Chris King from Uniquecapture tells us about his coverage of Cage Warriors 69 Super Saturday at the Forum, London this weekend.
Over the last two years I have worked with the Swedish team from MMA.NYTT (MMA.News, In English) and have been lucky enough to shoot UFC and Cage Warriors events for them at some of the UK’s most prestigious arenas. However this, weekend was one to be one to remember for a very long time.
Cage Warriors Super Saturday, was effectively a double bill. Two main events with twice as many bouts in one day compared to a standard MMA event. With a great central London location, excellent match making and TV coverage I was looking forward to the atmosphere of a sell out crowd.
I travelled down from our studio in Milton Keynes to meet Sebastian and Per from MMA.NYTT. There was only one problem. I could hardly walk!! As I seem to spend most of my days surrounded by slim models and professional athletes, I thought it was about time to get back into shape. Two personal training sessions earlier in the week meant that I had muscle soreness so bad that I couldn’t walk or even hold up the camera on Friday night. Thanks to the wonders of freeze spray, ibuprofen, Arnica, a magic gel and the taunts from Seb/Per I was thankfully good to go by fight time. Note to self….Don’t wait 2 years before exercising!!
Both cards were stacked with great match ups. I have always been interested in combat sports and know to have had the odd fight while playing ice hockey, but the enthusiasm of the team at MMA.NNYT has now turned me into a self confessed MMA junkie. However I know my limitations so will leave the fight analysis to Sebastian/Mazdak and will focus on the photography aspect in this article.
Only The Best Equipment Is Good Enough For MMA photography
So what was in my kit bag? MMA is incredibly challenging to photograph. Firstly everything happens so quickly, then you have a cage in the way and you can only shoot with the available light in the arena. This means that without the very best equipment your chances of consistently delivering good shots are very slim.
I have always used Nikon cameras for sports, so took along my trusty D4 and the recently launched D4s. 2 bodies is a must for this kind of event. I normally use either a 50mm f1.4 or a 24-70 f2.8 on one body and a 70-200mm f2.8 on the second. Unfortunately shooting at an aperture higher than f2.8 and the cage starts to appear in your shots.
Now its great to get arty from time to time and I cant help myself shooting a few creative frames, but the clients they require, landscape pictures with the action frozen. I therefore put the camera in manual at f2.8 and 1/800’s shutter speed or faster to stop the action. I use spot metering and let the camera automatically vary the ISO to ensure that the image is correctly exposed. This means that the ISO will vary from 800 to 6400. A camera that delivers low noise shots at high ISO is therefore critical.
Delivering tack sharp images is a mix of good equipment, good camera craft and experience in predicting what’s going to happen next. I use spot focusing and with my thumb hold the AF on button to momentarily lock the focus. I know there are lots of different methods used from the other photographers however this one seems to work for me especially as I am now much better at anticipating the fighters next move.
Due to requirement for a fast turn around of images I shoot in JPG with a back up raw file going to the second card slot.
Capturing the Action
We arrived at the venue 2 hours before the first fight on the undercard to get our credentials and mark our spots. Seb and Per were doing post fight interviews so I needed to focus on capturing the action. We had been allocated a great spot directly behind the cage which meant that all shots would have the audience in the background. Unlike the UFC, at Cage Warriors the ring girl walks inside the cage. This means there is no outside platform to lean over so I was right in the splatter zone with my lens up against the metal work.
The 4 fights on the undercard were absolute belters. It was a great chance to check the equipment and get my eye in before the main event. In fact everything seemed to be working really well except me! I was falling to bits…..my personal trainer said I may get a little muscle soreness but OMG…….So in the interval I am sat behind the cage with my trousers off rubbing Ibuleve gel into my calves and spaying freeze spray on my right arm!! Who said that photography wasn’t an extreme sport!!
The first main card part one consisted of 6 fights including the vacant CWFC middleweight title fight between Jack Hermansson and Norman Paraisy. With only a couple of minutes between fights the action was coming thick and fast. There were a few surprises with a couple of the favorites loosing, but win or lose it was toe to toe action all the way.
I find that on average I will shoot about 30-40 frames per round. You never know which shot is going knock out blow so its critical to get it on camera, but as the images need to be delivered within a few hours of the event ending if you shoot hundreds of frames per round its slow you down later. The more MMA I shoot the less frames I seem to need.
A 20 min break in the schedule gave me time for more freeze spray and ibuprufen before 6 more fights in the main event part 2. Most of these fights were very evenly matched with the fight going the distance and the winner being decided by the judge’s decision. Steve Ray Vs Curt Warburton was the last event of the night for the vacant CWFC lightweight title. 5 rounds with the fighters opting to stay on their feet made for very challenging photography as they circled each other. It was too close for me to call but the final decision went to Stevie Ray.
Delivering The Shots
It was now 11.30pm. I waited for the guys to finish their post fight interviews and we finally got back to the hotel room at about 1am. Sebastian and Per were able to process their videos in between bouts. No rest for me. Time to back up the cards, export into light room and start selecting the shots.
It took about 3 hours to reduce 1200 files down to 130 key images. I use the star rating system in Adobe Lightroom to do this. A 1 star is for images to be deleted as its either out of focus or not newsworthy. A 4 star is a keeper while a 5 star rating is used for an image that jumps off the screen at first pass.
In the studio we always shoot in raw, tethered to the computer and use a combination of Capture One and Photoshop to ensure that the images are spot on. For the MMA events time is everything. If the images are not available within a few hours the moment is lost and it’s old news. For this reason the final selection gets a quick crop in light room, a boost of the mid range with the clarity slider, a logo added and that’s it. The finished image is essentially straight out of camera.
By now its 3am….. I curl up on the floor of the hotel room as Sebastian and Per have already grabbed the beds. However, I think I got my own back as rumour has it may snore a little in my sleep!! I sneek out of the hotel room at 7.00am to get the first train back to Milton Keynes.
Uniquecapture specialise in commercial photography, working with some of the UK’s most prestigious brands. You have probably already seen their work on the high street or in magazines but just not realized who shot it. When he’s not shooting products in the studio, Chris is also a keen sports photographer. For more information visit www.uniquecapture.com.