Outside of my comfort zone - a venture into the unknown - dradd's photography

Its been widely known where I work that I am quite passionate about my photography, and given the company I work for now sponsors the Great Run events around the country it was only a matter of time before I was asked if I could volunteer my photographic skills to one of these events.

To be honest I wasn't too keen when first asked. This type of event meant I would be photographing people, lots of people, and mostly not even people I knew. Being a wildlife photographer I don't photograph people, I just don't feel comfortable doing it. For me its almost 'creepy'; an intrusion into someone's personal space. I'm not happy doing that. However leave me in a field watching a wild creature for hours on end and I'm absolutely fine.

But once I was told that I would get a press pass, and it would all be legitimate, I resigned myself to the task, and in a way mildly looked forward to it.

The next thing was to think about what kit I would take. As the event in question was to be held in London, I quickly dismissed taking my newly acquired Canon 1DX MkII. For this event my trusty Canon 70D would be up for the task. Coupled with the 100-400mm Canon lens, and an 18-135mm lens, this should be fine. As a backup, I took along my old Canon 600D body, 'just in case' something failed.

Armed with an ample supply of memory cards and spare batteries (I've read the horror stories of photographers on assignments having forgotten to take batteries or memory cards, or having kit fail. As this was for work, I was leaving nothing to chance!), my kit bag was packed and ready to go.

So to the event itself: held at the Newham Olympic park in London, scheduled to have 12,000 runners taking part, my remit was to capture candid shots of the event for my company. Official photographers would have the key events covered (race starts, medal ceremonies etc.), I just needed to capture the mood of the day. Coupled with not knowing my way around the venue, it being a really hot Sunday in July, and countless spectators to move through between events, this was going to be a tough call. Part of me wanted to be back in a field observing something with fur to feathers again...

But once I got into the swing of things, it wasn't too bad, and the enjoyment factor was moved up a notch when I was given leave to join the professional photographers on the start and finish lines to capture set shots of race organisers and race starters. It was quite a buzz.

However, thirty or so minutes into the activity of snapping away, I realise I'd made a bit of an error of judgement...

...I was starting to wish I'd brought along the 1DX rather than the 70D. It wasn't that the 70D was letting me down, it was just that I was missing a number of features I've started to get used to in the 1DX: AF tracking, 14 f/ps shooting/61 point AF etc. etc. Essentially it would have been ideal for this kind of event.

Not to be put off, I got on with the task in hand, and after a while made another observation; having a more general purpose lens would have been useful. The 100-400mm was ideal for those long shots down the track, ideal for 'sniping' from afar and getting those candid shots of athletes I'd been asked to get, but as subjects got closer, and there was a lot of photo worthy activities going on around me, it was time to break out the 18-135mm. Now this is a stock lens, and I've had it since I got my 600D some years back. Most of the time it stays on my 600D which has been relegated to 'garden wildlife' camera, so the lens has seen a lot of action, and is now getting a little tired. Despite that it still gives some great results, so I'm confident in using it.

Swapping lenses so often was starting to become a bit annoying, and again I thought that it would have been useful having the 1DX with me just for the 100-400mm lens, and the 70D with the 18-135mm lens. True, I could have stuck the 18-135mm on the 600D, but that body was exclusively there as an emergency fallback, and given it has way less features than the 70D, I wasn't too keen on using it in anger unless I really had to.

It was around now I was comparing sports photography vs. wildlife photography. Both genres share some similarities: big glass, high speed shooting etc., but the difference is the speed at which scenes can change meaning you need to swap between close and far distance quite rapidly.

Having a midway piece of glass fitted to your camera body is an option, but most realistic is fielding two cameras each with different length lenses on them. It's more obvious than you think when you're in the thick of it. With wildlife photography you can pretty much chose a lens and stick with it for the duration of the shoot; not so much when capturing sporting events. So with that in mind, I've started eyeing up the Canon 70-200mm lens...but lets see where this goes.

For the day, I got some great shots (shooting 1,405 photographs to be exact), and my remit was fulfilled. Everyone seemed happy with the results, and I learnt a lot, not only about my own skills, but about photographing for a different genre. It is really worth it if you’re going to push your skills, and to see what you actually can do when taken out of your comfort zone: can you apply the basics of photography not just to wildlife photography? How well do the skills transfer? How quickly can you adapt?. For me it was a great experience and a real confidence boost. But I can safely say the day after I was out around familiar local wildlife haunts with the 1DX, doing what I love the most and feeling very comfortable with it.


Oh, before I forget, a small sample of photos I took on the day can be found here.

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