As the weekend approaches, thousands are mentally and psychically preparing for Saturday’s NYRR Five-Borough Series: Brooklyn Half Marathon. Last year more than 25,000 people from all over the world completed the 13.1 mile course, which begins near the Brooklyn Museum and finishes on the Coney Island boardwalk. It’s a test of stamina and strength, but not just for the runners.
Last yearRunner’s World magazine assigned Brooklyn-based editorial and commercial photographer Danny Ghitis to document the Brooklyn Half. In an April email promo about the job, Ghitis wrote: “Thank goodness I was in decent shape—it was intense.” PDN asked Ghitis to explain.
Photo District News: So Runner’s World assigns you to shoot a race. How do you prepare for that? Did they give you a shot list?
Danny Ghitis: This was a dream assignment. [Photo editor] Anna Schulte reached out and basically said, “do your thing,” (with some basic parameters) for the [magazine’s] recurring section, Races and Places. There weren’t too many requested specifics other than [getting] the colorful urban atmosphere and some staples like the start and finish lines. My ears perked up when I heard the words “quirky” and “variety,” because I would have the freedom to roam and respond instinctively to what I found compelling.
To prepare for the shoot, I studied the course map and spoke to other photographers who have either run or covered the race, then scouted it ahead of time to pick key moments. I made a list of important landmarks and viewpoints, trying to imagine how the scene would look with thousands of people standing around. Of course, there’s only so much I could plan for because the landscape changes once the barriers and crowds arrive.
PDN: Knowing the images weren’t going to be published until a year later, did that change how you’d normally shoot? Did you do anything differently?
DG: A fast turnaround would have made shooting film difficult on such a broad assignment. Given the choice I would much prefer to shoot 6 x 6 and take my time, so the publishing delay made that easy. The subject happened to be sports, but the approach was more like a cultural documentary. Anna’s confidence in me helped me decide to leave the digital camera behind and focus fully on shooting the way I wanted to. It was essential for this assignment to pack light, so an SLR with a bunch of lenses would have gotten in the way of the broad and honest coverage they wanted.
PDN: What made it an intense shoot?
DG: Rather than take trains or cars to land at certain predetermined spots, I thought it made more sense to ride my bike through the course to catch spontaneous moments along the way. That meant biking the entirety of the course, but also getting on and off the bike to run, jump, and climb for viewpoints, as well as sprinting ahead to make up for time lost while shooting. The middle of the race is a long and somewhat monotonous straightaway, which made staying on pace feasible. Fortunately, the weather was mild and I was in OK shape. After the event I got on a train and instantly fell asleep.
PDN: Are you known as someone who can move quickly? That’s a good skill to have.
DG: I suppose I’m a spry young fellow, but I’m no marathoner. Hopefully the work I’ve done shows my ability to move at a quick pace and address difficult subjects.
PDN: Any helpful hints, tricks or things you would have done differently if you did it again?
DG: Don’t slip on the banana peels.
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