Capturing a great running moment in time
05 September 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, it’s awesome to have you with us. If you’re into trail running and running in some wild and exotic places you’ll know that there are some incredible photo opportunities. If you look at some of the shots that come out of South African trail races, particularly the Wild Series that Old Mutual is involved in, you will know all about it.
We’ve got some fantastic races in this country, I think we’re truly blessed from a landscaping perspective. The canvas we get to work on. I thought I would chat to the person who is behind many of those images. She’s a photographer and does some incredible things, particularly around the Wild Series. It’s a great pleasure to welcome onto Old Mutual Live today Emma Gatland. Emma welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Emma Gatland: Thanks very much for having me Brad, awesome to be here and looking forward to chatting more.
BB: Emma, let’s talk about how you got into photography and you haven’t been doing it for that long. You’re phenomenal at what you do. But where did your love for photography, I say you’ve only been doing it for four years, you’ve been shooting Wild Series for four years. But where did your love for photography come from? Have you been shooting snaps pretty much your whole life?
EG: Yeah, I think it’s something that in the digital age has developed rapidly. With the help of social media, it’s become a real interest to everyone. It’s got everyone’s attention nowadays. I yes, I’ve been involved in the last four years, seriously. But prior to that it was more just a hobby. I think where the interest came is the human element combined with the outdoors that we live in. When you put those two together, you’re creating some magic that can tell a story. By freezing a frame, with the two combined.
BB: It’s pretty cool that you can make a living out of what you once considered a hobby. I think that, for a lot of people, is a life goal and you’re able to do it, it’s pretty cool.
EG: It hasn’t been easy, it’s definitely come with its trials and errors. But very rewarding. Every day you put perspective on that you’re waking up and you’re doing something you love. I think that’s the greatest gift one can have.
My favourite moments to capture
BB: You mentioned the human aspect, what do you love shooting? If you could shoot just one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
EG: That’s a hard one to put a finger on. I think, I love the outdoors, I love the mountains, to the oceans to whatever it is. A bad rainy day to a sunrise, to anything spectacular that you can just freeze on a frame. Yes, I love exploring, I love seeing new adventures. I love watching people push themselves to the limit. Those kind of combined is what I want to shoot. I can’t pinpoint a direct subject, but definitely along those lines.
BB: You talk about people pushing themselves to the limit, the Wild Series is exactly that. It’s an incredible series of runs. Just for what it stands for and what it does for conservation in this country. It allows ordinary people to really do extraordinary things. You get to capture those moments and you get to be taken to some incredible parts of this country. We are so lucky that we live in the place we live in, that provides the backdrop for you to be able to do what you do.
EG: For sure. I think it’s just such a privilege for runners, riders, whatever the sport may be, to go into these places that the Wild Series takes you. Places you would never normally get access to on a daily basis. Just to appreciate the surroundings and what people are doing out there to fight for them and to fight for the future generation to enjoy thereafter.
Photography tips for Trail Runners
BB: Give us some hints and tips, for the average runner. You see it more and more these days and you mentioned with the advent of digital photography how it’s advanced the industry. But everyone nowadays runs with a phone and the phone cameras are getting better and better. What should you be looking for in order to take a good picture? Obviously you need good gear, the better the gear, the better the pic. But for someone who is just running and possibly has a phone with them. What should they be looking for, from a composition point of view? What’s the best way to put a picture together?
EG: Key in that is to always be different. You’ve got to mentally prepare yourself before you take a photo. You’ve got to plan in your head how you’re going to tell a story. From freezing a frame and that’s what photography is all about.
It’s a story, it’s capturing a moment that’s passing, that is true. When taking something with a phone, whether it be a phone, a digital camera or a GoPro; I think the important thing, is just think about your angles. Think about how you can incorporate a story into that frame.
BB: I love that. For you personally, the next one is obviously Mont-aux-Sources Challenge, as far as the Wild Series go. I don’t want to say you shoot the same races over and over, things differ. The weather conditions are different. But how do you freshen things up year on year, shooting the same events? Is it a challenge to get new angles? To be able to tell new stories or is that part of what you do, is that why you love it?
EG: Absolutely, it’s challenging shooting the same events. But in saying that, a challenge is a good challenge. To keep trying new things and to keep saying: How am I going to approach this in a different light? How am I going to make this different for the viewer as opposed to last year? I think we grow in creative mind-sets and we push our abilities and that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy seeing how the progress happens year after year.
Getting around a race like Mont-aux-Sources
BB: It’s one thing shooting a normal road race and it’s pretty easy logistically to get around. But these Wild Series races and let’s talk Mont-aux-Sources as an example, how do you get around? Do you decide prior to the race, these are the spots where I want to be. Then with the organisers plan times on when you’ll be there? How do you get from point to point? Tell us the logistics of doing a shoot and being involved with a race like the Mont-aux-Sources Challenge.
EG: Taking Monties for example, it’s a really tricky one because it’s 25km up and 25km down. But literally, if you drive around from the one, from the top spot back to camp, you’re looking at a good two-hour drive. Your best bet is by foot. We take a look at Google maps, we plot out where maybe the best angles are. Where you can create some perspective on the event. Where people are going to be showing their emotion.
Then tell a story from there. With the logistics of, whether it be driving or mainly, a lot on foot and hiking with the guys. Mont-aux-sources is a strenuous event. A lot of people refer to it as more of a hike run than a trail run. But yes, you do cover a lot of it by foot and good old Google maps helps you with that.
BB: You’ve obviously got to be pretty fit as well. Because it’s not just you that you’ve got to get up there. You’ve got to get all your gear up there too.
EG: That’s always a struggle but that’s why we do it. We do it because we love that adventure pushing side of it. Keeping fit is definitely part of the job.
BB: Are you a runner yourself?
EG: No, I do prefer my mountain bike, but I will attempt a little run if I need to! If I have to be honest, I’m not the tallest, longest legs out there. But it’s amazing what you do to achieve results.
BB: Absolutely. Let’s talk about the gear that you use, what rig have you got at the moment, tell us a little bit about it.
What do you shoot with?
EG: I shoot mainly with two digital DSLR’s and I use a variation of lenses. I’ve got a few favourites and I think it’s signature to how I shoot. But I use something called a ‘fish eye’ which is a very story telling lens. It gives a very wide aspect, almost like the GoPro. But a fantastic lens to create adventure and action shots.
Then I use a good zoom lens which gives you nice depth of field. You can get that nice emotional facial expression shot and just a general wide angle. Just to get in a bit of landscape and showcase a runner or rider where they are in their surrounds.
BB: You mentioned the advent of digital photography and how that’s changed things. Obviously you don’t have to worry about film and processing the film. But the rest of the gear is not the cheapest either. Those lenses and the bodies, it’s not small change.
EG: Not at all. It’s a costly procedure and yes, I’ve had some help from Nikon in that area. They’ve been a fantastic support. So great to have them on board and I absolutely love their gear. You’re pushing it through hard conditions, it’s never easy out there, shooting outdoors. You can’t exactly go back to the client and say it was raining, I couldn’t get any photos. We really do push this gear to the extreme and it never – touch wood – it hasn’t failed yet. After that, there’s the other gear that’s involved, there’s the post-production, there’s the editing. That’s actually where we spend most of our time, is in front of the computer.
BB: In a race like the Mont-aux-Sources Challenge, as an example, how many individual pictures would you take on a day like that?
EG: I would average between 2 500 to 3 500 a day, so it’s quite a few to go through. Obviously you have to get press release out that day and there’s a little bit of pressure now. Guys are pushing for social media stuff a few hours after the event. It’s definitely become very intense work.
BB: Emma, I’m going to touch on something. I’ve got a couple of friends who are photographers and I’m pretty sure I haven’t asked you this question. But I’m pretty sure it’s one of your bug bears as well. Your take on people nicking your photos? It’s so easy in today’s day and age of social media, seeing a picture online and going, I’m going to download it, save it. I’m going to publish it on my social media feed, that’s how you make a living. I just want to urge people not to do it. I’m sure you want to do the same because at the end of the day, that’s how you make a living.
EG: Thanks Brad, you know, you always get a little bit disappointed when you see suddenly one of your photos is a profile picture. It’s been cropped or been edited or changed and something has been put on it and it is disappointing. It’s a bit of a let-down.
I think what we go through to get those photos and it’s years of working on creativity, it’s years of growing in the industry. So much more goes into it than just standing out there with a camera and taking a photo. To those that take the time to drop an email and ask for permission. I really have to give a big shout-out to them. A big up to them for taking the time and respecting the artist’s work.
BB: I think it goes across the board, you wouldn’t go to a doctor and get a free consult. At the end of the day you’re brilliant at what you do, just like somebody’s GP would be, or as a lawyer would be. That’s what you do for a living and you deservedly need to be compensated for it. I understand where people go: Why must I pay for it? But at the end of the day, I think people need to put themselves in your shoes. How would you feel, whatever your occupation is, if somebody was taking your work and using it and benefitting from it? It’s just not on.
I wanted to put that there, do the right thing, don’t steal photographers photos, there you go! I’m off my soap box now, but Emma I think it’s important to say. As far as the number of races and that that you shoot in a year, there’s more and more of them cropping up on the South African running calendar. How many shoots, road races or trail runs would you typically do in a year?
EG: Sjoe, it varies, but there’s a lot of stage events and then the trail runs. I would say on average maybe about 15, average 15.
BB: A lot of work does go into it. What I’m going to do, I’m going to pop your details onto the show notes for this episode as well. So we’ve got quite a few race organisers and that sort of thing that listen to this podcast, if they want to reach out and chat to you, possibly they’re looking for a photographer. Because it really takes your event up to the next level. I’ll put those details on there and they can reach out directly to you. Thank you for your time, best of luck, enjoy Monties and we look forward to seeing you out on the trails.
EG: Thank you Brad, thanks for your time.