London Marathon: our guide to spectating and taking great shots

April 21, 2016

First run in 1981, the London Marathon was founded by Chris Brasher and John Disley. Inspired by the atmosphere of a New York Marathon, they dreamed up the mass city race after a few drinks.

Now in its 36th year, the 2016 event will see more than 50,000 runners set off from Blackheath to complete the 26-mile course on 24 April.

It’s a fantastic event to watch and not just because it’s free! It’s also the access you get. Even as a spectator, you can be very close to the action and achieve striking frame-filling images without the need for any press accreditation.

The range of abilities on show, from world-renowned athletes to those braving their first marathon, means a broad range of subject matter and a wide set of emotions on display.

How to watch the London Marathon

Here’s a summary of the London Marathon’s advice for getting the most out of the day:

  • Many roads will be closed for the race, so check out public transport for details on how to get around. Travel news can be found on or
  • Make sure you bring comfortable shoes and travel light – you could be standing for hours.
  • Make sure you bring refreshments, and prepare for the weather, with suncream/rainproofs as the forecast necessitates on the day.
  • Don’t accompany your runner to the start of the race, but find a good spot to watch them pass.
  • Try to avoid choosing busy areas to spectate, such as Greenwich town centre, Tower Bridge, and The Mall.

Download London marathon course map

There is a range of spectator information about how to watch the marathon on the official London Marathon site, including a pace guide to know when to look out for people, and transport information.

If, after watching all that activity, you need a sit down or refreshment, Time Out have also put together a list of some of the best places to drink and eat along the route.

How to take great photographs of the London Marathon

Here are our top tips, from our Features Editor, Phil Hall, for making sure you get great shots of the day’s events:

  1. Think about your positioning. Get to a place on a bend where you’ve got a bit more flexibility with your framing. You can shoot runners coming towards you, as well as side-on. It may be worth finding an elevated position.
  2. A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a good choice as it lets you get nice tight shots as well as full-length images. A wideangle will be useful, as you might want to use one of London’s many iconic landmarks as a backdrop.
  3. Set your camera to continuous AF, so the runners will stay in focus as they move.
  4. With huge numbers expected to be lining the streets, there will be places where it’s tricky to get a good view. The Cutty Sark will make a great backdrop, but unless you get there early, don’t expect to be at the front.

If you do manage to get any shots you’re proud of, tweet them to us at @ap_magazine with the hashtag #LondonMarathon and we’ll retweet the best ones.

How to sponsor or donate

The London Marathon is of course free to watch, but many of the runners are also there supporting worthy charities. Turning up and cheering them on is one excellent way to show them your support. If you also feel inspired by their endeavours to make a voluntary contribution, there’s still time to sponsor a runner or donate to charity via the London marathon donation page.