Wait, what the heck is November Project? It’s a free fitness workout group focused on building community through fun and free outdoor, early morning workouts. There are 49 cities around the world with a November Project so check them out! For now, we’re going to focus on how we capture these workouts.
ISO 100 - F2.8 - 1/500s
If you were paying attention, these workouts are in the early morning, usually 6:30am. This means we don’t have much light to work with especially in the winter. Also, these are workouts so people are running around and moving fast. A photographer’s worst nightmare, no light and fast moving subjects.
We’ll need every advantage we can get for light. Since we know that our subjects are moving around we’ll want a high enough shutter speed to freeze frame their motion. However, a high shutter speed also decreases the amount of light we get in our photos. We’ll have to use the other settings to compensate. High ISO will bring in more light, but will cause our photos to be grainy. A wide aperture will also help us out, but most cameras come with a lens that doesn't get a low enough aperture f-stop value. If you can afford to purchase a lens with at least 1.8f aperture setting, it will almost triple the amount of light you can capture versus the lens that came with your camera. Also, a bonus is that the smaller f-stop number will give you a better background blur.
When capturing November Project, I use manual mode to have precise control over the camera. When doing so, I have to balance the three exposure settings: ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. We’ll use the lowest aperture setting our lens can offer, 1.8f, and our shutter speed should be at least 1/500s to freeze frame any movement. If you find that you still need to squeeze in some light, shutter speed could go to 1/400s or even as slow as 1/250s depending on how much the subject is moving in your photos. Subjects coming straight at you or are further away don’t need as quick of a shutter speed to freeze them.
All that’s left to set is your ISO. During the darkest time of the year, I’ll start the workouts on 6400 or higher ISO. As the sun comes up, I’ll increase the shutter speed a bit until I've increased it so much that I can drop down the ISO a bunch and reset the shutter speed to 1/500s. You’ll want to keep decreasing your ISO over the course of the workout for two reasons, most importantly, high ISO will lead to grainy photos but also at some point you will max out your shutter speed and your photos will still be too bright.
ISO 6400 - F1.8 - 1/400s
You could also try using ISO AUTO. In this mode, you control shutter speed and aperture, then the camera changes the ISO. The issue here is that with such low light the camera will turn the ISO up very high, leading to even grainier photos. Depending on the camera you have, grainy photos may be better than underexposed photos. Even during the darkest days there isn't enough light at all so I won’t even start taking pictures till at least half way through the workout.
For other settings, burst mode is great for getting rapid shots of people working out. I usually have that on “HI”. White Balance I’ll keep to AUTO unless I notice issues, then I’ll change to “Sunny” or “Cloudy” depending on the weather. Autofocus I’ll keep in “Continuous” (AF-C for Sony, AI Servo for Cannon) since people are moving around. Focus area is set to “Wide” or “Flexible Spot M” if I’m feeling like I want extra control that day. If you have a steady shot feature, I’ll have that turned off. Finally, I set my camera to save images in RAW format so I can adjust the brightness more in post-processing. Using RAW photos also allows you to forget about White Balance and edit it in post-processing.
The hardest part about any photography is nailing the composition of the photo. In general, I try to use the rule of thirds as a guide. The rule of thirds means to place your subjects along one of the thirds if you were to split your frame into 3 equal parts. Another compositional tip is to find the light. As we said above, we need all the light we can get. Look for street lights, constructions lights, or anything else to help illuminate your subjects. I don’t recommend using a flash as it is very jarring to people whose eyes are adjusted to the dark.
Look for interesting backgrounds. Do you have a cityscape or repeating pattern at your workout locations? The Harvard Stadium is a great repeating pattern to have as a background. Look for something similar.
Look for interesting foregrounds. Your subjects! Hopefully they are connecting with other members during your workouts. Look for those connection moments, high fives, hugs, partner exercises, tunnels, etc. Children being cute, dogs being dogs … these things are always great to capture. Another thing that works is encouraging silly faces or jumping style photos.
ISO 100 - F7.1 - 1/250s - flash
Find the light. Try to position yourself so you have the light sources just in front of your subjects to illuminate their faces. Is the sun rising? That could make for a good background! It could also illuminate your subjects with an awesome golden colored light!
ISO 6400 - F1.8 - 1/250s
Capture your workout theme. Did the workout have a theme? Make sure to capture that. It’s super helpful when you’re trying to tell a story of what happened that morning on social media later.
The workout happens, you do your best to get some photos, now time to process them. If you have a Mac you can use the free Photos app for some processing. Windows might have an equivalent but I’m not sure. Either way, you could also use Lightroom if you pay for it. I use Lightroom Classic CC. If Lightroom or Photos is open when I plug in my camera and turn it on, it will automatically show me the import screen. Here I can select the photos I’d like to import. I select all the photos from the morning workout and press import.
Next, it’s time to select the best ones. I’ll open them in full screen mode to check each one. In Lightroom you can press “f” then use the arrow keys to look through them all. In Photos, pressing “enter” will open it big so you can inspect. Lightroom has a handy picking feature where you can simply press “p” when you find a photo you like. You can also press “u” to un-pick the photo if you decide you don’t like it anymore. Once you've gone through all your photos you can filter them by attributes in Lightroom to only see the ones you've picked (or flagged). With Photos, instead of picking, I would simply delete the photos I didn't like so all that remained in the end was the good ones.
To give the photos a little bump, I use the auto enhance feature. Select all the photos you picked then in Lightroom, press “command + U” and in Photos, press “command + E”. I’ll double check them after that to make sure the auto enhance did it’s job but usually it works. I might touch up some photos a bit more if I think they need it. Sometimes, I take the picture very crooked so I’ll crop and rotate the photos.
ISO 100 - F4.0 - 1/200s
Now it’s time to export them. With Photos, simply select them all and drag them to your Desktop or other folder and Photos will export the JPEGs. In Lightroom, select all the photos, right click and choose “Export...”. In the export menu, I select “Resize to fit” under the Image Sizing section. Select “Long Edge” from the drop down, “2,048” pixels, and a Resolution of 72. For whatever reason, these settings do well when uploading to Facebook. Then click “Export” and Lightroom will export the JPEGs to your Desktop.
Upload to a Facebook album and you’re done!
- Morning workouts = Low light before the sun rises, people moving fast so need a faster shutter speed which means less light.
- Buy a lens with a low aperture, at least 1.8F and use that setting.
- Use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to freeze frame motion. You can experiment with slower shutter speeds like 1/400 or 1/320 if you know your subjects aren't moving to fast by you. This will help get a bit more light.
- Use a high ISO like 6400. Maybe a bit higher to start and then you can lower it as the workout progresses and the sun comes up. High ISO means grainy photos but a grainy photo is better than no photo.
- Look at your surroundings, use street lights or other lights around you to illuminate the front of your subjects.
- I don’t recommend a flash as if can be a jarring experience for your members.
- Use burst mode, continuous autofocus in “wide” mode or flexible spot if you know how to work that.
- Set your camera to record images in RAW for a little extra post-processing power to brighten up your photos.