The day after the New York City Marathon, Benjamin Norman woke up and opened his email. He saw a congratulatory note from a colleague who, like Ben, had shot imagery of the race for the New York Times. This was the impetus for the felicitations:
I had absolutely no idea [my photograph] was going to run on the front page. After [seeing] that [email], I took a quick trip to the bodega to see for myself. I was, as you can guess, very happy to see the results. It was particularly rewarding to have an untraditional news photograph on A1.
Ben, a longtime freelancer for the Times, has shot this event for various outlets over the course of his career. Though he received a healthy dose of creative freedom, Ben had to turn in his work right after he created it while simultaneously shooting video.
Their pitch was deadline focused. I was asked to file photographs as soon as possible starting around 9 a.m., in addition to filming video for social media. But the photographs were the priority.
They liked my edit, which is always great to hear. As importantly, I got the files in on time.
Pre-planning is vital when it comes to shooting a live sporting event, what with quality shot opportunities literally passing by just as soon they arrive. Since this wasn’t Ben’s first rodeo, he’s attuned to the rhythm of the race and knows exactly where to be to get the most detailed imagery.
I’ve shot the marathon from the Verrazano Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, before, so I had a sense of what angles would work. On the bridge, each wave of runners goes by you in about 4-5 minutes tops, so you have only a few chances to get a variety of shots.
The key is to be intentional with your framing and where you position yourself. The last thing you want to do is be in the way of a runner.
You also want to make sure you’ve got your bearings and are nice and balanced before laying on the shutter. With thousands of people stampeding across a rather narrow stretch of road, it’s easy for Ben to find himself on shaky ground.
The bridge is a wild place to photograph. The whole thing sways when the runners are on it. Feels like a mini earthquake!
Of course, Ben’s front-pager wasn’t the only photo he took, nor the only aspect of the race he documented. We’ve discussed the A1 work, so let’s explore a lovely little B plot that might otherwise get overlooked. Below is a seemingly unmemorable shot of clothing that gets discarded by the runners early in the race. What happens to them after the marathon is positively heart-warming.
The clothes shot was a great idea from the photo editor. It’s November in NYC, so there’s a good chance the temperature will be brisk. The runners need to stay warm before the race starts, so many of them wear an extra layer which they shed during the first mile or two of the race.
I am happy to report the clothes are donated to charity.
Another nice aspect of this assignment, at least from Ben’s perspective, is that his work was chosen to lead the story over that of 4-5 other photographers whom the paper also hired to cover the race. Ben gave the Times a large swath of imagery, but it was his personal favorite that went above the fold.
I think they picked it because it didn’t focus on any single runner, and it told the story of the race without having to single out the winners. Beyond that, it was a lucky catch to get so many shadows and limbs together in a frame.
I always try to play with light and shadows during the marathon. I’ve probably shot a thousand similar frames of feet and shadows over the years.
And the opportunity to play around with everything — a chance born of the trust the New York Times has in one of its most reliable freelancers — is what led to the A1 work.
The sports photo editor gave me a lot of freedom, which was fantastic and enabled me to experiment a bit. I wouldn’t have gotten the photograph I did without that freedom and trust.
See more of Ben’s work at benjaminnorman.com.
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