Lugano & Capriasca Scenic Trail: a Photographer’s Perspective

volunteering at lugano scenic trail race

Runner heading toward Capanna San Lucio checkpoint during the 2014 Lugano & Capriasca Scenic Trail

As I wrote in the previous post I was fortunate to shoot at the inaugural Lugano & Capriasca Scenic Trail. The course of the race is 50 km long with total elevation gain of 3800m and the scenery along the trail is stunning. So when few days before the event one of the race directors asked me if I am interested in shooting I could not say “No”.

The trail lover inside of me was exited, the photographer – challenged. The things is I do not own a decent DSLR. I know it sounds weird, everyone these days seems to a have good digital camera, but my equipment still comes from the film department, except for my Iphone. So, no camera, but a will to shoot at the event. I’ve asked around and luckily was lended a Nikon D80 with 18 – 200 mm NIkkor lens. I knew the camera is some what slow, but still it was better than nothing.

capanna san lucio offers panoramic view of Colla valley

Capanna San Lucio (on the left) – one of the checkpoints of the 2014 Lugano & Capriasca Scenic Trail

For shooting I was given three locations to choose from: Gazzirola, 2116m, Capanna San Lucio, 1542m and Fojorina, 1810m. First, I thought about going to Gazzirola – the highest point of the course, but then decided to play it safe and pick the Capanna San Lucio.

The race start was scheduled at 7:00am, the photographers team left Tesserete around 7:50am. At 8:20 we’ve arrived on location. There’ve been four photographers including myself, but we all worked independently. The first runner was expected at about 10 am, so I’ve had some time to scout locations and set the camera.

I hiked up toward Gazzirola until the first runner passed by me about 9:40. At that time I was about 100 meters higher than the Capanna San Lucio and the view was quite good. So I decided to shot at that location for a while and then slowly descent continuing shooting along the way, have a little snack at San Lucio and move on toward Fojorina. With this strategy I could stay close enough to the aid station and at the same time have a number of different views.

Unfortunately, very early into the race I ran into а barbed wire. I was so concerned about getting a good shot, that have not even noticed the wire in a grass. The cut on my leg was not deep, but I needed to clean and cover it. So I’ve decided to go down to the aid station. I continued shooting all the way until I’ve reached the Capanna. I’ve spent more than an hour at the aid station, however I am very thankful to the medical team for taking great care of the wound. By time I got back to the filed the main crowed has long gone. These people are fast!

I’ve walked a little up toward Fojorina still hoping to capture а few frames. The location offered very good views although the lighting was tricky. About 15 runners passed by me at the this location and that was it. I looked back at Gazzirola and could not see a single runner coming my way, so I realized that it is time to go back to San Lucio. A little later all the volunteers have been served with a wonderful hot lunch of lasagna and polenta at the Capanna. The cut-off time for San Lucio checkpoint was set for 14:00, at this time the Gazzirola – San Lucio leg of the race was closed and we’ve packed our staff and returned to Tesserete.

Race volunteers picking up trail markers at the end of ultra race in Ticino

Race volunteers picking up trail markers at Gazzirola – San Lucio leg of the 2014 Lugano Scenic Trail

This was a great event, the spirit and the scenery are wonderful. It was a new experience for me and as a photographer I’ve learned a lot from it. The most important is – know your equipment limitations. This is something you learn from experience, basically by just shooting with the same equipment over and over again. I had some reservations about D80, but the experience was lucking. It is a pretty old entry level camera and compared to newer models it is slow and not very responsive. Its continuous mode speed is low, you get around 2fps infill the buffer is full and that happens quickly. The autofocus is slow and sluggish. So the best approach when using a camera like this would be to pick a good location with the safest light possible and at the best distance from the subject to get the sharpest shots. With this approach all shots will look alike, but you will have solid results at the end. I did the opposite, I moved a lot, got a number of different views, but not all of the shots are of high quality. So, do I want to shoot at a mountain race again? Absolutely yes, but with a better camera: something like Nikon 610 or Nikon 800.

If you want to know about runner’s experience at the 2014 Lugano Scenic Trail check out the race reports by trail runners:
Alex Brennwald at Swiss Ultra Trail Community (in German)
Lorenzo Clementi at Clem’s blog (in Italian)
Maarten Hendriks at Mud Sweat Trails (in Dutch)

And if your are not a trail runner, just go hike the course. It is well marked, accessible by public transportation, there several mountain huts for overnight stays and the views are amazing. You can day hike a part of the course or complete the whole route in three days.

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