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Breaking the MMA Lens: Anticipate

MMA fights are an ebb and flow. It’s a back and forth between action and non-action. Rarely is there just non-stop punching or kicking.

That’s just not the way it works.

Even if there is a non-stop action fight, that part of the fight is usually pretty short. One fighter comes out like a maniac and either pummels the opponent into submission right away or is fended off and there is a longer bout. Even in these fights there is an up and down to the action. If you analyze the action of almost any sport, especially combat sports, you’ll see a flurry of action and a slow down, a flurry and a slowdown.

Kristian Franco vs Ryan Hardy Evans 2_Watermark

Each sport has its own rhythm and MMA is no exception. The fighters come at each other and back away in rhythmic concert. A casual observer may not notice this. To some fans, it may look like an action packed fight or a slow fight with nothing going on. This may be true, but both of those scenarios have an ebb and flow.

I notice when shooting that after the first minute or two, and sometimes even within the first few seconds, you get the rhythm of the fight. You can anticipate when the action is coming. It’s almost like a bell going off in both fighters’ heads. Go, stop, go, stop. As a photographer, you try to hear that same bell. If you wait until you see punches flying, it’s too late. You have to start shooting before the punch or kick is thrown. Then when the action comes or the punch lands, you’re ready for it and the shutter is snapping away.

Breaking the MMA Lens

Sometimes, it’s amazing how predictable the action will be. Try it when you’re watching a fight. With some fights you can get pretty close to predicting when the action will start and end. The action will have a rhythm in itself and you can even anticipate when each little flurry will end. This even happens when the fighters are grappling and have a hold on one another. There is even an up and down to this action, even if it is a bit more subtle.

I use ‘burst’mode on my camera. That means when I hold down the shutter button, the camera takes pictures in quick succession until I take my finger off the button. Different cameras have different burst rates. My Canon 7D II takes ten shots per second. My Fuji X-E2 is slower and takes five shots per second. They both have their place.

This is not to say that you’ll be right every time. There are plenty of times when I think I have the rhythm and start shooting and nothing happens, oh well. It is a sport, not a performance after all.

The idea is to start your burst just before each volley of action. Each burst of action lasts a few seconds. The key is to anticipate the start of the action. If you’re too early, you waste shots and time. You get distracted and tired. Not to mention that when you’re going through the photos later, you have to sort through a lot of shots with the fighters doing nothing. One of the toughest parts of shooting an event is sorting through the pictures later. Which shots are good, which are okay, and which ones just stink.

You want to make this process as easy as you can. A fight photographer will usually take between 2000 and 3000 shots at an event. That’s with the anticipation factor. I don’t want to add another 1000 shots or so because I’m not anticipating the action, shooting too early, ending too late or just shooting when there’s nothing going on.

So, the word for the day is “ANTICIPATE.”

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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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