To me, photography means much more than simply clicking a button. Photography has taken me to new places, into new cultures, inspired me to try new things, and created new passions. Before I began my journey into photography, I had very little contact with people and cultures outside of school, swimming, and triathlon. Since picking up the camera, however, I have been driven to try new things, photograph new sports, meet new people, and go exploring in new places. For me, this desire for the new and different comes from a boredom with the norm. Every day is different, and living life presents infinitely varied set of circumstances, even in one fixed location. But it is simply impossible to capture all those small variances in still images. Thoughts, speech, and many other factors come into play in ways that traditional media is still unable to replicate. And so I am constantly on the search for something new, or trying something different.
When I originally heard that Combat Night was coming to Cascades Park in Tallahassee, I knew I wanted to try and get access to shoot it. Then it switched venues to The Moon and my hopes went down – it was going to be a lot harder to gain access there. But then I was hired by the FSView (the FSU Newspaper), and the venue switched AGAIN to the Civic Center, and with the backing of the paper, and at an FSU-owned establishment, it was a cakewalk to get permission to come in for free.
For those that do not know, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is a variety of rule-based fighting that is a combination of boxing, wrestling, and traditional martial arts, fought between two people of similar weights, in an octagonal, caged arena. This presents a variety of problems for photographers and videographers, beginning with photographing action in low light. That is always the first and primary hurdle for sports-action photographers when inside or shooting at night. The next big challenge with shooting MMA is the cage. I wanted to shoot with my longer telephoto lens to start out the night, and get some tighter close-ups, and the cage repeatedly and consistently confused the autofocus system on my camera. It became so bad that I turned all the electronic focusing off, and shoot in full manual focus for almost two hours.
Then came the final nail in the proverbial coffin of difficulties – the speed and unpredictability of fighting. As with any sport, increased familiarity breeds the ability to better predict the action, but even then, you’re never QUITE sure when someone is going to throw a bunch, launch a kick, or duck and spin.
But as the evening progressed, I was able to find my grove, dial in some camera settings, and really get in the pumped-up fight mood of the evening.
The shot above actually really pissed me off – he flashed a grin at me with the full mouthguard/grill, and I was just a HAIR too late, and I was super bummed at myself.
There were a couple really awesome moments during the evening though. Attire of the night award went to one of the female fighters who wore a camp skirt, and most assuredly, the most exciting fight of the evening was between two US Veterans, which had the whole crowd on their feet; a crowd that was actually larger than the most recent attendance at a WWE event! And after that bout between the two vets was over, the owner of Combat Night – a former fighter himself – was so moved he hopped over the fencing and carried the winning man’s daughter up into the ring for him to embrace.
By the end of the night, I was well past when I had planned on staying, but the technical complexity of photography had convinced me to stay to really “get that shot,” and the atmosphere of the arena, the MC, the ring girls, and the sheer intensity of the fighting held hold on my heart and brain.
The evening was without a doubt, the hardest photography I have ever done (go figure, it was also my first paid gig for the FSView), and I left thoroughly mentally and physically exhausted, but I was both determined to shoot MMA again should I have the chance, and emotionally turbocharged and driven to get back to working out this coming week.
And, as always, thank you for taking the time to either skim or read this post, I hope you enjoyed the images.