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Martial Arts photography?

Evan Malone , Jan 08, 2009; 05:18 p.m.

has anyone shot many martial arts tournaments? i shoot my taekwondo tournaments when i have free time and also some judo tournaments. i was curious as to what settings other people used


Eric Festor , Jan 09, 2009; 11:39 a.m.

I shoot a lot of martial arts tournaments (mostly TQD). I shoot a Nikon D300 and use a 85mm 1.4 lens. I usually shoot aperature priority at 1.8 (I find 1.4 makes focusing harder, if I can go to 2.0 or a little higher thats preferred) and adjust the ISO to shoot around 1/600. I have the auto focus in continuous mode. I also set the noise reduction in the camera to high. Adjust the focus point in the camera so you can put it right on the persons head in the shot. I use the thumb tab alot on the camera to constantly move the focus point so its on the persons head/face. Out of focus face and the shot is no good...
Shooting wide open, you have to be extremely carefull on your autofocus and keep in mind the shallow depth of field. Usually when shooting a sparring match, I concentrate on one of the two particpants. At this DOF,its hard to get both in focus.
Just have fun when you shoot!

Colton Fischer , Jan 09, 2009; 11:42 a.m.

I don't, but it sounds really cool.

Ron Beaubien , Jan 10, 2009; 11:15 a.m.

I live in Tokyo and photograph martial arts on a regular basis. As martial arts uniforms often come in a variety of extreme colors (white for karate or judo and a deep indigo for kendo), I almost always shoot in manual mode when indoors. Outside or where the lighting is more variable, I'll usually shoot in aperture priority mode but increase or decrease the exposure to keep from blowing out the highlights or to avoid getting an image that is too dark.

I use a lot of fast prime lenses, especially Canon's 200mm F1.8 L and 135mm F2 L when indoors. Outdoors I often work with a 200mm F2.8 L zoom lens with the image stabilization turned on. I use auto focus all of the time, but there is a constant need to adjust the focus point to be on the competitor's eyes as I'm often working with such a limited depth of field. Still, the results can be amazing:


In addition to the above, I always shoot in RAW mode in order to get the highest quality digital file possible. Indoor lighting conditions can be tricky, but with a RAW file I always have a second chance to make adjustments to the white balance later.

Ralph Berrett , Jan 12, 2009; 07:30 a.m.

Hello Evan,
I have shot some Photographing Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts before. The settings depend on the venues. At one of the last venues I shot it was a ring with spots. I was exposing at f/2.8 @ 1/500 with ISO 6400. I tend use the 28-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VR for most of my shooting ring side. When I shot DX I tended to shot alot with the 20-70mm ringside.
Exposure wise if you are shooting in a high school gym then you are looking at f/2.8 @ 1/250-1000 @ 3200.
If you shoot at an arena f/2.8 @ 1/250 - 1/1000 with ISO 6400.
A dojo with Fluorescent Lighting f/2.8 at 1/250 - 1/1000 with ISO 1600.
These are rough guesses.
To freeze action you will want to shoot at 1/500 or faster. I also like to shoot RAW for the greater tonal range and exposure latitude.

Nikon D3 with Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR. f/2.8 @ 1/500 with ISO 6400. Kiko Lopez (black trunks) Knocksout Jorge Ruiz (Mexico trunks) in the second round at the Wargods’ Mixed Martial Arts Event in the Fresno Convention Center, Saturday night.

David Klaffenbach , Jan 16, 2009; 08:33 p.m.


Just a slightly contrarian opinion here - I found that when shooting karate participants, especially when doing kata (solo routines) that using a very fast shutter speed could make them look like they were posing, and that using around 1/250 or 1/500 (but not, say 1/1000) left blur in the fists or feet while keeping faces crisp. This doesn't apply if the position could not possibly be stable (e.g. someone in midair) or if there are other good clues about motion. Ralph's shot above at 1/500 has great motion clues (flying body fluids, blurred foot). Actual speeds would depend a bit on speed of participant (beginners vs. black belts or equivalent) and field of view.

Elliot Bernstein , Jan 17, 2009; 05:53 a.m.

As lighting is usually less than ideal at these events, you don't always have a lot of options. As mentioned, shooting RAW is a must as if having a really good image processing program. If you are shooting with a camera that has Auto ISO, I suggest you set your shutter speed and aperture manually and let the camera adjust the ISO as needed. If you don't, select the highest ISO you are comfortable with, the lowest shutter speed you are willing to shoot with and adjust your aperture as needed/lighting allows. Adjust as lighting conditions allow. A fast lens is a must. Test shots allow tweaking the settings as needed. I vary shutter speed through an event but generally keep it in the range David lists, 1/250 to 1/500.

Shot with the D300 last year at an amateur event

Marie Diaz , Mar 11, 2009; 12:02 a.m.

I have found that tournaments (like martial arts & wrestling) with multiple rings are tough to cover. So what I did at the last taekwondo tournament is to set up a photo booth. I took 2-3 action (skill) shots and one posed shot:

And offered them in one of our original background designs for posters:

Here are some others:

I have found much success doing this. Live action is tough to get, it's time consuming and there's no guarantee you'll get a good skill shot. I have developed a whole library of digital background images for several sports (and dance). It has set me apart from all the other photographers.

Lee Ashman , Nov 28, 2012; 01:38 p.m.

@Marie Diaz Hi I really like this idea I might have to try this!

Jon Perrin , Nov 28, 2012; 04:06 p.m.

Hi Evan,
My daughter studies Aikido and over time I became the dojo's photographer. The dojo is a member of the Birankai North America organization and last year they asked me to be their official summer camp photographer. I spent about 4 days shooting for them. If you can use a flash, set yourself in manual mode with high speed and low f stop as previously mentioned by many posters. If you are not able to use flash, I would recommend spot metering, time priority, and the best ISO you can use without generating too much noise. Here's a link to the pictures I took for your reference:
The key is to have fun. Cheers!

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