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  • Writer's pictureJohnathan Ramsay

10 Essential Tips for Fight Photography

Level up your fight photography game!

Fight photography example: Muay Thai fighter right hook

Capturing the intensity and excitement of combat sports through the lens is arguably one of the most challenging and rewarding types of photography you can get involved in. Whether you’re setting out to capture some jaw shattering boxing blows, crushing Muay Thai kicks or unpredictable MMA madness, all fight photography requires a unique set of skills. Sort of like the martial arts themselves I suppose… but less painful, you’ll be glad to hear. Unless your camera gets knocked into your teeth. I’ve seen that happen, it’s not pretty. I’ll tell you more about that story later on.


In this article, I’ll explore what makes a great combat sports photograph and delve into the essential camera settings you need for this demanding genre. Additionally, I’lll share ten of my top tips to ensure your next trip ringside or cage-side goes as smoothly as possible.


Reet, let’s dive in!


What Makes a Good Combat Sport Photograph?

Fight photography example: Muay Thai fighter celebrating in boxing ring

Before we get to the tips, let's quickly go over the three essential elements that make a good boxing, MMA or Muay Thai photography.


1. Capture Action or Emotion

Fight photography example: Muay Thai head kick

Fight photography is all about either capturing action, emotion, or both. So you’re either aiming to capture a freeze frame of a huge punch/kick/slam or capture the emotion on a fighter’s face whilst they're in the ring. If you can combine the two, capturing a moment of action that also features the emotion on a fighter’s face, then you’ve cracked it! That’s the gold dust you’re looking for.


2. Good Composition and Framing

Fight photography example: Muay Thai fighter right straight punch

Pay attention to framing and composition. Position yourself to capture the fighters' movements and expressions in the most visually appealing way possible. Keep in mind the rule of thirds, leading lines, and symmetry, but also remember that it’s a fight and sometimes you’ve got microseconds to frame your shots. So, try to be ahead of the game, follow the flow of the fight. You won’t capture every big moment, it’s just not possible, but make sure you’re always giving yourself the best chance. Don’t be too harsh on yourself either, expect a high miss to hit ratio. 10 shots might only result in one good one, that’s normal!


3. Capturing Unique Moments

Fight photography example: Muay Thai fight flying knee

The beauty of fight photography lies in capturing those unique, one-of-a-kind moments that occur in the heat of battle. Keep an eye out for these moments and be ready to press the shutter. A huge part of this one is research. If you watch more fights, you’ll get a better understanding of fighter’s patterns and the likelihood of them throwing certain shots. If you train in the specific combat sport then even better! But, obviously, that’s not necessary. But the more you watch the more switched on you’ll be. Unless you’re watching something like StreetBeefs, then the only thing you’ll be prepared for is shooting people swinging wild haymakers like there’s no tomorrow. Stick to the pros…


What Settings Do I Need for Fight Photography?

 Fight photography example: emotional Muay Thai fighters

Fast Shutter Speed:


A fast shutter speed (1/1000s or faster) is crucial to freeze motion and ensure sharp images. This is especially important when fighters are in rapid, dynamic movements so you can capture epic snapshots of the action.


Wide Aperture:


A wider aperture (lower f-number) creates a shallow depth of field, isolating the fighters from the background and is usually necessary for combat sports events as it allows the most light into the lens. Fight events aren’t known for having great lighting, so more often than not you’re going to be wanting a lens with f-2.8 or lower capabilities. I usually stick with f-2.8 on my 24-70mm lens to give me the choice of both wide and close-up shots. On the other hand, a smaller aperture (higher f-number) will keep more in focus, but let less light in. So, if your event is miraculously well-lit then you can experiment with which f-stop you prefer.


High ISO:


Again, generally speaking, for combat sports photography you’re going to need a high ISO to make up for the poor and unpredictable light conditions depending on where your subject is in the ring/cage. It goes without saying that you can’t use flash in combat sports photography because you’ll dazzle the fighters. Obviously, the higher ISO the more noise, so experiment and see how your camera deals with the high ISO. Most high quality cameras can still achieve clean shots at a high ISO.


Auto-Focus:


You’re going to struggle with manual focus due to the pace and constant movement of the fighters, so auto-focus is normally your best bet. Unless you’ve got the reactions of a cat when it comes to manual focus, but you’ll be in for a long, long night and a lot of cramp in your fingers.


10 Tips for the Best Combat Sports Photos

Fight photography example: Muay Thai fighter flexing in boxing ring

Finally, onto my 10 tips for capturing the best combat sports and fight photos! Stick to these and you’ll be capturing epic shots in no time.


Tip 1: Know the Sport


Understand the rules and dynamics of the sport you're shooting. This knowledge will help you anticipate the action and capture key moments. Best way to get that knowledge? Simply watch as much of the sport as you can, that way you’ll have a better chance of anticipating the shot selection of the fighters.


Tip 2: Scout the Venue


Arrive early to scout the best shooting positions. Different fight venues may have unique opportunities for capturing great shots. However, a good rule of thumb is to pick a neutral corner of the ring and stick to it.


Tip 3: Use the Right Gear


Invest in the right gear, including a camera with fast burst mode capabilities and lenses that cover the focal lengths you'll need. I usually use a 24-70mm f-2.8 lens; this gives me a dynamic shot choice and the ability to react to most positions in a fight, as well as enough light through the lens.


Tip 4: Master Timing


Timing is everything. Anticipate when the action will peak, and be ready to press the shutter at the right moment. Again this links in with knowing the sport and the flow of the fight.


Tip 5: Anticipate Movements


Familiarise yourself with the fighters' styles and anticipate their movements to capture pivotal moments. Again, this also links in with knowing the sport, but taking that to the next level by knowing the specific fighters you’re shooting. Obviously, you may never have seen them fight before, but if the fight makes it past the first round you should have a better idea of both fighter’s respective styles.


Tip 6: Experiment with Angles


Try shooting from different angles for unique and compelling perspectives. If you’re shooting ringside, below the ropes is always a safe bet and provides awesome low angles of the action. In-between the ropes gives a more straight forward view of the action with lots of potential to capture emotion. Above the ropes may not always be possible due to safety concerns, it really depends on the size of the ring apron.


Tip 7: Shoot in Burst Mode


Use your camera's burst mode to capture rapid sequences. This ensures you won't miss the perfect shot. Be ready to fire at the same time the fighter does, ensuring you capture the action from kick to KO!


Tip 8: Post-Processing


Don't be afraid to enhance your shots in post-processing. Adjusting exposure, contrast, and sharpening can make your images pop. I always like to add a bit of texture to my fight photos too, giving them an extra bit of grit. Make sure you play around with some of your favourite shots to really find your fight photography style.


Tip 9: Safety First


If you're shooting in close proximity to the fighters, by ringside for example, prioritise safety. Be aware of your surroundings and listen to officials' instructions. Use some common sense, if it’s likely you’re going to distract fighters or get an elbow to the face then you’re in the wrong place. Whatever you do, don’t disrupt the fight. I once saw a photographer get his camera hit back into his mouth, busting his lip, despite him being below the ropes his lens was still protruding in. So, stay on your toes and be ready to move when the action becomes too close for comfort.


Tip 10: Practice and Patience


Like any skill, fight photography improves with practice and patience. Keep refining your techniques and reviewing your work to learn and grow. Reach out to promoters and ask to shoot their events for free, that’s the best way to quickly build your portfolio before moving on to paid gigs.


Now you’re ready to level up your fight photography!

MMA Fighter portrait in gym

Capturing the electrifying moments of combat sports through photography is both an art and a science. It requires a deep understanding of the sport, the right equipment, and a knack for timing and creativity. By following these ten essential tips, you'll be better prepared to take your fight photography to the next level. Remember, practice and patience are key, so keep honing your skills, and you'll capture stunning and memorable combat sport photos in no time.


Who is RIDE Media?

Man stood in Giant's Causeway

RIDE Media is me, Johno Ramsay! I’m a photographer and videographer based in Newcastle Upon Tyne with vast experience shooting Muay Thai shows, live music, fashion and more. If you’ve got any questions about photography, combat sports or otherwise, or if you need a videographer/photographer for your next event then don’t hesitate to get in touch!


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