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Breaking the MMA Lens: Pixel-perfect pictures

What makes a good photo?

In short: The composition, lighting, subject, and photographer.

There are so many factors that play into a good, exciting picture. MMA really lends itself to photography. We have action, drama and characters. We’re always looking for a nicer photo, even on our phones. With this tip you can improve any shot, and not just your MMA pictures. It will work with any camera or phone, and make the shot more interesting.

It’s easy to do.

Like most things, you just have to remember to do it. Easier said than done when trying to get the shot quick.

It’s called the ‘Rule of Thirds’.

Don’t be scared off by the math-sounding name. It’s easy! I’ve also heard it called ‘The 30 percent rule’.

You know when you’re taking a picture and the camera or phone screen has a grid on it and you’re saying to yourself, “Where did that come from? What do I need that for?” Then you shut it off for a clear screen. Instagram has the grid available when you’re taking a picture, but you always shut it off, right? The grid looks like a tic-tac-toe board. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. Note that all the areas are fairly equal in size.

Rule of Thirds Grid

If this was placed over your photograph, you’d want the focal point of the picture, like a face, to be near where the lines intersect. You’d also want any straight lines, like a horizon or the MMA cage floor, to be near one of the lines. This way, the floor or horizon doesn’t just cut the photo in half. We want unevenness in the photo, not evenness. When things are too even, it looks stiff and boring.

In the example below you can see the grid overlying the photo. The point of interest is the fighter’s face. That’s where you want the viewer to look first and then move around the picture. The lines intersect there. The vertical line then goes down his arm. Imagine if the fighters face was in the center. It wouldn’t have the same impact.


You don’t need a grid on the camera or phone. If you don’t have one, just imagine it’s there. Once you do it a couple of times it will just be natural.

Here is another example. This one is without the grid. Imagine the lines and you’ll see exactly where they should be. Again, imagine if the fighters face was in the center. It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. And.. I wouldn’t have caught the other fighter celebrating on the left.


The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is a guide. You don’t have to put things exactly on the lines or points of intersection. That would make every photo look the same. Sometimes things have to go in or near the center.

You’ll see some pretty involved explanations of the ‘Rule of Thirds’ but this is the basics of it. Pretty easy, right? They have been using this technique in paintings for hundreds of years. We’re just moving it over to cameras and technology. In the end, this is just an easy way of keeping things out of the center and getting the shot to be a little more interesting. So for now, leave the grid on in Instagram.

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Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco writes the photography column Breaking the MMA Lens for MMA Crossfire. New columns on the 1st and 15th of each month.

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