XC Baby Boom

November 12, 2009 

"My sport is your sport's punishment," is the best cross country team shirt I've seen. I don't remember which team was wearing it, but I think that sums up the sport perfectly. The masochistic nature of the sport isn't something I'm sure I'll ever fully understand. While I have run a couple 5K's on a whim and felt pretty good about myself afterward, I just don't get running all those miles and still enjoying it.

Just because I don't get it doesn't mean I don't respect it, though, and this respect was further bolstered last weekend when I covered the state championships at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

This was by far the biggest cross country meet I had ever covered, resulting in the biggest gallery I’ve ever produced. At smaller meets, I can usually arrange to have someone in a gator or golf cart drive me around to a couple photo spots along the course. Even when I haven’t, those smaller meets consisted of only two to four races, so jogging between my chosen spots wasn’t too taxing. With ten consecutive races at the state meet and no chance to wrangle a chauffeur, however, I knew I was in for a tough day.

On top of physical exertion, there’s the challenge of finding visual variety from race to race. Add to that the fact that I was shooting for five other newspapers around the state, each interested in their own local kids, and you can see how daunting the task was.

I arrived early to get a decent parking spot and scout out some spots along the course. With so much media covering it, a cart was out of the question, so I started wandering around, checking out spots I could make it to on foot. Since nobody I was shooting for was interested in the first race, the 1B/2B girls, I also used the time to grab some features away from the race:

while trying out a couple spots to shoot from before making it back to get a mug shot of the winner for our race coverage. This portion of my assignment ended up being a bigger problem than I had thought. There’s nothing tough about shooting mug shots, but sometimes the winner would disappear into the crowd after a race and not everybody was photo-ready after pushing their bodies to the edge of exhaustion. This was certainly the case for 3A girls winner Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak High School. After realizing that there was a good deal of spit running down her chin in the first photo, I waited until after she finished her interviews to get a better one, but this meant I had to sprint back to the starting area a couple hundred yards away, barely making it there on time.

Sadly, I didn't afford 2A boys winner Scott Carlyle of Sehome the same consideration, and I’m glad I didn't wait the extra time for him to catch his breath because I was even later to the start of the next race:

Aside from that, it was just a lot of running around and working to come up with different photos from the various starts, fatigued finishes and everything in between:

It was nice to have some races where nobody was really interested in specific runners, allowing me to play around a bit without worrying about hearing the inevitable, "you got any shots where we can see their faces?"

This was one of my favorite angles, but I found out during this 1A girls race that I couldn’t run to the finish line fast enough after camping only the first two runners at this spot. I felt better about not being able to use this spot in the later races after the sun ducked under the increasing cloud cover, getting rid of the cool branch shadows.

Sadly, I didn’t nail this angle, which is one I chose for a couple of our local kids, Richland’s Katie Mahoney and Pasco’s Marisa Vander Malle. A little more depth of field would have made the sand trap read a little better, and perhaps I should have shot wider, but I had already opted for wider shots earlier in the day and was really trying to mix it up.

Though I wish I would have placed 4A boys champion and course record-setter Shane Moskowitz of Central Kitsap in a better position, I like the swishy tree and all the competition he’s leaving in the dust.

The tight timing between races meant I didn’t have much of an opportunity to shoot features away from the race, but I did stumble across these kids tackling each other while heading toward the ponds:

And lucked out again by being in the right spot at the right time as Cascade-Everett's Aaron Bartee got caught in a pileup on the first hill of the 4A boys competition, causing a restart:

If those photos aren’t enough to satiate your appetite for cross country, you can check out a Mr. Creosote-sized photo gallery with 88 (!) photos.

I know. This flies in the face of my previous reservations about extremely loose edits, but I chose to include all those photos for a few reasons. First, I had spent so much time and effort covering the races that it would have felt like a waste not to show off some more of my work. Also, since I had asked the other papers who were running my photos to include a teaser for the Herald’s gallery, I wanted to make sure schools from around the state were represented. I was also curious about how much interest a giant gallery of cross country shots would generate, since local cross country galleries typically don’t generate as much traffic as football or basketball.

So how did it do? As of Wednesday, it had generated 32,856 page views from 681 visits, 13.3 percent of which were from the Seattle-Tacoma area (26.7 percent were from the Yakima/Tri-Cities area). This means the average number of photos viewed per person was around 48, which is much higher than I expected. Also, the 681 visits were from 605 unique visitors, and it’s probably safe to assume that a lot of the repeat visits were to check out a few specific photos again to show friends or family, which would drag the average down a bit. Compare this to some other recent popular photo galleries:

The 10th annual Regional Veterans Parade had 61 images and 17,185 page views from 526 visitors viewing around 33 each.

The Hanford Howl Ultimate Frisbee tournament had 32 images and 14,862 page views from 701 visitors viewing around 21 each.

And the Kamiakin Soccer overtime win had 35 images and 12,821 page views from 534 visitors viewing around 24 each.

It’s clear that viewers' attention spans start petering once they've seen more than 20 photos, and like I wrote before, these galleries, and even the photos I’ve shared again in this blog post, are extremely loose edits full of visual redundancies. And while it’s also clear that people enjoy seeing photos of themselves in these photo galleries, as photojournalists we have to strike a balance between gratuitous face promotion and photos we can be proud of publishing.

Also, in situations where you feel like it's taken a great effort to get certain shots, it's easy to form an irrational attachment to certain photos. These shots will hold a significance that nobody else will see. Often times, photographers will ask other shooters to kill their babies — a hilariously morbid term for these not-so-special frames. And with 10 races with more than 1,000 runners where I shot 650 photos in a few hours while running what had to have been at least 5K throughout the day, I definitely have a lot of babies to kill.


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