How to Up Your ‘Gram Game—According to a Pro

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11 tips from photographer Jobie Williams on how to take better trail running shots

Jobie Williams was just another bored road runner when he moved to the trails and stumbled onto running photography. Since that inauspicious start with a GoPro tucked into his pack and a multitude of terrible shots of his friends, Nashville-based Williams has grown into a nationally recognized photographer sought by both race directors and photo editors alike. His work has appeared in Trail Runner and UltraRunning Magazine, and he’s documented the Georgia Death Race and a host of others.

“I never set about this because I wanted to take pictures of runners,” Williams tells Trail Run Project. “I just was a runner myself, and I think that helps.”

Williams has carved out a niche for himself over the years, sure, but it’s come through a lot of experimenting and a whole lot of terrible photos. Here are some of the things he’s learned on his trial of miles.

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1. See It Before You Shoot

Williams began with a viewer-less GoPro, and he credits that with the development of his composition. “I think that’s where my photography really got better,” he says. “I had to figure out what I wanted to see.”

2. Have It Handy

By making a habit of having his camera with him and always taking pictures, Williams quickly developed his skills. “I was carrying it with my buddies and just taking pictures—probably bothering them,” he says with a laugh. Photography is a muscle you develop, so use it often.

3. Travel for the Shot

Williams isn’t afraid to run in three miles or more to reach the perfect spot. So don’t hesitate to use your legs for a better photo, even if it means having to go farther than a typical spectator.

4. Embrace Emotion

“I like to get shots of people in the real suffering, because I’ve been there before,” he says. Use your runner’s eye to scout locations, such as a place runners will head up a tough climb or where they’ll bomb down a hill. “These are the pictures that people are going to want to see, because this is what they’re going to remember from that race.”

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5. Learn From the Best

Williams gets hyped on fellow photogs Matt Trappe and Howie Stern. Discover photographers you think are doing it well—both in running and outside—and follow them for inspiration.

6. Upgrade Your Gear

“There’s only so much that an iPhone can do,” Williams says. From the GoPro, he moved to a tiny Sony Alpha a6000 and then later to the bigger a7R II. If you’re serious about photos, upping your gear game will give you more options and better pictures.

7. Don’t Be a Poser

The most obvious mistake young photographers make is staging their shots. Don’t go for smiles, Williams says. Capture athletes on the pain train. “I try to get stuff that’s more realistic,” he says, “in the moment.”

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8. Be Prepared

Like a Boy Scout: Pack an extra memory card and an extra battery. Shooting races, Williams will sometimes even bring an extra camera. Sure, you may not need it, but if you do, there’s no faking the equipment you didn’t bring.

9. Get Down

What’s an easy way to take better photos? Go low. Not necessarily on the ground, but close. “Lower makes something look larger than life,” Williams says. “You want this epic-ness of the shot, and it helps.”

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10. Hide Away

“You don’t want to get a shot where somebody’s 70 miles into a race and you’re wanting to see this emotion of trying to power through, and then you’re standing out there where they can see you,” he says. “All of a sudden they’re posing for the picture.” Duck behind a tree, or take cover to grab the best pics.

11. Trust Yourself

“If you’re good at what you do and you enjoy it, then you’re going to get good stuff,” Williams says. He estimates good photos are 30 percent technical proficiency, and the rest is all you.