Wagner Araujo: behind the scenes story on the shot that won the National Geographic Travel Photo Contest

This is the behind the scenes story about the shot “Brazilian Aquathlon” by Wagner Araujo (www.waguinhoa.com.br) that won the first prize at the 2013 National Geographic Travel Photo Contest:

I'm a professional photographer form Brazil and also editor of the main Triathlon website and online magazine in Brazil: www.mundotri.com.br I live at the airport. No, just kidding. When I'm not traveling, I live in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais in Brazil. A 2million people city and state capital, close to some historical places like Ouro Preto and Mariana. We also hold one of the main open nature museums in the World: Inhotim. As I said, I'm a triathlete/cyclist/runner (no, I'm not a swimmer, my swimming skills are poor!). I use to cover Triathlon race most of the time and also some great cycling races. I love traveling all around the world.

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My favorite place is Hawaii, where the Ironman Triathlon World Championship is held. In my career I'm trying to develop the concept of “sport landscape”, sports shots that can tell more about the place, the scenario and the location. So I love shooting anywhere: cities, beaches, woods...I really love those scenic images and how they express the interaction between athletes and the planet. I've already covered races at different places, like volcanos, lakes, cities, deserts. All those places are amazing. I'm always trying something new and unusual in sports, like multiple exposure, slow sync flash, long exposures, underwater photography and anything else that I find is cool.

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This year I covered the Race Across America, a cycling race that crosses the USA from the west coast to the east coast, approximately 3,000 miles. Now I'm working on these shots. I'm also working on a project of multiple exposure shots in Triathlon races. It's difficult because I don't have much time during the action. I need to shoot the safe shots, the shots for my magazine and also try those experiments. It's a rush!  I'm also planning a travel to Patagonia next january: 7 days in a boat  crossing the ice.

2013 National Geographic travel photo contest winner:

First Prize National Geographic Travel Photo Contest

About the photo 

I was in Manaus/Amazon during the Brazilian Aquathlon (swimming and running) championship. This river is called Rio Negro (Black River) due to its water color. Rio Negro is the largest left tributary of the Amazon, the largest blackwater river in the world. While the name Rio Negro means Black River, its waters aren't exactly black; they are similar in color to strong tea. The dark color comes from humic acid from incomplete breakdown of phenol. I photographed it from the water and my lens got completely wet. The contrast between the dark water, the athletes and the white sprays and sky was just perfect for a B&W picture. I had a great time that day. I didn't use my camera house because the river was pretty shallow there. I knew this was the shot of the day when I took it. When I opened it on my screen I knew it was one of the best of my life. I think the energy, from the river and from the athletes is the key point. That was a Junior start. Many of those kids don't have much money or opportunities in life, so they try so hard in sports careers. For them, it was a very, very important race. I'm also a triathlete/cyclist/runner and I know how much emotion we feel at the start of the race. One funny thing is that one week prior to the race 3 crocodiles were found nearby the swim area. I think it pushed the guys to race faster!

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • boing

    Makes me feel fat!

  • rt-photography

    the guy who did the article “from nikon to canon”

    should take note how to do a beautiful pan shot like in the first and 2nd pic on top. love the colors and rear sync.

    • gimar bazat

      probably the people who read the racing press are not photo enthusiasts and don’t give a crap on slow shutter photography. The want to clearly unblurred see their fans on the first page of the magazine/newspaper.

    • Mansgame

      The difference is that guy had to cover an event and shoot up pictures in real time (hence he needed wifi) and this guy had all day to set up lights and pick his subjects carefully. You can’t compare the two.

      • Wagner Araujo

        Yes and not! Covering a Triathlon race is crazy guys, you’re in a rush all the time, even during an Ironman!

    • AM

      It doesn’t look like panning but going side by side on another vehicle which I don’t think it’s allowed during a car race.

  • fjfjjj

    Beautiful photograph, and illustrative of the event. Thanks for not mentioning your specific equipment. 🙂

    • Wagner Araujo


  • veggie

    wow. 3rd pic down (running man) did it for me.

  • Spy Black

    Great work. Glad you’ve been recognized for your efforts.

  • Michiel953

    That winning shot is epic. So much to see, so much energy!

  • Wow, I had missed this competition. A very deserved win! I love how you use flash in some of these. Almost McNally-esque.

    • Wagner Araujo

      Tks buddy. I use only a single flash with a small softbox handheld on my left hand or by an assistant during he races. All those shots were taken during actual races, so there’s no time and space for setting up too many lights.

  • Samir Maluf

    congratulations to you my friend, keep the good work!

  • Maji

    Congratulations!! Keep up the great work.

  • Aldo

    I’m usually not a big fan of this type of flash photography (first images) as it usually looks very artificial… However he managed to place the lights in a way that it integrates the subject well into the scenery. Impressive.

    • Ronan

      Difference between a professional with experience and a wannabe professional.

      • Mansgame

        No Mr. Nikon Employee, the difference is between someone who captures pictures naturally and those who just throw a gel on the flash and make the same tired “strobist” picture that you see all the time on flickr.

        • Ronan

          I don’t work for Nikon. I don’t remember ever claiming that. Also, how clueless you are about photography, is very obvious by your comment.

          P.S: Your mom is calling, she said to stop trolling on the internet and to go get a job.

          • Mansgame

            You’re always telling me I”m wrong about my estimation of the popularity of Nikon gear so i have no doubt you work there. Not in a position of real power so my guess is you’re either the person who has to deal with customers directly (hence your hostility towards us pesky customers) or you’re the guy who’s had to vacuum all the dust from the returned D600’s.

            Please tell me where I’m wrong with my photography comment? I feel that photography with flash is overdone in large part thanks to the strobist guys who use flash not because they need to but because they like the fake look. It’s an opinion. You see how that works?

            Now seriously, what do you do at Nikon? Are you in charge of getting a magnet and pickup up all the tiny screws that fall down on the floor? The IT guy there? Mailroom?

            • 103David

              I’m no great friend of Ronan, but starting off by accusing someone of being a shill for (Nikon, Canon, Leica, Smith & Wesson or whoever) is never going to win you friends anywhere you go.
              Would that were true, point me where to go and sign me up. But the truth is, if anybody in any real power even reads your pathetic, drooling comments, I’d be surprised. Really, really surprised.
              How about you try and be useful with something constructive to say?
              Be useful.

            • Mansgame

              Follow his posts. He is always defending Nikon at every single turn. Even with silly things. He thinks the DF is the greatest camera ever invented, the D600 never had any dust issues, and overall sounds like an employee. In my opinion, allegedly.

            • Steve

              D600 didn’t have dust issues…haha YEH RIGHT, some people are just deluded.

            • mikeswitz

              The winning shot was obviously shot available light, backlit, while he was standing in the water. Where exactly was his pelican case full of lights set up. Oh, they must have been handheld by his twenty man crew. And what a terrible moment to fire his shutter–he must be the luckiest photographer on the planet, clearly not travelling.

            • Mansgame

              He was clearly following the bike on a vehicle on the race path. How many “travelers” are allowed to do that?

            • Wagner Araujo

              I needed the flash in most of the pictures beacuse the sibjects were completly dark!

    • Wagner Araujo

      Tks buddy, I always keep it simple, one flash handheld on my left hand (off-camera), sometimes a 1/4 CTO Gel and an open mind for new approach.

  • mikeswitz

    I’m curious. The first shot, the one with the American cyclist, is that with an off camera flash or is he being filled some other way? Thanks for the post, really terrific work!

    • Aldo

      I would guess he used the same technique as with the runner… Of course… daylight… way too much light for it to be a natural source.

      • mikeswitz

        No, I’m talking about the first shot which has just the right amount of fill. The seconfd shot is obviously off camera single source.

        • Aldo

          Yeah I was referring to that one… the first shot.

      • Wagner Araujo

        The key to those shots is to set the Sb-910 to 200mm, so you got a very narrow light source.

      • Wagner Araujo

        And off course I took about 100 shots to get this one (the power of a good Editor!)

    • Wagner Araujo

      Helo guys, for your surprise it was taken with the camera handheld, no car and one off camera flash (Sb-910) on my left side in an actual race, The Pan American Cup in Vila Velha, Brasil.

  • Mansgame

    They’re good pictures and all, but what’s the point of having a “travel” photo contest when a professional is there and is allowed to bring all the lights in the world and set up his shots like that enough to have a behind the scenes series? Isn’t the point of travel photography to do the best you can when you’re in a strange place with limited gear..and an amateur?

    • Watashi wa Alvin desu

      Unless the rules of the contest state, “amateurs only,” I guess anyone can enter. Also, some amateurs have deep pockets and can afford “all the lights in the world,” as well as being committed to spending the time to set things up, while some professionals make do on a shoestring budget and don’t have a lot of time for contests.

      • Mansgame

        It’s not just being able to afford lights. I’ve got plenty of lights myself but I’m not going to bring pelican cases full of the stuff when I’m going on a business trip. It looks like he had special access to the event and a press pass (most events don’t let outsiders just freely photograph and be close) and he had authority and possibly helpers to set up his lights with him.

        • Watashi wa Alvin desu

          Perhaps, but that still doesn’t address the bulk of my response.

        • mikeswitz

          Poor Mansgame. Everyone always has an advantage. It’s those rich Asians or photographer who have all the equipment and time (or talent). Life is just a bitch.

          • Ronan

            Hahaha 😀

          • Mansgame

            That’s funny but it doesn’t address what I wrote. The point of travel photography is not to set up a whole commercial shoot which is what this guy did. You can disagree if you want to but attempting to be a condescending wise-guy with weak strawman arguments just makes you look weak.

            • mikeswitz

              Oh please, Mansgame, please tell what the point of travel photography is. We’re just dying to know what a camera salesman has to say about travel photography, especially from one who knows so much about racing photography and rich Asians.

            • Wagner Araujo

              They’re not commercial shots, they’re actual race shots taken around the world, man! Pls check my website and you can see: http://www.waguinhoa.com.br

        • Ronan

          Mansgame why so T_T

          • Mansgame

            Is that a Nikon term?

        • TravelPhotographer

          Really? So National Geographic photographers, who travel around the world, doing assignments with a large set up of equipment, having special access to various place, aren’t travel photographers? Is that what you are saying?

    • Wagner Araujo

      You’re completely wrong my friend. I use to shoot races all around the world and every single picture here was taken in actual races with only one Sb-910! The awarded shot, for instance was taken in a crazy race start. The kids jumped in the water like crazy!

  • koenshaku

    so uhh.. what camera does he shoot?

    • mikeswitz

      What difference does it make?

    • Dpablo unfiltered

      I black one. With lots of knobs and buttons. That has changeable lenses.

    • Wagner Araujo

      Nikon D600.

  • Global

    Does anyone else have difficulty pronouncing “Aquathlon”??

    • Read

      Learn to read the complete post before you comment.

  • Da Hele

    NIKON – über jeden Zweifel erhaben….:)

  • 103David

    Sure beats the one with the race cars parked on the race track.

  • I am a triathlete!

    Beautiful captures! This is the big difference between triathlon and photography. In photography, there is so much subjectivity. If i swim, ride 100 kms, and run 21.1 kms, that’s it. Every triathlete appreciates the accomplishment.

  • Guy With-camera

    Notice the one that won had no flash… no panning…. well composed shot frozen in time…. with a little help from post processing.

    • Wagner Araujo

      Exactly, the description that I wrote tells the whole story.

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