On April 30, the Mohonk Preserve held their annual Rock The Ridge endurance challenge. It is a 50-mile run/walk with almost 8,000 feet of ascent/decent along the Shawangunk Mountain ridge, through the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park. Participants leave the starting line at 6:00 AM and take between 6 to 18 hours to finish. I photographed the event from 5:30 AM to 2:00 PM from several locations. To create some images that were more interesting than just a person walking in the woods, I tried to find some interesting locations and use some creative techniques. Here are some examples that I hope fulfilled that goal.
This first image was taken with a 200mm lens in order to compress the scene and stay far ahead of the runners as they left the start at the Testimonial Gate House and came down Pin Oak Alley. Because the dawn was overcast and provided very dim light, image quality is compromised with a very high ISO (noise) and very shallow depth of field. Getting the lead runners sharp was the key to making this a image useful.
Next, I ran across the field to position myself for a very wide panoramic of the Oak Alley filled with runners. This required twelve or more images panning across the field, and later stitching them together. More sunlight would have helped greatly, but I got a somewhat useful result under poor conditions. There is a lot of detail in this image, where faces are easily recognized when zoomed in at 100%. If printed at 16 inches tall, it would be ten feet long.
Here is a single frame of the same scene, on the far right of the above panoramic.
My next position was on the Bonticou Carriage Trail about 8 miles from the start. I had to drive to the Mountain House entrance, park, then hike about 1.3 miles to find a view of Bonticou Cliff. The sun was just over the cliff, making it very difficult to shot toward. I used a flash to balance the light on the runner and the cliff, but there was no way to save the sky. This image below is actually a 2-frame panoramic, which allowed me to shoot toward the runner and get a face profile, then pan left to get the remainder of the cliff. I only had about 10 minutes to shoot at this location with only a handful of runners passing by, so I was glad to get this image out of it.
It was time to hike quickly back to my car. Luckily, I was heading in the opposite direction of the racers. I was able to photograph at least 100 of them on my way back, all at different locations in the woods. Being only seven to eight miles into the race, they were all very happy and having a good time. Here is the youngest participant zooming by. I heard he was 10 years old.
My next location was Awosting Falls at mile-27 (and 37) of the race course. After a 30 minute drive and short walk, I was in position with plenty of time to set up. The runners pass by here twice, first running toward the falls and uphill, then returning downhill after a 10-mile loop to Lake Awosting and back. The problem with photographing a running on their first pass is you only get their backside if you want the waterfall in the picture. I solved that problem by setting up for a panoramic image for each runner. The sequence starts by shooting downstream as the runner approaches (facing me), then panning upstream for 3 or 4 images to eventually include the waterfall. Later, stitching them together results in a better story-telling picture. As a fun bonus, I was able to create an image with one runner in 3 or 4 different positions. Definitely a unique image for this event!
Ten miles and a little over one hour later, the runners pass by from the other direction. It’s a lot easier to compose them with the waterfall in one frame. Here are two of the lead runners returning.
Time to move on to my final planned shooting location, Lenape Lane, where the image background will be the ridge and Skytop Tower. I arrived just two minutes before the lead runner came up the hill. Over the next two hours, only six runners passed by. This is only 1/4 mile from the finish, and the participants are so spread out that it will take 12 hours for all of them to pass by here. My plan only included capturing several.
Here again, I used the panning/stitching technique to show the long path that the runners come up, the long ridge line, and the barn and tower in the distance.