Josh Hedges: 'How I got the shot'

by Josh Hedges |

I thought it would be a little fun and interesting to start a new feature on my blog where I give you a little insight into what I was thinking and how I made a particular picture. I’m going to call it “How I Got The Shot”. This could be a one-and-done thing, but I hope not. Hopefully some of you find this educational.

(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

There are so many variables that are within my control. I’ll start with the basics and work my way towards the actual sequence that ended the fight.

First and foremost, you have to get your exposure right. This is a very easy task, but one that people somehow still mess up frequently. UFC has a very consistent lighting scheme for all their shows. I know before I walk into the arena on fight day what I’m going to set my camera to before I ever fire a shot. And, for the most part, it doesn’t fluctuate much from venue to venue or country to country. I can usually count on the following being my settings for the night, within about 1/3 of a stop over or under – ISO 3200, 1/2000s, f2.8, 3400K white balance. I set all three of my cameras to this exact setting at the start of the night.

Before the fights even start, I try to take test shots under the full show lighting setup. This means being at the arena during walk-in rehearsals, which are typically 2-3 hours before the first fight. This gives me a chance to not only check the exposure, but also to check the white balance. UFC uses tungsten lights for all the overhead lighting in the truss, though the blue color of the canvas mat tends to skew it just a bit. I find that setting the white balance manually to around 3400K provides me with the look I prefer. Using the “tungsten” setting in camera (approx. 3200K) looks too cool to me. Sometimes, the color fluctuates too depending on the age of the lights and whether or not the riggers used any gels when hanging them. So, it’s always good to check. Just a side not too, I know a lot of people who set custom white balance using a white piece of paper or a towel. If that’s what works for you, that’s fine. I feel like that also is too cool for my taste, so I choose to do it manually. Look at the images on your computer screen too, not just the back of your camera, to decide what looks right.

It will likely take you some time to get your timing down and figure out any focusing issues throughout the night. This is where it helps to have a number of preliminary fights before the “important” fights.

I had some good moments throughout the night, but I didn’t really feel like I had my timing nailed down until the Diego Sanchez v Takanori Gomi fight.

Mark Hunt v Stefan Struve followed.

You never have to guess how a Mark Hunt fight will go. He will get hit and he will hit back harder. Knowing this about Mark, I would put one of my focus points on his face at all times and track him waiting for him to throw something. Unless of course he was turned away from me, then I would follow Struve for those few moments.

Just before the ending sequence, the guys were a little bit more than 15-feet away from me when Hunt threw a big right hand that landed flush. I had a bad angle for it, Hunt was completely hidden and all I saw was Struve’s back, so I didn’t fire my camera. But looking through the eye-piece, I noticed this look on Hunt’s face as Struve absorbed the shot without going down. If I could put it into words what his face said, it would be “What the hell do I have to do to beat this kid?” At that point, I told myself to get ready. I had that feeling he was going to throw another right with even more power than the previous shot.

I was right. Hunt blasted Struve with a massive right hand, followed by a ridiculous left hook. My angle was still not favorable for the first sequence, but I managed to capture it nicely still. I caught these in two 3-shot bursts. For the first sequence of the right hand, I had my focus point over to the right side of the viewfinder up a little from center, dead on Hunt’s face as he launched the punch. I did my best to keep tracking him with the AF point, but to be honest, I’m surprised any of the shots after the first were sharp. For the second sequence of the left hook, you can see the second frame is not as sharp. The action was so fast, I couldn’t switch the AF point and remained on the right side. So then Struve jumped into focus. Below are scaled down shots of each sequence. These are exactly as they came out of the camera, only sized down. No sharpening or cropping at all.

Check out Josh's Blog to see the two 3-burst shots.

Aside from the focus, I also got really lucky with the distance. Had the final shot been just a few inches closer to me, my 70-200mm lens would not have been able to focus and I would have been out of luck. Sometimes, you have to decide when to switch or when not to switch to your wide-angle lens. I made the decision to stick with the 70-200 as soon as the first punch landed. It cost me the chance to get any sort of jubilation shot immediately after, but I think it was a worthwhile sacrifice.

Once I did switch over to the wide angle, I was able to catch this gem of Struve telling Herb Dean his jaw was broken.

Check out Josh's Blog to see the fallen Struve...

And that’s how I “Got The Shot”. Hope you enjoyed reading.

Read entire blog, comment, and ask questions...


tags: UFC   Stefan Struve (detail)  Mark Hunt (detail)  


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Recent Comments »

MMA4Hugs site profile image  

3/6/13 5:12 PM by MMA4Hugs

True! But if you wikipedia that shit you'll be ahead of 90% of people with a camera :P

the geek site profile image  

3/6/13 10:57 AM by the geek


the geek site profile image  

3/6/13 10:01 AM by the geek

I believe you are right. I was reading a camera bag review he wrote and he was talking about his Canon 1D.

Big Pun site profile image  

3/6/13 9:48 AM by Big Pun

I swear it sounds like you guys are just making up words.

Jet Black Studios site profile image  

3/6/13 9:43 AM by Jet Black Studios

iirc, he's mentioned that he uses 3 1DX bodies. 1 is on a remote elsewhere in the arena and 2 on him with 70-200 and a 24-70 lenses.

MMA4Hugs site profile image  

3/6/13 9:34 AM by MMA4Hugs

This reminds me, I attended my first UFC (154 in Montreal) last year, and I probably spent nearly as much time watching the photogs as watching the fights, lol. They must have had a cool hundred grand in gear between the 5-6 of them. What surprised me was how quickly they scampered off between fights -- I'm guessing to go upload their shots to their agencies.  I did some crude-but-kinda-cool panoramic photos with audio at the event using a GoPro because I didn't want my 5D to get confiscated by the Bell Centre staff. Those are on this thread: You can see a better-but-still-a-bit-off complete panorama with audio from a local fight in this thread: I borrowed a friend's camera that night so I could have one camera for the fish-eye lens and one for shooting stills/video, but I was a numbskill and forgot to verify my friend's settings. Who shoots in low-quality JPEG mode these days! Cheers, Jay      

MMA4Hugs site profile image  

3/6/13 9:24 AM by MMA4Hugs

Thanks for the compliments, Chaplinshouse :). I actually used a old Pentax manual prime. I got a used f1.4 cheap ($80) and for that reason haven't picked up the excellent and cheap Canon 50mm f1.8. Using older manual lenses is kinda nice if you're focusing manually because you've got much more "throw", which is to say that you turn the ring a lot farther for a given focus change which allows more gradual/ less crazy focusing. I also swapped focusing screens in my 5D mk 2 to make it easier to focus by eye. I agree with Sportmaster that Canon and Nikon's mainstay cameras are amazing at high ISOs, but you do have to get the exposure right or the noise will be tough to deal with in post-processing. You think he's shooting a 5D Mk3, Slamming? I would have thought that the top Sports photogs would go for the faster burst rate of the 1D or Nikon. The 5D Mk3 shoots 6fps, I think, and I find the ~4fps of my Mk2 almost useless for fight action. Maybe that's just me. Looking again at the three-bursts Josh published, maybe you're right! He seems to be timing the start of the burst to catch the moment of impact and then letting the burst capture anything cool that happens afterwards :P        

Sportmaster site profile image  

3/6/13 8:26 AM by Sportmaster

Noise at ISO 3200 is no problem with todays cameras.  You can go much higher and still have acceptable quality.  

slamming site profile image  

3/6/13 1:50 AM by slamming

Keep in mind that he's probably shooting with a 5D Mk 3. The noise performance on that thing is nothing short of amazing.

the geek site profile image  

3/6/13 12:50 AM by the geek

Sent you a PM good sir.