UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Bigfoot (7/12/2013)

I guess before I start this, I should give you all a warning: there’s some graphic pictures, and a fair bit of blood.

Now that that’s out of the way, I think it’s time to mention that I enjoy watching fight sports, and have even attempted to photograph one before. But UFC, that’s a whole other level. This was originally scheduled to be in Sydney and my mate Trent and I were going to travel down to it. And then they decided to have it in Brisbane. I put out a little tweet to the UFC asking how to get accreditation and next thing you know the lovely people of MMAWeekly.com reached out and asked if I wanted to shoot it for them. Finally, being a Twitter junkie paid off!

When it was all approved I couldn’t believe my luck! Octagon-side! I’d be mere centimetres from the action. I even went out and bought myself the 70-200 mm f2.8 ISII lens to help with the shoot. And I’m glad I did. Because UFC is nuts to shoot and you need the best equipment.

The strangest part is, I was on international television. My friends in the USA saw me.

Yep, that’s me in the blue plaid shirt with the camera to the eye and the bad haircut.

It all started the day before when I took a long lunch to cover the weigh-ins. This was not very exciting, 2 hours of sitting around for 20 minutes of people standing on scales and then staring at each other.

And then the next day I got in bright and early (8am) for a very long day of work, which was to be followed with another photo shoot with Taylor Swift afterwards (I may blog this later).

My brief of the day was to provide a smattering of shots between each fight. This turned out to be quite a feat, as if the fights went the full 3 rounds, I had only a few minutes to get to my computer, download from camera, edit the photos, watermark them and upload them to the USA. Luckily, quite a few fights finished early with some knock-outs. Some so quickly I barely got any photos!

The galleries on MMAWeekly can be found here.

The lighting was decent, which was to be expected for TV. Something I’m not used to from gigs. I got to shoot at a fast shutter speed, fairly low ISO and I was tempted to go a slow aperture, but because I was shooting behind a cage I decided against it. I wanted the cage to blur out as much as possible. When the action got close, this was a bit difficult at a wide angle.

Despite my new gear, I was incredibly under-equipped. Most people were rocking double Canon 1D’s while I just sat there trying to hide my crop-sensor SLRs. I was assigned a chair up against the side of the octagon. Once the fights started I was to kneel on it and lean on the floor taking photos. The only problem for me was the black pole right in front of me, which happened to be part of the entrance gate. I got almost kicked by coaches and camera men.

Once the fighting started, all you could hear were shutters. After a few seconds I dialed in some presets and shot in JPEG, something I’ve never done before. I love RAW files for the versatility, but with JPEG I could get a much higher frame rate. In the end, I went back to RAW+JPEG. RAW so I could edit them later if I liked any, and JPEG so I could publish them immediately.

I feel this was a bad decision. I missed a lot of shots by a fraction of a second as the extra RAW processing time meant I missed it. It was a compromise I was okay with at the time, but if I do it again I’m going to have to think very, very hard about it. Always just so close…

I stuck with the 70-200 predominantly, it focused the cage out fairly well. At 70mm, sometimes I couldn’t fit the fighters in frame. My best hope was to track one fighter and try and guess what was coming next. Lots of poorly framed shots as I tried to track the action (and not get distracted).

The last fight, Hunt vs Silva, was a true classic in the sport. There’s been a lot of debate about the bloodiness of it in the press, but I won’t go there. It went the full 5 rounds and could have swung to either fighter. In the end, it was a rare tie and they both got fight of the night bonuses. And a lot of it happened right in front of me. Some of the blood even landed just in front of my face, I got lucky not to get any on me.

Here’s a simultaneous elbow:

In the end, being completely out of my comfort zone, I was quite happy with how it turned out. I had a few fights to get the idea of what I was doing, and I was getting headaches from looking through my camera for hours on end with no break (I did switch eyes a few times but it was so disorienting), and my elbows went numb from leaning on the octagon, but christ it was fun. I was closer than the fighter’s coaches. Because my photos were submitted between fights, I had no work to do post-fight. I went home, napped and headed to Suncorp for Taylor Swift.

I took over 2000 photos, but a lot of them were unusable, or had too much depth of field. When you’re hammering the shutter you sometimes you don’t get time to focus properly.

I really hope to do something like this again. Sports photography requires a bit more experience and some better equipment but I’d love to be able to do it.

Here’s some of my favourite shots, including a few of the style I was going for: the moment of impact.


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