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Breaking the MMA Lens: To friend or not to friend

Sometimes, it can be difficult to be neutral when shooting fight photos.

You can occasionally feel yourself silently rooting during the fight. This can happen when you get to know the fighters too well, but the cage demands a silent neutral silent observer. It can be hard to do this, especially the silence part. The crowd roars, the excitement in the air rises and you may even have an actual interest in the fight.

Why? I find there is usually one big reason. You shoot a lot of events in a given area and see the same fighters here and there. At the weigh-ins, at the fights, at social events. You talk to them, meet their families, see how hard they work when you shoot gym workouts and get a feeling for what they’re about. It’s also not unheard of to shoot some non-fight events they’re attending.

Breaking the MMA Lens

Then you go to shoot a fight and someone you’ve become friends with is in the cage. As a photographer, you should be impartial as you shoot. It takes some getting used to when your friend is in the ring, but after a while, you just shoot away. I’ve talked to people covering an event who think they’re totally non-biased but in actuality, they’re rooting for their friend. Rooting is so easy to fall into. As the fight is going on you want to take your eye off the camera and just look at the action. Of course you can’t do this. You have to keep shooting, even when you want to cheer or urge on your friend.

It can be really tough when the two fighters are up against the cage right in front of you. You just want to yell encouragement. But of course you don’t – it’s unprofessional. That’s the one thing you can’t be, as a photographer, is unprofessional.

I’ve shot fights where friends have lost and it’s not a great feeling. I made sure I shot away though. Remember, you’re there to do a job no matter what. It doesn’t matter what happens in the cage, just do your job. Nobody wants to see their friend get hurt, “But this is the business we’ve chosen” (Godfather II).

Breaking the MMA Lens

You’re not changing anything one way or the other, so you may as well get some good photos out of it. I’ve put up plenty photos of friends getting pounded. I have sometimes felt uneasy about doing it, but the fighter will usually understand they’re doing a job, fighting, and I’m doing a job, capturing the fight. I’ve had long talks with fighters about this. Another thing to consider is that the better photographic story is sometimes on the losing side. In fact, some of my best work has been shots of the losing side. The defeat, the dejection. This tells a story sometimes more powerful than a shot of the winning side.

Then there’s the “Golden Difecta” (I made that up). That’s when you have two friends fighting each other. What to do then? One is going to win and one is going to lose. You know it, they know it. Of course, just because they’re both your friends doesn’t mean they don’t dislike each other. They just want to pound each other’s face in. So, what do you do?

Keep your eye to the eyepiece and keep that shutter going.


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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