Shooting Ring Sports

This weekend I was lucky enough to shoot ringside event images for Pro Evolution Wrestling at Kingswood in Bristol.  It’s a great family-friendly show, well worth checking out if you’re ever in the West of England and this weekend was no exception.

I started thinking about my approach to shooting ring sports in general – what goes into making good images, and the challenges you often face when shooting ringside.

1. Positioning

Unlike boxing where the majority of the action takes place in the centre of the ring, in wrestling the action moves not only around the ring, it goes up on to the top rope, and out onto the outside. Sometimes it’ll even go further, like around the arena, but thankfully I’ve only had to deal with that once.

It’s easy to get in the way. I got caught out this weekend where I had positioned myself to get a better shot of the start – two tag teams squaring up to each other. By the time I lined up the shot, the action had started and I had to quickly dodge two bodies jumping over the top rope to the outside.  The last thing I need is a boot through my lens so pay attention to what’s going on.

In my opinion the best images look like you’re inside the ring with the competitors, so I go in close and reach into the canvas quite a lot. I call this being “the 4th man” in the ring – after the two fighters, and the ref.

2. Tell the story

It’s important when shooting ringside to capture the action as it happens, including any interesting turning points: Cut offs, ring rushes, weapons, people’s reactions. For me, it’s not so important to capture a move being hit, but the moment just before or just after.

These moments contain far more emotion and make for a much more captivating image. Get images of holds and locks being applied, and you’ll find also get some great images of pained faces. The best photos transmit an element of impact, motion or pain to the viewer.

I always try to get a clear portrait of the competitors when they walk through the curtain or if they’re on the top rope at the start of the match.  These moments are actually harder than you’d expect since not many wrestlers are that experienced in playing up to cameras.

If there was one piece of advice I’d give to any wrestlers reading this, it’s this: If you want more exposure as an indie worker, then you need to give us guys the opportunity to get your picture. When playing to the crowd, just turn to the camera guy for a few seconds. Nobody else will notice. Personally I don’t use anything less than very good photos, so if you’re not looking my way or at the very least, I can’t see your face, then you’re going to be just as buried as my bad photos are!

3. Reinforce Characters

From the moment the competitors walk out into the arena they are telling a story. It’s likely to be good versus bad, but not always. Try to pick up on their essence and make it shine through.

Each wrestler or performer has worked hard on creating their own unique look, feel and character. It’s important that you capture this.  All it takes is a decent portrait from the entryway or top rope…






4. Don’t forget Refs and Announcers

After spending years hosting and ring announcing for these events I’m speaking from very good experience when I tell you that we’re always the ones that are forgotten about or cropped out first.  The bits where I came on for example were generally the bits where the DVD was cut, or the battery life was saved.  As a result I have very little evidence of my work, and yes, it’s infuriating.

Referees are an especially important element to the story telling of any match, and by extension any image.  Try to frame a shot or two with the Ref in it. I appreciate he’s not always needed, and it can complicate things (yet another set of eyes to check are open) but when shooting a submission hold being applied, it’s incredibly important.

The Ref’s and Announcers will appreciate it too.


5. Over shooting

The thing that bugs me most about any event photography is people over shooting.  This is the biggest difference between a rank amateur and someone better. I’m not suggesting that for one minute you should take less photos. With so much action going on around you, it’s better to shoot loads than miss something. There’s far too much going on and plenty to think about to slow down, especially when camera skills, composition and things come so naturally.  So what’s my problem? It’s simple: Over delivery.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs to see 200+ photos of anything. It’s overkill. Be selective, take out the crap photos. If you’re unsure if it’s a crap photo or not, delete it anyway. Only ever deliver great photos. Photos that are in focus, tell a story and raise or answer questions or emotions in the viewer.

You can shoot an entire show on less than 50 images and still tell the story.