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Breaking the MMA Lens: See no evil

In MMA photography, there is one element that is always there.

It’s in your face.

The closer you get the more it’s in your face. Bigger, closer. You can’t get around it. You’re sweating, your mouth is dry. Water! What is it?

It’s the cage.


The metal just won’t let up. I don’t mind seeing the cage, but don’t like to see it between the camera and the fighters. It’s distracting for me as a viewer. It doesn’t seem to bother some people, they think it is part of the ambiance, and it is. That’s ok, just not for me. How do we get around this dilemma?

You can shoot over the cage, if there are video platforms available. Many times there are crow’s nests at the corners. You can climb up on one and shoot down into the cage. These are not always there and sometimes the video camera people are on them.

The second way is to shoot right through the holes in the fence. This is the way I usually prefer. Basically, this is just a plain ole’ black chain link fence we’re talking about here.

The trick is to get close enough to the fence so that you don’t see the fence at all.

Shove the lens right up to that hole and shoot away. This isn’t as easy as it sounds though. The lens is round and the fence hole is diamond shaped. Even when you get it right, if you move the slightest bit, you get fence in the shot. That can be ok as we’ll see in a future column.

MMA Platinum Gloves

One of the tricks is to have a lens that isn’t so physically wide that it gets the fence in the shot no matter what you do. Many of the zoom lenses are like this, unfortunately. They’re versatile and look great, but they get fence in the shot. Now, I have to admit that I sometimes shoot with a zoom, but 90% of my shots are with a prime lenses. A prime lens is set to a specific focal length. For example, 35mm. It shoots at 35mm all the time, you can’t change it.


On a zoom, on the other hand, you can change the focal length and make the subject closer or farther. For example 24-70mm goes from 24mm all the way to 70mm and everything in between. This might seem like a no-brainer in favor of the zoom, but there are drawbacks to this technique. The zooms are usually bigger and physically wider so they’re harder for me to get in position to see no fence in the photo. They are also slower and allow in less light. So, you give and take here just like everything else.

Regular readers know I usually shoot with two cameras. One has a 50mm prime and the other an 18mm prime. Both fit through the fence quite nicely. They give me a good balance between close up shots and a wide dramatic shot. Once in a while though, I give in and throw on the 24-70 zoom lens.

There’s another trick to this. If you’re close enough, the metal fence will be blurred out when you’re focused on the distant fighters. Sometimes you can see this and sometimes you can’t even tell it’s there. It depends on your angle to the fence and the light hitting the fence. If the fence is reflecting light you usually see it. This can be used to nice effect as we’ll see in a future column.


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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