Boxing Photography Tutorial
This blog will be updated as and when new information appears, so feel free to check back now and again for new information and tips.
I will cover a basic tutorial, with proposed settings and techniques - other photographers will use different settings and techniques - this is not a "this is how it should be done" - but one of many ways to accomplish good boxing photographs under harsh/poor lighting of venues.
What makes CDHPIX, any kind of authority to make a tutorial on Boxing Photographs?
I have been photographing Boxing for 4 years to date. (since 2013). I have taken (at this time) 86 boxing matches (maybe more by the time you read this), primarily of Professional Boxing and some local amateur boxing. I have also done some promotional photography, "portrait" style low-key photographs of boxers to help promote themselves and their club.
This blog isn't of a particular boxer, winner or loser, it is a tutorial-based text that might help those who aren't quite sure of what to do if they wanted to take photographs at a boxing event.
There is no hard and fast rule for the type of lens or camera you should use. Indeed, I have used a mixture of lenses and camera's - depending on your style of photography and budget of camera ownership. This blog isn't going to tell you what you should use but more of a mindset of how to use as well as when you should use.
I have used (most commonly) 24-105mm Lens. This allows me to go wide at 24mm and get some zoom, upto 105mm.
Camera model and type is irrelevant. You do however want something that is going to focus quickly, in fairly dark situations. I can shoot, for example, boxing events with a lowly Canon 600d - but I can shoot better with a Canon 6d because it has much better focus capabilities in darkened situations.
Even the quality of lens is <almost> irrelevant - though the better quality lens (sharper or more open i.e. a lower F -stop (F4.0 or F2.8) is better - though the lower F-stop restricts how far across the boxing ring you are going to be able to hit a focus-sharp-sweet-spot. F4.0 works perfectly fine so try and hit that marker.
Of course, you want to be able to capture the best in low light situations along with a high shutter speed to capture the action. The settings I use below, should allow you to do this on a fairly basic DSLR.
Dont use a telephoto lens - its great that you can get in close to someone's face across the other side of a boxing ring - but what happens when they're fighting 2 foot in front of you - you cant focus on them because they're too close - and besides - what happens if the knock out punch happens right in front of you? You will have missed the money-shot. This is why I love using my 24mm to 105mm - it allows me to get shots right in front of me - as well as across the ring. If I want to get closer - I'll crop in post-production if I need to.
You can get some great images when they're just in front of you - hence at 24mm - you can get a great shot - like so:
Some people <just> use a 35mm lens - thats great, you can get most of the boxing ring in every shot - but to crop in, you're going to be throwing away a lot of pixels - that means reduced picture quality - but if that is how you prefer it - do it. There is no hard-fast rule on how you accomplish your boxing photography. I am just showing you what I have and what I do, to get the photographs I want to get.
This blog also, isn't going to tell you how to get ringside in detail - my best advice is to do some free work for your local boxing club, offer to do some promotional work for them at no cost (so you can get practice!) also get some sparring shots. You might find the lighting in the boxing club is a lot better than an actual event - mainly because the ceiling will be very low compared to a arena-type event. Once you're "in" with a local boxing club, they may invite you to events so you can photograph. This gives you opportunities. You'll have to figure that bit out yourself.
I have total and utmost respect for boxers and their art. They train very hard, they fight and get seriously hurt. They are also some of the kindest, most friendly people - in and out of the ring. I have built up several good relationships with Professional Boxers over the last few years and do not consider them to be a "cash cow" (making money out of them) but friends as well. I am more than happy to go the extra-mile in producing them images that they can look back when they are old and retired from the sport and see themselves as "great fighters". Its something I hope their grand children will look at in many years to come and think "wow - my grandad was one great boxer!".
Recommended aperture to use: F3.2 to F4.0 - this is to capture the boxing, as with best depth of field (DOF) as possible, while also taking in as much light as possible.
Dont be afraid to use a high ISO - I have shot at 10,000 ISO - even 12,000 at one event - noise/grain in your boxing photography photos - to me - is a plus. It gives grit to your images. Boxing isn't a fashion show - there are boys/men/women - hitting each other. Very hard.
Shoot at a shutterspeed of 400th to 500th of a sec. My personal setting is 400th of a second. This is my particular style and setting. This remains constant with my boxing photography because I want to freeze most of the action - but not all of it. I want to put life into my photographs, this means capturing the impression of speed and motion - in particular, as a punch is about to land so there is the "throw" being blurred.
To completely freeze a boxer, I have, at times had to set my shutterspeed to 1,000th of a second (average 500th of a sec for almost perfect freeze frame). That is some fast punching! Getting 400th of a second, tends to freeze most of the body except for the part that is moving the quickest - the arm and boxing glove. Just some slight blur is captured - enough to not make a blurry image but give some motion to the boxers - also direction of where the action is happening. For example, a glove about to hit the mid-body or head.
Remember - you will be working in quite dimly lit venues - this means the faster your shutterspeed, the higher your ISO must go, or more open the aperture. Since you do not want a closed aperture to capture <every detail at the venue> - you're only interested in the boxer in focus and a nice depth of field with them - I set the aperture to F4.0, then shutterspeed to 400th to 500th of a second - lastly I adjust ISO to get the best exposure that I can to work the lighting to its best. Dont worry about lens flares from lighting - it just adds to the atmosphere if you're getting an "artist" vision of a fight.
Some photographers use all of their focus-points in the camera so they let the camera choose which part is most in focus via its in-built AI servo tracking.
I use centre-spot focussing and continuous. I fire off 2 to 3 shots when I see some action about to occur.
I use back-button focussing, so I can - if time permits (and time, I mean literally a second, maybe two) to focus and recompose the shot if I want to frame them a little differently.
I always shoot full manual - if you're an FULL auto-shooter - you're not going to get many (if any) good boxing photographs. Do not use a flash gun or any kind of flash photography at a boxing event - especially if you are positioned at ring-side. The last thing a boxer needs, is someone making them have a disadvantage (unfairly too I might add) by blinding them with a flash while trying to read their opponent. They will not be happy and neither will the crowd and the last thing you want - is to be part of the boxing event. DO NOT USE A FLASH of any kind!
My typical settings: Aperture of F4, 400th of a sec and ISO to suit the lighting conditions though it tends to hover around 4,000 or 5,000 ISO.
Do not worry about grainy images. Grain adds "atmosphere" to your images or grit to your photographs.
Your main priority is: A good action photograph or a good (unplanned) pose.
That's the camera technicalities out of the way - next is the action. This will take some time being able to get good shots that mean something - you need to be able to capture using your timing. The boxers aren't going to wait until you have got focus and freeze themselves before the fist hits the flesh - you have to get that yourself.
Watch a boxer, know when the punch is going to be thrown. At the point of <just> before the punch gets thrown, fire off 3,4 or even 5 shots.
Eventually - you will be able to do it in two shots and after a lot of practice - 1 shot to capture a timed punch.
I will presume, that since you are reading this - you are interested in boxing - in general. Have a passion for it, just as the gents and ladies do who actually put their bodies on the line at boxing events.
White balance is important in photography - and is very important in boxing photography. Normally there is some kind of lighting at the venue you are photographing at. Whether it is multiple spot-lights around the ring or an overhead lighting setup - make sure you have your white balance set up - especially if you're shooting in JPG. If you're shooting in RAW (which I always do), then you have the opportunity to fine-tune the white balance before saving it as a JPG file, otherwise you will be restricting yourself with JPG shooting only (though it does
I do not normally do this and it requires a special situation for me to apply effects to boxing photographs - mainly because it takes too long and can make the photograph actually look "worse" than just a plain basic processed colour or black and white image.
But every now and again, I will review my photographs and think - yep, I think I should spend 30 minutes on this particular image and see what I can pull out of it.
The following photograph is from a match with Andrew Robinson vs Mark Till - a great match. Andrew is a very very hard-hitter, he "looks" like a boxer, his tattoo's, skin tone, muscle build and overall personality just jumps out at you when you see this man do-his-thing. Mark Till, has one very hard-head and can take punishment and also dish it out. So you can see from the photograph below, Andrew has just give Mark a left hander', the blood and sweat droplets flying through the air, if you look at Andrew's glove - you can also see blood on the glove itself. Awesome, just awesome action at this match. Click on their names above or on the image to see the whole fight, in a gritty processed set.
Colour or Black and White ?
I tend to process my boxing photographs in both colour and black and white. With newspapers, I will sell them the colour photographs. For boxers, I will sell them a set of colour and black and white, for the price of one set. i.e. I give them the black and white photographs at no extra charge.
Why? you might be asking. Well, I am a big fan of black and white photography. Boxing photography and Black and White images go together like Ham and Eggs or Bacon and Sausages. They just suit each other so well - the grittyness of high ISO noise coupled with a black and white image can tell so much of a story, sometimes much more than a colour image can.
What shots should I be aiming for?
I like to capture the whole boxing match - as it happens, like a short story. Remember, for us, boxing is anything from a few minutes to 20 or even 30 minutes long. For the fighers - it must seem like hours. Show your appreciation by capturing as much of it as possible.
I can typically take 200-500 images a fight (depending on how many rounds and whether there is an early knockout or not), ranging from each of the fighters approaching the ring, to the end of each round, as much of the hitting as possible and any action like a fighter going down and being counted.
I usually take 5 x 32gb memory cards (I try to store one to two fights per memory card with plenty of room left over) - one of the cards fail, I at least have all of the other fights still stored on separate memory cards. 5 32gb memory cards, for me, is good to store 10 fights.
Then I will spend typically a couple of hours to go through <each> fight, selecting only those images that mean something - whether its a good "pose" of the fighter - again ( Andrew Robinson vs Mark Till )
or one of the fighers getting knocked down ready for a count (Paul Holt vs Aaron Flinn)
Sean Davis vs Dmitrits Gurtmans
Nathan Reeve v Louis Norman
Dean Evans vs Michael Stupart
Sometimes - just capturing the passion and emotion can be better than a money-shot (face hit or knockdown) photograph.
You don't always get the photograph you want, but you can still get a good photograph that can tell a story!
Although the action happened on the other side of the ring, I did manage to capture the "fall". It would have been great to have had a clear view of Stanislav's facial expression but you can only capture what the lens can see - however - what makes this photograph for me, is the expression of the female photographer who saw the punch - I dont know whether the lady captured it or not but I got what I could, from my viewpoint and even though I didn't capture what I wanted, the photo tells a bit of story on its own - just from the facial expression of the lady photographer.
Ryan Aston (Tank) vs Stanislav Nenkov
I love the photograph below, its before Scott and Mitch's bouts had started, just after Mitch had got into the ring. A glance over his shoulder, it tells a story. Pro-fighters usually have two jobs - their normal day-time full-time job and their boxing career. Very few make it big enough to be able to make a living purely from boxing - Boxers have my utmost respect in their art and the reasons why they do this, sometimes, week after week. Processed in a beautiful black and white, I feel it is a much more potent photograph than in colour.
Scott Gibbins Jnr vs Mitch Mitchell
Capture the entrance, the fights, the 1 minute breaks between bouts, the winner, the loser, the celebration in the ring. Dont look at images and review - you might miss the best moment of the evening or even your photography career. Wait until you get home!
Ryan Aston (Tank) vs Stanislav Nenkov
All of my boxing photographs are for sale to the public, please feel free to check out my complete collection from this link