We showed up in Ouray in July at the Historic Western Hotel absolutely blown away with where we were. If you’re like me you’ve never heard of Ouray before, but I can tell you that it is simply one of the most beautiful towns I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The first evening there we were greeted by a jaw dropping sunset accompanied by a double rainbow. People were stopping in the streets of the small town to take photos of the eye candy in the sky, and you couldn’t help but feel the good vibes in the air as we headed back for in introduction session and a good night of sleep before starting out early.Time to introduce the group. First, we had the pleasure of being accompanied by the Editor of TR Magazine, Mike Benge, who brought an awesome amount of knowledge and insight into the editorial side of the business – something I had never really had much of considering our typical clientele and assignments. Beside him representing the magazine was the Photo Editor, Randy Levensaler, who is an awesome photographer himself and also added his own creative eye and expertise to the learning environment. Randy’s eye for cropping and composition was an entire schooling to me and really helped me start looking at images outside of my typical 2:3 or 3:2 crop right out of the camera. Instructing at the camp were two awesome photographers and great guys, Fred Marmsater who had just gotten in from shooting the epic Hardrock 100 run, and advertising and editorial photographer David Clifford. Both guys are phenomenal photographers and it was as much sitting back and watching them work with athletes and compose for me as it was shooting myself. Their eye for detail and concern for having the runners look like runners (which isn’t tough considering the talent we had at the camp!) was something that helped me start looking back at my own photos and searching for how I could make them better. Finally, we have the athletes themselves. We had the pleasure of working with some awesome runners from the Adidas Outdoor and AdiUltra teams. Ultra runners like Eric Senseman, Paulette Stevenson, and James Bonnett as well as the 2015 USATR champ Andy Wacker. Accompanying them were an amazing rock climber out of Austin, Acacia Young as well as adventurer Payge McMahon and two amazing ladies and ultra-marathon veterans Yitka Winn and Sarah Lavender Smith. Seriously, it was difficult to even take a bad picture of all of these talented runners. Their ability to keep awesome form while taking all of our creative direction and somehow not killing themselves running over, up, down, and across everything we were having them do was a feat nothing short of miraculous. Now that I have the introductions and first impressions out of the way, onto what the camp was really about: Photography. Before I go into any camp or workshop, I try to understand what it is I want to get out of it beforehand so I can make sure I’m resetting and focusing on what it is I want to learn. This camp was no exception and as a photographer who mostly uses lights to help compel images, I wanted to learn to shoot more natural light photos as well as how to compose images in different aspects. From a business aspect, I wanted to meet people in the industry – fellow photographers, the editorial team from TR, the Adidas athletes, and the instructors – but I also wanted to create some images that I felt I could include in my portfolio. The landscapes were going to be phenomenal and the athletes we were going to be photographing landed to name recognition in the industry as well as great models. With those things in mind, I wanted to really watch and take notes the first day, and get in there and take control when I felt I could really create compelling images. We set off to a park just north of Ouray in the morning to just get acquainted with the area and scope out the different skill levels/see how to best group the people at he workshop. Sam and I tried to stay in different groups or areas just to get some contrast and different learning experiences, but ultimately the light wasn’t fantastic that first morning and we were really fighting some harsh sun conditions. The terrain was gorgeous though, and it was a great chance to get to know some of the photographers better as well as Fred and David. After shooting for about 4 hours, we headed back to download, back-up, recharge, and refuel.
The evening actually looked like it might get rained out and ended up being some of the nicest light we had the entire trip. Unfortunately, I was feeling bit tired from the first part of our trip in Gunnison and fighting a bit of a cold. I shot a little bit, but mostly observed the scenery around me and had some fun composing a few different looks while interacting with the group. Sam, on the other hand, was shooting like crazy and loving the light we were getting for portraits and running shots alike.After the shoot, we retired for the night and headed downstairs at the Western Inn for a beer or ice cream and got to know the group even better. There were some fantastic photographers there with us and it was great to see their images up on the screen and see some compositions that you may have missed even though you were there shooting along side them. The learning was never ending, and my handle on shooting compelling sports images with natural light alone was feeling a little more.. well… natural (ha!). The morning of day 2 ended up being my favorite for many reasons. First, Sam was on a mission to find good iced tea while we were there so we were trying a different restaurant each morning. This was by far the best coffee I found in Ouray which started the day out right. Second, we didn’t die going up or down the jeep trail to the walking point on the mountain. We headed up to around 12,500 feet so there was a bit of hiking involved and I loved how invigorated I felt from the hike before I even had a camera in my hand. The sweeping vistas out in front of us were breathtaking and I could tell we were in for some great shots. The sun was playing in and out of the clouds, but I felt like I really couldn’t take a bad photo of Eric, Paulette, or Acacia that morning and soaked up the moment just watching them blast loose shale time and time again. Playing with some of the compositional differences I had seen in others the night before, I tried shooting from lower positions, the runners going away from the camera, and shooting more down and concentrating on the landscape as much as the runners. Placing them in the lines of the photo and paying attention to the pose of the runners took on an entirely new meaning and photos that I probably would have considered good before were rejected for ones that I knew I could make great. Everything just seemed to click and I decided to really go after it by shooting at 200mm and an f/2.8 f-stop to see if I could really capture the runner and compress the image. I nailed a few of Eric Senseman running straight at the camera and fell in love with that composition immediately. Isolating the runner and letting you focus on their form, their eyes, the intensity in their pose and muscles really changed the way I wanted to try and shoot. Unfortunately, we were chased off the mountain by some inclement weather that sprang up on the other side of the face. The shots were in the can though and I couldn’t wait to review them back at the lodge. Dead tired from the morning but driven by the success, I was ready for the evening shoot. We headed up into the Aspen trees and I found myself trying to learn how to shoot in that type of environment. I know we have a ridiculous number of trees in The Woodlands, but the way the foliage is lacking on the ground in Ouray and the Aspens dominated the background made it difficult for me to position people without trees growing out of their heads. That and the tight shooting space with so many people made it interesting, but I was amazed when I somehow found myself alone with Sam, 2 athletes (James and Acacia), Fred and Mike. It was like we were getting some serious one-on-one time and it was just what I needed. We even busted out the speed lights Fred had with him and had a little fun playing and shooting some shots as the light dimmed. Ultimately we didn’t get the sunset light we were all hoping for because of the clouds, but sometimes that’s just what you get with the outdoors and we still created some awesome photos. We headed back down the mountain and I think everybody was having a blast just racing to see who could get to the beer first at the bottom. The group had really come together over the course of the day and gone from a group of individuals to a true group of friend, sharing a beer by the tailgate of the truck and sharing stories from the day.
After another evening of celebrating a successful day – the photographers celebrating the shots we nailed and the athletes celebrating not breaking an ankle running the ridiculous trails we wanted them to run without looking down – we were ready for the last morning. Sam and I had an earlier flight, so we weren’t going to be around as late as some of the others, so we really wanted to make the best of the time we had. I was in full on sickness mode by this point and coffee was a much needed energizer to fight through the tired and focus on the shooting.The final morning I nailed this shot. The water was calm as the wind hadn’t picked up yet, and the way all of the athletes were set again the rusty red mountains and reflected in the lake below made for some amazing shooting and I was pumped when this shot ended up being the opening spread for the magazine issue. Definitely not my typical cup of tea, but it makes life easier when you’ve got landscapes this good and athletes as talented as these three. I’m sure plenty of other photographers were capturing the same great shots, and the atmosphere among the campers and athletes had become so natural and easy I think people were having fun capturing the day rather than just focusing on the running shots. James was playing with birds, Fred was climbing trees, and yours truly was stripping down and lying down in freezing cold water up to my neck in order to capture some truly dynamic aspects of the sport. It was a blast and a perfect way to end the trip. All in all, it was an awesome camp. We were dead tired when we hit the airplane chairs on the flight home, and it took quite a bit for us to just get out of them when we hit Des Moines, IA for our last stretch of the trip. There was just so much information, skill, feedback, and small bits of information to process that it took some effort for me to come up with a way to sum it all up. But, here I go: First, I just want to say that I have a whole new appreciation and passion for the trails around this country. The landscapes and being in that crisp, clean air is electrifying and it makes you want to capture it forever. I thank God that I have the ability to do so and this trip was no exception to how blessed I am. Second, a great camera bag can go a hell of a long way. I used my F-Stop Tilopa bag throughout the entire trip and I can safely say I will never use another backpack. The ease of use, durability, build, fit, functionality, and protection that thing offers is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever used before. I was able to pack all of our gear into it as well as my laptop, chargers, back-up drives, journal, headphones, jacket, and plenty of other random nicknacks. I intend to do a full breakdown of it on the blog shortly but I can’t give enough of a shout-out to the awesome people at F-Stop. Keep on rockin’! Third, the people at Trail Runner Magazine are amazing and if you’re looking for a great outdoor, photography related workshop for next year, be sure to look out for this opportunity as I’m sure it fills up quickly! Fourth, the insight from Fred, David, Mike, and Randy was fantastic. Their direction in terms of looking at your images and being able to help you elevate them that extra percent the next time around is invaluable and the way they were able to work with people all the way from their settings to those who weren’t as familiar with their cameras, to those of us wanting to take our photos to that commercial and editorial level was phenomenal. Thank you again to all four of you and the time and effort you put into this awesome camp! And finally, the ability to get to know the athletes of this sport and the photographers who were passionate about it was a true treat. As two ultra-noobs, Sam and I had no idea about Trail Running (seriously, Jenn Shelton was in our car on the first day and we were asking if she’s ever run an ultra before. That’s how clueless we were at the outset…) and they took us in and appreciated what we did know and what we could bring to the table. They helped us understand what to look for in every aspect of a running portrait and gave us insights into why they love this sport enough to compete in races that would kill most average people, going 50+ miles over terrain I wouldn’t hike over in a week. You all inspire the shit out of me and being around you al for a few days was one of the greatest points of my photography career so far. Anyway, to check out more of our photography from the camp as well as the amazing shots from other people at the camp, grab the latest October issue of Trail Runner Magazine today!