If you photograph a road race, shoot the winner breaking the tape and crossing the finish line.
This shot was just used as the cover of a Bill Rodgers autobiography.
Bill Rodgers grimaces as he breaks the tape to win the 1979 Boston Marathon (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).
In Boston, the third Monday in April is always a special day – the running of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest continuously run marathon, on Patriot’s Day, a Massachusetts state holiday celebrating Paul Revere’s ride. In 1979, local schoolteacher Bill Rodgers was the most consistent winner in marathoning, and heavily favored to triumph again. I formulated my shooting game plan, beginning with the start in the small hamlet of Hopkinton, Ma. and driving the 26 miles to the finish to photograph the winner. I didn’t want a seat on the flatbed press photographers’ truck that stays slightly ahead of the leader throughout the race because the truck has to veer off near the crowded finish, and the photographers riding sometimes miss capturing the winner at the finish line.
At the start, I climbed a tree about ¼ mile down a hill to capture the sea of runners coming down and filling the road. Slightly before the race began, another photographer pulled up in a cherry picker and set it up to dangle him over the road where the runners would run under him. Just before the starting gun went off, he lowered the cherry picker, but kept it just out of my and other photographers’ lines of sight, so we got our pictures.
After speeding by car to the finish, I climbed an elevated bridge facing the finish line, and shot a determined, grimacing Bill Rodgers breaking the tape, clutching the stocking cap that had kept him warm on this cool day. The finish scene was chaotic, and I couldn’t get down from the bridge in time to photograph Rodgers getting his medal and celebrating. I then understood why some news organizations sent several photographers, because it was so tough for one person to cover everything alone.
1) For races, photograph the leaders or winners crossing the finish line.
2) Watch for strong intensity in the runners’ faces or an emotional reaction after the finish.
3) If possible, photograph action early in a race, and also make it to the finish line in time.