Boxing combines two challenging components for a photographer: bad lighting and high speed. Challenging task, indeed. Impossible? Not! Here are a few tips I wish I knew before shooting my first fight.
Who hasn’t seen an amazing shot where someone gets a punch straight in the face – with sweat and blood all over the place? Yeah, this is the ultimate action shot everybody is looking for at a boxing event. It’s those kinds of when-preparation-meets-opportunity, you know, “lucky” shots. This instant lasts for such a brief moment, a fraction of second too late and it’s simply missed. Here’s some very simple advice you can use right now to improve your boxing photography.
Know your stuff
The more you know the sport and the athletes, the more likely you will get successful shots: you will have a better timing for the punches.
In boxing, you want at least 1/1000sec to freeze action. You can go up to 1/4000 and 1/8000 is your camera body allows it – you will make sure no droplet of anything blurs in your frame.
Wide as in wide aperture: f/2.8 is very pretty much the rule for most photographers. Because the lighting is so bad and the action is so fast, there’s no choice really to get that good high shutter speed exposure without reaching ISO 1,000,000. (And yeah, you can go wild if you want too.)
Yep, you guessed it, while we don’t want ISO 1,000,000 but we do want a fast shutter speed. Crank that ISO up high to get the shutter speed that’s needed. (And to let you know, just in case you didn’t already, no flashes are allowed while shooting boxing.)
When shooting ringside, you will be confined in a very narrow space next to a bunch of your fellow photographers. This is the price to pay to have the best spot to shoot the fights. You will either have to shoot above the ropes or – if you are 5’4 and less like me – under them. Both give you a great angle of view. Depending on the ring setup, if you are at a really low angle, you might be able to get the ceiling’s lights in your frame. You can also choose to include the ropes or not in your shots. I personally like to include some of them. I feel like it adds a little more depth to my images and creates a frame around the athletes.
90% of photographers I meet at boxing events have the widest aperture zoom combo available: 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8. Shooting ringside is REALLY close to the action so a wide to normal angle is what you’ll need most of the time. A telephoto lens is useful to shoot in corners of when fighters are making their entrance in the ring. Zooms are popular and versatile. I personally face a challenge in those situations. I chose to buy primes (I explain why right here). Shooting ringside is very cool but also quite restrictive. The “zooming with my feet technique” doesn’t make it in this situation. I have to choose the right lens for each situation. Sometimes I am a little too close, sometimes I am a little too far. That’s the price I pay for using primes. It’s also why zooms come really handy for photographing boxing matches.
Photographing from the stands or in the balcony, requires a very long telephoto lens, something between 400mm-600mm. There are many advantages to being further away: you won’t get blocked (by the ref, the ropes or the athletes themselves), you won’t have to constantly change from lens to lens and you won’t fear inhaling or swallowing someone else’s DNA.
Last tips for the ride
Even if the good shot is usually the very first one, choose continuous shooting. Because we never know what can happen while the shutter button is pressed.
Play with speed
Freezing the action is great. But it’s also fun to play with a lower shutter speed. (Don’t do that if you don’t have any good shots yet, but if you have some spare time, why not!)
I’ve edited all the images from this article with the new Skylum’s Luminar 2018 software. I absolutely love the look it brings to my action shots and I highly recommend it to any sports photographer enthusiast!
Have fun, try new things and be ready for some seriously fast-paced action!
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