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Marathon Day

Nov 3

In Jobs at 7:52am

Marathon day in NYC is always an amazing day. I’ve off and on covered it for many years. It used to be simpler, back in the day when there were just a few thousand runners winding their way through the boroughs, the bridges and the canyons of the city. In fact, the first time I covered it, for the UPI, I was the only photog they assigned. I went to Brooklyn, walked up to the middle of the Verrazano, shot the runners coming over, got back on the subway, and made it to Central Park in time to make a snap of Bill Rogers crossing the finish line first. I went back to the office on 42nd St., they processed my B&W, made a couple of prints, dropped them on the wire, and gave me my negs back. I believe I got paid $50. Life was indeed simpler then. 

The most fun way to cover the marathon is from the air. The spectacle of over 40,000 runners chugging across the Verrazano Bridge is irresistible. It’s a suspension bridge, designed for wheeled vehicles to roll forward in smooth fashion. When all those runners are crossing the span, arms and legs pumping up and down like pistons, and thousands of feet are tromping the tarmac like mini jack hammers, from the air you can see the cables shimmering and quivering.

The above couple of pix were shot with a Fuji 617 pano camera, which is a medium format film camera. It was a trick, loading this puppy while hanging out of the open door of a chopper, to be sure. The leaf shutter was a pretty essential thing as well, as these are roughly 100 speed chrome film, so my shutter speed in the bird is around 1/60th to 1/125th. With a quiet little pfft! of a leaf shutter in the lens, instead of a robust, voluptuous bounce of a giant mirror inside the camera box, I had a prayer of sharpness. Even as I shot them, I knew Geographic wouldn’t use them, as these style of pix need to run really, really big to have impact in print. This race was just a small piece of coverage for an overall story on human performance, and thus not worth a four page gatefold. But that fall day in the air over NY was crystalline, and the breeze was like a big broom that just swept all the usual airborne crap that hovers over the city like a bad, germ laden cough out to sea. So I shot them.

Geographic ran with this.

Which was a bit of a trick to shoot as well, as that marvelous, aforementioned breeze was making it tough for the chopper to hover, and hand holding a six hundred in the wind whipped doorway was dicey. You’re framing while bouncing, focusing manually, grinding your teeth, bursting the motor drive, and praying to God you don’t drop anything. You also, in between shots, have to help your pilot out. On marathon day, the Verrazano looks like a beehive, with choppers aplenty buzzing and darting every which way. The pilots have to have eyes in the back of their head, and it’s advisable for you to have the same. Below, is a pullback view, most likely with a 70-200, or perhaps a 300mil.

It’s a big day in NY, and a big race. Runners from everywhere are in the city, jogging about, gobbling pasta, getting ready. It is often won by African marathoners, who quite frequently hail from the Rift Valley area of Kenya. I’ve covered them as well, too. Their skills are developed in quite simple ways, in rustic runners’ camps, often running in two’s and three’s, not thousands.

Early morning runs, early morning meals.

Under big skies…..

Good luck to all in today’s race! More tk….


Nick Harvey says:

on November 3, 2013 at 8:18 am

What a great mini-article! Excellent pics as usual and more inspiration. Ballsy call to go for the Fuji 617 in the chopper!

Art Wolfe had enough trouble with it on dry land when I was assisting him many years ago…(to be fair, it was new to him then).

Also, a big thank you to finally see you in London at GPP.


Craig L. Mc says:

on November 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Thanks for this post Joe. In what year would your first marathon shoot have been?

Glenn says:

on November 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Incredible coverage, Joe!

Joel says:

on November 3, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Thanks for the fantastic post (even if it made me homesick for Brooklyn). Maybe I will photograph the marathons of Morocco to illustrate how different things are when there is little to no planning or traffic control!

As always, I hope that all is well.


Joe says:

on November 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm

The bridge shot is amazing!

Jedna Chwila says:

on November 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm

the photo of the marathon – big big WoW!

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on November 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Absolutely LOVE how you’ve had the opportunity to cover it from both angles…the crowds and congestion of NYC and the supreme silence except for the footfalls of the Rift Valley. The strings…they always run through your photos and writing.

I ran 8 miles today. Took me an hour. Kenyan who won the NYC marathon ran it in 2:08. And it wasn’t even his best marathon time. Sheesh.

Amazing – the runners, and the guys shooting it.

~ Mark

Arved Gintenreiter Photography says:

on November 4, 2013 at 7:17 am

Great photography of such a “normal” event. I love the turn taken to Africa :) Very illustrative!

Mark Umbrella says:

on November 4, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great idea and effort! Love the close-up one on the bridge.

Susan says:

on November 4, 2013 at 8:06 am

Marvelous write up / Great shots!

Don Bromberg says:

on November 4, 2013 at 10:12 am

Amazing shots coupled with great prose…as always!

Hal Kaye says:

on November 4, 2013 at 11:06 am

On the best of my 71 years as a professional could I have gotten the Helicopter shots you made. I have shot from all kinds of aircraft but not in those conditions. My compliments to you.

Jerroid Marks says:

on November 4, 2013 at 11:30 am

This is really cool to see, especially those pictures from the chopper. Its crazy to see all those people on the bridge and to know they are all running. Great pics!

Photographer Malaysia says:

on November 4, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Wao. There is a lot of people join that marathon. Wonderfull view.

Adam Felde says:

on November 4, 2013 at 7:39 pm


I really like that “Pullback” shot of the bridge! The blue colors of the water matching the color of the spans and the soft sunlight on the first span really pulls your eye from the bottom to the very top of the frame. Great post.

Jual Tas Branded says:

on November 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

Thanks for the fantastic post (even if it made me homesick for Brooklyn). Maybe I will photograph the marathons of Morocco to illustrate how different things are when there is little to no planning or traffic control!

As always, I hope that all is well.

Robert Lowdon says:

on November 5, 2013 at 6:35 am

I’ve shot a lot of marathons from the ground but maybe it’s time to rent a helicopter. Interest peaked.

Peter says:

on November 15, 2013 at 2:40 am

The bridge shot is incredible. The bridge amazingly crowded with runners, and Joe is able to give the viewer an image which is balanced and peaceful harmonised. I think that’s made hime Joe McNally -:)

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