How to Photograph the Long Jump
By Phil Zivnuska
The Long Jump and its cousin the Triple Jump are relatively straight forward to photograph but there are several simple techniques to improve your ordinary images and make them noteworthy.
The biggest photographic problems are poor backgrounds. The typical high school track meet will have numerous obstructions in the background and other competitors will be standing, sitting, loitering, or otherwise just be hanging out in the area you would prefer to be clean for your image. Nothing says "Who Cares" like a disinterested high school student appearing in the background of your capture. Additionally, the athletes who aren't competing at that moment will be wearing an assortment of coats, hoodies, shirts etc. and they will often look a bit tattered.
Fortunately, there are strategies to employ. First, the runway has to be clear for the long jumper to run on his approach. If you are lined up directly in line with the runway, that will allow you to have at least the area directly behind the jumper clear.
Next, be sure you are shooting at a large aperture, perhaps f/2.8 or at least something close to that. That will assure as much background blur as possible.
Third, get low. A low angle allows you to view the jumper against the sky. For this shot, I was literally laying in the dirt with my elbows on the ground. My position was right next to the officials with the rakes.
This extreme position was required to isolate the jumper against the sky instead of the cluttered group of onlookers.
When you are about to shoot a jumper, keep an eye on them all the way through from beginning to end. There can be a lot of intensity as the athlete runs to the takeoff point.
The landing is always a popular shot due to the spray of sand.
I wrote earlier about aligning yourself with the runway. At most high schools, the football field runs north and south. The long jump and triple jump areas also often run north and south on the edge of the field. In the typical 'after school' track meet, this means that the shadows from the setting sun will divide the face of the jumper into sun and shadow. In strong sun, that can make for a compromised image (see immediately above and below).
Moving to the side of the pit will help with the sun angle but as seen earlier, be sure to get extremely low to view the jumper against the sky instead of obstacles. One last tip: If you are going to shoot against the sky as your backdrop, consider using a circular polarizing filter. The sky will be bluer, the clouds look whiter, and the colors will pop.
A polarizing filter was used for the last two images as well as the Derby jumper (in green) further above.
Sometimes, the long jump is pictured directly from the side. This emphasizes the height reached by the competitor. In this case, the background is even more critical to the success of the shot. Consider shooting this with the sun at your back or even shooting into the sun and having the athlete silhouetted against the sky for an artistic view of the event.
Philip S. Zivnuska