Photo Decathlon: The final 24 hours

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Photo Decathlon: The final 24 hours

This is the second of two posts detailing my participation in Photo Decathlon. You can read the first post here. For more information, hit the main site for the decathlon here.


I got actual sleep after spending a couple of hours late Friday getting photos off the camera and onto my laptop. I did a few edits, but I needed to sleep. I got up at 6:30 am on Saturday, showered and packed up for another long day.

8:00am – ComicCon:  First stop was the ComicCon at the Salt Lake Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. This was one of two Photojournalism stops. We weren’t supposed to shoot the ComicCon itself, but a race that started at 8am called the Super Hero Run. As I’ve documented before, I don’t spend a lot of time shooting people, so I didn’t have high hopes for my performance in this category. However, I knew what I was looking for: Cute kids running or adults in costume. I was searching for something unexpected. And something to stretch myself. I wanted to shoot the ComicCon crowd by myself in 2012 and 2013, but it wasn’t to be.

2015? I was hopeful and the morning light was pretty good.

Boy dressed as Yoda, ComicCon, Salt Lake City, Utah. September, 2015.

I got some great starting line shots, but I knew the real action would be when the runners got separated. I couldn’t help grabbing a few shots of the crazy costumes. And not so crazy costumes…

After the race started, I moved to a better location, but not until I shot a bunch of adorable kids running a dash.

Once I was in position, I took a lot of photos. Hundreds. Way too many. But I knew that the key in an action event wouldn’t be in just getting somebody in a great costume, but somebody doing something interesting in a great costume. I was looking for juxtaposition. I got very lucky. My teammate positioned himself with a ring flash about 20 feet from me and on the curb. I got right out in the street and made sure I wasn’t going to get hit by staying inside the traffic barriers.


Wonder Woman was my favorite shot at this point in the competition. I knew that Michelangelo and Wonder Woman would be my two frontrunners when Luke and I sat down to figure out our entries. Seeing those on the LCD screen in review was the shot in the arm I needed to feel like I could contribute to the team and actually represent myself well, even if the judges didn’t agree.

We headed from ComicCon to the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The last time I shot at the Cathedral was in 2013 with a rented 21mm Leica lens, one that I’ve drooled over and fantasized about. I should have rented it for this competition. One of the shots from that 2013 session is here). This would be our final Architecture stop. It was nice to drive a few blocks instead of a few hundred miles.

We spent some time with the video crew outside, both Luke and I being shot on our own.

Video team at the Photo Decathlon.

After our video session, we decided to do street photography. Street photography in Salt Lake City is not what it is in NYC. And Luke spent time in Provo the day before with disappointing results. He was sandbagging, because he found an amazing scene from the street that took first! Provo!

Upon arrival at 700 South, we were hating the situation pretty hard.

A parked Police cruiser and a desserted street don’t make for good street photography. I walked around for a couple of minutes and this caught my eye:

What is this?

I went in closer. And then I looked at our map. It seemed odd that this geography was chosen. This is not a bustling part of town. Not that Salt Lake has a lot of bustle, but there are places to shoot people that would not be deserted on a Saturday. Double checked the map. I walked down the driveway. Holy shit. Holy shit. It’s a gold mine, especially for Luke. Holy shit!

Luke checking out a gold mine

Luke made a couple of calls and we decided to come back a little later. We figured we could go shoot the Stunt Run in West Jordan, even though I already knew what I thought I’d be submitting for Photojournalism.

I couldn’t believe our good fortune in discovering this place! Still can’t believe it.

Stunt Run:

We drove 15 or so minutes and arrived at the Stunt Run. It wasn’t looking too good. Then we walked into the park. This was way better than I thought it would be, even though we were arriving during the worst light of the day: midday.

Still, the action was good and people were having a great time.

We weren’t there longer than 25 minutes. I grabbed a few more frames and Luke reminded me that I still had a crap ton of shots to go through from the Super Hero run. Luke showed me his screen with an image that I thought for sure would take the category. Feeling like we had it locked I didn’t stress too hard.


We drove back to our secret discovery, the DIY Skater Palace and unloaded. I couldn’t believe my teammate was a skater and he shoots skaters. Which is a thing that he does. I mentioned he skates, right?

By the time we got back, there was another photographer there shooting models (not part of the decathlon) and we found out the the space was supposed to be demolished two days prior. At least that’s what the letter on the front of the building said.

Skaters had arrived and were ripping it hard.

You should see the shots Luke got. He set up his sweet lighting rig and caught some very sick moves. You can see it on this page. Scroll down. Damn.

After I got my shots, I set up the laptop and copied the images from the camera. Backed them up. I found Wonder Woman and this shot from the Stunt Run that would be one of my submissions:

Girl falls at the Stunt Run |

Something about her face struck me. She wasn’t terrified. Luke suggested I do a black and white treatment. He was right.


We retired to a Starbucks to edit and confer. And hydrate. We got to a good place and then took off to meet our last model for the shoot, Heather Murdock.

I had the same strategy as the day before: shoot with a long lens and tighten up the frame. We didn’t have much time at all and we did some walking to a location, giving us about 10 minutes to shoot. I didn’t have time to edit the shot I wanted to submit:

Monochrome Heather Murdock. Salt Lake City, Utah. September, 2015.

Pretty Furiosa.


From there, I drove to Park City, racing the sunset once again. Grrr.

I had a pretty good location, but I just didn’t have time to process and edit. Plus, I thought this was over the top HDR:

HDR shot of the last moments of sun over Park City, Utah. September, 2015.

I should have submitted this one. All of the landscape winners were processed. Nothing wrong with that. I just didn’t think. Period.

Then I drove to my sister’s and called Luke. We spent the next few hours on the phone going through photos.

I got to bed around 1am.


I won first place with the falling girl from the Stunt Run! Who woulda thought? Wonder Woman got honorable mention. Luke won 1st in Street with his amazing shot that looks timeless. I still think his skate shot got robbed, but hey, I didn’t have to judge all of the incredible images.

This was an amazing experience that forced me to take a very hard look at process and dedication to getting the shot. Timing and editing were my downfalls. I’m happy with everything except the landscapes. Which is ironic, because I felt those would be my strongest.

Key learning: Push just a little harder and get some damn sleep prior to an event like this. I joked on video that I should have taken Ambien for a week and then gone hardcore into the Red Bull. Even then, I’m not sure I could have had the stamina to get the wicked night shots by the lake or the desert. I think I just found my new thing to work on: Night skies. Note to self: work on collecting a bigger team.

Congratulations to the winners, you guys are all very inspirational.

Finally, congratulations to Scott Jarvie on a great event that I hope to participate in again!


Also published on Medium.