Keep the diary open
Whether it was wishful thinking or simply experience, when I first heard about the Royal Run back in 2017 I decided to keep the 21st May available in my calendar. “We won’t be needing you for that particular race,” I was told, but a voice in my head kept saying, “Yeah they will.” It sounds arrogant, and maybe it is, but if there’s one area of photography I can handle it’s huge / important running events.
So it was with great satisfaction that I accepted the job less than one week ago, with the whole planning of the event nearing its zenith. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the role that was given to me, and when I realised the enormity of it I spent the next few nights envisioning settings and scenarios.
You see, when your main task is to photograph thousands of runners and the spectators that come to support them, you get a good few hours to get a series of great images. I like to use flash, I like to climb objects, I like to blag my way up private staircases… but if there’s one thing I don’t like it’s finding out that you only have ONE opportunity to get THE shot.
The shot in question was the Danish Crown Prince, as he arrived at the 5km mark: Amalienborg Palace. It’s here that he lives with his wife and kids, and his mum, Queen Margerethe II, lives right next door. At the very least the race organisers needed a picture of him running past the palace, but it was also highly likely he would wave to his mother as she appeared on the balcony.
None of this was confirmed in advance, of course, so I was left guessing and trying to prepare for “Mission Impossible”, as one TV2 journalist put it.
I arrived in good time and with me I’d brought a small plastic stool for getting a higher advantage. Carrying these extra pieces of furniture around really is a pain in the ass, especially as cycling is the preferred mode of transport. To make things even more difficult, I couldn’t make my mind up exactly where I wanted to put it. At one point I’d found what I thought was a good spot right in between the two palaces (he might wave left to his mum, or he might wave right to his wife and kids), and then I moved it to a second location where he would be surrounded by runners (another requirement on the list of must-haves).
Security said “No!”
After a brief conversation with a news videographer I finally chose the latter and popped my empty camera bag down by the metal fence separating the course from the spectators. Naturally it didn’t sit well with the men wearing the earpieces, so I was forced to sling it back over my shoulders, along with my camera bodies and multiple VIP Press Passes.
At this point I should also mention, that despite being the only photographer given clearance to stand where I was, it didn’t stop several other pros and enthusiasts from complaining I was in their way. It always gets a bit uncomfortable during these situations, because the bottom line is you are there on behalf of the organisers and therefore have a higher authority to answer to. None of these photographers were present at the press briefing where me and my colleagues were introduced, and none of them were wearing vests or press credentials. The Hulk inside of me had plenty to say on that matter, but the diplomat won the day and I kept things polite. At least, I think I did.
And then of course you suddenly need a wee! I raced off to take care of that, and by the time I’d returned the elite runners were starting to arrive. It was a good opportunity to test my settings and see how the light was working out (the sun was going down BEHIND the runners, making it a nightmare to expose for).
A Royal Wave
The numbers gradually started increasing, and when I spotted a few athletes waving up towards the palace, I turned my attention to the balcony and to the Queen, who was gracefully encouraging the participants on with a friendly smile and a royal wave.
And then the crowd gave an almighty roar, which could only mean one thing: the Crown Prince had arrived. I quickly hopped on to my stool to try and spot him amongst the sea of runners, and luckily for me I was aware of a running partner he had who was wearing black and red. I spotted him first, and immediately sighted my quarry. The prince was looking to his right (home), and I quickly turned to see if there was anyone there. There wasn’t. But instead, as he rounded the corner he was faced with the sight of his mum, and he instantly slowed down to give her a cheeky salute. My camera was firing off several rounds per second, as runner after runner streamed past me, potentially blocking every other shot.
The second problem was the lack of palace and queen in my viewfinder; something that was quite important to the organisers. So I dropped the long lens camera and quickly switched over to my wide in order to get all three in frame. As I began firing all I could make out was the Prince already 20 metres away and the Queen a small green dot in the distance. And in a heartbeat it was over.
By far the hardest race I’ve ever done
For the next 30 seconds I scrolled impatiently through my images to see how successful I’d been. It was obvious I’d gotten the shot, but I couldn’t help think that the first location would have been better. On the other hand, it’s highly likely that the Queen would have been hidden behind a column from that angle. We’ll never know, I suppose.
It was time to move on, as there were other areas to get to and plenty of other images to be had. The tension was still present as I went from support zone to support zone, all the time racing against the clock and hoping I’d planned everything to the best of my abilities. I’m pleased to say I had.
Back at the office I quickly went through and selected all the best images, and I said to myself out loud, “I got the shot, I got the shot”, almost like a mantra. But it was by far the hardest race I’ve ever had to cover; 25,000 people running such a short distance. It’s crazy, and my colleague Deniz agreed.
If you’d like to see some of the best pictures, head over to https://www.photographybymatthewjames.com/gallery/Royal-Run-18/G00000dokvVSoRmM/C00004fuz8ODeKbY