SHOOT! The Sport of The Gods, 2011 Expedition Africa

Words & Photos: Jacques Marais

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Covering an adventure race equates to being a kid in a candy store ... There are more image opportunities than you could shake a telephoto lens at, but first you have to beat the Sleep Monster at its own game.

SHOOT! The Sport of The Gods, 2011 Expedition Africa

Photo credit: Jacques Marais

Expedition races are arguably the purest form of sport as we know it. There is no court or field, just the great outdoors unfolding as an expansive arena with no perceivable borders. The gladiators are the racers, and nine times out of 10 they are amateurs who do it for the money rather than professionals looking for their next pay cheque.

Sponsors are very much in the background, and rather than a backdrop of banners and advertising billboards, you have soaring peaks, tranquil dales, vast and spreading savannah plains and meandering dirt roads disappearing towards a distant and hazy horizon.

There may not be many spectators, maybe a few dozen at most, but they are there because they live and breathe adventure racing, an outdoor activity many people now call ‘The Sport of The Gods’. The athletes themselves may be ordinary people, but their superhuman endurance and physical feats raise them to the status of demi-gods, but only to those in the know.

And if you’re one of the few adventure journalists who have had the opportunity to cover such an event, you’ll understand what an amazing privilege it is to spend time with these athletes while they slug it out with the elements, their peers and the Sleep Monster, who dogs their footsteps as they race non-stop for up to 10 days, or over a course of up to a 1 000km.

Image 1: Gum Tree Bikers

The Action: Team Merrell cruising the Cape heartland on their way to finishing top of the podium during Expedition Africa 2011.
The Shot: I charged ahead of the team to find a spot which would capture the drama of the athletes within the landscape, and this was not it. But I knew I could make it work with the right composition and a bit of help from Lightroom, where I applied a filter to bathe the image in alien light.
The Technique: Cloudy and overcast, so I pushed the colour and contrast parameters in-camera to accentuate the disparity between shadow and light.
The Specifications: 1/200th sec @ f5.6; Nikon D700 with a 16-35mm lens; ISO 200; WB Setting - Auto.
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Image 2: Beach of a Day

The Action: The Adventure Addicts take the fight to the endless strip of sand in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve near Gansbaai on a 35km off-road run.
The Shot: I had to run behind the guys to shoot this, using a low angle and wide lens to accentuate the view of the athletes within the landscape.
The Technique: Slap on a polarising filter and stop down by one stop to accentuate colour saturation, then use your SB-900 to bang in some fill-in flash.
The Specifications: 1/250th sec @ f14; D700 with 15mm fish eye lens; SB-900 flash on full power; ISO 200; WB Setting – Sunlight; AE Setting: Under-exposure by 1 stop.
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SHOOT! The Sport of The Gods, 2011 Expedition Africa

Photo credit: Jacques Marais

Image 3: Fleeing the Sleep Monster

The Action: Dark zone riding on a 14-hour mountain bike mission through the mountain passes of the southern Cape.
The Shot: Hanno Smit, Merrell Adventure Addicts stalwart, cranks into the dark of night, nearly 200km into Expedition Africa and still hours off the half way mark.
The Technique: Auto-focus systems generally do not work at speed in the dark of night, and the best way of ensuring sharp focus is to pre-focus on a spot and trigger the camera as soon as the subject hits the mark.
The Specifications: 1/20th sec @ f2.8; D700mm with 16-35mm lens; Speedlite SB-900 on full flash; ISO 800; WB Setting: Auto; AE Setting: 1 stop under-exposed.
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Image 4: Take Me to the Water

The Action: Team Merrell Adventure Addicts’ Graham Bird and Tatum Prins power their kayak across the Theewaterskloof Dam.
The Shot: Shot on the final day of the race, with less than 10 hours left in the field. You could see the resurgence of energy in the Adventure Addicts as they took to the water.
The Technique: If you take your water-housing to a shoot, you have to find a place to use it … I was expecting wet work in kloofs and rivers, but expedition Africa actually turned out to be a relatively dry race. Except for the icy Theewaterskloof, of course ...
The Specifications: 1/250th sec @ f9; D700 with 16-35mm wide-angle zoom set wide; full flash from Speedlite unit; ISO 50; WB Setting: Sunlight; AE Setting: 1 stop under-exposed.
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