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Tips on Shooting Ringside: An Introduction to Boxing Photography

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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