As is often the case with shooting on-location under questionable circumstances, you can only plan so much. Today happened to be one of those cases for me at the UFC 162 Open Workouts. I walked into XS Nightclub at The Encore with the knowledge from my experience of shooting there last July. However, a quick survey of the scene revealed a different setup from last year, resulting in totally different lighting conditions. I always bring along my speedlites whenever shooting a workout because I never know what the light will be like and at least I have the consolation of knowing I can always provide enough light for any situation.
Once I realized how low the ambient light was, I started breaking out my gear and setting up. Shooting in a nightclub can be challenging because those places are designed to cram as many people in as possible and they don’t have a lot of secure locations to mount lights or even put up light stands. I could only find one spot within range of the stage to setup a light stand, so I decided to double up my two FourSquare blocks and concentrate all my light into one source. I put the softbox with six speedlites about eight feet off of the back corner, stage-right from my position. My first plan was to be able to walk around throughout the venue and shoot from multiple locations, giving me a variety of angles for my light source. However, once the workouts started, I quickly realized I would not be able to move at all. In fact, I kind of painted myself into a corner standing on the stage, only having about ten feet of movement left and right. The light source was to my right, about twelve feet above the stage hitting from almost a 45-degree angle. So, it wasn’t bad at all. I had some great ideas for portrait-style shots I wanted to get while in the midst of the workouts. By the end of the shoot, I found myself scrambling just to make any kind of shots.
The real problems began when Anderson Silva prepared to come on stage. He always travels with a large entourage, and today proved to be the biggest yet. He had about thirty people with him, all of whom would be on the small stage while he was working out. So, I was fighting for space the whole time. Being a 13+ year staffer for UFC provides me with a lot of access, but when Anderson Silva is in the building, all that experience and access means absolutely nothing. His trainers and camp will deliberately move in front of you to prevent you from getting shots so their own photographer (with no credential at all) can get the exclusive shots. They will push you around. They will try to have you kicked out completely. I was prepared for all of this as it’s happened several times before, but today was by far the worst situation. Two members of his camp climbed onto the tower where my light stand was mounted and throughout the shoot they used my light stand as an arm rest. So, I tried to keep an eye on that through my periphery at all times. At one point, I was blindly hail-mary shooting over two rows of people who would not let me any closer. Finally, I managed to squeeze myself into a tucked spot on the edge of the mat underneath a documentary camera following his camp. Unfortunately, this meant that I had no chance to get anything of use with 70-200mm lens, which is my lens of choice about 95% of the time. But at that point, I was just in survival mode and wanted to make any photos I could.
When all was said and done, I made it out of the shoot unscathed with a decent take. And all my equipment survived for another shoot. The lesson to be learned here is that you can plan and stress and go crazy trying to make sure everything is perfect, and there will still be a rather large sized monkey wrench thrown in the gears to throw everything out of whack. You just have to go with the flow and try to adapt as best you can. Realize that not every situation will be perfect. But don’t panic and just try to look for other angles and options. And don’t always count on your subject being totally cooperative. It’s nice when they are, but it isn’t always the case.
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.
Photographers often stress too much on assignments about the job and overlook little things. I won’t pretend like I don’t do it myself. Especially when it’s a last-minute job or I’m working under a serious time crunch. So, I wanted to put together a blog post reminding us all to remember the little things that will in turn make our photos, and our work in general, better.
Synchronize Your Clocks
One of the first things you should do on an assignment, perhaps even before you leave for your assignment, is to synchronize your camera clocks to the local time where you will be shooting. Make sure all cameras are perfectly synced to each other, as well. When your assignment involves multiple cameras, everyone’s clocks should be synced. This will be a tremendous help for your editor(s) and is just a good practice for organization purposes. When you’re working for wire services, the less the desk editors have to mess with, the better. So if you send in files with correct dates that match the captions, they will spend less time processing the files and get them posted and out to clients faster.
Clean Up Your Background
This is something that I never really paid a lot of attention to in my early years, until I started working for Getty Images. I think a lot of photographers are the same. We all worry about the immediate subject we are shooting, rather than the whole scene. Sometimes, obviously, backgrounds can only be cleaned so much. You’ll notice a lot of my UFC shots have annoying bright-colored banners in the background. I try to eliminate them when I can, but there are just so many that it’s impossible to have a completely clean background. If I only transmitted completely clean background images from a UFC fight, I would have a take of maybe 4 or 5 photos. So, you have to accept that it’s not always going to be possible. But, you should also do whatever you can to put yourself in the best position to obtain a clean background. Some things you can do include shooting with a wide aperture to get a shallow depth of field, get low and shoot upwards, or get high and shoot downwards. Sometimes, the background helps make the shot too, so you have to always be looking for things like that. When a fighter jumps on the cage to celebrate after a big knockout, the first thing I do is grab a quick couple of frames of him that captures his immediate emotion. After that, I look in the background and start looking for pockets of light that hit the crowd who are also going crazy. It doesn’t always work out, but sometimes if I catch the light right and the fighter is looking in the right direction, it makes for a cool frame. Even though the background is not really clean. But, in general, you should always try to produce as clean of a background as possible.
AF Focus Points
This seems to be one of the more difficult concepts for newer sports photographers to grasp. I was guilty of this too, in my early days. For most sports, I would always suggest shooting with a single AF focus point. You want to make sure that focus point is sitting on whatever it is in the frame that you want to be in focus. Typically, this is the face of the subject. Obviously, it’s not always easy to keep the AF point on the subject’s face, and sometimes there is not much contrast in the face to be able to quickly grab focus. If you’re shooting football or baseball, you can put the AF point on the center of the player’s chest. There’s usually good contrast with uniform numbers and logos to be able to quickly grab focus, and most of the time, the depth of field is good enough to allow the face to still be pretty sharp. The main point of what I’m trying to say here though is that you should not just set your AF point to the center and leave it there. Learn the functions of your camera and move the AF point around. Program registered AF points that you can quickly switch between. You will see an immediate difference in your results if you’re accustomed to focusing with the center AF point and re-composing the frame.
Set The Correct White Balance
Again, this may sound like a given, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve ran into who don’t understand anything about color temperature and white balance. One of the first things you should do on an assignment is set your white balance correctly. Avoid using auto white balance (AWB) at all costs. Obviously, there are some situations where AWB might be the best option, but in general, it is not. Learn the color temperature of different types of lights and set your white balance manually. Use your preview screen for fine tuning. You can develop your own style and preferences from that too. For example, normal daylight color temperature should be somewhere around 5600K. However, when I’m shooting in direct sunlight, or with daylight balanced strobes, I prefer to set my white balance a little warmer and typically end up somewhere around 6300K. There are various tools on the market that allow you to “auto-magically” set a custom white balance, too. I don’t have an issue with these most of the time, but I would still recommend you learn about color temperature and know how to set the white balance manually.
Off-Camera Flash > On-Camera Flash
If you must use a flash, take it off camera when possible. Get an off-camera flash cable, wireless transceivers, or wireless flash. I’ll steal a concept from one of my mentors, Dave Black. Think of your lighting scheme in terms of a triangle. Your camera is one point of the triangle, the subject is another point, and the flash is the third point. If the camera and the flash are on the same point, the results just don’t look good. It could be as simple as hand-holding the flash and moving it a foot or two to the left of the camera. Just try it out and look at the results. Compare it to an on-camera flash shot. You will never go back once you see the difference.
Only Transmit Sharp Images
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people transmit images that are not sharp. Most wire services will reject images that are not sharp. Every editor has a different idea of what is sharp, but you should always make it a priority to send the sharpest images possible. If an image is soft, figure out why and work to improve it next time. You should get in the habit of checking your images on the back of your camera. Zoom in to 100% and check to see how sharp it is. Don’t think just because it’s only going on the web it’s ok. Soft is soft, and no amount of unsharp mask can fix that. And the solution is not to just shoot everything at f8. Whatever it is you shoot, whether it be fights, baseball, hockey, whatever. Take your camera and lens that you will be using. Set the settings to exactly what you will use for the assignment and under the exact lighting conditions you will use, shoot something or somebody that is completely still. Zoom into that image at 100%. Unless your camera or lens has some sort of issue, that is what a sharp image should look like. So as you’re shooting the rest of the assignment, review from time-to-time and make sure your images are relatively close in sharpness to that image.
Always Be Prepared
You should always do everything you can to be prepared for an assignment. Do your homework. Get to know your subject. Depending on the assignment, this could mean a number of different things. If you’re shooting somebody’s portrait, try to learn a little about the person. See if you can learn a little about their personality, their likes and dislikes, their quirks. Don’t be an ass-kisser, but it never hurts to be personable and try to make your subject feel comfortable. If you’re shooting a sport you’re not familiar with, doing your homework means you need to get familiar with the sport. You need to learn the rules. You need to know what to look for. Where do the big plays happen? When and where are you likely to see celebration? Who are the key players? Are there any records that may be set or broken? Point is, don’t just show up without having done some research and homework. You don’t want to be stressed trying to figure things out as the shoot unfolds. I see this all the time and I think it really hinders the quality of images the photographer produces.
I apologize for neglecting my blog so badly the past few months. I promise to do a better job and keep everyone better informed of my whereabouts around the globe in 2013 and beyond.
As you may or may not know, I’m smack in the middle of a 15 day road trip. I spent the first 9 days traveling to and working in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This was the first time I had ventured outside of the airport in Sao Paulo, and I was pleasantly surprised. The weather was the first surprise. We were met with rain as soon as we walked out of the terminal to get our car, and for the most part, the rain didn’t let up for the rest of the trip.
The one thing I was told about Sao Paulo before I arrived was that the traffic is even worse than Rio de Janeiro. I don’t know if I just have good luck or people were lying to me, but I found that statement to be completely false. It took only 25 minutes to get to the hotel from the airport, and all our journeys between the hotel and the various shooting locations were much quicker than planned, as well.
The skies parted for a few hours last Wednesday for the UFC open workouts at Parque Anhangabaú near the city’s center. The usual cast of characters, including the main event and co-main event contestants, and a handful of local talent, put on a show for the crowd that gathered. The location was pretty neat, and the weather was much more accommodating than I have been used to during outdoor workouts in the past.
After the usual pre-fight routine of portraits, press conference, and weigh-in, it was finally fight day. I headed over to Ibirapuera Gymnasium way early to get a lay of the land and scout locations for remotes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a spot I felt was safe to remove a remote unattended throughout the night, so I canceled that idea.
The first preliminary fight started about 8:45 pm local time. With eleven fights on the card, it was shaping up to be a long night. The arena was more than half full for the first fight and the fans erupted when their countryman, Francisco Trinaldo, finished C.J. Keith with an arm triangle choke. For the most part, the crowd was pretty calm after that, until Sao Paulo and TUF Brasil 1 finalist Daniel Sarafian entered for his bout against C.B. Dolloway. Unfortunately for the crowd, Sarafian came out on the losing end of the decision and the fans showed their displeasure by booing Dolloway so loudly that I couldn’t hear a word he said in his post-fight interview.
Finally, at nearly 1:30 am, it was time for the main event. Michael Bisping walked out first to a strong chorus of boos. His opponent, Vitor Belfort was met with a nice reaction from the crowd, though nothing like Sarafian experienced. Vitor looked fired up and ready to destroy.
And destroy he did. Belfort controlled the action in round one, landing a number of significant kicks and punches. Then, in round two, he unleashed a left high kick to the side of Bisping’s head, putting him down on the canvas. Belfort followed up with a series of hammer-fists forcing referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight. The crowd went nuts, as did Vitor.
After completing my edit and packing everything up, I was en route back to the hotel by 3:30 am. I had some more work to do once I got back, so I didn’t finally make it to bed until sometime after 6:00. My alarm rang bright and early at 9:00 am for my next assignment. I headed back to the arena to cover the elimination fights for TUF Brasil 2. And that’s about all I can say about that for now.
The next two days were also spent covering various aspects of the upcoming reality show, until I was finally in a car headed back to the airport about 5:30 pm Tuesday evening. I flew straight to Chicago for this week’s UFC on FOX card; landing at about 6:00 am local time Wednesday morning after an 11-hour flight. I had just enough time to get to the hotel and take a shower before I was back in a car headed to the UFC Gym for the open workouts.
This particular UFC Gym location had just been transformed from it’s previous moniker, LA Boxing. I mean that literally as apparently they were still under construction the day before. Everything had that “brand new, wrapped in plastic” smell. I did a quick once-over and decided on locations to place a few speedlites. The overhead florescent lights did not provide the look I was going for, so of course I came prepared with four of my Canon 600EX-RT units. And, for the next four hours, I clicked away as various fighters cycled through the gym to workout for media. The whole day was really a blur, but I actually came away with several shots I was happy with.
After the workouts, I headed back to the hotel to work on my edit and finally had a chance to relax and take a look out the window. It had just started snowing. It was then that I realized less than 36 hours before, I was wearing shorts and flip-flops. Now I was freezing in my hotel room and couldn’t get the heater hot enough.
The usual press conference followed on Thursday, and today saw us head back to the Chicago Theatre once again for another weigh-in. I love it when we do weigh-ins inside these old historic theatres. They create such a cool atmosphere and make for really nice wide photos.
All fighters made weight and nothing much of interest happened, other than a moment of uncertainty before Quinton “Rampage” Jackson stepped on the scale for his final UFC weigh-in. He appeared to apologize to the commission official and UFC coordinator Burt Watson, and you could see Watson was visibly upset as he stepped back while Rampage hopped on the scale. But then the weight was announced as 204 pounds. I’m not sure what exactly was said, but I was expecting him to be well overweight after seeing that unfold. After making weight, Rampage proceeded to get in the face of his opponent, Glover Teixeira, and give him a tongue-lashing as they faced off.
Tomorrow is yet another early call to head over for a long day at the arena. I’ll do my best to get some shots up before I head back home Sunday morning. But, until then, I leave you with a few slideshows from the last couple weeks.
I write to you today from sunny, beautiful Australia. I’m in the Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise) for the finale for The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes on Saturday. I flew down here straight from Seattle following UFC on FOX 5 and went straight to work, so I haven’t had much time to work on a proper blog post.
I’ll spare you a long-winded writeup and just get to the good stuff. UFC on FOX 5 featured a great night of fights, which capped a fantastic week that I was able to share with my wife in Seattle. I covered the fights alongside longtime Getty staff photographer Ezra Shaw. Here’s my favorite shot from the night.
Sunday morning, I left Seattle destined for Gold Coast, Australia. My itinerary saw me layover in San Francisco for about 5 hours, followed by a 12-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand and another 3 hour layover there. I finally arrived in Gold Coast mid-morning Tuesday. Upon arriving at the hotel in Surfers Paradise, I was presented with some of the best working conditions a man could ask for.
While I haven’t had much time to venture out and see any sights, just the fact that I can wake up and open my blinds every morning to this view makes the workday seem so much easier.
On Wednesday, I spent the day shooting portraits of various fighters on the card. Nothing too exciting, though it was nice to see all the guys again who I worked with at the beginning of filming for TUF: The Smashes. Everyone is in great shape and excited to put on a great fight.
Thursday saw us drive out to Boonchu Muay Thai for the open workouts. The gym is owned by legendary Aussie fighter John Wayne Parr. It was a pleasant surprise when the man himself greeted us upon arrival and welcomed us into his gym. It’s a very small gym in a warehouse complex, but it worked out great. 8 fighters from the card worked out in some form or another. Some only shadow boxing, others a little more intense. Here is a slideshow of shots from the workouts.
And today saw the fighters all hit the scale for the official weigh in ahead of tomorrow’s fights. All fighters made weigh on their first try and there were no big surprises. TUF Smashes Coaches Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos capped off the weigh in with a heated staredown. Below is the slideshow of images from the weigh in.
I sit here on another overnight plane, headed to the east coast. As I look back on the week past, I can’t believe where I’ve been and what I’ve been apart of. Last week, I covered the first ever UFC event in China from the Venetian Resort in Macau.
I flew into Honk Kong on Monday night, which is now the longest flight I have ever been on – 14 ½ hours from San Francisco to Hong Kong, in economy class, no less. I joke, it’s not all bad. I got comfortable tucked into my window seat with my laptop and a pile of TV shows to get caught up on. Of course, I would have preferred if my upgrade cleared, but I also knew it wasn’t very likely. The flight surprisingly went by quick, even though I slept very little.
Once on the ground in Hong Kong, I met my greeter and was whisked away to immigration and baggage claim. The immigration process in Hong Kong was one of the easiest I’ve experienced over the years. Before I knew it, I was in the back of a very nice Mercedes on the way to my hotel. I checked in at the Marco Polo Hotel in Kowloon and ordered room service before crashing.
Tuesday morning, I had a meeting at the Harbour City Mall, which conveniently was attached to the hotel. I headed over an hour early and walked around the mall, hoping to find some good deals. Sadly though, it was full of stores much higher end than my budget or preferences called for. We took a look at the space where the press conference and workouts would be held on Wednesday. It was a nice open area near the sports stores. It was originally designed to be a basketball court for kids to play on, so it was quite spacious.
After the meetings, I got my first experience on the TurboJet ferry across to Macau. The ferry terminal was about a 4-5 block walk from the mall/hotel, which isn’t as fun as its sounds when carrying all your luggage. With some help of my co-workers, I made it just fine. Ferry tickets are about $150 HKD, which is about $20 US. The ferry trip is about an hour across the South China Sea to Macau. From there, it’s another 20 minutes in the cab to the Venetian. I checked in at the Venetian and drug all my gear upstairs. The rooms there are quite similar to the Venetian in Vegas if you’ve ever stayed there. If you have, well, let’s just say they’re nice. Venetian is known for being an all suites hotel, and they are true suites, not just the holiday inn style. After a quick burger at McSorley’s Irish Pub, it was off to bed for the night.
Up and at it the next morning, I was headed back on the ferry to Honk Kong for the press conference and open workouts. The idea of doing them on the same day, in the same location, was brilliant. Let’s hope that trend continues.
The press conference kicked things off with just 4 fighters on the dais – main eventers Rich Franklin and Cung Le; Chinese fighter Tiequan Zhang; and Korean fighter Dong Hyun Kim. There was a solid turnout of media in attendance, though the press conference only lasted about 25-30 minutes. The new Octagon girls were in attendance – Jessica Cambensy and Ye-Bin Kang. There were a number of photo ops with and without the girls after the press conference concluded. Once all that was out of the way, they simply moved the tables and podium and laid down mats on the stage for the “demonstration” part of the day. This was just a normal open workout, with the added bonus of Urijah Faber providing commentary and explaining techniques to the media. Only Rich Franklin and Cung Le worked out, and only for about 10 minutes apiece. After that, there were some more photo ops. The day rounded out with Urijah Faber and Chuck Liddell teaching a couple techniques to some kids from a local outreach program in Hong Kong.
After that crazy long day, we boarded the ferry back to Macao. I was able to get all my edits done on the boat in transit and uploaded everything quickly when I returned to my room.
Thursday was now a much easier day, having done both the press conference and open workouts already. I only had to shoot portraits of 4 fighters, and then do some more editing. The portrait setup was a little simpler than I would have liked, but when you’re traveling internationally, you can only bring so much with you. I was able to source some light stands and a backdrop in Hong Kong, so I only had to travel with four Canon 600EX-RT speedlites and my various Honl Photo softboxes. If I haven’t mentioned these before, let me just tell you David Honl puts out an amazing group of products. His speed strap system is the easiest and most portable light modification system I have ever used. Check out their full range of gear at HonlPhoto.com.
The fighters all showed up right on time, and for the most part were very cooperative. I noticed that Hyun Gyu Lim was a little less attentive than the other guys and he was refusing to remove his sunglasses for the photos. After finally convincing him to remove the glasses, I noticed his eyes were a little more sunk in that usual. He definitely looked to be struggling with the weight cut. I had visions of the last time I shot Anthony Johnson, when he came in 6 pounds overweight. But, we still had 32 hours until the weigh in, so I was confident Lim would make the weight.
I was met with a surprise the next morning when I woke to find the Lim v Mitchell fight had been cancelled after Lim apparently passed out in the sauna cutting weight and had to be sent to the hospital. The weigh ins were scheduled for 6pm, two hours later than normal. And with no Q&A session or anything before, I had a free day to get caught up on emails and have a nice lunch. I headed down to the arena around 4:00 pm to get setup and scope out spots to shoot from. The setup rarely changes for a UFC weigh in, so I typically end up shooting from the same spot every time. I just have to make sure I get there relatively early before anyone else steals my prime real estate.
Aside from two guys having to strip down butt naked and weigh in behind the towel, the event went off without a hitch. Everyone was on weight, despite several fighters complaining about the jet lag from the long travel and time difference from America. I think most agreed though that it was worth the extra bit of suffering to go through this experience.
Fight day finally arrived, and I was anxious for it to begin. I had been having trouble sleeping off and on all week, but on fight day I awoke just after 3:00 am. I tried to take naps throughout the day, but didn’t have much luck. The first bout didn’t start until 8:45 pm, so it was a little tough finding stuff to occupy myself in the meantime. I ended up arriving at the arena around 5:00 pm, hoping to have an internet connection to be able to get some work done. Unfortunately, the communications department took quite a while to run my internet line and I was left twiddling my thumbs for quite a while. I sat through rehearsals a few times and watched as some of the fighters started showing up to warm up inside the Octagon.
It was finally time for the first bout, and that opening scrap was a fun one. Riki Fukuda battled Tom DeBlass to a decision victory. DeBlass looked much better at middleweight and gave Fukuda all he could handle; though it was pretty clear Fukuda did enough to get the nod. The crowd was filling up quickly and was very enthused.
The flyweight bout between John Lineker and Yasuhiro Urushitani was a barn burner. Lineker had Urushitani hurt a few different times throughout the bout, but could not put him away. Both guys are very fun to watch and this was one I thought would contend for fight of the night. Lineker took a unanimous decision victory.
The next few fights were decent, but nothing really stood out to me. The Danzig/Gomi fight was very close and could have gone either way. In the end, I felt Gomi did enough to get the decision, though Mac Danzig definitely disagreed.
The crowd went crazy for the Chinese fighter, Tiequan Zhang, as he battled newcomer John Tuck. You may remember Tuck from his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter Live when he gave Al Iaquinta all he could handle in the elimination fights, suffering a badly dislocated toe in the process. While Zhang had moments where he looked to be making a stand, Tuck was in control for most of the fight and looked quite comfortable despite making his UFC debut in the home country of his opponent. I had high expectations for Tuck, and was very impressed with his performance.
The fight that stole the show was Thiago Silva taking on Stanislav Nedkov in the co-main event. Nedkov came out firing early and was battering Silva. He would come in with 3-4 punches then go for a takedown, and then they’d separate and repeat again. Nedkov appeared to be in control of the first two rounds, having dropped Silva towards the end of the second round with a big right hand. But Silva managed to survive as Nedkov used a lot of energy trying to finish him. In the third round, Nedkov came out looking noticeably exhausted. Silva started teeing off on him right away with leg kicks, and then following up with overhand rights. At one point, turned his head and walked away, then looked at the referee like he wanted to quit. Silva rushed him quickly, took him to the ground, and quickly secured the arm triangle submission. Great performance by both guys. I was very surprised to see Nedkov tire. I’d really like to see him at 185. His frame is too small to compete against the big guys at 205.
It was finally time for the main event. Vietnam born Cung Le was to take on USA’s Rich Franklin in his return to 185 pounds after several years fighting at 205 and 195. The fight did not go at all as I thought it would. Rich came out throwing his usual kicks to the legs and body with a few straight lefts mixed in that didn’t do a lot of damage. Then, all the sudden, Le landed a right hook and the fight was over. I didn’t even know I caught the punch until about 15 minutes later when I loaded the card up to start downloading. It all happened so fast, everyone was in a bit of shock. Cung was jumping around the Octagon like he just won the title, and later he stated it was just a lucky punch. I understand he’s just being humble, but there was no luck in that. He timed it and placed it just right. It was a fitting end to another great event.
So now, it’s on to the next one. As I write this, I’m en route to Montreal for UFC 154. But before that, please check out my gallery of shots from UFC Macao: Franklin v Le.
I had hoped to have more time to write while in Rio, but unfortunately I was up late working every night. Between the slow internet and horrible traffic, everything in Rio takes much longer. So, I’ll spare you all the boring details of the presser and weigh in, and move on straight to fight day.
I set out on my journey back to HSBC Arena in the early afternoon on Saturday. We weren’t three blocks from the hotel when our crazy van driver slammed into another car from behind. Of course, it was all the other driver’s fault. He had stopped at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross. But, in Rio, things like crosswalks, lane dividers, stop signs, and red lights are merely suggestions that are often ignored. When our driver finally let up on the horn and began driving again, we passed the car and realized who it was – former Strikeforce middleweight champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. He had a few choice words and fingers for our driver as we sped past. Fortunately after that, we made it to the arena without further incident.
Because of the unpredictable traffic situation, I arrived at the arena far earlier than I needed to be there, nearly four hours before the first fight. It gave me a chance to test out the internet, clean and prep all my cameras and lenses, and prepare all my templates for the night. After that was done, I still had a good chunk of time before the fights started, so I went to walk outside and take some pictures of the arena and fans lined up. Of course, just as I made it out to the front of the arena, it started raining and I scurried back inside to sit and wait for the fights to start.
The opening bout between Reza Madadi and Cristiano Marcello got the fans going and helped set the tone for the night. It was a back and forth fight with both guys swinging wildly. It seemed to me that Madadi was getting the better of the exchanges, and Marcello’s swollen face tended to agree with me. I was a little surprised when Marcello was awarded the decision. The crowd was happy though and Madadi didn’t put up much of a protest, so I guess it wasn’t too bad of a decision.
The rest of the preliminary fights had some great wars. I was thoroughly impressed with Rony “Jason”, who may just have supplanted Akiyama for the title of best walk-in song. “Jason” landed several nice flying knees and really battered Sam Sicilia, who was one of my favorite fighters to come from TUF Live. Francisco Trinaldo took it to Gleison Tibau and I thought he was going to get the victory. In the end, Tibau scored the decision, but even he looked a little surprised when his hand was raised. Trinaldo had him in all sorts of trouble, which I don’t recall seeing Tibau in since his first UFC fight against Nick Diaz.
The whole night was kind of a blur to me. We had no breaks between fights, so I was hurrying to download and edit whatever I could. I didn’t finally transmit my first images until just before the start of the main card. It’s never easy to shoot and edit your own stuff as the fights are happening, but I tried to make the best of the situation and I think in the end I did a pretty good job given the circumstances.
Demian Maia kicked off the main card with a very quick submission of tough wrestler Rick Story. That was by far Maia’s best performance in the Octagon. He is a whole different animal at 170 pounds, and I think a real contender for the title.
The rematch with Phil Davis and Wagner Prado followed. The two fought earlier this year in a bout that ended in a no-contest after Prado suffered and accidental eye-poke and couldn’t continue. The fight was a little slow in the first two rounds, and Davis appeared to be ahead going into the third. Prado started pushing the pace a little more and ended up getting caught in an arm triangle choke. He escaped that, but then quickly found himself in an anaconda choke that he couldn’t get out of.
Next up was what I hoped would be fight of the night, and that turned out to be correct. Erick Silva took a big step up in competition when he stepped in the Octagon with Jon Fitch. Silva came out swinging and Fitch absorbed a couple big shots before getting in close and scoring a takedown. But he really wasn’t able to do much with the first takedown. Silva got back to his feet and was noticeably a little more tentative, but still attempting some of his flashy kicks and knees.
In the second, Silva had Fitch is a very dangerous position with a rear naked choke all but sunk in. I’m still not sure how Fitch was able to power out of it because the elbow was under the chin and Silva had a good grip. Next thing you know, Fitch is on top and going for an arm bar of his own. This all happened just below me, which made for some great pictures.
Fitch came out in the third with a mission to finish the fight. He got Silva down and quickly moved to mount. He alternated between mount and back mount through most of the round, landing heavy punches throughout. Silva escaped just at the end of the round, but the effort proved too little too late. Fitch scored the victory in one of his most impressive performances to date.
Next up was long-time hardcore favorite Glover Teixeira taking on a late replacing, but always game Fabio Maldonado. Teixeira blasted Maldonado right away and wobbled him standing. Something we really haven’t seen happen to Maldonado, who always brags about his granite chin. This allowed Teixeira to score a takedown and quickly move to mount where he punched and elbowed Maldonado for several minutes. How the fight was not stopped, I’m not sure. Near the end of the round, Maldonado managed to escape after Teixeira tired of punching. Maldonado landed a shot that stunned Teixeira momentarily, but wasn’t able to capitalize.
Between rounds, the doctor checked on Maldonado and allowed him to continue. His face was bleeding and badly swollen, but he came out swinging in the second. He was able to land a few more shots early in the round, but eventually Teixeira stormed back with some nice power shots standing that seemed to have Maldonado on the ropes. He continued to batter Maldonado throughout the second. Near the end of the round, time was called and the doctor again checked on Maldonado. Fabio pleaded his case and the doctor allowed him to continue. He survived the round, but the doctor finally stopped the fight between the second and third rounds. Teixeira was actually pretty upset with himself after the fight because he said Chuck Liddell told him to knock the guy out and he was not able to do so. Still, a very impressive performance by Glover Teixeira.
The co-main event featured Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira against Dave Herman. The beef going into this fight stemmed from Herman saying that jiu-jitsu does not work. After battering and dropping Herman with punches, Minotauro proved jiu-jitsu does in fact work when he made Herman scream in pain from an arm bar submission.
The night was capped by a masterful performance from the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter – Anderson Silva. He was taking on Stephan Bonnar in a light heavyweight, non-title affair. The match was thrown together quickly to save the event after both the main event and co-main event fell off due to injuries. For the first couple minutes of the fight, Silva purposely put his back against the cage and let Bonnar tee-off on him. Bonnar landed some very impressive shots and I was really surprised none of them were able to hurt Silva. After all, Chael Sonnen was able to hurt Silva in their first fight, and Bonnar appeared to be landing much harder shots. And then, as if he flipped a switch, Anderson Silva decided to finish the fight and it was over. A knee to the chest followed by a few punches on the ground and that was all she wrote. The crowd went nuts as Silva sat in his corner looking over at Bonnar. The referee asked Silva to come to the center for his hand to be raised, but Silva refused until he knew Bonnar was OK. That sums up the man that is Anderson Silva. He will knee you until you can’t continue, then feel compassion for you immediately after.
Below is a full slideshow in chronological order from the night. I encourage you to also check out my site, as well as the full take on Getty Images and UFC.com.
This morning is the first chance I’ve had to collect my thoughts and write a proper blog. I arrived in Rio de Janeiro for my UFC 153 coverage two days ago on Tuesday morning. The first event on the schedule was yesterday’s open workouts which were held at the Arcos da Lapa in the center of the city.
The trip was expected to take a little under an hour by bus from our hotel at Barra Beach. Thanks to some late attendees, we actually departed about 45 minutes late from the hotel, so I didn’t expect much setup time once I got there. The drive ended up taking about an hour and ten minutes. The traffic in Rio is always horrible, so there is no easy way to plan for journeys in the city.
Once we arrived at the venue, we quickly unloaded and found a spot to store all our gear while we waited for fighters to show up. The setup was pretty much the same as all our previous UFC events down here. Outdoors with the mats up on a stage, cooking in the hot sun. The temperature outside just before noon was a nice 36 degrees Celsius (about 97 F). Yes, it’s the beginning of summer down here in the southern hemisphere.
The biggest issue we’ve had in the past with doing the workouts outside is the heat of the mats. They have tried a number of solutions, but all have failed. However, this time, the workers were certain they had solved the problem. I couldn’t believe it when they removed the towels from the top of the mats covering a layer of ice that had been spread over the mats. Just before the first fighter was to work out, the workers scraped off the ice and did their best to dry the mats. Of course, as soon as the mats were cleared, the sun started baking them again and they were incredibly hot by the time the workout started. I’ve told them since the first time they’ve tried this that there is no good solution, aside from having the workouts indoors, which of course they do not want to do. So, the only other option is for the fighters to wear their shoes when working out.
The first two fighters to workout were Dave Herman and Stephan Bonnar. Both put on very abbreviated training sessions due to the heat. Once the Brazilians started showing up, the fans were treated to a little more effort on the mats. Workers struggled between sessions to try to cool down the mats, but their futile efforts served no real purpose. The afternoon sun was cooking the mats and there was very little shade to be found anywhere. To make matters worse, the tent where we had stored our gear was taken over by the band Linkin Park and their security would not allow us inside. So, I spent the majority of the nearly five hours standing outside in the sun with two increasingly heavy cameras hanging off my shoulders.
All the suffering paid off at the end of the day when Anderson Silva showed up. The light was beautiful and the champ put on a great workout, hitting pads and lightly sparring. The fans showed great appreciation. One fan in particular was brought on stage by Anderson’s team and treated with a personal meeting, photo, and an autograph. She was overcome with emotion. So, when it was all said and done, it was a pretty good day. I still wish there was a better solution than standing outside baking for five hours.
Below is a slideshow of my shots from the afternoon. You can also see the full take on Getty Images, as well as UFC.com. Stay tuned for more updates from Rio.