Capturing the Trail: 11 Pro Tips for Enhancing Your Trail Running Photography

by | Sep 14, 2023 | Run, Featured, Running Feature Stories

Learn how to sharpen your trail running photography skills, no matter what camera, phone or action cam you’re shooting with.

Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or taking those proverbial ‘baby steps’ on this exciting journey, here are some pro tips from action-sports lensman Craig Kolesky.

Easy Camera Access

Ensure easy access to your camera, whether it’s your phone or GoPro. “You wouldn’t want to miss the perfect shot simply because you couldn’t locate your camera in your backpack or pockets,” says Craig, explaining that the best way to do this is to establish an efficient system for quick access so that you can capture the moment without delay.

Trail Running Photography By Craig Kolesky
Ryan Sandes (c) Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool SI202305280071 // Usage for editorial use only //

Master Quick On/Off Functions For Better Trail Running Photography

Familiarise yourself with the shortcuts that allow you to swiftly activate your phone or GoPro. Craig suggests using techniques such as sliding across the screen on an iPhone or utilising the one-touch feature on a GoPro to instantly switch on your camera. This knowledge will ensure you’re always ready to capture those fleeting moments.

Utilise Live Mode

For iPhone users, Craig recommends making use of the ‘live’ photo setting. “This feature captures multiple images in a single shot, providing you with a selection of frames to choose from, guaranteeing that you can seize the perfect shamid of the action,” he says.

Keep Your Horizon Level

A skewed horizon is one of Craig’s pet hates. To elevate the professionalism of your trail running photos, ensure that your horizon remains level. “Activate the grid on your phone’s screen to assist with this, guaranteeing that your landscape and portrait shots maintain a straight horizon,” he says.

Trail Running Photography
Straight horizon by Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool

Embrace the Rule of Thirds For Better Trail Running Photography

“Avoid centring your subject in the frame. Instead, adhere to the rule of thirds by positioning your subject slightly to the left or right of the frame,” says Craig. According to him, this approach, – particularly when photographing in scenic mountain environments – allows you to showcase more of the captivating surroundings.

Seek Out Leading Lines

One of the oldest photography ‘tricks’ is identifying natural angles and lines that guide the viewer’s gaze towards your subject (or out of it). “These leading lines create an engaging perspective and direct attention to the elements you wish to highlight in your photographs.”

Trail Running Photography
The tracks act as leading lines. (c) Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool

Creative Lighting with Your Headlamp

During early morning or late afternoon runs, your headlamp can serve as a primary light source in low-light conditions. Says Craig, “remove it from your head, hold it above your subject, and experiment with flash and modelling light settings on your phone to produce distinctive and dramatic portraits.”

Experiment with Portrait Mode

Modern smartphones offer a portrait mode, which can generate photos with a delightful depth-of-field effect that blurs the background. Make use of this feature to add a professional touch to your trail running portraits.

Precision Editing

Post-processing can significantly enhance your trail running photos. Craig recommends using Lightroom on iPhones, especially the newer models equipped with RAW capabilities, to meticulously refine your images and bring out their full potential.

Master Layered Shots

Creating depth in your photos by incorporating foreground, subject, and background layers can add emotion and context to your images. According to Craig, understanding your camera’s settings, whether it’s a phone or a GoPro, simplifies the process of achieving this effect.

Trail Running Photography
Depth in a multi-layered image. (c) Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool

Keep It Simple

Craig’s final piece of advice is to remember the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. “Overcomplicating your equipment and approach can impede your enjoyment of trail running. Sometimes, the best camera you have at hand is your phone. Don’t overthink it; just get out there and capture the beauty of the trails.”

Incorporate these expert tips into your trail running photography, and you’ll undoubtedly capture the essence of your adventures with breathtaking clarity. Remember, practice makes perfect, so hit those trails and start capturing those unforgettable moments.


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