. Great series of shots, Scott! I have to agree with most of the previous posters that the pan of the cyclist and the backlit runner going thru the shower are the best. Can’t imagine what kind of pictures you could get if you knew what you were doing! :D

    I watched Moose’s videos on Kelby Training and he covered panning while shooting birds in flight. Just one of those techniques that you have to practice over and over, but once you get it, it comes naturally. I agree with Dennis (above) that this would make a great segment on DTown. Gee, you could have Moose come in and do the tip!


  9. Great shots Scott. An Ironman race is so fun to watch, I am sure it is even better shooting for the event and getting to stand places other cannot. I took some photos of the Ford Ironman in Madison, WI this year. I love the look at the start of the race when you see the splashes caused by thousands of arms and legs.

  10. Just out of curiosity, so I’m noticing that they all have a Southcreek logo on them. Does that mean that they own the copyrights to your images? Or was just something they required in a contract that they have their logo on the images? …

  11. Really cool stuff. Funny yesterday I shot shot the Ford Ironman here in Phoenix. Although I shot only one spot on the bike leg, it was a first for me and took a while to get in the swing but was a lot of fun.

  12. Hi Scott,
    I just wanted to let you know that triathlon is spelled wrong in the title (spelled triathalon). I work for a company that produces triathlons and people that do them and sponsor them get a little touchy about the name being misspelled. Great post though! Love the shots.

  13. Scott

    Images look great. I covered one triathlon. It was difficult because it wasn’t very organized, no one told me where to go and to top if off one of the racers sadly had a heart attack and drowned in the first leg of the race. All in all not a great day.

  14. Great images as always Scott. The 200-400mm for the swimmers coming in must have been great. Love the shot your brother spotted of the sun through the fresh water showers.

    Brad- it still looks like Scott’s saying he used the 28-300mm lens *AT* 24mm [that is amazing LOL]:

    “…This shot was taken with a D700, using the new Nikon 28-300mm lens, out at 24mm. It worked out amazingly well for a daylight shoot like this)….”

  15. Scott, awesome images. I can’t believe you were able to shoot so many great shots from all three parts of the event. I’ve found the transitions to be so quick that you can easily miss the race leaders. Having shot 2 local triathlons before, I know you’ve got to really hustle from the beach to the transition area. Normally, it’s a 2 or 3 person job. The fact that you did it by yourself, just shows how hard you work.

    We had 2 of our Atlanta Triathlon club members compete at this event. If you’re down there again next year, I might make the trip to support the team members and say hello to you.

  16. Scott,
    Congratulations on a job that is beyond “well done!” Your backlit water shot, seen by Jeff, is one of the finest sports shots I’ve seen in a long time. You were wise to park yourself by the water station as the splashing and spilling water and Gatorade make for great stop-action drama. I’ve shot three marathons and I’m a regular at the 30km water station.

    Your shot of the cyclist at sunrise is surely bound for your sports portfolio and I can see why Southcreek took to it. Do you retain copyrights to these images or does Southcreek just permit you to use them for “self-promotion” purposes?

    Trev J.

  17. I continue to be amazed that you have time to shoot for Southcreek, tend to the various seminars, record online shows, go to football/basketball games, and do a lot of other stuff that you share with us here. I figured that you have maybe two hours of sleep each week. ;)

    As always, thanks for sharing these images and wonderful stories.

  18. Hey Scott. Awesome shots. I would really be interested in what kind of research you did before the race. As American’s we are all somewhat familiar with football and have an idea of what to look for but the more unique sports are likely to provide as aspiring amateurs more of an opportunity to shoot.


    P.S. Thanks to your books I know have several photos on istockphoto and they are actually selling. Thank you for all the time you put in.

  19. Awesome shots!!! I’m a triathlete and I’m always disappointed with the shots the photographers get of the event. #2 and #6 are just wicked cool!!! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Nice job there, Scott. And not bad for a triathlon rookie. They’re not easy. I also shot the Kona Ironman this year while working with NBC Sports. It’s the 3rd year running I’ve had a chance to help them during the day… and I always bring my camera along. This year I shot exclusively with the new 28-300 and think my photos at the finish line are as good as any of the guys with the “pro” glass. The advantage it had there over them was everything was on one body… no missed shots fumbling for that rig with the wide angle! :)

  21. Congratulations ! on have 2 – 1 images picked up for the gallery and rotation. Superb level of competition that means.

    Couple of shots I personally love are the very first shot, one your brother suggest, the one of the winner nice crisp focus shot. The one of the US Army is real nice. The glass one. Really like a little fun guessing on that shot.

    Thanks on the tech details as always.

  22. That’s some excellent shooting for a sport you’ve shot before, even more excellent for your first tri! I did find your commentary about fighting your way through the crowd to get the shot, and only getting one without someone’s arm in the shot – at what point do you think the photographers should be given the clear shot vs. the fans getting to see the sights of the event? I fully understand the promoter’s wish to get great shots to publicize and grow their event, and fully respect the photographer’s wish to get great shots to sell and/or “earn their keep”; nonetheless, the fans do often pay to be there, and do help energize the contestants, etc.

  23. Having shot several triathlons here on the Big Island of Hawaii, I personally have chosen to shoot only the bike event. I really can’t imagine you, Scott, scurrying around to cover all 3 events. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN… My buddy hired a helicopter this year to shoot all the swimmers at the start and that is all he shot. Then he went out to breakfast to upload. He shoots for Getty.
    I, too, can reiterate how many times I’ve set up at an event only to have some bozo continually step in front or stick a cell phone in front of me. It’s like a Ford Pinto pulling out in front of a Ferrari. (What ARE they thinking?)
    I may apply to shoot for South Creek next year and take the easy paycheck in lieu of hustling my pics too. I use the term “easy” loosely as it is backbreaking, stooping, long hours on the asphalt and lava and HOT work. I mostly shoot from near ground level with wide angle. Yes, Knee pads. Here’s a few
    If that link isn’t HOT, copy/paste.
    alohadios, Jock

    1. What ARE they thinking? They’re probably thinking they want a picture or video to remember the event, perhaps of the one contestant they came to see/support. Isn’t that a reasonable thought to have as a fan/spectator? Should they miss their shot because a pro is standing behind them hoping for the perfect shot, regardless of which contestant is in the shot?

  24. Hey….where are the photos of the tri-women? Just got back from IM Arizona where the the most excitement centered around Chrissee Wellington’s historic race. So what is it…don’t you like women racers, or do you just discriminate against promoting and taking pics of women?

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