[FS Spotlight] UFC Photographer Joshua Hedges Pulls No Punches

Few photographers can nonchalantly say, “Yeah, I’ve had blood splashed on my camera.” But for sports photographer Joshua Hedges, 12 year veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it’s just another day in the office.

The West Texas native has been become known for his mixed martial arts photography, and his work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, USA Today, Time magazine, The New York Times, and The LA Times. Fstoppers catches up with Hedges to hear about his favorite fight, why shooting the UFC is different from other sports, and staying focused while two guys pummel each other. Check out the full FS Spotlight interview below!

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UFC on Versus 5: Sadollah vs. Ludwig by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: How did you get started with photography?

Joshua Hedges: I’ve always been interested in it. One of my early Christmas presents from my parents was a little Kodak mini camera, and I was always carrying that around taking pictures of everything. As I started getting older, there was a photography class in high school where I learned how to develop in the dark room, and I built on it from there.

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UFC 139: Shogun v Henderson by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: Did you always have an interest in the martial arts? How did you end up shooting for the UFC?

Joshua Hedges: I didn’t always have an interest in it. I got introduced to the UFC when I was in high school. One of my buddies’ dad got it on Pay-Per-View, and we’d all hang out there on a Friday night. It became a thing, and we started getting together every time there was a fight. I got into it as a fan and became more involved in later from the business side of it. I had to build a website for one of my classes in college, and I chose martial arts. In the process of doing that I interviewed a couple guys and went to a couple shows and looked at it more from the journalistic side. And I thought, why not try shooting it? It sort of snowballed from there.

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UFC 141: Lesnar v Overeem by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: What do you shoot with?

Joshua Hedges: I use all Canon gear. My two main cameras are 1D Mark IVs, and I also have 1D Mark IIIs, which I mostly use for backup and remotes and things like that. And then the main lens that I use for 70-80% of the shots is the 70-200. I also use the 16-35, 24-70, 24-105, 15mm, 14mm, and I’ve been using the 8-15mm fisheyes recently that they just came out with. But the 70-200 is really the main one for me.

Fstoppers: Where do you typically stand during the fights? Are there certain spots that are better for angles?

Joshua Hedges: There are two primary positions that I shoot from: the photo box, which is standing on a box looking directly over the fence, and behind one of the posts on the cage, which is the main position. You can also stand down below in the photo pit, which requires shooting through the cage. I don’t do that a whole lot, but every once in a while I do. And as far as remote cameras, the main place I mount them for almost every show is directly overhead in the lighting grid. You just come off one of the posts in there and rig it with pocket wizards and stuff. Depending on the arena, we do other remotes if we have catwalk access or a spot where the general public is not going to get to them and mess with things. I might put a 400mm off in the corner and have it centered on the center of the cage so it’s shooting the same thing I am, but from a different angle.

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Strikeforce World Grand Prix Semifinals by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: What is the most difficult part of shooting the UFC?

Joshua Hedges: The moment. You get one chance at it. If it’s a knockout shot, and you don’t get it, you can’t go back and tell them to do it again. You have to stay focused at all times. There’s no lapse, there’s no relaxing. You tend to want to do that if it’s a boring fight that drags on, and toward the end you’re like, “get it over already,” but you have to coach yourself not to do that. You have to stay awake and always be ready.

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UFC 138: Leben v Munoz by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: How do you feel like shooting the UFC is different from shooting other sports?

Joshua Hedges: The big difference is that it’s indoors and the lighting is very controlled. You have to rely on the subject to be your creativity. You can’t play with shadows or do things with light that you could do with an outdoor football game at noon with the position of the sun or whatever. As far as the action, it’s not that much different. I think anyone who is a seasoned sports photographer could probably shoot it pretty well. It’s mainly that you have to try to find the emotion. It’s not necessarily worrying about the composition of the shot. It’s a little more complex, it’s a little tougher because of the limited lighting possibilities.

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Stephens vs. Downes by Josh Hedges
Fstoppers: Does the violence of it ever effect you? Does it ever catch you off guard while you’re shooting?

Joshua Hedges: No. I’ve been doing it for so long. Maybe in the beginning there were a couple times where it was like, “Whoa, this is crazy!” But now I’ve had blood splashed on me, I’ve had guys right up in my face almost knocking me off of the post. It’s just kind of like any other shoot for me.

Fstoppers: What’s been your favorite moment or favorite fight?

Joshua Hedges: It changes from time to time, but I still think my favorite was when Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva finally fought at UFC 79. It was a fight that everybody had wanted for years and they were both past their prime, but it still turned out to be such an awesome fight. I got so many great shots from that! To this day, a couple of my favorite shots that I’ve ever taken were from that fight. There was one moment when they were doing the intros for the guys that I got goosebumps for a minute. It was like “Wow, this is really happening! This is crazy.”

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UFC 138: Leben v Munoz by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: How much time do you spend editing? How many shots do you normally take per fight?

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UFC on Versus 4: Kongo vs. Barry by Josh Hedges

Joshua Hedges: Too many? It really varies. For a full round of a decent fight, probably 200-300 images per round. Obviously I try to keep it down as low as possible to try to help with editing. For a really good main event that goes the full 5 rounds, it could be 800-1000 images for that fight. As far as the edit goes, it really depends on the fight. If it’s a fight where I have an editor there with me, I really don’t spend much time at all until I get home later, and then I’ll just go back through them later and see if there’s anything the editor missed. If it’s something that I have to edit myself, which happens quite a bit, I’ll try to do as much as I can between fights. There’s really not much of a break, though, usually only enough time to download the cards. It probably takes me 2-3 hours after the fights, maybe 4 hours for a main event.

Fstoppers: What qualities do you look for? What makes one shot more powerful than the others?

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Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado by Josh Hedges

Joshua Hedges: The first thing I look for is good connections on punches and kicks, where you can see that the guy’s face is distorted from the punch landing and there’s sweat flying off, stuff like that. After that, the second quality is the emotion. I like to find something that shows the emotion: a guy grimacing in pain or sitting on his corner stool between rounds just completely exhausted with this look on his face like, “I can’t go on.” I always try to find shots like that because they help tell the story of what happened. If it’s a 3 or 5 round fight, you’re going to have tons of good shots of punches and things like that, but it’s the emotion shots you want, and you may only have one or two for a whole night or - if you’re lucky - one per fight. These guys, even though they’re in there going crazy nuts and stuff, they still have poker faces on. It’s really tough to get that out of it. You have to look for a cut or bruise or knot on the thigh or something like that, but the main thing is the connections and the emotions.

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Chuck Liddell def. Wanderlei Silva by Josh Hedges

Fstoppers: What is your advice to aspiring sports photographers?

Joshua Hedges: Shoot as much as you can. Learn as much as you can from anybody that you can. Don’t ever think you know it all. I learn stuff all the time. The more you shoot, the more that you work hard, the more opportunities will come to you. You’ll find that it just kind of happens. When I first started doing this with the UFC, I never really thought of getting into other sports or being considered a sports photographer, but now here I am working alongside some of the best guys in the business and learning from them and helping to teach them things. There are things that I know that someone else might not know. When you have the opportunity, always try to pass your knowledge on to somebody else. Teach people, help them improve their skills, and it can only benefit you.

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Chuck Liddell def. Wanderlei Silva by Josh Hedges

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San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies by Josh Hedges
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Great Stuff. I can totally relate to Joshua. In my opinion, this type of photography is one of the hardest to do. You can't go back. If you miss that one moment, it's gone. My suggestion would be for anyone who is interesting in trying this type of photography is to go to a local promoter and get your feet wet. Most are ok as long as you share your images with them.

While I have no doubt that Joshua Hughes is a talented photographer, I just can't see the merit in shooting UFC. It's disgusting-- grown men beating each other to a pulp for other people's entertainment? I can't think of anything more ridiculous.

Unlike Lee and Patrick, I've never spent much time watching UFC, so these photos had a strong impact on me. (Pun intended?) And while it never occurred to me to label Antoine Verglas' interview NSFW - for which several readers were critical - I did have a moment wondering about this one. Violence is a by-product of nearly all contact sports though, so is this really that ridiculous?

Lee Morris's picture

I can see why people find it offensive but I honestly believe that boxing and even football are more dangerous than mixed martial arts. Check out the stats, football kills people every year, UFC has never had a serious injury. 

interesting, i had no idea

Patrick Hall's picture

How about cock fighting?  Just to name one :)

Ahhh Patrick, Just like what McCain called it!!!

Here's a video preview of the Beginning of MMA: http://vimeo.com/35576535


And the Future of MMA!!!

You know, seeing comments like that from @freelancewriter129:disqus  used to get me upset but it doesn't bother me as much these days. MMA has come a long way from the "human cockfighting" days back in the early 90's. There are more people out there today that either support and are fans of mma or have come to accept mma as a legit sport than there are people who oppose it and call it "disgusting".

I advise anyone who is against the UFC and mma to research the history, rules and see how much safer it is than it was in its infancy. While you're at it, look into the fighters who do this for a living and you'll see that they aren't barbarians or thugs. They're family oriented, educated, and have a passion for what they do. If you decide to watch a few fights to further educate yourself on the sport, watch the very end of the bouts. In nearly every fight, the two fighters will embrace as a sign of sportsmanship and respect.

Can't see the merit ? Tough titties ! The less ankle biters we have talking trash about UFC, the better. Leave the business for those who understand it. 

Wait, are you talking about football, hockey, or UFC? Lol, can't tell by your description, which would fit any of those sports, and more.

Just my Opinion but @freelancewriter129:disqus  its about the competition. Some people are writers, some people are doctors, some people are artists...but some people like to get in a ring and fight. You may call it disgusting and ridiculous but I call it beautiful and exciting. 

Think about it, would you be willing to go into an arena in front of thousands upon thousands of people (to include your family and friends) and leave it all on the line? Your Pride, your blood, your sweat, your tears for fifteen, maybe twenty minutes to prove that you are the best??? These guys do that...they train their bodies to extreme for that competition.Maybe you were never the competitive type...Some people like to get punched in the face and make a pretty good living at it.

"The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly."
-Theodore Roosevelt

I love that quote by Roosevelt. I guess there's a part of me that respects that, but I still have to wonder... leave it on the line for what? for what end goal? what does it accomplish? That's not to say I don't have enormous respect for the physical shape of these people's bodies and the skill sets they've acquired. But I guess sometimes I wonder just because you can, does that mean you should?

Benicio Murray's picture

There is no greater form of competition than two people entering a ring and using all their skills and training to see who is the best.

People who say this is about blood are completely ignorant to the skill and discipline this (or any) sport requires. Just look at the photos of the guys embracing after a fight or the gloves touching. Those guys have the utmost respect for their competition and the chance to test themselves in such a controlled setting.

It's like anything else. Some people enjoy shooting weddings and other enjoy landscape. To each their own. How about this freelancewriter129, I'm the director of media and marketing at a Muay Thai Kickboxing event in NYC. I offer you a ring side spot to shoot at our next event. Come and shoot. You never know until you try it. If you still don't like it then at least you can say you tried.

Patrick Hall's picture

Where is my invite Lance?  

I think I got an invite! Responding to that e-mail now...


Is that invite to shoot ringside open to someone who would actually enjoy shooting an event?

Benicio Murray's picture

This would have to be one of my dream jobs. I train and compete in BJJ and while it is fun to shoot the BJJ competitions, the skill and discipline of these guys is on another level altogether.
UFC is the biggest show in town by far and to be there at the front shooting the action would be incredible.

Where do you train Benicio?? Im part of Debrazil in the US (Arizona to be more exact). Its a Carlson Gracie/Rey Diogo School.

Brilliant interview - i shoot alot of boxing and now a couple of big mma events in Scotland. I can only dream of an event being as well lit as what the UFC is for getting the shutter speed high and a lower iso!

Brilliant interview - i shoot alot of boxing and now a couple of big mma
events in Scotland. I can only dream of an event being as well lit as
what the UFC is for getting the shutter speed high and a lower iso!

I loved interviewing him and had never thought about the lighting conditions. Curious how the photos might look in black and white, anyone else have that thought?

It's like anything else. Some images look good in color and others in B&W. 

I shoot boxing and sometimes it just depends. Black and white, to me, adds to the emotion of some of the shots. And lance, I'd love to come shoot an event sometime. I'm in NJ and have done a few boxing events in NY.

@ReeseMoore:disqus The reason why people like to step in the ring is because there are some people that generally like it and are willing to do that for a job. As stated before, Some people become doctors, Some become Artists, Some will become Police Officers, some become Iron Workers and some will step into a Ring and fight. Besides, how much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?? I'm joking...I stole that one from "Fight Club."

There are people who use their skill sets for the wrong reason and make people think that they are just Brutes. Those people give fighters a bad name and don't know the code of "Bushido." My BJJ teacher teaches young children at a very early age to think like you said though "Just because you can, does that mean you should?" Hell even Sun Tzu said "
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting" (The Art of War...in case anyone wants a great book to read)

Ive shot a few boxing matches in B/W...Pretty interesting. @RLMorrisPhoto:disqus  If you want to look at deadly stats and compare them to MMA, just look at deaths that occur in Cheer leading every year...pretty shocking.

Lots of look-at-me sentences in your post. Ego much, bro?