Nowadays everybody has a camera on their phone, but how many of them really know how to use it? Instagram used to be all about images but if you do parkour it’s been all about the video since they added them in 2013 (R.I.P. Vine). If you look at the numbers videos will almost always out perform photos (even those shirtless gym pics bro/sis) so why should you care about photos? In this article we’ll discuss what I’ve learned about shooting parkour event photography over the past few years.
As of the writing of this article, if you’ve seen a photo on this website then I personally have clicked the shutter to create the image. Since 2015 when I met my partner (my beautiful Sony a7) I have photographed many of the largest parkour events in North America, including: JumpFest, Hubbable, Beast Coast and APEX International to name a few. I have never taken a photography class. I have never read the manual for my camera (bought that shit used on CraigsList). I can’t even tell you how to use most of the settings properly after 100x hours clocked using the damn thing. But what I can tell you about is how to capture moments that make you feel like you were standing there when your favorite athlete smashed that legendary challenge on the big day.
1. Become one with the crowd.
Before we even get into how you are taking photos we need to talk about how you are moving around your environment. You know that part of Assassin’s Creed games when you have to blend in with the crowds to complete the mission? That’s your job at all times as an event photographer. The athletes should feel so comfortable with your presence that it feels like you aren’t even there. Now obviously that’s not always possible and you will inevitably get those cheesy, looking at the camera and posing photos everyone seems to love. But for me the moments that matter most are the ones that happen organically, not ones that exist just because a camera was present. The goal is to capture the feeling of the event as best you can without tampering the event itself. We can’t all be ninjas, but event photographers should try their best to be, for the good of the Lightroom catalogue.
2. Go with what makes you feel.
Now that you’ve managed to successfully blend in with the crowd you can get a clearer picture of which moments need to be photographed. This is largely subjective but in general my philosophy for event photography is the photo should make you feel like you were there on the day – laughing, crying, yelling or otherwise feeling some type of way. Anything else shouldn’t even make it past round one of selecting your best images in Lightroom or Photoshop (or Snapseed or whatever Apple uses). In order to do this carefully you have to pay very close attention to the people of the event, what are they like together? How do they move? How do they talk? While I may sound like a robot here it’s really important to know what you are capturing in an image if that image is going to be worth sharing any time in the future. Nothing makes me sadder than going to an event page to look at photos and seeing 45 shots of the same wall people were flipping off of – dare to get the shots that you actually had to work for. Take some photos of the trick wall sure, but make sure you capture the look in a kid’s eyes the first time they break a challenge as well. One will be a much better image than the other when it’s all edited.
3. Move as often as you have to.
Some of your best shots will absolutely come to you. You’ll be lined up and focused and something interesting happens within your vision and bam you’re a professional photographer (at least in your heart). But in order to get a variety of images and a true feeling of the event you will need to move as often as possible to capture more than just the same athletes doing the same challenges over and over. That being said sometimes you have to move a lot to get the same images just in hopes that some of them turn out alright. I remember one event in particular where I would run the speed course alongside an athlete and literally have to stride a rail while shooting them (times I wish I used autofocus instead of manual). I had no way of knowing how each athlete would handle the speed course so I had no way of knowing which spots of it were best to photograph – which means I ran the speed course once for each athlete that ran – because that’s the job. No one expects you to work that hard, but if you want those one in a million shots you have to take a million images in the first place.
4. Don’t take a million images.
Remember way back when I mentioned taking a million images? Yeah. Don’t do that. For your own sanity and for the good of the editing process. Each year for the last JumpFest I have taken dramatically less images than the year before because I learned which moments to pay attention for, which spots people do which challenge at, and which images no one has seen at the event yet – those are the ones you need to focus on. Less images to edit means less time editing (my least favorite part of the process personally) but it doesn’t mean less quality images. Only you, the crowdblending, emotion catching ninja photographer can create those images. It’s often a thankless job and you won’t always be paid what you deserve, but because of you the history of the athletes, the event, the sport itself are preserved for others to wonder what it was like to be there on the day.
5. Have fun.
Be present. Be patient. Shoot well.
And that’s all there is to it. I’m not going to teach you about how to set up your ISO or shutter speed (you can YouTube that shit) because the person holding the camera is more important than the camera itself. What the camera captures when that shutter clicks exists solely because your eye put it there. That’s a big responsibility so make sure it’s in focus or else no one will invite you to take more unpaid photos at their next event. All jokes aside if you can remember some of the advice in this article you’ll be posting quality images regardless of the dollar signs in your camera or bank account. Some of my favorite images are priceless for my portfolio and a dollar amount would hardly sweeten the deal. I’m sure we’ll get into another article about pricing yourself and negotiating rates as a freelance media person in parkour – but what I want you to remember most for event photography is to feel. Because no one else will do it for you and everyone else is still taking pictures at the big trick wall right now.