I love to run.  And, I love shooting running.  But, I hate seeing images that are forced or posed.  I hate images that have been lit with too much strobe that it leaves them artificial.  But, most of all, I hate fake running.  


To get a good image of runners, they need to run.  They need to warm up, open up their stride for a while, and then run through the image.  It takes framing, and it takes takes, lots of takes.  To get the right stride, the right hand grip, the right thought going through their mind.  I want the runner to run, to float, to think about what they think about when they run.

Here’s a comparison – look at someone’s portfolio of portraits.  Often, in every image, you will see a person with a flat expression, simple, plain faced.  Some argue that an image cannot be art if the person is smiling.  But, to me, an image is not a portrait if it doesn’t capture some emotion, some thought, some moment.  I don’t want to see a scan of someone’s face.  Yes, there are aspects of a good portrait that include the environment, the clothing, the lighting and the time, but to be an excellent portrait I want to see something in the face, some connection, something going on.  

Shooting a runner, I still want it to have an element of portraiture.  I want it to be a time, a moment, a feeling, not simply capturing clothes on a person in a particular position.  I want there to be something more.  Get the lighting, get the location, get the clothes, get the timing with the model – have all that down, and then … get the person.

And, not just anyone.  A non-runner doesn’t run the same as someone who runs runs.  It seems wrong – just tell someone to run.  It’s running, anyone can do it, right?  But think of it this way, have you ever watched a swimmer swim – then, watched an average Joe go down the pool?  It’s different right?  The stroke, the elegance, the ease of movement – you can see it.  Running – same.

Go run.

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Young woman trail running in the Oakland hills by San Francisco Advertising photographer Robert Houser

At least twice a month we set up test shoots to work with new lighting, new cameras, new models or even new locations.  Last week we were using the new Canon 5D Mark IV with some lenses that had just be re-aligned by Canon for a fitness test. We put the camera and new fitness model, Julia from JE Models, to work under difficult light.  I was hoping for a beautiful fall afternoon, but instead we had nothing but overcast skies.  Using high-speed sync capabilities of the ProFoto B1 while shooting at 1/2000 sec allowed us to clean up the shadows.  

Two hours and some 2000 images later, I had quite a bit of homework to do on the plane to this week’s shoot in Dallas.  I think I most like the moody running shots on the road, but this test was just plain fun. 

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Fitness model photography

Recently we had the opportunity to do a fun project with fitness model Natasha Ward for women’s sportswear company, Title Nine.  We photographed on location in Marin County and at the boathouse in Greenbrae.  Rowing machines, boats, running, pull ups – she was working hard.  You may have seen some of these in the mail in the recent T9 catalogs or on banner ads.


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We shot this week in Oakland in some very urban settings.  A preview.  Which crop on the mural photograph do you prefer?

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