I get to shoot some great events. The Events Team at the Heart of Kent Hospice, for whom I give my photographic support as a volunteer, always seem to be able to put on good stuff. Today was no exception. I got to be official photographer at the latest Heart of Kent Rainbow Run.
The Rainbow Run began in 2014. That year there were a number of others, including a big one at the Olympic Park. I wasn’t sure that it was something that would endure – after all, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun to go and run 5 kilometres while having all different colours of powder paint thrown at you! However, 2016 has seen the third Heart of Kent Rainbow Run. The three events to date have raised something like £50,000 or more for the Heart Of Kent Hospice.
The powder paint used at these kinds of events has been specially developed as non-toxic, washable, child-friendly, etc, etc. It’s probably suitable for vegans and safe to polar bears and penguins for all I know. The one thing it is definitely not friendly towards is cameras! In the first year of the Rainbow Run, when everything was a novelty to participants, a nice, clean cameraman, walking around in a hi-viz jacket, trying to photograph everyone else in their paint-covered splendour was something of a sitting target. I always managed to escape with self and camera more or less clean, but only just. When I shoot these things, I put the camera in a large, clear plastic bag, with an elastic band to seal the open end around the lens barrel. This means that as long as I’m careful to keep the UV filter that always protects the front lens element free of paint dust, all is well. It’s quite hard to see precisely what I’m shooting, as looking through the viewfinder means seeing through a) my glasses, and the film of paint dust they may have attracted, b) a layer of plastic bag and c) the glass of the viewfinder on the camera. It’s equally hard to review shots on the rear LCD. However, by trusting the autofocus mechanism, probably more than 80% of the shots I get are usable.
There was a light and surprisingly variable breeze blowing at this year’s Rainbow Run. Whereas previously it was fairly easy to stay “upwind” of the worst of the clouds of paint dust, this time, it variously hung in the air and swirled around. There was also a new innovation in the finish in straight to the run – “The Rainbow Zone”. Last year, there had been a view that rather too many runners had finished the event looking a bit too clean. This year, there was a team specially placed fifty metres from the finish line, and armed with huge amounts of all of the colours of powder paint. Their specific task was to ensure no one got through colour-free! It was a task they performed with gusto. I stayed as far back as I could, but with the lens I was using, that was not awfully far. Pretty soon I was aware that not only was I getting a fine sheen of paint powder over my clothes, but I was also inhaling copious amounts of it. I’m a hay fever sufferer. Discovering how much paint was reaching my sinuses came when I found I was depositing rivers of paint-red snot into my tissues! It really was the red paint powder that seemed to get everywhere. Or at least, it was the most visible. Have a look at the full set of my photos here, and you’ll see scenes that could have come from one of those zombie horror films!
Just where that stuff got to on the people I was photographing, who were getting plastered in it from all directions, hardly bears thinking about! Even as a “non-combatant” I had red socks and feet, a rime of paint round the neck of my t-shirt, under my watch-strap and so on, by the time the event was over! I’ve seen photos of some of the really big Rainbow Runs, where the paint powder is literally pumped over the participants through nozzles. Ours was only thrown by the handful. And yet the participants, young and old, appear to love it.
I gave my camera and lens a very careful inspection when I got home, and a thorough external clean with a brush and compressed air can. Next time, I want to use a zoom lens that has both internal focusing and internal zooming, so that I can seal the lens with the plastic bag right up to the lens hood end. It’ll be that or somehow try to get hold of a full underwater housing, or similar!
Goodness only knows what these events are like if it even drizzles, let alone rains. The idea of dressing for it in a full bio-hazard suit, carrying a fully encased camera is not too far-fetched! I’ve not yet thought through an option to use something like a 4k video camera, in a full weatherproof case and to aim to pull stills from the video. That might be a goer and leave my DSLR to fight another day.