Behind the lens: Shooting UFC's Fight Night through a cage
UFC’s Fight Night at Amalie Arena was a gruesome spectacle. At one point, the floor of the octagon had to be repainted between bouts because it was stained with so much blood. In short, it was a very visual evening.
Shooting mixed martial arts has its share of challenges. The biggest is shooting through a cage. If shooting an amateur fight, you might be able to get right up against the cage and put your lens tight to the holes. At a televised, high profile event like a UFC Fight Night, you’re kept a few feet away from the octagon.
Having chain-link fencing three feet in front of your lens, while trying to shoot fast moving action on the other side of it, can be seriously frustrating. Here are a few shooting tips for combatting the difficulties associated with having a fence between you and your subjects.
1) Use the focus limiter on your lens. Most telephoto lenses have one. This switch will narrow the lens’ focus range by extending the minimum focus distance, and therefore reduce focus hunting. In practical terms, as you’re tracking the action, when your autofocus system gets thrown by the fence, your lens won’t come all the way in to try to focus on the fence. It will only come partially back in before focusing back out toward the fighters. This translates to regaining focus on the subjects much quicker.
2) Use the widest aperture possible. I switched between a Canon 135mm F2 lens and a 70-200mm F2.8, both kept wide open. By shooting at F2 or F2.8, the shallow depth of field helps to blur the fence and make it less distracting. Combining this with leaning out to get as close to the fence as possible will result in the least visible chain-link in your images.
3) Give that manual focus ring some love when fighters are against the cage. A DSLR’s autofocus system is almost always going to key in on the chain-link fence, as opposed to the fighters just on the other side of it, when the action comes in close. Lenses that have manual focus override are ideal, because once the lens focuses on the fence, you can bump the focus just past it to make the fighters sharp.
Tampa Bay Times