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How to Step Up Your Olympic Weightlifting Photography Game

So you’ve got a weightlifting event to cover and you’d like to get the most out of your day? Don’t look any further: within these next lines, I’ll share with you the best tips to get the highest impact and maximum intensity images at your next meet.

Olympic Weightlifting (O-lift) includes two movements performed with an Olympic bar (barbell). Those two movements are called “the snatch” and “the clean and jerk”. The first lift, the snatch, requires the athlete to lift the barbell from the ground to overhead in one continuous motion.

Here is an example of a snatch (at very respectable 300lbs)

The second lift, the clean and jerk (C&J) is a combination of two weightlifting movements: the clean and the jerk. It requires the athlete to lift the barbell from the ground to his shoulders (clean) and then lift it from his shoulders to above his head (jerk).

What to look for to get powerful shots?

• Great movement timing

The snatch’s and clean’s pull is a great moment to get. Wait for the full extension of the hips to get maximum height and show the athlete’s beautiful technique. I like being slightly angled to get the feeling of depth with the barbell. If you are too much on the side the weights might hide the athlete’s face as they get under the bar. The catch is also another great moment. If you can get the bent bar on your shot, you’ve hit the jackpot. If you are unsure about the movements and technique, have a look at a few YouTube videos beforehand. It will give you a better idea of what will happen – and you can never be too prepared. To make sure to freeze the movement, aim for at least 1/500 sec and higher if your ISO allows it. You can be in continuous high shutter but just like when shooting boxing, chances are the good shot will be the first frame. O-lift is very explosive and if you miss that fraction of a second you’ll simply be too late. It takes practice and even then, I still miss often the perfect timing myself.

This image was taken at the full extension of the pull, right before the athlete goes under the bar to catch it. I like to stand low angle, slightly on the side of the athletes: the barbell adds depth to the image and frames the face.

• Key moments

Look for the athlete as they chalk their hands, put on their belt or focus before grabbing the bar. Keep an eye on the tap on the back from the coach. O-lift requires a high level of concentration and they have great expressions right before the lifts. As in any other sport, great pictures are not only taken in the action.

The athletes need to concentrate before attempting a lift. Take advantage of those moments as they get in their bubble.

• The personal records

Those are often the most intense moments of the event. They have been working hard for weeks, months and even years to get to this level. It can turn very emotional. Make sure to get not only the lift but also their reaction as soon as the bar touches the ground.

Alex brought a lot of excitement on the stage. He accomplished some much anticipated personal records. Everybody – including himself – were highly enthusiastic for this last and successful clean and jerk.

• The last lifters

The excitement of the day is often at its peak at the last, when the big girls and boys show up. (Don’t get me wrong, by “big” I mean “the heaviest lifters everyone’s been waiting to see”). Keep an eye open on the crowd, partners and coaches reaction.

The crowd goes crazy when their favorite athlete attempts a big lift.

• It ain’t over ’til it’s over

I often made the mistake to stop shooting right after a lift. Then I would bite my nails because I’d missed athletes crying of joy, running into their coach’s arms or jumping in the air. Those moments are precious. Capturing them means a lot to the athletes. Save yourself this mistake by continue shooting until it’s *really* over.

Through wins and losses, true friendship always shows up. These are amazing moments to capture.

• Free extra tips

Get the weights in the frame! Just like at a volleyball, football or baseball game, we want to see the ball – but in this case “the ball” is “the weight”. Nothing’s worse than capturing a new record without having anything to actually prove it! Make sure you get all those plates in the frame.

Take advantage of long hair: flowing hair always enhances the movement and the dynamism of the shots.

When luck meets preparation. The bar bounced perfectly between the information showing on the screen, allowing the viewer to clearly see the weight the athlete lifted successfully. Bonus: great expression and great hair movement. (I love how excited she is!)

Look for the most expressive athletes. They usually show great intensity before, during and after lifting. and they will definitely bring your images to the “Holy-Moly-This-Is-Madness” level.

Try to get an uncluttered background (as much as you possibly can). I know it’s not easy but, hey, I had to mention it.

All the images in this article have been processed with the Luminar 2018 software. It does an amazing job for my sports photography – the Structure filter is my all-time-absolutely-insane favorite.

If you’re interested in shooting strength sport, make sure to have a look at my previous articles: How to Step Up Your CrossFit Photography Game and Why Your Light Weight Gear Works for Heavy Weight Pictures!

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