Photographers' Blog

The toughest foot race on earth

Death Valley, California

By Lucy Nicholson

Park Sukhee, 46, had been running and walking for more than 35 hours when he approached the base of Mount Whitney. His friend handed him a South Korean flag and he broke into a jog and a smile. Running ahead of him to take photos, and realizing I was his only other spectator, I lowered my camera to applaud his achievement.

Park had just run 135 miles (217 km) from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley, to the trailhead to Mount Whitney, climbing a total of 13,000 feet (4,000m) over the course, in temperatures that blazed to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (around 49 degrees Celsius).

GALLERY: DEATH VALLEY’S ULTRAMARATHON

The Badwater Ultramarathon bills itself as the world’s toughest foot race. Competitors run, walk and hobble through one or two nights to finish the grueling course within the 48-hour limit.

When I told people I was covering the race, the typical reaction was: “those people are crazy”. But there was something very moving about watching runners stride toward a goal most of us can’t even fathom, let alone accomplish, smiling proudly as they marched towards the finishing tape.

No cheering spectators in bleachers, no prize money, no television coverage, no security guards. Just a handful of race staff, a few curious hikers, birds chirping in the pine trees, and the glory of receiving a Badwater Ultramarathon belt buckle. And perhaps the euphoria of having run the equivalent of more than five back-to-back marathons through the harsh California desert to reach the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Shooting heat without getting sweaty

By Kai Pfaffenbach

The use of photographs showing global climate change, industries’ increasing emissions and its effect on our environment is growing rapidly.

Looking for different images Eastern Europe Chief Photographer Pawel Kopczynski came across thermal imaging technology and bought one of these cameras that shows different temperature levels. The camera was sent to my Frankfurt office with a short and easy job description: “Kai, play around with the camera and make good use of it”. After getting familiar with the technology (the first time ever in my career I had to read a 200 page manual) and taking a few silly shots of houses in the neighborhood I made up my mind to start a tour through southern Germany, shooting the nuclear and coal power plants of the region.

The thermal imaging camera is not comparable to a “normal” camera we use day to day. It looks a lot more like the radar guns that police use to catch speeding car drivers. To make it look even more strange you can use a laser pointer for better targeting. No wonder power plant security was after me within a minute as I stood on a street about 500 yards away from the nuclear power plant in Phillipsburg near Karlsruhe to get my first shots. After a few minutes of negotiations they realized I was not coming up with some rocket launching laser system. After crosschecking my passport and press-pass details they took me off their personal list of “terrorist suspects”.

Sizzling on the salt flats

By Jim Urquhart

As soon as I got out of my car and stepped onto the salt I could feel the skin on the end of my nose begin to sizzle. Within five minutes I cracked open my first water bottle and was relatively uncomfortable. By the time 15 minutes had past I was already questioning why in the hell did I choose to go on this three day assignment.

When the bright sun began blinding me after it was reflected off the salt under my sunglasses into my eyes and I could feel it begin to burn under my chin I became thankful I didn’t pay homage to the Scottish half of my ancestry and wear a kilt. In fact, within an hour of arriving I met a young couple that decided to tell me while waiting in a line the day before I arrived they had their nether regions sunburned because they didn’t have on the right underwear under their shorts to protect them from the reflected sun.

I had heard of this happening so I planned ahead. I did not pack shorts… or a skirt.

Tips on the fire line

My rental SUV smells like a junior high school locker room manned by a chain-cigar-smoking gym instructor and I am standing on the side of the road with my pants and shirt half off cleaning myself with baby wipes and I am itching in areas that are not suppose to itch like that… yeah, I am in the field covering a wildfire.

Luckily I keep a “go” bag with all my own fire gear in it. I got the call in the evening and had arrangements to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the next morning. I was being sent to cover the Wallow Wildfire, which has turned into Arizona’s largest fire in history, and was right on the border with New Mexico heading to the community of Luna, New Mexico. Thankfully I had editors that trusted me and knew I had been to a few of these rodeos before and would let me make the calls as to where I would go for photos and take the risk of getting out ahead of the fire.

Much of the media had headed to the northern edge of the wildfire and the towns of Springerville and Eager, Arizona. I had heard nothing but horror stories about trying to get any work done up there. The stories I had heard included hordes of media descending into these small towns making it very difficult to find a unique story. I had also heard from media about how hard it was to work with local enforcement and that even the Public Information officers (PIOs) were taking media nowhere near any real fire action and at times took them away from the visuals and stories.

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