Color Run Chicago, 2012: Photo/Video Recap

As a quick overview: The Color Run is a national charity event, where participants run/walk a 5K and get doused in colorful powder along the way. Most participants don white clothing, and by the time they finish… they’re a brilliant, colorful mess.

I can’t recall how I originally found out about the Chicago Color Run, but prior to the weekend… I was able to get in touch with someone working for the event, related to PR. My email contact forwarded me the info to someone named Jackson, and we spoke briefly before the big day.

Essentially, there wasn’t any official “press pass” or anything to be had, and I simply had his permission to go about the course and shoot wherever I liked.

The day of the race, I woke up early, got in a quick double espresso, and made my way downtown. On arriving at the info area, I called Jackson on the phone to check in. The one bit of advice he gave me was to make sure I circled back to the main stage area after the race was finished. That, apparently, was the place to be once everyone moved away from the finish line.

And so, with my camera wrapped up pretty well, I started wandering around with about an hour to kill before the start time.

Early check-in, with folks getting t-shirts and bib numbers.

Official “Color Run” shirts. Which are white, naturally.

Since it was still early, I wandered down Columbus to try to gauge the distance between the various checkpoints. At each checkpoint or “Color Zone,” volunteers splash the participants with powder.

I’m not sure exactly how to refer to it, as the powder isn’t a dye, really. It doesn’t stain, and is described as an industrial-grade cornstarch. It’s a pretty fine powder, and kind of gets everywhere.

My goal was to document the start of the race, where waves of folks would begin at 8:00 AM. Then, I’d make my way to a few of the checkpoints down Columbus… and hopefully get back to the Finish Line in time to get photos there. My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone, and I’d end up missing out on the fun celebrations at the end.

Checkpoint 2. At the time, I didn’t realize this would be the “Yellow” zone, but I guess it’s evident now based on the flags and shirts everyone was wearing.

A few cars were driving around, so the volunteers were slowly and carefully trying to set up their station. Within 30 minutes or so, the entire street would be blocked off for the race.

Station supplies. I can only guess that those barrels on the left are full of colorful powder.

Back at the check-in area, I spotted the first of many tutus. Like when I documented the Illinois Warrior Dash, I spotted a lot of folks who enjoyed dressing up for races. The tutu, in particular, seemed a popular choice – an easy costume, and didn’t really get in the way of mobility.

And then there were these guys, who brought a ton of class to the event. The bride and groom here were part of a large group, with everyone dressed as a wedding party.

Walking towards the Start (near Monroe/Columbus), I spotted some more tutus.

These guys – all business up front…

and a party in back. If there’s anything better than a cape, it’s a cape with a unicorn pooping out a rainbow.

More tutus!

Storm Shadow, posing with his family.

In case you didn’t know, the race is for all ages. Note the guy’s super huge Mickey Mouse hands.

As I was milling about the start, I saw an ambulance parked in wait. I wandered over and started talking to the two techs inside. L to R it’s John and Ricky.

I was curious if they had worked a race before (John had, but this was Ricky’s first), and I asked what they were typically on the lookout for. For races, they said they were looking out for people reporting chest pains, dehydration, and general slipping/falling. Since the ground was wet from an overnight rain, I could totally see people slipping and hurting themselves.

According to them, there were several ambulances stationed at different locations across the course. And funny enough – they were actually waiting to get past the intersection, to get to their spot. Due to tons of people crossing the street, they were just looking for a window to roll through.

I was serious about the all-ages thing. This family had everyone participating, with the younger kids riding their bikes.

I kind of questioned this group’s protective eye gear, but I didn’t want to be rude… so I didn’t say anything.

More tutus, this time with wings and awesome socks!

At the starting line, these guys are super excited.

As I would find later on, once people spotted me with a camera… they immediately hammed it up. Though I’m not a professional photographer by any means, having this kind of unspoken energy/thing happen at events is such a fun thing to be a part of. It’s like an unspoken agreement between me and everyone else.

A lot of folks used bandanas as a way to protect themselves from the color/powder. Like this rather scary looking street gang, for example. I found them a little threatening, so I moved on quickly.

Even bodybuilders need to work on their cardio.

The first wave, moving up to the start. There was a tall structure where the announcer got the crowd pretty pumped up. As it got closer to 8:00 AM, they started throwing out free gifts (sunglasses, t-shirts, wristbands) to the crowd below. There were tons of things being given away (thrown to the crowds), and everyone kind of went crazy for it.

I spoke with one volunteer about possibly getting a shot from the top (with me handing my camera to a staffer), and he suggested I come back when the race officially started. He agreed that it would make for a pretty great image.

With a few extra moments before the start of the race, I decided to slip across the way to the first Color Zone. Here’s what the volunteers were using to splash the runners.

Volunteers, covering the outer lane.

Volunteers, covering the middle area.

Back at the start, with giveaways being thrown to the crowd. Note the single, Mickey Mouse-like hand in the background there.

A pair of sunglasses, which the kid in front expertly caught.

After recording the start, I decided I wanted to run over to the first checkpoint. Halfway there, I was spotted by the guy I had spoken to about getting a shot from the tower at the starting line. He asked if anyone helped me with the shot, and when I said no… he asked if I still wanted it, and motioned me back.

The guy ended up climbing up the side of the tower, and I handed him my camera. I don’t know how many folks ended up participating, but based on this… it looks like a lot. Starting at 8AM, they were letting people go in waves every few minutes.

After the guy climbed back down, I asked to take his photo. I shook his hand afterwards, and introduced myself. When I asked his name, he replied: My name is Jackson.

Ha! At that point, I realized this was the guy I had been speaking to over the phone. It was a pretty funny moment of realization for us both.

Over at the first checkpoint, things were starting to get a little messy.

Volunteers, pelting runners with their first splash of color.

A brief interlude, after the first wave passed by. This was maybe five minutes after the race began, with another 25 minutes of runners to follow.

Three at a time!

Refilling the ammo.

Throwing my camera in my backpack, I started running from the first checkpoint to the ones further down Columbus. A block or so from the starting line, I spotted this guy… and had to stop to take a photo.

Between the hair and the Lycra outfit, this made me think: 50% Yu-gi-oh and 50% Green Man… but 100% awesome.

Near the Blue Zone, it looked like a battlefield. There was a ton of dust in the air, so much so that the street beyond the checkpoint was obscured in a hazy, drifting cloud.

Runners seemed to just emerge from the fog. I don’t know why my mind went here, but I briefly imagined I was being chased by a horde of really athletic, fit zombies.

Blue was one of the more popular colors, as it was very rich and dark. At every station, people enjoyed getting splashed with color… but here, they really wanted to get hit with the blue.

This was taken right on the edge of the checkpoint, before people entered a blue color zone. To my right, a large group of runners coming in…

And to my left, the same runners getting pelted with powder.

This is one of my favorite shots from the event.

Of all the volunteers, the Blue Zone folks seemed to be absolutely drenched in color. This guy in particular was a delight to watch, because he had such a joyous expression on his face the entire time.

As an observer to the race, I have to say – it was an amazing experience, seeing everyone on both sides enjoying themselves so much. A TON of smiling and laughing, and it was just a tremendously positive experience, being around so many people having such a good time.

Even looking back over the photographs I took, I found myself smiling and laughing again.

Runners, sticking around for an extra dash of blue.

This is what we, in the industry, call “splashback.”

After a certain point, I noticed that some volunteers preferred to forego containers and simply used their hands to dispense the powder. Because after a certain point, what does it matter if your hands get a little color on them?

Rainbow afro wig, rainbow glasses, rainbow socks. It’s important to accessorize properly.

Walking back towards the finish line, I made my way down the middle of the street… with runners on both sides, going to and from. The moment folks saw my camera, they started trying to get my attention.

Runners, rounding the intersection at Congress and Columbus. Behind me, a few folks were taking a break and taking photos of one another, in front of Buckingham Fountain.

A huge throng of folks, coming up Congress.

Nearby, the Yellow Zone that I had seen earlier in the morning… looking a LOT different in the daylight.

Yellow powder, waiting to be used.

Getting splashed with yellow.

One strategy that doesn’t involve bandanas or masks: just hold your breath.

Including this shot because I’m not sure what those two on the left are doing.

Hey, it’s the wedding party!

One way to ensure you’ll get some color. No need to wait for someone to throw it at you… there’s plenty of powder to be had on the ground.

One of the volunteers, readying for the next wave.

Again, a little bit of the “splashback” effect.

Encountering more runners, as I made my way towards the finish.

Two tutus.

At the finish line. Here, folks would gather and occasionally throw up a few color packets into the air. Each runner, as part of their check-in, got one or two color packets. Some chose to let them loose at the finish, and a few others kept them for the large gathering at the main stage.

These guys look like they got covered pretty well.

A team of runners celebrating with their powder, and also splashing those nearby.

Standing just outside a cloud of color.

The tutus might have gotten just a little dirty.

A group of girls, celebrating.

A colorful family, at the finish.

Protective eyewear, not looking like such a bad idea in hindsight.

These girls had a packet of pink, which seemed to be a very popular color.

A group of girls walking by were envious, and so they got an impromptu shower of pink.

It got rather messy.

They responded in kind, and gave back a shower of purple.

Team purple, posing for a group shot.

At the main stage area, there was a small gap between the front of the stage and the rest of the crowd. I talked to some of the volunteers there, and got permission to enter the area. It was quite an experience, being the only person between the stage and a large, screaming crowd.

I think I arrived before some of the other photographers I saw on the course, so I got to roam around on my own for a while here.

Up on the stage the announcers were constantly throwing out shirts and bags, and large handfuls of color packets.

The moment folks saw the camera, they went a little crazy.

A group of runners at the side of the stage, posing for a shot.

In addition to my camera, I also brought along a little Flip video camera. I decided to do a quick pan of the crowd. And even though this was a tiny little handheld camera thing, once people saw me recording them… they went a little nuts.

// Note: A lot of the remaining videos are a bit on the loud side.


I was able to get up on the stage with the announcers and volunteers, and got some shots from that vantage point. I tried to keep out of the way as much as possible, but I have to say… it was really cool being up there.

Some of the prizes and swag that was being given away.

A random color packet that had fallen on the stage.

One of the big draws of the main stage was the “Group Color Throws” that took place, usually once every 10 minutes or so. The announcers would work the crowd up, and then provide a countdown where the entire crowd would throw up their packets in unison.

It happened really quickly, but made for a very beautiful display.

The crowd, looking to catch some of the prizes being thrown.

Some of the volunteers from the first Orange checkpoint.

Lots of folks were at the main stage area.

As the event continued, I started seeing more and more folks standing up on people’s shoulders.

Another family that made the run, bikes and all.

A group throw, with bursts of color everywhere.

There were several other photographers up close on the ground. Curious to see what their shots turned out like.

Two of the stage volunteers, who had been throwing stuff to the crowd nonstop.

Shoulder view.

Center stage, hoping to catch more color packets.

At one point, the announcer called for all participants wearing a tutu to come in to the open area in front of the stage. It turned into a massive tutu party.

It got pretty crowded. But the announcer was still able to spot this kid, wearing the littlest tutu:

At a few points in time, I just kind of stuck my camera up in the air and hoped something turned out. I liked this shot, taken deep in the midst of the tutu celebration.

It’s not every day you see a scary skull mask riding on someone’s shoulders…

A group of girls posing near center stage.

Another group throw taken from ground level.

Color everywhere.

Walking away from the stage, I spotted this group of colorful runners.

Heading out, I asked one of the other photographers nearby to take my photo. I had no idea what I looked like, and didn’t even see myself until I got back to my car.

Happily ever after…

These two guys looked like they were having a blast – figuratively and literally. This was the “cleaning” station, where folks lined up to get somewhat cleaner.

I love the look on the guy’s face on the left.

Even as they were getting cleaned off, the runners wearing afros were dancing it up and staying in character.

Overall, I had a complete blast at this event. There was so much positivity all around, and everyone – participants and volunteers alike – were all just incredibly happy and excited to be involved.

It was a cool thing to be able to see so many aspects of the event, and the whole back and forth that happens between photographing participants was an envirogating kind of energy to tap into. I’m finding that I really enjoy attending large “events” like this, as it provides a kind of freedom to document.

SO much fun. The runs take place all over, so if there’s one near you… it’s highly worth checking out.

// Note: I definitely didn’t post all the photos I took at the event. In some cases, a few folks specifically asked me to take their photos. If this is the case for you, feel free to contact me with your bib number, and where on the course we were at… and I can try to search. No promises, but I’ll do what I can.

Holi, Slow Motion
Optimist: Festival of Color, Slow Motion Video
Stunning Images of Holi, the Festival of Colors
Protecting My Camera from Rain and Powder, Preparing for the Chicago Color Run

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. These images are awesome!! I am shooting the Austin run in May and wondered – how did you keep your gear protected??? I am thinking a rain sleeve won’t cut it!

    Lara Gale Reply

    • Glad you found the post about protecting my camera from the color. Would love to see your photos, after you document the Austin event in May!

      avoision Reply

  2. Nice post – how did protection hold up? Any dust find it’s way in? Looking to create a similar camera condom as well

    Brad Reply

    • It held up really well – and nothing got in, as far as I can tell. My shoes got wrecked, but the camera seems no worse for the wear.

      avoision Reply

  3. Fascinating blog and great photos.

    Dan Reply

  4. Cool!! I’m pretty excited to shoot for Nashville’s Color run today. It’s gonna be sunny, so I’m hoping I can get some cool images as well. Good job!!

    Jamie Reply

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