Shooting Sister Madonna Buder

An acquaintance of mine, Carol, is doing a book on aging women runners.  When she heard that I was going to be in Penticton for Ironman Canada, she asked me about getting some shots of Madonna Buder for her book.

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Sister Madonna Buder, from our photoshoot the day before Ironman Canada 2011.  The shiny bracelet is the competitor's bracelet which allows competitor's privileges to the competing athletes.

Madonna holds the record as the oldest woman to complete an Ironman.  She also holds the record as the oldest woman to complete the Boston Marathon. 

In this photo, she is 81.

Sister Madonna Buder is famous as a runner and triathlete; famous because she holds a number of world records.  The records are not so much because of her astonishing speed, which is astonishing, but more for the respect she gets for her age.  She is the oldest woman to have completed the Boston Marathon and the oldest woman to have completed an Ironman.  She has also written a book.

Because of my Triathlete Project I was interested, of course.  Enthusiastic actually.  I hadn't thought about Madonna being in Penticton and here was an opportunity!

Setting up the shoot turned out to be a bit of a challenge.  Whether because she is a nun, or because of her age, or because of her celebrity stature (which I grossly underestimated), she does not have an e-mail address. 

So I wrote her a letter.  When is the last time you did that?

The letter outlined the Triathlete Project and proposed a photoshoot in Penticton.  Sometime later, from Carol, I received a Penticton telephone number and the advice that she would arrive on Thursday, two days before the Sunday race and had very little time, as she need to do triathlete things and also to attend to book signings and guest appearances.  And she would leave Monday morning.

I was unable to locate a studio in Penticton; the nearest studio was in Kelowna.  I wouldn't be able to talk her into the three hours that would require.  So, no studio lights, no reflectors, nothing but the gear I could carry on to Air Canada. 

We did agree on the phone to shooting on Saturday morning at 8:30, outside the apartment where she was staying.  We had to be quick.  Saturday is the day when Ironman competitors pack their special needs bags and take their bike and gear to the transition area.  It was also a day of book signings for her.

I promised her three-quarters of an hour. 

Saturday morning was beautiful.  Her apartment was a few short blocks from ours.  When I arrived, with Marian and Bryan as assistants, she was already outside. 

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A park-like setting, with no direct sunlight.  The big issue was green reflected from the grass.

I had previously scouted the immediate area, because I did not want to be shooting in direct sunlight, with its consequent harsh shadows and squinting model.  The evening before I had decided that the best combination of light and background would be in a small park next door to her apartment building.  There was a brick wall there, and the scene would be backlit.

We did try a few test shots with my SB-600 as a fill-light, but the flash didn't seem to improve the pictures, so we went simple; hand-held camera and no extra lights.  The biggest problem was that the light was a little low and I had to crank the ISO up to 500 to get a decent shutter speed.  A critical observer can see the noise in the final shots.

We shot on the grass of the park.  The unfinished images do have a green cast from the light reflect off the grass.  It was stronger than I would have expected (I mostly shoot in the studio on white floors), but the green cast was fixable in Photoshop.

It was a pleasant three-quarters of an hour, as we cruised through head shots, full-length and a series of shots using the bicycle as prop.  She was comfortable being photographed, wanted to smile and resisted poses which suggested aggressiveness or toughness, preferring feminine, warmer poses.

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At the end of my studio sessions, I put the bike on training stand and have the triathlete ride while we get the shots that are used to produced the colourful stylized shots.  We had two problems here.  We did not have a training stand, and she had forgotten her sunglasses and was unwilling to go back for them.  In the end, I was happy with a shot that I took of her riding on the street.

The chosen shots are in the Triathlete Collection.  There are alos a number of shots of her in the Ironman Canada 2011 gallery.

For an explanation of the Triathlete Project, see my earlier blog posting, Serious Triathlete Project.

We ended the session with a good touristy shot of Madonna and Marian that Marian used for her Facebook posting that day.

I'm pleased to have Sister Madonna Buder in my Triathlete Collection.  She is now the Senior Member.

Posted September 25, 2011 at 12:11 am.