In this Behind the Image feature, Mike Randolph paints us a picture of a heart-stopping attempt to capture a once-in-a-lifetime shot of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Mike Randolph is a photographer based in Madrid, Spain. He blogs about travel photography, gear and the life of a professional photographer on his website.
A lot of people travel to Pamplona, Spain every year to see the running of the bulls. And a lot of people get disappointed because it’s almost impossible to get a glimpse of the bulls unless you’re actually running with them. Some people rent balconies from apartment owners along the course, but there are only so many. The truth is, the best way to see the action is inside one of the bars, watching it on television.
There are TV cameras along the whole course, but there is one place in particular that has become famous for the absolute best views of the event—the corner of Estafeta Street.
The bulls, and the runners, have to make the only hard turn on the course here. A lot of the time, both people and bulls slip and fall. So the outside of the corner is off limits to the public and that’s where the world’s press sets up.
It wasn’t easy getting press credentials to shoot there. I had an easier time getting a press pass for the Tour de France! After you get your pass, the exact spot you get depends on when you show up—first come, first served. Most photographers climb up on the thick wooden fence to get some height, but I went for a low angle. Some smart photographers get this angle by using remote control cameras. In my case, I did it old-school: Lying on my stomach, flat on the cobblestone street, my face peering out from under the fence.
Watching the bulls pass by from that angle is something I won’t forget. The feeling of vulnerability is extreme. I’d peek out from under the fence and try to get my shot before awkwardly shuffling back in a hurry, out of harm’s way. Of course, the press area is packed and chaos is everywhere, so you have to trust the photographers above you to not fall off the fence and onto your back. You are never completely safe.
It is, without a doubt, the most riveting spectacle I have ever seen. It looks crazy on television, but up close, it’s even crazier. Everybody’s heart is pounding, not just the runners.
I got this image just as this bull was falling and about to slam into the fence right in front of me. One bull, behind him, had already slipped and fallen, crashing into the fence with a tremendous boom. That’s 500 kilos of animal hitting the fence at high speed. I could tell this toro wasn’t going to be able to make the turn either—and he was going to fall right in front of me. I was shooting with a wideangle lens—that bull was very, very close to my head!
I held out as long as I dared, snapped the shot, shuffled back, then, BOOM!, the bull bashed into the fence a few inches away. His back legs had slid right past me on the right side, destroying an expensive remote camera set up by a Reuter’s photographer. But I got lucky, not a scratch. And I got my shot.