” I work in still and moving image alongside agency creative, brand and editorial, using a variety of equipment to tell a story or bring a brief to life. I was born and bred on the Island of Jersey. The sea and sand are hard to shake off and it’s thanks to my parent’s love of sailing and exploration that I’m drawn to capturing the lure of the outdoors on camera. After turning thirty I discovered a dangerous ability to run long distances. This has led me to inhospitable places such as the Sahara in an attempt to answer the question “why am I still running?
I’m blessed to have a cool wife, crazy two year old and fast growing collection of photos from exotic and absurd destinations that I’m fortunate enough to visit in the name of work. It’s not really work, it’s a passion. Based in Surrey. Open to adventure.” – James Carnegie.
Q & A feature number two in an ongoing series that explores the creative community and culture that surrounds this varied sport of running. I first noticed photographer James Carnegies’s work through a personal project documenting the gruelling Marathon Des Sables – seen as the toughest foot race on the planet. The particular image up top of the helicopter frozen in time with the runners makes me feel like heading out right now for an adventure!
How many years have you been in photography business?
This will be my 15th year.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I flew out to South Africa on a whim in 2000 and studied a year’s intensive diploma in Professional Photography. It was geared toward setting you up to start making a living asap rather than too heavily focused on the arts/history.
Who are your greatest influences that inspired you to get into this business, and in particular the world of sports photography?
I don’t think there was one figure who drove me to pick up a camera, rather just a gut feeling that I didn’t really have a choice – I just had to learn more about what seemed a magic art. Studying and earning money then just seemed the only thing I ever wanted to do.
I remember poring over my older brother’s skate, surf and moto-x magazines back in the eighties, marvelling at shots of gnarly dudes living the dream. I always wanted to know how the photographer got that shot. I think that desire to learn was integral in driving me. Starting out Corey Rich was a big inspiration – I loved his story of how he got noticed and the dedication it took to get there.
I think it came from a desire to capture that feeling which only runners understand – complete freedom, space and endless options. Obviously, most of the time I’m a hired gun but now I’ve got a bit more credibility. It’s a huge buzz to get a call from a brand or event that wants me to capture their product or race in my own style, rather than a straight forward who, what, where.
I think now I’m leaning toward a slightly more abstract, non-conformist style in an attempt to really capture the essence of why we run. I’m aware this sounds like a lot of arty bo&%ocks but I’m trying to be honest! Better for people to look at your work and say I love it or I hate it, than not even notice it.
Are you a runner? Do you feel it’s important to understand ‘how a runner works’ to photograph them?
My interest in running photography culminated in taking up ultra-running 5 years ago, despite never having run a marathon I plunged straight into a 100km London to Brighton trail run. Although I couldn’t stand at the end I was hooked. I was just consumed by running, the community, the places it opened up and the fact that the media was still not really covering it. Being able to understand runners helps my work no doubt.
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 and hire you?
I think you nailed it in the question – it’s about staying true to yourself, putting in the hours and the groundwork. Shoot stuff for yourself, because you love it, because you want to try out a new ringflash or lens, because you’ve found a bridge that when the sun sets would just look killer.
It takes time for people to buy into you but that’s what I’ve discovered recently and nothing that’s worth anything comes easily.
Can you explain your creative process on shoot? What do you look for? How do you compose a capture? Any preferred camera settings or kit?
Although I shoot Nikon, I don’t really care what camera I have in my hands. It’s not about the gear but it is an important part of the process. I sometimes head out to a race with a crappy plastic Holga 35mm and definitely notice it influences how I shoot.
Better for people to look at your work and say I love it or I hate it, than not even notice it.
Process wise, for events generally speaking there’s a time demand on the images so it’s shoot to card, download to Lightroom on a macbook 13” in-between locations or in the car and then upload via iPhone & Nikon app to social media or client for previews. Brands love real-time coverage – it gets the public on-board and drives them toward their website.
For commercial/editorial shoots, it’s less hurried and you don’t have to worry about missing the action as it’s invariably semi-staged. Whilst that’s cool, it can be hard to recreate that authenticity unless you’ve got top running models, but that’s why you’re getting paid! The improvements in high ISO quality have blown it all apart for me – the ability to not only freeze movement in low(er) light but also retain some character in the image is huge.
Do you have a story of a great shoot, where the ‘stars aligned’ and the results exceeded your expectations?
I think the turning point for me was deciding to not only run the Marathon Des Sables last year but document it from a behind the scenes point of view. It was a ridiculous idea but then most great things arise from a stupid/drunken decision!
I trashed my camera, lenses and suffered carrying that extra weight in 50 degree heat, across endless sand-dunes, but what I think it showed editors and clients on my return was that I was willing to go that extra mile and I wasn’t just talking the talk.
Everywhere you looked in the Sahara was a killer shot. Sun burnt, moon-like landscapes, sweltering gorges and sunrises that nearly made you cry. The pain and suffering on fellow runners faces (and feet!) was everywhere. The hardest part was actually summoning the energy to get the camera out.
What is your advice for those who are starting out photographing the running scene?
Do it for the love of it first up. If you’re passionate, honest and willing to suffer as hard as the runners then opportunities will open up, people will take notice and listen to you. The early stages are a balance between giving your time for free but getting what you want out of it. Build your folio, develop your style, try new techniques.
Gear or experiences?
Not sure exactly what the question here is, but if it’s a choice between the two take the experience any time and shoot with your iPhone/disposable camera! You can’t buy insurance to replace that time you watched the sun setting over a medieval Moroccan hillside town with your best friends.
What are you doing for marketing to get your vision out to your audience?
Instagram, twitter and VSCO occupy my social output at the moment. Also a 6 weekly e-mailer to select contacts in running/sports editorials and brands then a bi-annual print mailer that is unique. One idea that I have going is hand-printing onto heavy-weight textured paper that is then cut in the outline of a running shoe! Really challenging finding the right shot to fit it!
What are your thoughts on creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
It’s essential. I didn’t believe established photographers who told me that most of the time you are hired because of your personal work, but I’ve come to realise why that is. It’s your personal vision and way of capturing a scene or a person that clients buy into and that only comes from putting the hours in, shooting crazy ideas, working with fellow creatives and the people you love.
How often are you shooting new work?
Sporadically. When there’s a gap between paid work and an idea has been bugging me I’ll hit model mayhem to find talent or ring around running friends, find the right location and scout it at the right time of day and weather then hit it.
Do you have a story of when ‘it all went wrong on a shoot’, and how you managed to see it
Last week I pulled my main DSLR body out of the bag the night before a week long race in remote Wales, having not used it since flying back from the US on a shoot. It just showed Err on the LED panel. I panicked – there wasn’t a camera shop for 3 hours drive at least and I had no time so I cursed myself for not following my own rules and always double checking kit before packing it! I had a backup body but it was a pain in the arse changing between lenses on a wind blown ridge 3000ft up, not to mention all the stuff that found its way onto my sensor… but the backup saved the day.
It’s your personal vision and way of capturing a scene or a person that clients buy into and that only comes from putting the hours in…
If you could do something different when starting out as a photographer, what would it be?
The downside to having to make a living out of what you love straight out of college is how it affects your creative process. I grew to see things, photographically speaking, from a monetary value, which was kind of necessary because I could only survive off super-noodles and frankfurters for so long, but also because I was driven to make it work.
If I was to do it all again, I’d tell myself to ease off and worry less about where it’s coming from. Try shoot stuff for the fun of it more – get out there with no agenda and see where it takes you.
If you had a promotional budget of $1000, what would you invest it in?
I dream about this often. If I had $100,000 I’d hire Kilian Jornet, a helicopter, mountain guide and Phase One camera system to head to the Himalaya with and shoot some stunning stuff! $1000 I’d just scale it down – put it toward finding the right model, location & kit then take the camper van on the road to shoot for as long as money lasted!