What’s one thing we all do after a race? We look through the race pics!
Sometimes, a pic captures a runner at his or her best, while other times the struggle is evident. But no matter what, they are a memory of the day and evidence of another race in the books.
Race photographer, Bill Flaws, has photographed about 400 races to date so he’s just about seen it all. Read on to learn more about how he got started and what he loves about taking race pics!
Has photography always been a business or hobby? If so, what types of things do you photograph other than races?
Race photography and photography in general has always been a hobby for me. When I’m not taking pictures at races, I enjoy taking landscape and architectural type photos.
When did you start taking race pics and what inspired you to start?
I started taking pics at races when my wife (Mary Flaws) started running. It was a way to document her races. As she continued running more and more races, I decided that since I was there to support/cheer her on, I might as well snap pics of the other runners. I started posting these pics on our Running in the USA website as a way to generate some interest in the site. Eventually I had people asking if they could buy prints or digital downloads. That is when I decided to create an account at SmugMug to allow people to not only view all the photos but purchase prints, merchandise or downloads.
To date, how many races have you photographed? Also, what are some of the highlights?
It looks like I’ve taken photos at about 400 races (running/tri/du) and have taken close to a quarter million photos. Oh my, that sounds crazy doesn’t it?!?
The furthest away race was the Big Island International Marathon in Hilo, HI which was Mary’s and our friend Joey Heinrichs’ 50th state. I believe I’ve taken race photos in 48 different states – no New York or Kansas for sure. Mary did the New York Marathon during a girls’ weekend trip to New York and she decided to do a marathon in Kansas when I had already committed to take photos at a race here in the Milwaukee metro area. I’m sure someday I will have the opportunity to finish out those two states!
One of the smallest was probably a race that Mary ran in Wyoming on a mountain ski hill. That race had a 50M, 50K, marathon and 10K. Mary was one of about 25 marathoners. As for the largest race I’ve taken photos at…you’d think Chicago Marathon would be an obvious answer since its close and one of the largest (and Mary did run the Chicago Marathon), however I did not take photos when she ran that race! Probably the largest I’ve taken photos at is the Boston Marathon or the Marine Corps Marathon.
What is your strategy when taking pics at races?
Before a race I try to take a look at the course along with checking out Google maps of the general area. From those, I decide which spots on the course I can get to, how far into the race is the location, where will the sun be, etc. At the race, I try to get pics of the start and at least one other spot during the race where the runners have thinned out a bit. I generally try to avoid being right at the finish line so as to not get in the way of spectators/family cheering on their runner.
After photographing so many races – and also being married to Mary – are you also a runner or did you run at some point?
This may be one of the most asked questions I get…So, do you run also? I did run some track in high school. Short distances…200 and 400. That was enough for me! I love the challenge of trying to capture and record athletes in competition. I like the determined looks on their faces and the emotion that comes out when athletes realize they are going to finish a race – be it a 5K or 50 mile. The energy from the spectators is great at most events and I’ve met lots of awesome/inspiring people through this little hobby. Since I don’t run, it’s my way of giving back to the running community.
What are some of the funniest/most interesting ‘poses’ you’ve seen runners do during races?
I usually see the standard things – arms out with a big smile on their face running right at the camera; peace sign; thumbs up; sticking tongue out along with the “moose ears” maneuver (which is mostly from Mary!). I will occasionally get people that see me and jump in the air with a fist up. If you do this, please be careful…I actually had someone do that and he cramped up right as he landed – felt bad for him as he hobbled down the road. I’ve had lots of times when groups of women will stop to pose or a group of friends running side-by-side who will hold hands above like a victory salute. It’s all fun and gives me a chuckle.
What are some memorable races that you’ve photographed?
Some are memorable because of the weather that day or the scenery was awesome or my wife/friends had a spectacular day on the course or the friendly spectators/locals that I talked to. But here are a few that I won’t soon forget …
Run/Walk to Irish Fest in Milwaukee – This was not a good memory but memorable for sure. I had parked my vehicle on Lincoln Memorial Drive and during the race someone did a smash and grab. Broke the passenger side window and took off with a camera backpack and another bag with a backup camera body, lens and other accessories. Never saw that stuff again.
Salmon Marathon in Salmon, ID – This was a memorable one for me because of the locals I talked to did not mention the scenery. I had picked out a spot to take photos and a couple of guys had come out to watch the marathoners go by. They saw me with a big camera and came over to chat while I waited for the marathoners. I was probably there for over half an hour. They were not runners but were very appreciative of this marathon coming through their community and genuine enjoyed cheering for the runners going by.
Boston Marathon – I’ve been fortunate to be able to accompany Mary and other running friends to the Boston Marathon four times. My favorite is taking ‘the T’ from downtown Boston out to mile 17. Lots of spectators but you can still find space to get to the edge of the road to see the lead women and men along with the media trucks, etc. – and then see the rest of the field and hopefully spot your friends! Quite an awesome sight to see and the energy is great.
What are your top tips for taking a great race pic?
The first three are the real tips … the last three are suggestions:
1. Keep the sun at your back, but watch where your shadow falls!
2. Background – Try to pick a spot where the background won’t clutter up or distract from the main focus of the photo, the athlete
3. Get low – take pics looking up at runners, makes runners look better plus if you are taking photos of running kids, you are then down at their level as well
4. Take lots and lots of photos and then select the best ones.
5. Keep the camera as level as possible
6. Try to keep shutter speed well above 1/250 second which will help ‘freeze’ the action.
One thing we’ve noticed is that Running in the USA race pics are very reasonably priced compared with other companies. What was behind the decision to keep prices down?
I did this on purpose. This truly is a hobby for me and this is my little way of hopefully giving back to the running community. Earnings from the sales goes back to paying the hosting company fees for hosting the photos and to buy/repair/replace/upgrade camera equipment.
What upcoming races will you be at and how will runners know it’s you so they can give a friendly wave?
Well, as I tell everyone … I will most likely be at a race that Mary is running or local races in the Milwaukee metro area. So, you may see me at the Mad City 50K in Madison, WI (4/11/2015), maybe at the First Call Half Marathons in Waukesha, WI (4/12/2015), certainly at Run for the Hills in Brookfield, WI (4/26/2015) and Ice Age 50 in La Grange, WI (5/9/2015).
If you see a goof with a big camera and white lens over his shoulder, usually a black hat and crouching near (but not right at the finish line!) … pretty good chance it’s me. Just yell Bill, that’s what most do!
Thanks for chatting with us, Bill! To learn more about Running in the USA, visit www.runningintheusa.com.
Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!