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Breaking the MMA Lens – What’s the difference?

What are the differences in shooting different sports?

In this case, we’re talking about combat sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA), grappling, kickboxing and boxing. I’m not talking about the differences in the sports themselves; you can argue those differences yourself. I’m talking about how to shoot each sport and get photos that look good. They are different in terms of approach and what to expect at ring side.

In grappling, you expect movement at the beginning of each round and some possibly during the round. They start out standing and there is movement at this point. There is some movement around the ring, but once the grapplers come together is it more predictable. Most of the shots are of the fighters intertwined. There are some flips and throws. The general movement is slower, with less movement around the ring. Therefore it is easier to set the shot and focus the lens. It also requires less refocusing and repositioning of the camera.

Breaking the MMA Lens

Boxing, on the other hand, is totally the opposite. The fighters are moving all over the ring. Punch, dodge, move, clinch. The movements are more unpredictable and much more varied. You get more missed shots and ‘almost good’ shots. For example there are a lot of “that would have been a great shot if I didn’t cut his head off.” It’s much harder to focus the camera on the point of interest. That doesn’t happen nearly as much in grappling. In boxing (and kickboxing) there are also the ropes to consider. You would think the cage would more in the way than the ropes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for me. It can be difficult to shoot around ropes. To me, they are a big distracting line right in the middle of the shot that we sometimes have to live with.

Breaking the MMA Lens

Kickboxing also has a lot of movement, very similar to boxing (with added kicks – that’s the “kick” part of the name). You also get a lot of missed and ‘almost good’ shots. You have to always be ready, refocusing and resetting the camera.

Breaking the MMA Lens

MMA is kind of a mix of all of them. When the fighters are standing, it is basically similar to kickboxing. There is a lot of movement and you never know where they are going to be. You have to anticipate the movement or miss the shot. Once they grab each other it’s more like a grappling match. The focusing is easier and the composition seems to set itself up. Close-ups and facial expressions are easier because there is more stillness and less quick, herky-jerky movement.

So, even though the sports are similar in many ways, they are very different to shoot. Hope this helps and happy shooting!


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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