Blog

Sebastian Benkö blogs about photography in general, travel experiences and photography gear reviews.

Photographing the Crossfit Open

 Crossfit Open - All for One

Crossfit Open - All for One

Hello Again!

It's been quite a while since my initial post about Crossfit and its community, back in 2015.

Yes, I know, it's also been quite a while since I last posted on this blog in general :D

Anyways, today's post will be a bit more technical, as I try to get into detail about the gear I use to capture my photos along with some explanation on the settings I chose when shooting Crossfit events.

So, let's get started.

Gear

When it comes to photographing sports events, one needs to keep in mind, that speed is everything. I cannot think of a sports, where this rule doesn't apply - well, maybe for chess ;)

Couple this with an environment such as a Crossfit box, which is usually a big room with mediocre lighting and you end up with a scenario that keeps you rethinking your gear choices.

Lenses

Since I am a prime-only photographer (for now), I am luckily well suited for this challenge. For all photos shown in this post, I used one of the following lenses:

  • 90mm f2
  • 35mm f1.4
  • 16mm f1.4

That's one nifty setup which would also be well suited for a wedding gig due to the high quality and sharpness of those lenses - but here I am particularly in need of the wide aperture, which enables me to keep a reasonable ISO level even at high shutter speeds. More about that later though.

When considering those lenses mentioned above, keep in mind that I am a Fujifilm photographer, so you need to take a crop factor of 1.5 into consideration when comparing this to a full frame camera.

In any case, this is more or less a perfect setup for me to cover everything from environmental close ups and group shots to head shots and drastic background separation.

 Every rep counts

Every rep counts

 

Camera

Nothing spectacular to announce here.

"Just" a Fujifilm X-Pro2 - you could replace this with any other Fujifilm camera that uses the latest X-Trans processor for pixel-perfect quality even at higher ISO rates - if you are a Fujifilm shooter that is.

Lighting

As mentioned above, a Crossfit box is usually far from your average Joe's gymnasium with a lot of fancy equipment, mirrors and perfect lighting so you can gaze yourself in the mirror.It's quite the opposite to be honest.

My local box Crossfit Murstadt for example is located in some industrial park next to some mechanics and delivery services. But that is specifically what I love about it. Just a solid place where you can put in hard work and enjoy an hour off from your daily work.

 My most favorite playground - Crossfit Murstadt

My most favorite playground - Crossfit Murstadt

As solid as this place is for working out, there is nothing worse than a high room that is badly lit and covered with a dark floor that eats up all the remaining light there is, when it comes to photographing events :D

Couple that with the mayhem that is the Crossfit Open, where your friends will jump from A to B to support everyone currently tackling the WOD, and you know there is no chance to use any external lighting source such as a strobe with an umbrella or similar.
In the end, you will need to work with that bit of available light that you get.

Camera Settings

Taking all of the above restrictions into consideration and doing your photography math, you will end up with the following (or hopefully similar) key settings.

Shutter Speed

Since we expect fast moving subjects, we need to opt for a fast enough shutter speed. From experience, everything below 1/250th of a second is a no go. Even that might sometimes be too slow, especially with movements such as Double Unders, because of the fast moving athletes and jumping ropes they use.

Additionally, I personally need to take the long focal length of my 90mm f2 into consideration. As awesome as this lens is from a quality perspective, it lacks one thing unfortunately: Image Stabilization.
So in order to avoid any unsharp images due to camera/lens movement, one is better off opting for a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.

 Double Unders require a high shutter speed to capture a sharp frame.

Double Unders require a high shutter speed to capture a sharp frame.

 

Aperture

Since our goal is to create high quality images of fast moving subjects and we would mostly like to highlight the single person tackling the workout, I generally opt for the widest aperture my lens allows. So in my case either f1.4 or f2.

This allows me to keep my ISO on a reasonable level and gives me the benefit of proper background separation.

Of course there are those group shots where you would want to opt for a smaller aperture to keep everyone within the frame in proper focus, but that comes with a trade off - either a a slower shutter speed where you risk an unsharp image due to movement of the subject, or a high ISO which will increase noise levels.

 A long focal length coupled with a wide aperture equals perfect background separation.

A long focal length coupled with a wide aperture equals perfect background separation.

 

ISO

ISO level is a result of the before-mentioned constraints. Since I don't want to bother changing this with every shot, I allow my camera to do the main work here with AUTO-ISO mode.

Important here is that I do not allow it to go over 3200 ISO unless required in order to retain a reasonable amount of noise in my images.

Since metering within the camera sometimes cannot keep up with quickly changing lighting conditions, the exposure compensation dial is my best friend here.

 It's all about the community

It's all about the community

 

Intangibles

Last but not least, some secret ingredients that cannot be bought :) Intuition and anticipation.

Especially in Crossfit, you can end up with a workout that covers a wide range of movements - from slow ones like a heavy clean&jerk to fast ones like double unders or push ups.

In order to get the right shot, it definitely helps if you see the movement coming - meaning, if you know what kind of move your subject is going to take next.

I definitely benefit here from my long experience with Crossfit, and I can honestly say, that it is much easier for me to relax in this environment and rather focus on things like proper framing.

Of course it also helps, if the ones that you are taking photos of are long-known friends who don't mind if you hold a camera in their face while they go through their worst nightmares workout-wise :D

 The Crossfit Open bring everyone to their personal limit - and beyond

The Crossfit Open bring everyone to their personal limit - and beyond

Wrap Up

Shooting crossfit events is a fun, yet challenging experience. In order to get it right, take a minute to prepare yourself for the task at hand by going through your settings up front and choosing your equipment wisely - when in doubt and when you are not familiar with the location, take a few minutes to go there up front and check out the venue and lighting conditions.

Last but not least, a few more shots from this years Crossfit Open.

Side Note: Unfortunately I couldn't manage to participate in more than 2 (out of 5) workouts this year, but I hope to up that number in 2019 again.

I hope you enjoyed this short how-to. If you liked it, please leave a thumbs up and share this post :)