Tips on Shooting Ringside: An Introduction to Boxing Photography

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A Guest Post by Randy Carr from PhotogByRandy.com

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Having shot a boxing match or two, the obstacles that come into play are quite different than the traditional sporting event. The venue can vary from a make shift tent to an elegant auditorium. The lighting can vary as well; with no flash allowed during the fight, this creates one of the primary obstacles to be overcome.

Shooting up into the lights is tough; there is no standard that arenas or promoters use in determining how high to set the lights above the ring. If the arena is fairly steep, the lights may be set higher, but generally count on discarding a lot of frames and working on others to remove lens flare. Likewise, it is best to remove your filters and always use a lens hood to help combat flaring.

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In non-professional fights like the Golden Gloves, the boxer wears protective headgear. Be careful with your exposure; when they cover up or look down, their face will disappear behind their arms or in the shadows of the headgear.

Depending on the ring height and how tall you are, you will invariably attract the ire of the high rollers who paid to be close to the action. (And they will remind you all night about how much they paid and how with a press pass, you didn’t.) This is just part of the game, so be prepared and have a thick skin.

The right equipment ringside is most important. It is good to travel light but be prepared for anything. This photographer generally carries two cameras, one with a f/2.8, 24-70mm for ringside and a second with a f/2.8, 70-200mm for fighters as they enter the ring or in the corner being worked on. Don’t bring a lot with you that could be in the way. Sometimes there is room under the ring to store stuff.

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Flipping back and forth between prime and zooms works the best. A fast prime lens, f/1.2 or f/1.8, tends not to flare as badly as a zoom and has a bit more contrast. Have a wide angle of some kind close at hand…like around your neck or on your shoulder. When a fighter goes down, possibly right in front of you, be ready. But the zooms certainly are more versatile; bring both, flare can be dealt with.

Sometimes being seated higher is the place to be when the ringside lights are low, but the photographers tend to all look the same because of the distance and angle. The ringside photographs tend to be more intimate and more “in your face” than overhead.

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Decide first if you want tight waist up or loose full body shots. To make the photograph of record, meaning the knock down that shows what goes on, then loose is the way to go. If you’re after impact then tight is right, getting that tightly composed photograph of the glove colliding with the opponent’s head. However, following, focusing and timing are more difficult as is showing a sense of place when shooting tight.

The hardest shot to make is the classic glove-meets-face-sweat-flying-distorted expression image. These are always winners, but the timing lasts for less than a nanosecond; timing and luck are everything. You can shoot 12 rounds of boxing and not get this frame.

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The advantage of shooting overhead are many, for example, it’s a safe position, you can see everything and you will not get blocked or have the technical problems with lighting flare or backlight. One lens covers the whole ring. You can shoot with 400mm or 600mm and not have to worry about zooming or switching cameras. Overhead you’re not exposed to blood or sweat like ringside. But you are still subject to drunks with beer.

You can’t reliably time a fighter’s punch by a twitch of a shoulder muscle and if you try, you miss a lot of action. Boxers have a rhythm and by studying and watching long enough, you get a feel for what they do and how they do it.

Don’t just lean on the motor drive! The glove flatting the face is only a nanosecond and if you get it, it’s usually the first frame. The motor drive is no substitute for good timing.

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Other considerations get there early and check your spot. Check the light and color balance and any needed adjustments such as ISO (400-2500). Be sure to become acquainted with the people behind you and with the judge that will be scoring the fight; they are generally veterans of lots of fights and can be very helpful as well as more tolerant.

There are great shots to be made of the boxers and their handlers in the corners. This is the time a longer lens is useful. Tight face photographs of fighters and their trainers talking to them or tending a cut or injury can make a telling story.

Bring lots of film or memory cards; fights will eat up lots of frames. You will shoot hundreds of frames and get only a few good ones; that’s par for the course.

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Stay out of the way of the promoters, bodyguards, wives and girlfriends, but don’t forget to take a few shoots of the ring girls. Have fun and good luck!

Check out more of Randy Carr’s work at PhotogByRandy.com.

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  • HI Randy,

    its really a nice info but the main problem what i got during boxing shoot or some karatey fight is low light as in low light have to pump up the ISO and as the ISO reach above 1000 its started showing too much noise which make my every picture worst 🙁 what to do for that?

  • Great tips. I love some of these shots. The BW ones are superb.

  • Terrific collection of tips! Especially concerning the “rhythm.” You have to throw your whole self into the event and get it into your system. Awesome photos too! Thanks.

  • Zan

    @rohit kothari
    Not much you can do.
    Obviously you can’t add more lights.
    You can:
    – open wide
    – buy a brighter lens
    – buy a better DSLR

    I’m shooting with an APS-C DSLR and yeah, when I go over ISO 1000 the noise really becomes annoying. A full frame would go way higher with little noise.

  • val

    Great tip and some wonderful shots. Something I have always wanted to shoot

  • Really cool shots! I’d thought about trying to shoot a few other sports but never really considered boxing. I’ll see if there are any local gyms nearby. Thanks for the idea and tips!

  • @Zan

    well now a days i m using canon 60d its kinda good camera but ya not full frame and i want to know 1 more thing what you mean by brither lens will be happy if you throw some light on this 🙂

  • Some nice shots quite surprised you use shutter priority

  • Jayesh Gujar

    Nice shots, great info…. can be used for other indoor sports

  • audiobomber

    Amazing photos! It’s always interesting to read an article by a specialist. More technical description would have been welcome.

  • Joe

    Plagiarism? This article has some of the exact sentences from a 2004 post from another photographer.

    http://www.sportsshooter.com/message_display.html?tid=8445

    5th one down.

  • Chris Jack H

    Cool Thank you So Much! #NebulaVideoProductions http://www.facebook.com/NebulaVideoProductions

  • Rachel

    I’ve been shooting boxing for a couple years now, and am glad to hear that getting a few good shots is a normal thing for everyone! I get a good collection of shots when shooting from a distance, but still struggle when shooting ringside to get everything in focus (one blurry glove always seems to show up). I have a Nikon D5100 and am using the kit lens (18-55mm, 3.5-5.6) for ringside. I’m in the process of researching lenses to get a better one, BUT my brain is about to explode! 🙂 Was set to buy a faster zoom lens but then was told it hunts like crazy in low light conditions.

    And, yes, shooting ringside can be gross.

  • Funciona?

    As an amateur, I shot a Muay Thai fight once, and must say, what an event!!!! I was on the side of one judge, right under the ropes, with a 50mm f/1.8 and very poor light conditions. I had to use manual focus to not lose any moment in focus searching. In the end, the high ISO I used helped to make that grainy film effect.
    And yes, in all shots I’ve made, at all the fights, I didn’t make any glove/kick/knee-meets-face shot. Very difficult.

    https://www.behance.net/gallery/17095653/Muay-Thai-Moreia-Fight-Championship

  • valleystylez

    How do you get gigs at boxing venues?

  • Rachel

    My husband is a writer & so I get credentialed through him. Your best bet is to be associated with some sort of media outlet (even if that media outlet doesn’t pay you–most boxing media does not get paid). For example, if you knew someone with a boxing blog.

    You’ll want to contact the promoter of the event through email.

  • Nooooooossa cara, caí nesse artigo pra procurar umas dicas de última hora, li esse post, achei bacana as dicas, fui olhar as fotos no behance, e aí quem eu vejo que era??? HUAHUAHUAHUAHUAHUAHUAHUA

  • Paul Welburn

    I’ve shot a few kickboxing events and struggled at first. After some research I purchased the Sigma 1.8 18-35 mm. It’s great in low light, fast focusing and very sharp. I just upped the ISO to suit and came away with some great shots.

    Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens for Canon https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00DBL0NLQ/ref=cm_sw_r_awd_JnZTvbP5PKME8

    Hope this helps.
    Regards Paul

Some Older Comments

  • Joe August 21, 2013 03:52 am

    Plagiarism? This article has some of the exact sentences from a 2004 post from another photographer.

    http://www.sportsshooter.com/message_display.html?tid=8445

    5th one down.

  • audiobomber August 24, 2012 02:51 pm

    Amazing photos! It's always interesting to read an article by a specialist. More technical description would have been welcome.

  • Jayesh Gujar August 24, 2012 01:46 pm

    Nice shots, great info.... can be used for other indoor sports

  • martin August 24, 2012 01:44 am

    Some nice shots quite surprised you use shutter priority

  • rohit kothari August 19, 2012 03:28 am

    @Zan

    well now a days i m using canon 60d its kinda good camera but ya not full frame and i want to know 1 more thing what you mean by brither lens will be happy if you throw some light on this :)

  • Natasha McEachron August 18, 2012 02:43 pm

    Really cool shots! I'd thought about trying to shoot a few other sports but never really considered boxing. I'll see if there are any local gyms nearby. Thanks for the idea and tips!

  • val August 18, 2012 12:59 pm

    Great tip and some wonderful shots. Something I have always wanted to shoot

  • Zan August 18, 2012 07:12 am

    @rohit kothari
    Not much you can do.
    Obviously you can't add more lights.
    You can:
    - open wide
    - buy a brighter lens
    - buy a better DSLR

    I'm shooting with an APS-C DSLR and yeah, when I go over ISO 1000 the noise really becomes annoying. A full frame would go way higher with little noise.

  • EnergizedAV August 18, 2012 02:45 am

    Terrific collection of tips! Especially concerning the "rhythm." You have to throw your whole self into the event and get it into your system. Awesome photos too! Thanks.

  • Jai Catalano August 18, 2012 01:33 am

    Great tips. I love some of these shots. The BW ones are superb.

  • rohit kothari August 18, 2012 01:02 am

    HI Randy,

    its really a nice info but the main problem what i got during boxing shoot or some karatey fight is low light as in low light have to pump up the ISO and as the ISO reach above 1000 its started showing too much noise which make my every picture worst :( what to do for that?

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