Over the years I’ve gotten compliments on the running pictures I post to Instagram and use in my blog; and often, people want to know how I was able to capture the shot. Earlier this summer I wrote, Six Camera Angles For Taking Interesting Running Photos, where I showed a variety of pictures and where I’d placed my camera for that particular shot. Today’s secret, the second of several I’ll share over the next few months, includes tips for using interesting backgrounds when taking running photos


1. Avoid crowds – I had taken several running pictures in front of The Bean on my visits to Chicago, but they all had a number of other people in the picture, something I felt was a distraction.

On our most recent visit, Bill and I arrived at The Bean shortly after 6 AM to beat the crowds. Just as we were heading out, though, the protective housing (affiliate link) to my GoPro (affiliate link) broke and I had to leave my trusty little camera behind. Luckily for me, Bill grabbed his camera and off we went.

Photo credit: Bill

2. Capture sunrises/sunsets – Sunrises and sunsets don’t have to be beautiful pinks, blues, and yellows to be effective backdrops for a picture. Capture them as the light reflects over water or a mirrored building to add interest to a picture.


3. Frame buildings with your legs – This is actually one of my favorite running pictures and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always easy to capture framing a building so perfectly. I’ve done this a few times with other older buildings, usually with pretty good results. Be sure to note where the camera is in relationship to the building and count steps or take stutter steps if necessary so it doesn’t appear you are “kicking” the building as you leap.


4. Take advantage of reflections – In this picture the muted sunrise is offset by Bill’s silhouette and reflection in the water left behind as the tide rushed out. Water pictures can be greatly enhanced with reflections.


5. Frame with snow – The snow covered branches in the foreground and background in this picture frame the bright pink of my jacket (I’ll talk about using color in another post).


6. Seek out bridges – I tend to use bridges as backdrops since most of my training runs are on otherwise uninteresting paths. The snow covered rocks to the right add another point of interest to the background.


7. Use running related backdrops – Adding track lanes or a race start or finish line to pictures makes them instantly more interesting to runners and aid in telling a story.


8. Take advantage of murals – As soon as I saw this mural I knew I wanted to use it as a backdrop. In hindsight, this picture would have been so fun if Bill and I had been riding our bikes along in front of the picture rather than posing. I think that just calls for a ride back to Vienna and a do-over! This isn’t a running picture, but you get the idea.


9. Layer backgrounds – The skyline is muted by the trees in the foreground in this park in Chicago; however, it adds a very interesting three-level layering effect – runner, trees, buildings.


10. Show off skylines – Whether shrouded in fog or highlighted by sun, the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan serves as a stunning background for both of these pictures taken on the Lakefront Trail.


11.  Capture mountains – Other than when visiting my mom, it’s rare that I have the opportunity to capture mountains in the background of my running pictures. Of course, this is nothing compared to the pictures I see posted by my Colorado running friends.


12. Emphasize clouds – This trail is rather boring save for a few trees splattered in an open field. Changing the camera angle to capture the interesting variety of clouds gave the perfect backdrop to an otherwise so-so picture.


13. Look before you selfie – Even when taking selfies, keep in mind what is behind you. Obviously, we took this picture for the primary purpose of capturing the Chicago skyline (top) and the unique tree-top bridge (bottom), but I’m often surprised when friends suggest taking a post-run selfie and don’t consider the background. Often there’s a parking lot behind us and a slight shift in either direction will give us a background of trees or the running trail.


14. Enjoy the scenery in your selfie – I love making the background my focal point in selfies as I’m turning to look at the object of interest or beautiful scenery.


In review, here are my fourteen tips for using interesting backgrounds when taking running photos…

  1. Avoid crowds
  2. Capture sunrises/sunsets
  3. Frame buildings
  4. Take advantage of reflections
  5. Frame with snow
  6. Seek out bridges
  7. Use running related backdrops
  8. Take advantage of murals
  9. Layer backgrounds
  10. Show off skylines
  11. Capture mountains
  12. Emphasize clouds
  13. Look before you selfie
  14. Enjoy the scenery in your selfie


  • Questions:
  • Do you take pictures while out on your runs?
  • If so, what type of camera do you use?
  • What could you use for interesting backgrounds where you live? ~ I really should go into DC occasionally to run and to take pictures.


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