Specialising in Running, Track & Field and Individual Sports, Michael Dawson creates compelling photos that tell the story of this wonderful sport. Since starting out in 2012 Michael has developed a unique style capturing motion, emotion and atmosphere in his work.
I first crossed paths with Mike via Instagram and his imagery at TempoShot – track and field event photo company. He co-founded this project and there was something compelling about his imagery that made me reach out and invite Mike to get involved with the GPR project in someway. Along with Ethan, Mike is a regular contributor of imagery to the project and fits in well with the goal of not taking ourselves to seriously :D That’s right, Mike has a great sense of humour that fits in pretty well with the crew here, as well as the track scene.
How many years have you been into photography?
I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now but only in the last three or four years I have been taking it a bit more seriously and putting effort into improving myself.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I’m a self-taught photographer. Mainly through browsing forums and blogs picking up bits of technique here and there.
Who are your greatest influences that inspired you to get into this business, and in particular the world of sports photography?
I’ve never really had someone who has been a single inspiration. My inspiration has come from the lack of cool photos of my mates competing so I decided to fix that. Youtube vloggers like Ben Brown and Casey Neistat have inspired me to be creative and that creative pursuits are something that you can be successful in. Most of my work being in the sports world simply stems from being a runner myself.
Being able to relate to the suffering and grind that the runners are putting in, let’s myself capture them in a more intimate way.
How would you describe your running photography? Event, portrait, documentary, commercial or a mix of everything?
Most of my track stuff comes from an event angle, but recently been developing my work into a more broad mix of everything rad.
Are you a runner? Do you feel it’s important to understand ‘how a runner works’ to photograph them?
I am a runner. It is always important to understand how your subjects work before you photograph them. This is especially true in running as being in the right places for the crucial moments in a race, or to capture someone’s emotion just as they hit breaking point is what takes your images to the next level. Being able to relate to the suffering and grind that the runners are putting in, let’s myself capture them in a more intimate way.
Your images are fresh, real and connect with people. How do you find your inspiration, push the traditional envelope of event running photography, stay true to yourself so that people notice you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, from finding a cool picture on the internet to seeing top athletes run amazing races.
Temposhot is a great idea. Can you tell us a bit about the business? How did it start? Who else is involved? What are your plans?
Athletics is a pretty small sport in NZ, with low competitor numbers and many small events happening all the time. Naturally the big commercial event photographers showed no interest in covering any track meets, and the few that did overcharged and under delivered. Temposhot formed as a way to create affordable images for athletes, that both delivered in quality and also the coverage of events. It naturally evolved from Alisha (my co-founder) and I sharing our images on social media individually, to sharing our images together then to creating a platform to commercialise these images. We aim to cover the small events and continue to share those images for free then we sell our imagery from the big events (nationals, north islands, championship events).
We wanted to be more than the faceless photographers who turn up at events and leave.
Currently it is just Alisha and myself working on Temposhot. In the future I can see us expanding to hopefully cover some more sports similar to athletics, such as swimming or cycling. Over summer we hope to create an image library for media, local bodies and clubs can access in order to better promote the sport.
Running a photography business is tough- even if it’s part-time. I’ve seen the Temposhot brand and website grow steadily over the past year and it is looking great. Can you give some insight into the development of the project both online and off over the past year? The highs and lows?
Running any business is tough, photography especially so. One of the main difficulties for us was finding a platform to sell our photos and have a powerful website alongside it. We experimented with a number of solutions before switching to Smugmug only hours after our first event was shot. It was another week before all the photos were uploaded and that time delay cost us a bunch. Definitely the one pain point we have experienced.
Developing Temposhot into a recognisable brand has been a key goal for us. We wanted to be more than the faceless photographers who turn up at events and leave. We aim to get to know those we shoot regularly, to both help get the shots they want and because we love the athletes in our sport.
Can you explain your creative process on a shoot? What do you look for? How do you compose a capture? Any preferred camera settings or kit?
I have such a huge background in running that most of my shooting process is intuitive. Anticipating likely spots of racing action and being able to visualise where athletes will be before they get there is a key skill in shooting track. My 70-200 f2.8 is something that really changed the images I captured for the better, it renders such lovely detail and can blow the background out into a lovely bokeh isolating the athletes.
Do you have a story of a great shoot, where the ‘stars aligned’ and the results exceeded your expectations?
Shooting the NZ Secondary Schools track and field championships last year was a real golden shoot for me. I was as prepared as I could be and the racing that took place on the track just created some fantastic imagery. At the end of the day I love capturing athletes doing pushing their limits and at the champs every single athlete was doing that, it was fantastic. I look forward to returning this year.
What is your advice for those who are starting out photographing the running scene?
Get to know the runners, the athletes. Know where people like to run. Know who likes to run what. Know who the big names are. Just be knowledgeable about the sport and don’t be afraid to shoot from wherever crazy wacky angle you can find. Such as, in the steeplechase pit.
Gear or experiences?
Experiences hand down, you can craft great photographs with even the most basic of gear given the right skills. Getting into unique environments and situations can be a major key to creating work that takes you as a photographer to the next level
What are you doing for marketing to get your vision out to your audience?
Facebook has been the main platform where I can promote and sell my photography to target audiences. Instagram is also a great promotional tool, both on your own account and having people you photograph sharing your work on their grams.
What are your thoughts on creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
Trying out new techniques and processes, capturing new ideas and generally just “practising” photography is hugely important. It’s incredibly important not to get stuck in a creative rut where you produce the same images time after time.
How often are you shooting new work?
I try and get out and create something new every week or two weeks.
Do you have a story of when ‘it all went wrong on a shoot’, and how you managed to see it
I was shooting the NZ Secondary Schools track and field champs in Timaru and the weather was sunny/cloudy for the whole day. Pretty warm all round. Suddenly the wind did a 180 and the temperature dropped 10c in around 5 minutes. A few minutes after that the heavy downpour of rain drenched everyone at the track. Naturally the races still went on so I found the tiniest overhang of shelter track side and shot from there. I ended up freezing cold and shivering but it was a good learning experience in the old idiom of expect the best but prepare for the worst.
If you could do something different when starting out as a photographer, what would it be?
Learn to properly organise my lightroom catalogue. It’s a constant battle to sort thousands of photos into my recently refreshed naming conventions. Don’t get me started on keywords.
If you had a promotional budget of $1000, what would you invest it in?
Probably use all of it on targeted facebook advertising.