Greetings from Tokyo, everyone. As I sit here in the airport lounge awaiting my flight home, I’m catching up on the social media happenings from last night. A couple of my shots from the Mark Hunt vs Stefan Struve fight have received quite a bit of attention.
So, I thought it would be a little fun and interesting to start a new feature on my blog where I give you a little insight into what I was thinking and how I made a particular picture. I’m going to call it “How I Got The Shot”. This could be a one-and-done thing, but I hope not. Hopefully some of you find this educational.
For anyone who may not know what I’m talking about, here is “The Shot” from yesterday’s UFC on FUEL TV 8 even in Saitama, Japan.
I wish I could say I planned everything out perfectly and positioned the fighters exactly where I wanted them, but it just doesn’t work that way. There are so many variables that are within my control. I’ll start with the basics and work my way towards the actual sequence that ended the fight.
First and foremost, you have to get your exposure right. This is a very easy task, but one that people somehow still mess up frequently. UFC has a very consistent lighting scheme for all their shows. I know before I walk into the arena on fight day what I’m going to set my camera to before I ever fire a shot. And, for the most part, it doesn’t fluctuate much from venue to venue or country to country. I can usually count on the following being my settings for the night, within about 1/3 of a stop over or under – ISO 3200, 1/2000s, f2.8, 3400K white balance. I set all three of my cameras to this exact setting at the start of the night.
Before the fights even start, I try to take test shots under the full show lighting setup. This means being at the arena during walk-in rehearsals, which are typically 2-3 hours before the first fight. This gives me a chance to not only check the exposure, but also to check the white balance. UFC uses tungsten lights for all the overhead lighting in the truss, though the blue color of the canvas mat tends to skew it just a bit. I find that setting the white balance manually to around 3400K provides me with the look I prefer. Using the “tungsten” setting in camera (approx. 3200K) looks too cool to me. Sometimes, the color fluctuates too depending on the age of the lights and whether or not the riggers used any gels when hanging them. So, it’s always good to check. Just a side not too, I know a lot of people who set custom white balance using a white piece of paper or a towel. If that’s what works for you, that’s fine. I feel like that also is too cool for my taste, so I choose to do it manually. Look at the images on your computer screen too, not just the back of your camera, to decide what looks right.
Ok, so we’ve got the exposure and white balance dialed in, time for some fights. My assignments always require me to shoot every fight. I sometimes wish it could be like in boxing where people only really care about the main event or the last couple fights. But then again, there have been plenty “Fight of the Night” awards handed out for the first fight of the night. And for this fight in Tokyo, that looked to be the case as Marcello Guimaraes and Hyun Gyu Lim put on a nice performance in the opener. It will likely take you some time to get your timing down and figure out any focusing issues throughout the night. This is where it helps to have a number of preliminary fights before the “important” fights.
I had some good moments throughout the night, but I didn’t really feel like I had my timing nailed down until the Diego Sanchez v Takanori Gomi fight. Diego’s fights are always good for photographers. He comes forward, stays in the pocket, and has a really good chin. If you can’t make at least one good image from a Diego Sanchez fight, maybe you should think about trying something else. Or maybe you were stuck behind a pole and in a bad position for all the good action.
Anyways… Mark Hunt v Stefan Struve followed the Sanchez v Gomi fight. Hunt has been loved by Japanese fans for years from his days of fighting in K-1 and Pride. He’s always had an exciting style. You never have to guess how a Mark Hunt fight will go. He will get hit and he will hit back harder. His fights are typically either a test of how good his opponent’s chin is, or if his opponent would like to showcase their grappling. Knowing this about Mark and having shot a number of his fights, I found myself “sitting on” him, in a matter of speaking. What I mean is that I would put one of my focus points on his face at all times and track him waiting for him to throw something. Unless of course he was turned away from me, then I would follow Struve for those few moments.
Just before the ending sequence, the guys were a little bit more than 15-feet away from me when Hunt threw a big right hand that landed flush. I had a bad angle for it, Hunt was completely hidden and all I saw was Struve’s back, so I didn’t fire my camera. But looking through the eye-piece, I noticed this look on Hunt’s face as Struve absorbed the shot without going down. If I could put it into words what his face said, it would be “What the hell do I have to do to beat this kid?” At that point, I told myself to get ready. I had that feeling he was going to throw another right with even more power than the previous shot.
I was right. Hunt blasted Struve with a massive right hand, followed by a ridiculous left hook. My angle was still not favorable for the first sequence, but I managed to capture it nicely still. I caught these in two 3-shot bursts. For the first sequence of the right hand, I had my focus point over to the right side of the viewfinder up a little from center, dead on Hunt’s face as he launched the punch. I did my best to keep tracking him with the AF point, but to be honest, I’m surprised any of the shots after the first were sharp. For the second sequence of the left hook, you can see the second frame is not as sharp. The action was so fast, I couldn’t switch the AF point and remained on the right side. So then Struve jumped into focus. Below are scaled down shots of each sequence. These are exactly as they came out of the camera, only sized down. No sharpening or cropping at all.
Click on the images to blow them up larger.
Aside from the focus, I also got really lucky with the distance. Had the final shot been just a few inches closer to me, my 70-200mm lens would not have been able to focus and I would have been out of luck. Sometimes, you have to decide when to switch or when not to switch to your wide-angle lens. I made the decision to stick with the 70-200 as soon as the first punch landed. It cost me the chance to get any sort of jubilation shot immediately after, but I think it was a worthwhile sacrifice.
Once I did switch over to the wide angle, I was able to catch this gem of Struve telling Herb Dean his jaw was broken.
And that’s how I “Got The Shot”. Hope you enjoyed reading. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions.