taking boxing photos – sports photography

Sports photography – boxing By guest contributor – Carl Harrison – emerging member of Academy of Photography http://www.cdhpix.co.uk http://www.facebook.com/cdhpix   In this article, I thought I would like to talk […]

Sports photography – boxing

By guest contributor – Carl Harrison – emerging member of Academy of Photography



In this article, I thought I would like to talk about photographing boxing, regardless of whether the boxing is a sparring session or a real-fight or better still, a title-fight.

Some of the information can apply to other indoor sports or any activity that takes place in low-light, with fast motion involved.

I am going to explain this article, call it a tutorial if you will on how to assess and manage photography in a boxing event.

The first thing I do when arriving at a boxing event or boxing club, is to assess the light situation. I know I have to be able to set my camera to the right exposure in a low-light environment and capture extremely fast motion.

What makes it worse, is that at the boxing event, before any fights begin – the lighting is really really low. When the boxing begins, there will be about one stop of additional lighting, its not very good so trying to measure off initial lighting of your event will cause you to just re-evaluate it when they begin.

I know from previous experience that the punches being thrown by a boxer, if you want to totally freeze them – you will need 1000th of a second – that’s pretty fast.


With a 6d and a 24-105L (F4.0) I have to shoot at 500th of a second, to keep the ISO down as low as possible (8000-10000), getting some sharp shots but also, an amount of blur that is acceptable as it gives life to a static image. See attached image for an example.

Excuse the gore, but there are droplets of blood, frozen in mid-air, while there is also some blur, giving the effect of motion.


I have been to 4 boxing events so far in the last 3 months, of which I have had to shoot between 8,000 and 10,000 ISO – that was to capture shots at 500th of a second. Getting to that magic 1,000th of a sec will cause me to go to 12,000ISO and possibly beyond, resulting in a LOT of grain/noise.

That isn’t all bad though, as grain/noise can add an atmosphere to your photographs, especially black and white images.

Another issue you will no doubt encounter, will be the type of lighting used is typically tungsten or fluorescent, usually flickering so fast, you cannot tell, until you take a photograph… you then get a band of green or purple, cutting your image into a two-tone photograph. You will need to adjust your shutterspeed accordingly to either be faster or slower than the flickering of the lights. Worse case scenario is that you will be doing white balance adjustments to every good image you have taken, to make your set of images consistent.


The boxing – now it begins!

Yes, it gets VERY very exciting. So exciting that if you do not pay attention – you will get your camera kicked into your face! (I know, its happened to me).

The very best tip I can give you is – shoot with BOTH eyes !

If you’re squinting through one eye on your viewfinder, you are not paying attention to where the referee is, or where everyone is moving around in the boxing ring.

By using two eyes and a relative zoom so you dont make your eyes hurt (70mm is a good reach and will match your eye that isn’t looking through the lens) – you will be able to watch where everyone is, inside the ring, you will know when to move back as someone’s body comes flying at you, you will know where the referee’s feet are, as not to get your camera or face kicked 🙂

As for timing, you will need your camera on burst mode and you need to try and focus on the boxer, each of them, individually and try and learn their style.


Being a boxer when I was much younger, I find it easier to get into the rhythm that the boxers have when fighting but it isn’t difficult to learn, just takes a little time and patience.

One good tip for timing that perfect punch, is to start the shutter and hold it down as soon as you “think” the boxer is about to launch a punch. Hold down the shutter for 3 or 4 frames and then reassess for more shots.

Sometimes a boxer will just go for a flurry of punches, usually in the last couple of rounds – some can go earlier, depending on their style – big punchers tend to get more tired over longer rounds so they will try and knock out or damage their opponent to the point of winning through the referee calling off the fight.

Others take their time, absorbing the hits until their opponent is tired then unleashes their own barrage of punches in the last round, hoping that they havent hurt themselves too much holding back and hoping that their opponent is too tired to defend.

Its a fantastic sport, quite a bit of thought is required by the boxer and more so from the photographer who is trying to effectively beat punches by both boxers in an effort to capture that perfect image.

What NOT to do:
DO NOT use a flash/speedlite. You do not want to be flashing a strong light in front of a boxer who is trying to defend themselves. The last thing you want, is the boxer taking out their loss on you!

DO NOT move around the ringside, you will most likely be given a position – you don’t need to move around the ringside, the boxers will move around by themselves.

Recommended Lens:

Wide angle-zoom lens, I use 24-105mm at F4.0, if you can get a lower F-Stop, then great – but be weary of your depth of field at f2.8 or lower, F4.0 is just about right for getting plenty of the scene, in focus.

The reason for a wide-angle-zoom lens, is that you can adjust the field of view accordingly to capture a whole boxing ring, plus some audience or close up’s of hard-hitting punches. If you use a prime lens, you will be restricting the amount of view that you can take.

Set your shutterspeed first – then adjust your ISO level to bring your exposure to the correct level. Use your histogram (brightness mode) or a light meter to monitor what the camera is seeing. Take sample shots.

Expect to use a LOT of memory cards. Typically, just a 3 minute round, 4 rounds per fight can eat up 16GB of RAW image data if you burst enough.

I have used 160GB on 5 fights, but these were full-sized RAW files, 25MB per file. If you havent got the memory cards or not very good at processing then I suggest either cutting down the quality of the RAW files or shooting in JPG (not recommended as you cant do much with the image in post) so you can get all of your shots.

There is nothing worse than not having enough memory cards or even worse – using your camera to delete photos off your memory card – risking memory card corruption/defragmentation. Just dont do it, believe me.

I hope you have found my article on Boxing, interesting and hopefully helpful.


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